On New Year’s Day, thousands of people lined up on Broad Street in Philadelphia, their collective attention glued to the Mummers parading in the street. Onlookers crowded in front of a fire station at Broad and Bainbridge streets, where traditionally string bands pause to perform for the firefighters.
People busy with plastic “2013” eyeglasses and blatting vuvuzelas were not as curious about the building next to the fire station, a non-descript brick parking garage with a small sign reading “Peace Mission Democratic Cooperative Garage.” It is operated by the Peace Mission, a spiritual organization famous for its founder, Father Divine, who ran the grand but now dilapidated Divine Lorraine Hotel on North Broad.
The parking garage is flagged by a new app released by Google, called Field Trip.
Similar to popular tourists guidebooks (Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, etc), Field Trip pulls content from local blogs to map things of historical, architectural, and cultural interest. In Philadelphia, Google has partnered with online entities like uwishunu, a blog by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation; Thrillist, a restaurant review site; Arcadia Publishing, which produces hyper-local history books; and Hidden City, a blog about the history of Philadelphia’s built environment.
At Broad and Bainbridge streets, the Field Trip application links to an article from Hidden City, explaining the Peace Mission used to own many businesses in Philadelphia. Eventually they were all sold off, or folded. The parking garage the only surviving business still owned by the church.
“Mobile has been the holy grail of journalism for the past couple of years,” said Meredith Broussard, the Hidden City editor who curated hundreds of articles used on Field Trip. “How are we going to distribute journalism in the mobile environment? How can we do new and interesting things with great journalistic content? This was an experiment – what can we do with Hidden City?”
Field Trip is designed only for the Android operating system (sorry, iPhone users). The paperless guidebook is not without its glitches. It has crashed on this reporter’s phone more than once.