Public Lab Wiki documentation

New York City

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The New York / New Jersey metropolitan region is home to several projects with many partnering organizations, community groups, and individuals. We have a lending library of tools and instructional materials based at the former Pfizer building in Brooklyn: 630 Flushing Avenue. Inquire by joining and emailing the PLOTS-NYC mailing list:

The Public Lab NYC community's mapping efforts are featured in Google Maps.

(Above: a plume discovered with near-infrared balloon photography in the Gowanus Canal in 2011 by PLOTS mappers and the GCC)

Gowanus Canal Investigations by GLAM

The Gowanus Canal Conservancy is conducting environmental investigations in the Gowanus Canal sub-watershed by using balloons and kites to capture aerial imagery. The Gowanus Low-Altitude Mapping (GLAM) project aims to document the changing urban landscape of the watershed. With this information, we hope to identify more areas to expand green space, in addition to position ourselves as a community watchdog during the Superfund cleanup. We have completed a four-part set of seasonal imagery from 2011, which is hosted in our archive. Sometimes we use a stereo camera rig to collect infrared imagery in addition to visible imagery. The data documents patterns/concentrations of vegetation or possible contaminants, monitors the stormwater retention design interventions that the GCC is installing along the canal edge, and reveals unknown or unidentified pipes or sources of groundwater entering the canal. In the long-term, this inquiry effort seeks to address the 300M gallons of untreated sewage that will continue entering the canal yearly even after the EPA finishes their Superfund clean-up of the toxic sediments at the bottom of the canal. See our Flickr gallery for our collection of aerial imagery.

Key GLAM researchers: Eymund Diegel, [Hans Hesselein], Natasia Sidhartha, Gena Wirth, Leif Percifield, and many more.

The Gowanus imagery has been republished by Google in Google Earth, and the salt lot map is now the default layer in Google Maps -- with attribution to "Public Laboratory":

The Gowanus Canal also hosts many technical development innovations. Thermal imaging is a newly developed approach to identify where warmer ground water is entering the cool waters of the canal. A thermal fishing bob can be towed through the water by a canoe. The temperature is displayed on a RGB LED. Data is collected by a timelapse camera set up on shore. Imagined and prototyped by Eymund Diegel, now Kaya Simmons is continuing the research in Boston and NYC. Follow along at

The Water Hackathon in 2012 engaged Leif Percifield and team to create a water quality sensor for deployment in the Gowanus Canal. Follow along with developments in water quality sensors here:

There are speculations by Jeff Laut and Eymund that dye tracing and underwater photography can help reveal where street drains empty into the Gowanus through previously un-noticed pipes. Follow along at

Cypress Hills

This 8 week Air Quality Class was created for the Cypress Hills Air Quality (CHAQ) Initiative, with support from the United States Environmental Protection Agency's program "Citizen Science: Community Involvement Today and in the Future". This project is in collaboration with the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation Joe Saavedra and Liz Barry are the Public Lab facilitators. Georgia Bullen and Leif Percifield are also involved. Program participants will spend 24 weeks working with air quality sensors to monitor indoor air pollutants in Cypress Hills and East New York. The students will catalog and analyze the environmental air pollutant hazards that affect neighborhood homes and will share their findings with other community members. Follow along at

Jamaica Bay, Gateway National Park

Gena Wirth is leading a long-term investigation into the wetlands reconstruction effort by the Army Corps of Engineers in Jamaica Bay, New York.

Freshkills Park, Staten Island

Nick Johnson is investigating Freshkills Park as a part of an ongoing project titled Life of Trash, a project dedicated towards better understanding the invisible urban waste infrastructure and supporting community education and awareness around landfill activity.


Five Borough Farm

Liz Barry and Phil Silva an Outreach Fellow on Five Borough Farm, a project of the Design Trust for Public Space. Five Borough Farm provides a set of user-friendly tools that can be used by farmers and gardeners everywhere to track and evaluate urban agriculture's myriad impacts. The outcomes monitoring toolkit we developed is being piloted by 25+ community gardens and urban farms around New York City. Many of the sites are also being mapped through pole aerial photography in visible and infrared wavelengths -- follow our process at

NY Harbor and the Hudson River

Multiple projects are ongoing in the NY Harbor and along the Hudson River. Several partnering organizations are testing out research methods for a variety of topics including mapping oyster reefs by NY/NJ Baykeeper and mapping phragmites by Nature Conservancy of NY.

Newtown Creek

Just starting up is a Newtown Creek monitoring project, where the first set of imagery was collected from the Riverkeeper boat during a shoreline infrastructure assessment in summer 2011. (In progress map). Newtown Creek is another EPA Superfund site within the five boroughs of NYC.


(Above: A plume of unidentified material in Newtown Creek, photographed with a balloon mapping kit by PLOTS mappers and Riverkeeper in 2011)

Aurash khawarzad has office nearby and has led a kite mapping party on site.

Additional Sites

Another regional project is Grassroots Newark, organized by Jen Hudon in 2011, which focused on development and community issues on both sides of the Passaic River:

The New School Geo Club is a newly formed student group that has been active mapping social patterns in Washington Square Park and other sites. Occupy Wall Street events and maps are related to this student group.

An October 2010 workshop was held at Union Square with Parsons The New School for Design, see the blog post on Jen Hudon, Lee Altman, Jenny Chou (who went on to lead aerial mapping in Beijing), and Leif Percifield joined at this time.


NYC supported the Gulf Coast response to the BP Oil Spill in May 2010. Current and past students of Liz Barry met up outside of class to help the Grassroots Mappers with remote logistics such as connecting volunteer mappers with available spots on boats at specific marinas from which the most vulnerable wetlands could be reached. This group included Molly Oberholtzer, Ian Pugh, and Kaushal Shrestha, and Corey Mullee, and went on to create their own balloon aerial mapping rig with CHDK camera.

The first ever Grassroots Mapping workshop was held in New York City in June 2010 at collab at the Hudson River Piers. Natalie Jeremijenko, Victoria Marshall, Liz Barry, Jeff Warren and about 6 others attended.