"A big ass balloon brings people so much joy. When it comes down to it, we're all five years old."
--something I might have said during a recent workshop
Over the past few months, Sean McGinnis and I have been talking about trying to grow a Public Lab community in the Philadelphia area. During Philly Tech Week, we finally got things started. Sean and I led a balloon mapping workshop on April 24 with help from our friends Sarah Cordivano, Daniel Bergey, and Christalee Bieber. More than 20 mapping enthusiasts -- geographers, teachers, software developers, landscape architects, urban planners, artists, students, and journalists -- joined us at Penn's Landing on the Delaware River to launch two giant balloons and take aerial images of the waterfront. It was magical. For about an hour that day, we were a big group of five-year-olds looking up a giant balloon in the sky.
Sure, the workshop was fun. But the most exciting thing about the event was that so many groups came together to pool resources and share ideas. We received grants from the Philly Tech Week organizing committee and the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project to fund the workshop. The Hacktory and Hacks Hackers Philly helped us organize, host, and market the event. The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation allowed us to use nearly all of Penn's Landing to fly the balloon. And, at the last minute, the IT group at the Philadelphia School District (PSD) offered to let us use their beautiful computer lab and the three-story atrium at school district headquarters. After the balloon launch, the group trekked over to PSD headquarters to work with MapKnitter and to play around with building and flying different kinds of camera rigs. (You might have heard a rumor that we stretched a zipline from one end of the atrium to the other. It's true.)
Zack Seward from WHYY, the local NPR affiliate, came down to the waterfront to watch us. He posted a fun story about us just hours after the workshop ended, and his radio piece aired that night.
I captured some great images of the group preparing and launching the balloons (note: some images are from workshop participant Joe Gallagher). When we reeled in the orange balloon and pulled the GoPro out of the camera rig, we were thrilled to find some gorgeous aerial images of the waterfront.
We created a lot of enthusiasm for PLOTS. Several of the workshop participants expressed interest in incorporating balloon mapping techniques into their research and educational programs, and Sean and I are hoping to support their efforts. PLOTS Philadelphia is alive!
To do: We're still working on stitching the images together MapKnitter. I'll post a link to the final map here when we have something we're happy with.