How Social Media is Changing our Visual Landscape

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North Davidson Street, fondly called ‘Noda’ by Charlotte residents has long enticed tourists and locals to its small shops, local brews, and vibrant streets. The neighborhood’s website warmly greets visitors with this message, “Welcome to NoDa.org. NoDa is Charlotte’s historic arts and entertainment district – a neighborhood where the people are as diverse as the art, live music, craft beers, restaurants, custom gifts and tattoos you will find here. NoDa is dedicated to promoting the arts, living eco-friendly lifestyles, supporting small businesses, encouraging diversity and aiding fellow charities.” What this greeting doesn’t tell you is the amazing ability that Noda has for giving strangers an opportunity to connect and participate in a niche community separate from the sterile bustling of Uptown, only a few miles north.

One of the many ways Noda defines its unique personality is through the intensely colored murals that line the main drag. On a recent visit, I noticed a group of women gathered around the newest mural carefully draped around Solstice. One at a time, they each crossed the street to snap a photo of their friends, candidly posing to show off stylish clothes. It’s a common sight in the area. And presumably, the image also became a common sight on a few social media platforms.

This phenomenon, called instagramization, is radically changing the visual landscape of our cities, and we can see that reflected in the experiential movement surrounding food service, event marketing, and retail. Noda is only one of thousands of districts utilizing quirky design and intentional placemaking to give people an opportunity to actively contribute to a close-knit community.

We can’t ignore how social media has influenced this major change. Restaurants and shop owners are experiencing the earliest and most prominent pull towards social placemaking. Dimly lit environments with flickering candles (while deeply romantic), don’t translate well in common photography, encourage privacy, and discourage interaction between and among groups. Social media has changed both the diners’ and the practitioners’ attitude about public interactions. The orange glow cast by candlelight has been replaced with large windows, bright interiors, warm wood, and a metallic accent or pop of color. Design elements, like whimsical furniture or branded cut-outs act as an invitation. These local proprietors are inviting the light to shine in; inviting outsiders to view a vibrant dinner service in full swing; inviting patrons to snap a few photos of a display and each other.

For many, special moments are experienced twice. First, in real life and then when it’s shared through social media. Treating a business’s aesthetic like an invitation for community is wildly revolutionary from a design and marketing perspective. Approaching a private businesses as a place for community gathering harkens back to Greek agoras and Persian bazaars. Now, these ideologies are realized in efforts like Charlotte’s Noda neighborhood, Apple’s ‘Town Square’ prototype, and Boxman’s third placemaking designs, using modified and purpose-built shipping containers.

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