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Public Lab River Rat Pack -- St. Louis – Xiaoqing Qin

by Xiaoqing | over 3 years ago | 0 | 1

Have been in St. Louis for three years for my master of landscape architecture in Washington University, it is Derek’s Public Lab River Rat Pack class for the first time that gave me such a series of site visits systematically along the rivers and the water system around. The large number of aerial photos from our balloon/kite flies in different angles amazed me: there are so many details I have never noticed in and along the rivers before when I was looking at aerial photos from other online sources like Google Earth for my other projects, and I think the accumulation of those details are shaping the landscape and will make a big difference for us to understand how the influence of water on our living environment.

I started to document my own observation by creating the water flow diagrams generating from aerial photos, collaborating with students diagraming vegetation and water infrastructure. These water flow diagrams are my personal interpretation of the direction and velocity of both the river water and the storm water, which I regard them as a work in-between science and design. There is the beauty of the natural water flows, shaped by Mother Nature’s geology millions years ago, which is quit missing in our urban landscape today. The next time if recreating any waterscape in the urban context, maybe we will have inspirations from here. There is the warning of human occupation at the riverfront. The flood is ruthless to anything in front, no guarantee our flood-preventing facility can work every time. At the same time, the increase of impervious surface and channelized riverbed in urbanized area keep adding power to the storm water. There is the ecological value behind, where water slow down, curve back and deposit, the sediment and nutrient create small refugees for certain plants and animals.

In the end, I want to appreciate the opportunity to work with students of science background and other design disciplines, and meet different people in the community. I learned a lot from you and I am proud we have such a wonderful exhibition with everybody's work together. I hope there will be more other engagement to keep the project going in the future.


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    Public Lab River Rat Pack -- St. Louis -- Exhibition

    by derekhoeferlin | over 3 years ago | 4 | 4

    Since January, 2016 the Public Lab River Rat Pack (led by Architect and Assistant Professor Derek Hoeferlin) has documented multiple river edge conditions in the St. Louis, Missouri region, near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Some map the difference between high and low river stages; others map the intensity of industrial uses along the rivers; others map more ecological areas; and, all question the profound lack of access by the public to the rivers. Hoeferlin led a seminar at Washington University in St. Louis that included undergraduate and graduate architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, construction management and earth and planetary studies students. The work is ongoing, and we are looking forward to collaborate with others in St. Louis, and beyond. The exhibition of the work will be on display in Givens Hall at Washington University though mid-May. More posts are forthcoming from the students including more in depth explanations of findings from each site and the process of collaboration with the community. Thanks to Public lab, Washington University, the US Army Corps of Engineers, Audubon Institute at Riverlands, and others, for the time and support!









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    Highlights: Working with Communities in the DIY Oil Testing Booklet

    by stevie | over 3 years ago | 10 | 1

    The second section of the new DIY Oil Testing Booklet, which we’re highlighting this week, is focused on Working with Communities.

    In this section, you will find four workshops ready to help you lead a group through:

    • designing an experiment
    • building a spectrometer
    • calibration and scanning
    • finally analyzing your results

    Check out the workshops here:


    To highlight #1:

    The Design an Experiment workshop can be used for anyone who is interested in conducting experiments which make use of the scientific method. It will help you work through understanding the capabilities and limitations of data. Participants in this workshop will be able to learn about the elements needed for good experimental design, identify important points of designing a clear experiment, draft questions and transform them into hypotheses, and explored the concept of proof versus likelihood.

    This section of the Oil Testing Booklet also explores the nuances of working with both online and offline community members. It provides material on outreach strategies for those working at different stages in projects. It explains how Public Lab run an online program for people to helped identify and to show the ability and limitations of the Oil Testing Kit through replication.

    For those interested in community tool development, another section in this chapter explores the new concept of “Open open hardware” -- a reference to the fact that many “open hardware” projects are developed in private and only published openly upon completion. By contrast, the process we’ve proposed and begun to adopt is one where the goals includes things like:

    • low barrier to entry for new contributors
    • predictable revision timeline
    • regular iteration and feedback on proposed changes to help them get prepared for the next release due date
    • a single, consistent, versioned, "baseline" design for the project, emphasizing simplicity & low cost, but upon which advanced mods may be made

    Learn more about the workshops, the programs and ideas explored in this project with the Oil Testing Kit Booklet:

    Order here ($10 paperback)

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    Camp Code: How to navigate a refugee settlement

    by clauds | over 3 years ago | 1 | 3

    This blog post is the beginning of an article published at Places Journal on 5 April 2016. It is about Bourj Al Shamali refugee camp and provides background understanding of the situation in the camp where recently a Public Lab Chapter was set up. For the full version of the article (with all the foot notes, photos and links), please refer to original article in Places Journal.


    Start with the obvious: not all refugee camps are the same. The experiences of some 60 million people --- "one in every 122 humans," according to the United Nations --- cannot be generalized. They live in tarp shelters, tents, shipping containers, or concrete buildings; in formal settlements administered by the UN, or in makeshift camps on the urban fringe. They are refugees, asylum seekers, stateless, internally displaced. Around the world, their numbers are increasing.

    In Lebanon, the crisis (or, rather, series of crises) has been going on since 1948. More than 1 million Syrians and 450,000 Palestinians --- an astonishing one quarter of the population --- live in twelve official refugee camps and hundreds of informal settlements. The oldest camps, once considered temporary, are home to third- and fourth-generation refugees. These are not tent camps but dense spaces of concrete and asphalt, urban materializations of an ongoing state of emergency.

    What goes on inside a refugee camp? How is it organized spatially and materially? In these brief sketches, I invite readers to navigate the Palestinian camp of Bourj Al Shamali, situated high on a hill in southern Lebanon, overlooking the Mediterranean city of Tyre. Built as a temporary refuge in 1955, it is now an overcrowded, unplanned, permanent 'city-camp' housing 23,000 registered refugees in 135,000 square meters. It would be easy to drive right past it, mistaking it for a poor district of the adjacent village that shares its name. Seven decades after the camp was founded, what distinguishes the supposedly temporary from the supposedly permanent is anything but clear.


    ##The Entrance Checkpoint

    Your first stop is a Lebanese Army checkpoint on the main entrance road. Foreigners need a permit to enter the camp. It's not hard to obtain, but it takes a few days, and it helps to know someone who can shepherd your request through the mukhabarat, the army intelligence service. The permit system deters curious strangers and helps authorities monitor the population. It also makes the camp feel like an open-air prison. Strict access controls and constant surveillance discourage visits from friends and family members and remind refugees that their life is not entirely their own.

    Leaving the camp is easier, at least in tranquil times. You won't trigger any controls, other than a wave from the soldier on duty. But the checkpoint is fickle: it can be strict or lax, depending on current events and the mood of the guards.

    Fifty meters down the road is a second checkpoint, run by Fatah. 8 Here a Palestinian soldier stands at attention, hand on his gun, while middle-aged men sit in white plastic chairs, drinking coffee and discussing politics. They don't check papers. At most, you'll get a hard stare. Bourj Al Shamali is one of the quietest Palestinian camps in Lebanon, and these are relatively quiet times.


    ##Crossing the Border If you don't have a permit, you can still get in. There are five unofficial entrances: former village streets barricaded with cement blocks that allow pedestrians to pass, but not cars. The camp is irregularly shaped, following the property lines of land rented by the Lebanese government for 99 years. Within these borders, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has provided services since 1955.

    When you cross that border, you are in a zone of urban informality. 9 The unplanned streets and haphazard buildings announce that this is a place of legal exception, outside regulation, where a state of emergency is the norm. 10 On every corner you see reminders of the Arab-Israeli conflict: political graffiti, posters of "martyrs" lost in battle, paintings of the Dome of the Rock and of keys that symbolize the properties left behind in historic Palestine.

    There is no wall surrounding the refugee camp; in some cases, construction goes right up to the street barricades. On the southern and eastern borders, lush orange trees and banana plantations lie beyond a barbed wire fence.


    ##Don't Look for a Map On public maps of Lebanon --- paper or online --- refugee camps are often shown as gray blobs, with no detailed view of the street plan. Useful maps of Bourj Al Shamali exist, but they are held tightly by international organizations who regard the circulation of such knowledge as a security risk. That partly explains the unplanned growth. To live without a map is to exist without a future, in a space forever uncharted. Maps of historic Palestine, on the other hand, are everywhere: on flags and banners, walls, keychains, t-shirts. 11

    To live without a map is to exist without a future, in a space forever uncharted. There are no signed streets or alleys, either. Here the hill helps you get your bearings, but it's easy to get lost in the jumble of alleys (especially compared to the nearby camps Rashadiyeh and Al Bass, which were built in the 1930s for Armenian refugees and planned by the French on a street grid). The camp is divided informally into neighborhoods named after agricultural villages in the Safad and Tiberias regions of Palestine. When the first refugees arrived, they moved in groups and settled with others from their home villages. 12 Even today, people in Bourj Al Shamali give directions that incorporate landmarks from those old villages. This way of navigating depends on a collective memory of place that is shared even by younger generations who have never visited the referents for the local toponyms.

    That shared memory is maintained by groups like Al Houlah Association, which runs the main library in camp. Named after a lake in Palestine that bordered many of the old villages (now the Hula Valley Natural Reserve in Israel), the association aims to reconnect the community with its heritage and to reinforce a sense of civil society. Recently, signs have been installed on houses in camp that report details about the inhabitants' villages of origin.

    For more:>

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    Call for input on upcoming Rich Editor and Rich Wiki projects for

    by warren | over 3 years ago | 9 | 1

    Hi, all - we're launching a new project for the website to completely revise the research note posting form based on input from various folks. This summer, we'll launch a similar effort to redesign our wiki pages.

    As is always the case in coding, our to-do list could be infinitely long ;-) but I'm hoping to get some of the basic ideas and goals out there in this post, and solicit input and futher suggestions which we'll use to decide on a scope for this project. We're looking to achieve our top goals within a defined timeline, so not everything will be incorporated, but we'll do our best to knock the highest items off the list.

    Rich Editor

    The Rich Editor project is focused on the following goals, so far:

    • easier, more newcomer-friendly posting experience
    • clearer prompts/scaffolding for formatting and tagging your work
    • tools to encourage authors to invite others into their work
    • not overwhelming authors with too much interface
    • backwards compatibility with older notes

    Some ways we're hoping to address these will most likely include:

    • a rich text, What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) editor (possibly using the Woofmark library)
    • WYSIWYG image upload and management
    • more customized interface for different note types (events, questions, etc)
    • modularizing parts of the new editor for re-use by others as an independent library (PublicLab.Editor.js or npm install publiclab-editor)

    Other ideas that could come into play:

    • prompting people to describe their work in steps
    • prompting for materials/methods -- to enable others to reproduce
    • suggested tags interface
    • drafts, revisions, better auto-save
    • more comprehensive co-authoring
    • "write a research note about this" bookmarklet
    • inline display of a collection of notes, by tag

    Have ideas, want to explore/brainstorm/encourage/caution on any of the above? Please leave a comment!

    Rich Wiki

    Some of the work on the Rich Editor will likely be re-used in the Rich Wiki project, but wikis are more complex (multiple authors, for one), which is why we're doing this project second.

    There's a lot here, and we have more time to plan, but the overall goals are to:

    • make the wiki a more collaborative space
    • invite more people in to edit/maintain wikis
    • make wikis a place to write together, instead of write over one another
    • make edits visible to other authors, so they can be discussed
    • make it easier to keep wikis up to date and relevant
    • make wikis more of a living document -- a place to work together, not to just dump information


    • rich/WYSIWYG editing (built on the Rich Editor work)
    • commenting and/or in-line commenting
    • commenting UI: speech-bubble icon in margin
    • "suggest a change" feature, "resolved"
    • comment history
    • editing of subsections: "edit this section"
    • more embedding options like maps, data
    • concurrent editing? (difficult but possible)
    • "staleness" reminders:
      • top of page notice if no edits in X weeks
      • email notification to all authors/watchers "this page hasn't been updated in a while. Mark it [out-of-date] [needs-help]"
      • listing at
    • more wiki page templates: guides, events, how-to, etc?
    • page "Pulse" as Github does for projects, to see a snapshot of collaboration:

    A couple may be completed earlier as they've become a priority due to an increase in spam:

    • wiki edit notifications, subscriptions
    • wiki page locking

    Anyhow, please jump in with ideas -- we'll likely have to break out some features into separate discussions, so I may break out (at least) the Rich Wikis part of this into its own research note, but either way, we're eager to hear from folks!

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    Environmental Justice and Substantive Policies

    by stevie | over 3 years ago | 2 | 2

    The image above is from President Clinton's signing of "Executive Order 12898, an historic directive to federal agencies to address disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects on communities of color and low-income populations." Photo from, who cite the image to Dr. Robert Bullard.

    I wanted to follow up the post I did back in September last year on Environmental Justice in Louisiana. This week past I attended the NEJAC meetings in Gulfport, Mississippi. NEJAC, established in 1993, is the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, “a federal advisory committee to EPA ... The Council provides advice and recommendations about broad, cross-cutting issues related to environmental justice, from all stakeholders involved in the environmental justice dialogue. ”

    To start off the conversation, Gina McCarthy, the US EPA Administrator (think the president’s EPA speed dial contact), began the meeting with comments that “we are here because there are communities left behind.” She highlighted Environmental Justice in its relationship to Public Health, “when the system fails.” While McCarthy is considered, by many, to be progressive in her views of Environmental Justice, many in attendance at NEJAC define EJ issues as not merely in their relation to Public Health, but directly stemming from racism ingrained in our public and private systems.

    While we can point fingers at various kinks in these systems where the dirty fingers of racism hold on, many people in NEJAC pointed at the breaking point between state and federal policy. This was specifically referenced at the NEJAC meeting in the state and federal response to the drinking water crisis in Flint. People in Flint had been going to the state on issues of their drinking water for years, and they were ignored. Even when citizens of Flint went to the EPA on the specific issue the EPA deferred concerned citizens back to the state. In fact, it took Virginia Tech, a university in an entirely different state, to bring out this issue through their water sampling in the Flint community. This is the job of the state, and when the state doesn’t do it, it’s the job of EPA to hold the states accountable or intervene and do it themselves.

    In analyzing the relationship the Michigan state government has with the term “Environmental Justice” there is as a stark contrast to that of the Louisiana DNR and DEQ as previously discussed. Where you can’t find the words “environment” next to the word “justice” in any state policies in Louisiana, Michigan has at least developed an Environmental Justice Plan, most recently revised in 2010: “Environmental Justice Plan for the state of Michigan and department of Natural Resources and Environment.” (Side note that environmental issues Michigan are now under the Department of Environmental Quality)

    In the Michigan state environmental justice plan, the state identifies: “The environmental justice plan among other things, must include measures to identify, address and prevent discriminatory public health or environmental effects of state laws, regulations, policies and activities on Michigan residents. Discriminatory effects are those that cause disproportionately adverse public health or environmental impacts on minority or low income populations...As with any state government agency, the DNRE must carry out its responsibilities in compliance with federal and state laws and agency regulations prohibiting both intentional and unintentional discriminatory actions based on a number of protected categories, including race, color or national origin. Furthermore, recommendations of of the plan include “prioritizing inspections, enforcement, compliance assistance, remediation and other activities which assist in identifying and mitigating disparate impacts.”

    While we might expect that states who don’t even recognize Environmental Justice in their governmental agencies might be worse at protecting EJ communities, it had been unclear to me if states that do highlight EJ issues might be better. This is by no means an analysis, but based on what is happening in Michigan, it seems that even when the state recognizes the problems of environmental injustice, it does not necessarily follow that EJ communities are more protected, or even that the paths between people and policy, or metrics of accountability are more clear.

    As previously mentioned in the EJ in LA post, the EPA has been putting forward tools such as EJScreen, and others in helping to identify vulnerable and subjugated communities. But as highlighted by the EPA, “EJScreen simply provides a way to display this information and includes a method for combining environmental and demographic indicators into EJ indexes.”. In the NEJAC meeting, renowned EJ advocate Vernice Miller-Travis (former Director of the Environmental Justice Initiative of the NRDC, former Executive Director of Groundwork USA, co-founder of We ACT for Environmental Justice) argues that beyond resources, and beyond engaging people in public participation, we need “substantive policies,” policies with teeth that direct responsibility and take action.

    So while it’s great that Michigan had an EJ working group back in 2010, where are the substantive policies? While it’s also great that the EPA creates tools such as EJScreen and the new DWMaps, where are the substantive policies? And while we are told by US EPA Office of Water’s Deputy Assistant Administrator Joel Beauvais that (an estimated?) 9% of drinking water systems in the US are not meeting health based water quality regulations, where are the substantive policies?

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