Culture TED Prize

Stop street harassment with your cell phone? The latest City 2.0 award winner shows how

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Too many people know the situation — you’re walking down the street, enjoying a cup of coffee and minding your own business, when a string of words curls through the air and smacks you in the face. Sometimes it’s lewd language that feels so upsetting; sometimes the words could be perceived as a compliment in another context, but the fact that they were uttered by a stranger feels like an affront.

Street harassment never sat well with Emily May. But in 2005, she was encouraged by a woman who took a photo of a man who was masturbating in a subway car and leering at her. The image quickly went viral, leading to the man’s arrest. Seeing how the tables could be turned on a harasser, May co-founded Hollaback!, a blog dedicated to photos and stories of street harassment.

“We wanted to take the focus off of the woman and onto the harasser,” explains May. “When you’re being harassed the lens is on you. We want to turn it back around and put it onto them.”

In 2010, Hollaback! released an iPhone and Android app that allows users to mark the locations where they were harassed on a Google map, as well as to share the story. The app not only allows girls, women, and members of the LGBTQ community to flip power dynamics, it also collects data on street harassment in a way never done before. The success of the app forced New York City to take note, and it has since been linked up with the city’s 311 information line. Hollaback! hopes to form similar partnerships in cities around the world.

Hollaback!, and May as its executive director, have been named the latest winner of The City 2.0 award. Want to hear more about the organization? Coincidentally, May will be speaking at TEDxWomen today, December 1, curated by The Paley Center for Media. May will be speaking during session four, “The Mirror.” Watch the livestream of the session at 2pm EST >>

In 2012, the TED Prize was bestowed upon an idea rather than an individual — The City 2.0, an online platform for the sharing of ideas to make cities function better. The $100,000 prize was broken into 10 grants of $10,000 each, to be given to a variety of projects spanning areas like transportation, education, housing, health, public space and food. So far, eight of the grants have been given out.

To suggest a project for one of the final two City 2.0 awards, nominate it through The City 2.0 website.