People’s Emergency Center in West Philadelphia wanted to capture the area’s rich history with the help of neighborhood residents. We created The West Philadelphia History Map as an online public history tool for the community to archive their knowledge and to preserve the area’s unique identity as it has evolved over time.
About the Project
PEC, in partnership with the Islamic Cultural Preservation and Information Council, hosts regular community meetings to gather oral histories and materials from West Philly residents for preservation and presentation online. We worked with PEC to structure these stories, categorize them by topic, and present them in a digital map, tying them together for view through social, political, and geographic lenses. The map provides both exploratory and guided experiences through four centuries from the early native inhabitants of the area, to the civil rights movements of the 1960s, to today.
Content Driven Design
We built a mobile-friendly custom base map with Mapbox, so that we could match the visual design of their existing print materials, and highlight the main arteries that run through West Philly, rather than including every highway marker and street label.
We worked closely with PEC on content strategy, learning the stories behind core locations to determine the most relevant content fields for map markers. Using Leaflet, we designed a series of map markers with this tailored content along with custom controls, so users can filter by time period or location type, such as arts and culture or infrastructure.
The mobile experience was particularly important, as PEC uses this map in community meetings across the neighborhood, and encourages its use for neighborhood walking tours. In addition to our standard responsive design, the mobile version features its own unique filtering controls designed especially for smaller viewports.
An Accessibility-Centered Experience
User experience was central to PEC. The West Philadelphia History Map is a single page map application, rather than a multilayered website, so users can focus on the visual map and its interactivity. It was also key to maintain a straightforward administrative experience, so that PEC staff could quickly and easily update content. We balanced these needs by using the WordPress REST API to integrate a content management system that is streamlined and lightweight.
PEC’s eventual goal is to invite community members, who have varying technical comfort levels, to enter their histories directly. We created a simply structured and clearly labeled WordPress template, including required and optional fields, for people to easily submit their own narratives and images within a consistent framework. We provided detailed documentation and training for PEC staff, and we built the site to accommodate various permissions levels in the future.
An Evolving Digital Archive
The West Philadelphia History Map is an evolving digital document, for the community and by the community. It was built to facilitate collaboration between neighbors, to preserve the area’s multifaceted history, and to sustain the community’s cultural identity.