Good afternoon, it was my grandmother who first introduced me to the concept of grassroots mapping when she showed me how you could see old roman shadows in the wheat fields.In the pale yellow line of this Kite aerial, the grass is growing shorter on the old foundations creating a shadow of memory. Local Grassroots Knowledge such as my grandmothers is precisely the kind of civic data the Public Laboratory Grassroots Mapping program is trying to capture with fun and easy to use tools.
My name is Eymund, and I work as an environmental planner in Brooklyn, America. I live in the Gowanus Canal area, a heavily polluted industrial neighborhood that is going through a process of rebirth. Last year, after much community lobbying, our neighborhood was declared a Superfund site, meaning that it is so badly polluted that it is eligible for Federal cleanup funds.
This will mean that community groups will need access to much better data about Canal areas they want cleaned up. Typically, you would Google it, for example to call up an aerial for the site you are interested in. Unfortunately, some parts of the world, like Latin America, this is difficult to do. Other areas, like our neighborhood have excellent coverage, but the resolution is not good enough to see the actual grass, let alone any hidden clues about a sites history.
This is where Grassroots mappers come in - they provide the tools for you - the local citizen - who knows more about their backyard than anyone else, and tries to make your knowledge part of the civic discourse
Public Laboratory, through their Grassroots mapping program develop the tools to create a VISUAL RECORD of your community concerns, from mapping new homes in contested areas, to recording oil spills
They maintain an online archive of all the maps that locally trained grassroots mappers have developed of sites and issues.
From what happened with the Oil spills in the gulf of Mexico...
to exactly where it happened
as well as establishing a record of what was there before
and they try to do it at low cost, typically for under $200
Public Laboratory is building up a library of how to do it yourself guides, ranging from the equipment you need.
to building a aerial photography rigs
to the best way to fly a kite. And that’s why I Love Public Laboratory
One of our key learning tools is the collaborative sharing process on our discussion groups, in this case Jen's innovation to use cut in half plastic bottles to help stabilize and protect the camera while it automatically takes pictures.
One of the key aims of public Laboratory is to open up a new dialogue about how data is created and people experience and record their environments. Traditionally data about decision making has been locked up in the black box of the State. Unfortunately, in older cities such as New York, the authorities responsible for that data have often forgotten where they put the key. And when they do actually find it, there is often nothing in the box. So like this little girl, people who need good data about their backyards often have to create it themselves, by jumping in the pool and getting their feet wet, and thinking of it as their playground.
Welcome to the Gowanus Canal, where we've been getting our feet wet by experimenting with Grassroots Mapping techniques to find out - where pollution is coming from- what they can do about it in terms of creating a visual record for better enforcement- and identifying opportunities for restoring historical streams and planting areas for better water quality. But really this is all just an excuse to play with bright shiny balloons and paddle happy red canoes while singing pirate songs
One of our key groups is the Gowanus Canal Conservancy that has developed a master plan to improve the Canals ecological health and restore public access to the waterfront. Grassroots aerial photography is key helping them create the visual record of their work
to help nudge the bad neighbors into being nicer about things like dumping motor oil on public streets. The bus operator responsible for dumping waste into the Canal was fined half a million dollars this year by the State, which was a big legal breakthrough for the us.
One of the key reasons that the high resolution Grassroots Mapping aerials have been so useful is that they allow for detailed vegetation analysis of sites, critical our Water Sensitive Urban Design approach to divert stormwater and sewage runoff from the Canal
The Canal waters gets about a million gallons or 3.7 million liters a day of diluted sewage from our failing and overloaded Combined Rainwater & sewage system.For example, in the upper left of this aerial, we see some dark puddles and a lone tree on the Canal edge. This is exactly the kind of new insight that we need - that the puddles and the biggest trees show the best sites for new rain gardens.
As well as recording pollution, we also want to create poetry by recording the four seasons of the Canal as it changes - a data history
The aerials build community bridges between different Canal groups from the industrial welder who donated the helium for the balloons, to the City's Road workers at the City Salt lot who supported the new green ribbon strip planting along the Canal to reduce pollution runoff
None of this would be possible without a local canoe club called the Gowanus Dredgers, whose logo is if you have a lemon, make lemonade.That's a picture of our actual water quality next to the dock..typical of our oil pollution we are trying to reduce.
Thats a ballloon generated picture of our glamorous boat house, which is just a graffiti covered trucking container, where we run over 1500 canoe trips a year for people interested in the Canal
Another key Grassroots mapping partner is Proteus Gowanus, a community archive of old maps and industrial artifacts created by local artists who have started recolonizing the old factory buildings
One such historic site shown on their maps is the First Street Basin site, a part of the Canal that was illegally landfilled during the 1960s
In the upper left, you can still see the old boats in the basin. Trucks started coming at night during the 1960s, with the end result that this basin is now filled with drums of mercury contaminated waste.
As it will need to be excavated to clean out the toxics, we became curious about the basins history, and by overlaying Proteus historical maps, we found out that it was the site of one of the first tidal mills in America and one of the most famous battlegrounds of the American revolution.
Even more interesting is that we figured that the old colonial buildings were built there because of a fresh water spring, something really important for the Conservancy planners interested in sustainable water management
Could aerials help us find out more ? Well the Google aerial was good...
But the one taken by the grassroots mapping team 6 weeks ago was even better - it clearly shows a pattern of lush weeds growing through the concrete that now covers the old stream bed
When we take a canoe to where we think the stream would be coming out, lo and behold, we discover that that is were all the baby fish are congregating, because they like the cleaner water.
When we started looking at the other Canal bank aerials, we noticed a clear pattern of darker water associated with historic stream outflows, versus the milkier sewage contaminated water.
Because, well lets admit it , the people at Public Laboratory love playing with technology to solve questions, they couldnt resist jerry rigging the cameras to take infrared pictures, by taping negative camera films to the lens.
We experimented with this infrared technique, and got inconclusive results, But when we went to visit the site, we found a steel plate welded over a concealed illegal discharge pipe, which had now reverted to being just a stream. The process of asking questions was the ultimate success
What have been some of our challenges ?Well balloons dont like pricky things, so even when we summon forth all our childhood memories of Balloon Flying for dummies, we still run into occasional popping sounds and snagged kites.
We are trying to develop hybrid kite balloons to work for those turbulent situations that are neither windy nor calm, with the results you see in the photo
Because we may lose cameras from occasional crash landings, we use cheap second hand ones which often don’t reflect the latest advances in image quality, as in this slightly blurry picture.
And we've developed community crowdsourcing tools for sorting and ranking the hundreds of images that are captured by a typical flight.
We are only a small fraction of public generated visual data that is flooding the internet. This photo was not generated by Grassroots Mappers, but by a random passerby, and yet is highly relevant to us because it contains extremely valuable hydrology data. What are the civic decision making implications of these millions of images that can now be tied back to space ?
This is Eric Fisher's 2011 eye opening map of where people take pictures on Flickr, where the photo is reconnected back to its home. It was surprising how accurate it was in showing my neighborhood's activity patterns
It captured the spot where the local kids photograph themselves in front of the &quot;no skateboarding' sign. It even captured the Twittering of all our environmental volunteers on the formerly empty lots
We are embracing these new crowdsourcing innovations to detect patterns in plant species and histories of environmental violations
I hope I’ve given you a sense of the fun that we had playing with balloons and kites, and sometimes I feel just like that little girl, that it's HER pool, that backyard civic data is MY pool, and that Public Laboratory has told me its OK to jump in and splash around a bit. Thank you.
Eymund Diegel - Grassroots Mapping
Grassroots Mapping Creating cheap open source aerial imagery and data for Community efforts to cleanup a polluted neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, USA Bringing memories and fun back to civic data Public Laboratory for Open Technology & Science Kite Photographed “Grassroots” Crop Marks of Roman Buildings, Grosseto, Tuscany, Italy, Flickr, Paolo Opaxir, May 2008
Canal Manhattan Gowanus Watershed The Canal Historic Landfilled Tidal Marsh A Community Campaign in need of Grassroots Data to help with decisions and new ideas Manhattan Gowanus Canal Superfund Pollution Cleanup Site Aerial: NYCDEP 1990, Sewage: Tom Giebel 2010 “ Sludgie” Superfund mascot: Anna Martin 2009
We live in an age of amazing technological access but… Sometimes we want to know more .. So who do you call ..? Peru USA Aerial Photos courtesy of Google Maps and Bing Aerials circa 2009 (?)
Unless stated otherwise, all photo credits are Grassrootsmapping.org, 2011
Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science Exploring ways to make technology and science more accessible for local Community ideas Creating a VISUAL record of Community activities HELPING ANSWER THE QUESTION: HOW DO WE DO IT ?
Eymund Diegel (Proteus / Gowanus Canal Conservancy / Dredgers) with Canoers from Gowanus Dredgers, about to use balloons to take aerial photos of the Canal waters and edges. Photo credit: 2011 Mike Weiss, Brooklyn Eagle
The Gowanus Canal Conservancy Map: Susannah Drake, dlandstudio, 2010 FIRST STREET BASIN RESTORATION BROUWERS BROOK / DEGRAW ST BIO SWALE BERGEN CREEK / BATTLE BRIDGE PUBLIC PLACE PARK SECOND AVE BIOSWALE FOURTH STREET BASIN RESTORATION SECOND STREET SPONGE PARK WHOLE FOODS PARK OIL POLLUTION
SECOND AVE STREET END SITE AERIAL SHOWING ILLEGAL MOTOR OIL SPILLS 27 March 2011 Grassroots Mapping Kite Aerial
Water Sensitive Urban Design How can cheap High resolution aerials help ? 1766 Historical Watershed Modeling by Lucas Kronawitter, 2011 ArcHydro Watershed Flow Map by Eymund Diegel, 2010 Grass by Albrecht Durer, 1503 Sites for which we we want aerial data : versus ECOLOGICAL WATER CYCLE URBAN WATER CYCLE IT RAINS WATER GOES INTO PIPE CONDENSATION EVAPORATION INFILTRATION IT RAINS SOME WATER GOES INTO PIPE WE ARE LOOKING FOR GOOD INFILTRATION SITES Being able to see the vegetation is important:
Whole Food Site 31 July 2011 Balloon Aerial Trees like growing near buried old streams and survive best near “edges”
Capturing the 4 Seasons of the Canal’s first Green Infrastructure 22 January 2011 27 March 2011 21 July 2011 Winter Spring Summer www.gowanuscanalconservancy.org CREATING A HISTORY
www.gowanuscanalconservancy.org ENCOURAGING DATA SHARING & BETTER IDEAS BETWEEN CITY, STATE, THE COMMUNITY & LOCAL INDUSTRY
The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club Making the Canal fun while providing information about its water quality to the Community through free boats and education events Come on down ! www.gowanuscanal.org REACHING OUT WHEN IT SUCKS, ADVERTISE IT
Proteus Gowanus Historical Maps from the Hall of the Gowanus Community Happenings Education & Outreach Proteus Gowanus acts as an interpreter of culture and place, deepening the community’s sense of context and connection 1639 1782 1836 1837 1844 Bringing Memory Back to Space Bess Adler, Brooklyn Paper, June 2011 www.proteusgowanus.org Interdisciplinary Gallery & Reading Room Scientific Samples & Data as Art Katia Kelly, Pardon Me For Asking, 2011 Superfund Manager Tsiamis 1766 1924 The Star of the Gowanus
LANDFILLED DURING 1960’S BY TRUCKS COMING AT NIGHT FEDERAL CLEANUP INVESTIGATION FOUND TOXIC LEVELS OF MERCURY WILL NEED EXCAVATION WHAT CAN WE FIND OUT ? Above: 1951 Aerial with Boats Below: 2011 View of Filled Basin Aero Service Aerials, 1951
Proteus – Hall of the Gowanus Site (old Brouwers Mill) Freeke’s Mill 1776 Battle of Brooklyn Site Contaminated 1 st Street Basin that will need excavation Island where 1776 battle Casualties may have been buried FIRST STREET BASIN SITE Map: Bernard Ratzer,1766 Painting: Alonzo Chappel, Battle of Long Island, 1858
Potential Spring 1766 stream overlay COULD THIS SPRING STILL BE RUNNING ?
Birds and Fish as guides to where the clean water is for restoration opportunities Heron photo: 2007 Bob Gusskind
Brouwers Brook Restoration (Degraw Street Bioswale) Mapping the historic streams of the Gowanus Canal Are there clues in the water’s color ?