Curbside chats

Made by Chileshe Otieno and Erin Fuller

The project is going to imagine a future in which homelessness is no longer a relevant issue, and is recalled by a future society through memorialization of individuals who experienced it in the past.

Created: March 28th, 2019



Write about the big ideas behind your project? What are the goals? Why did you make it? What are your motivations?

               In the year 2029, vacant AirBnB apartments in San Francisco begin to fill up with residents, thus eliminating the issue of rampant homelessness in the city. In the decade leading up to this phenomenon, the percentage of homeless people who had been evicted from their housing had climbed past 71%. AirBnB had exacerbated gentrification in the city by further dividing the city into the haves and have-nots--if you did not have an AirBnB apartment to rent out to visitors, you lacked the necessary money to live in San Francisco and it was therefore easier to get evicted. The vacancy tax of San Francisco took effect for several years, driving up the price of property taxes. A lot of people who had worked in tech and white-collar jobs lost their homes because they did not have the space or interest in hosting for AirBnB. Sometime in 2023, the CEO of AirBnB discovered that thousands of homeless people had died on the streets of San Francisco due to gentrification. Furthermore, AirBnB’s effect on real estate and caused several vacancies in the city that left San Francisco eerily quiet and lifeless during tourism off-season. Therefore, the company has introduced a new event to its menu of Experiences: Curbside Chats

            Curbside Chats is half memorial to the dead homeless residents of San Francisco, half real estate vacancy tour for those seeking housing in the city. Because AirBnB held a great deal of power in the city and several vacant apartments, it began to act as a housing corporation. AirBnB began to open up these apartments as limited-equity low-income housing and also left digital traces of the homeless people who had lived there. Those who go on the tours can follow a specific homeless person’s sequential journey throughout the city, finally leading to the house that they had previously lived in. Patrons step on special pavement slabs and activate an aural record of this homeless person’s presence in life, whether it’s an interview or a busking performance. This AirBnB pop-up experience not only humanizes the homeless people who died at the hands of the corporation, but also helps lead people seeking housing to vacancies that they can occupy. By creating this monument, AirBnB can attract new visitors to the city, but also own up to and repair the damage it had done to San Francisco’s housing market.



Describe your experience/working prototype: What did you create, how, etc.? What tools and technologies were involved? Include appropriate content and illustration (e.g. a concept video, a video of the device in operation, diagrams, code, etc.)

        The prototype is meant to represent the concept of an accessible pavement module in a distributed space, our focus was on the pavement slabs in a connected environment, so the prototype was meant to represent this through the green acrylic design. It reflects how we expect the pavement modules to stand out in an environment, with a unique color, and a design on the surface which would subtly hint at its purpose in practice. A scale model prototype representing a typical interaction was also created, with the expectation that purpose of the memorial could be better expressed in a depiction of the urban context the memorial modules would be implemented.

          For the functional design of the pavement prototype, we wanted to get across its  connected nature. Our concept focuses on audio representations of the homelessness in response to an app or physical contact. In the prototype, this is reflected by the playing  of audio  containing the experiences of a homeless individual, in response to contact with an rfid tag. This reflects the manner we would expect their equivalent modules to behave in the 2029 San Francisco we imagine.


Rfid and prototype pavement, with surface imagery reflecting the activity of the homeless. Imagery would generally focus on subtle depictions of the lives led by the homeless.

// Aisha Dev, Chileshe Otieno, Erin Fuller, Victoria Yong
// Intelligent Environments Spring 2019 Project: Curbside Chats
/// MP3 PLAYER PROJECT reference
//RFID reference

#include "SoftwareSerial.h"
#include <SPI.h>
#include <MFRC522.h>
SoftwareSerial mySerial(3, 5);
# define Start_Byte 0x7E
# define Version_Byte 0xFF
# define Command_Length 0x06
# define End_Byte 0xEF
# define Acknowledge 0x00 //Returns info with command 0x41 [0x01: info, 0x00: no info]
#define SS_PIN 10
#define RST_PIN 9

/*RFID code */

MFRC522 rfid(SS_PIN, RST_PIN); // Instance of the class
MFRC522::MIFARE_Key key;
int code[] = {32,154,149,117}; //This is the stored UID (Unlock Card)
int codeRead = 0;
String uidString;
bool have_read = false;
int last_read = 0;

/*RFID code*/

boolean isPlaying = false;

void setup () {

SPI.begin(); // Init SPI bus
rfid.PCD_Init(); // Init MFRC522



void loop () { 
  if ((rfid.PICC_IsNewCardPresent())&&(last_read == 0)){
    last_read += 1;

    if (have_read == false){
      have_read = true;
  if (last_read > 800){
    last_read = 0;
  else if (last_read > 0){
    last_read += 1;



void playFirst()
  execute_CMD(0x3F, 0, 0);

void pause()

void play()

void playNext()

void playPrevious()

void setVolume(int volume)
  execute_CMD(0x06, 0, volume); // Set the volume (0x00~0x30)

void execute_CMD(byte CMD, byte Par1, byte Par2)
// Excecute the command and parameters
// Calculate the checksum (2 bytes)
word checksum = -(Version_Byte + Command_Length + CMD + Acknowledge + Par1 + Par2);
// Build the command line
byte Command_line[10] = { Start_Byte, Version_Byte, Command_Length, CMD, Acknowledge,
Par1, Par2, highByte(checksum), lowByte(checksum), End_Byte};
//Send the command line to the module
for (byte k=0; k<10; k++)
mySerial.write( Command_line[k]);


void readRFID()

    Serial.print(F("\nPICC type: "));
    MFRC522::PICC_Type piccType = rfid.PICC_GetType(rfid.uid.sak);

    Serial.println("Scanned PICC's UID:");
    printDec(rfid.uid.uidByte, rfid.uid.size);

    uidString = String(rfid.uid.uidByte[0])+" "+String(rfid.uid.uidByte[1])+" "+String(rfid.uid.uidByte[2])+ " "+String(rfid.uid.uidByte[3]);
    int i = 0;
    boolean match = true;
      if(!(int(rfid.uid.uidByte[i]) == int(code[i])))
           match = false;

      Serial.println("\n*** Unlock ***");
      Serial.println("\nUnknown Card");

    // Halt PICC

  // Stop encryption on PCD

void printDec(byte *buffer, byte bufferSize) {
  for (byte i = 0; i < bufferSize; i++) {
    Serial.print(buffer[i] < 0x10 ? " 0" : " ");
    Serial.print(buffer[i], DEC);
Click to Expand


Describe theory, concepts, and research you have performed. Describe the prior work, ideas and projects that influenced your design. What work informed this idea.

An inspiration for the final proposal we settled on is the CNET article  "AirBnb gives $2 million to help homeless youth in San Francisco". It informed us about the potential role that large companies could play in alleviating poverty, and provided grounding for the timeline imagined in the project proposal. 

For the distributed aspect of our design  [murmur] provided an example of an implemented project with a design context similar to our own. The project's lack of a central space contributed to the final decision to decentralize the initial memorial design. It works as a reflection of the oral history that specific to the city of Toronto, which is parallel to our project's goal of memorializing the information legacy of the homeless in San Francisco. 



Describe how you arrived out the outcome. What iterations, refinements, design decisions and changes were made? 

     The idea of a distributed memorial seemed to be the first coherent idea that we had as a group. The purpose of a memorial is to create contemplative reflection concerning a topic of reverential concern. Our project focuses on the nature of a societal memorial, whose purpose is to inspire reflection on a collective level. The thought of a collective experience for a memorial made us consider that perhaps a memorial for this purpose should not necessarily be located in a singular location, but should also have distributed extensions throughout an area for the purpose of recollection. 

         These considerations became the skeleton which we would use as an application to the idea of a memorial for homelessness in San Francisco. A distributed memorial in a large region like San Francisco seemed like the ideal because it reflects a 1-to-1 relationship between the distribution represented by the memorial, and the "former" problem of homelessness we imagined for the San Francisco of the future.



The experience depicted above to involved ordinary pedestrians traveling through the city, and encountering an increasing number of memorial modules which would grow in density towards Union Square in San Francisco. 


Each of the modules would express data representing a homeless individual's experience. At the central plaza, we imagined information kiosks.


   After meeting with the class, and reflecting on the project idea, we made a number of significant changes. The focus on the project would have to be a form of feasible memorial, with a construction that we can project to 2029. We had to come up with a realistic impetus for its construction, and a grounded focus for the design of the modules. This is what led us to focus on pavement squares as the center of the design. The pavement squares would retain the design aspect of digital responsiveness from the older module idea, with the ability to react to phone apps or direct contact by pedestrians.

         In the projected future,  it seems to make sense that a form of directed tourism would probably exist to lead curious individuals through the lives represented by the pavement memorials, and to the homes they may have once lived in. We focused on the projection of gentrification into more extreme proportion in future San Francisco. Our projection timeline imagined that the crisis of homelessness reached such a significant level that big companies, like AirBnB, who may have exacerbated the housing crisis in San Francisco, would step in to find lasting & permanent solutions for the issue.


Open Questions and Challenges

What questions remain to be addressed or questions about memory did this exploration raise for you. What are the things we should pay attention to/discuss in class for future explorations?

     What motivates a culture to create an area for the memorialization of a specific past event, and how can the passage of time influence the interpretation of past memorials. In our project, we had to investigate the issue of homelessness, and we often questioned the historical process that would lead to the creation of a memorial to it in the future. What kind of stimulus would cause a society to eradicate homelessness, and what would be the process which leads them to treat it as a cultural memory that should be kept in topical awareness. In future explorations of memorials, a focus on how grounded a future exploration can be is important, as well as a more direct study of the events which lead to memorialization.



Reflect on making this project. What did you learn? What would you do differently? Did you get where you wanted to? If not, why not? What do you need to get there, etc?

        From the perspective of our project topic, we learned more about the importance of grounding in physical projects. We had to think deeply about circumstances which could lead to the near future world, while also remembering that these circumstances must not be so unlikely, that the context of our project is not relatable to a modern audience. To inspire serious thought about the future as a projection, the set of circumstances leading to that imagined future have to be grounded in the boundaries of the present. 

        On making the project as a team, we learned that coordination and synthesis of ideas is especially important.  We also learned that the operation of a team also requires an understanding of the team's purpose from the beginning of the project. As the evolution of the project occurs, it is important for every team member to take the initiative necessary to understand what they need to do at every pivot that the project takes.  We consistently produced a number of different ideas, but managed to find a trajectory at the critical moment, before a point of no recovery. 

     The project accurately represents what we wanted to depict about the distributed memorial that was initially imagined; as far as our demo is concerned, a louder source of audio would have been better for portraying the interactions we conceptualized in the memorials to the homeless of 2029 San Francisco.


An experience map depicting one possible path through the city's memorial pavements for our final concept.


The key of the memorial is to reflect the distributed nature that homelessness had in the past; individuals could follow the life of single individual, or stumble upon the experiences of others.

Share this Project


48528 Responsive Mobile Environments

· 18 members

This 15-week course introduces students to responsive mobile environments and encourages them to explore speculative terrains that intersect art, technology and design and space. Iteratively, intro...more


The project is going to imagine a future in which homelessness is no longer a relevant issue, and is recalled by a future society through memorialization of individuals who experienced it in the past.