JimenaBlog

Using Public Art to Bring Visibility to Water Infrastructure

There is no doubt that our nation’s infrastructure systems need to be upgraded and water infrastructure is no exception. Water and wastewater infrastructures are aging and in need of replacement and rehabilitation; in fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructures a grade of ‘D’ in 2013. Furthermore, climate change, increasing populations, and insufficient funds are likely to exacerbate these challenges and without strong public support, water infrastructure improvements may not be given the priority they deserve.

Throughout my time as a water engineer, I have concluded that most people generally understand the importance of strong and reliable water infrastructure systems, yet they are not familiar with the processes required to treat and manage water, wastewater, and stormwater, as well as the issues currently faced by these types of infrastructure systems. Unless there is a pipe burst, a water shortage, a sewer overflow, or a tragedy like Flint, water systems and their current condition are not usually part of everyday conversations.

So why do most people take water infrastructure for granted? In my consideration, the main reason is that water systems are set up to make us forget about them. Compared to other infrastructures, like roads and bridges, these systems are buried, hidden, or placed far away from communities. How many times do we think about the water we use when we open the water faucet or flush the toilet?

While pursuing my master’s in urban and regional planning, I became interested in public art and placemaking. However, while browsing an issue of Public Art Review, I realized that my new interests could be the way to make water infrastructure systems more visible. When properly integrated, public art not only makes water infrastructure systems noticeable, but makes them of the urban fabric.

A great example of the integration of public art in water infrastructure is the Brightwater Treatment Plant, a wastewater facility in King County, Washington, which I visited in August 2016.  The plant successfully integrates public art throughout the treatment process. The public art not only has made the plant visible, but part of the neighborhood’s urban fabric. The community continuously comes to walk around the beautiful gardens and check out the public art. In fact, it has become so popular that community center is used for wedding receptions!

But the public art has also been a way to educate the community about the treatment of wastewater. This is the case of Buster Simpson’s BioBoulevard, a (shown here), a public art piece that is also a reclaimed water pipeline. Working closely with engineers, this purple pipe tells the story of the marine outfall discharging to Puget Sound. The portholes on top of the pipe expose the water to the sun and allow the chlorine to off-gas, while representing the oxygen diffusers in the actual outfall. “Do not drink” is written in all languages represented in King County throughout the pipeline.

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Although procuring, creating, installing, and maintaining public art requires money, time, and experience, bringing public artists into the development of infrastructure can be rewarding and beneficial. So, as I continue my professional career, I challenge my fellow engineers and planners concerned with water infrastructure: why not use public art to bring visibility and engage the public to address some of the concerns?

 

Jimena Larson is an environmental engineer and urban planner from Bogota, Colombia interested in water, infrastructure, and urban design challenges.

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Do You Know How Smart Our City Is Becoming?

Washington, D.C. is full of smart technologies, some of which you know about (apps such as Uber, Lyft, Google Maps, Bikeshare, etc.) and others you probably don’t. This past summer, I attended an event called Smart City Symposium- “Solutions for Business Growth and Economic Development” (include a small exhibition) in downtown D.C., hosted by the DC Chamber of Commerce and Verizon.

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https://twitter.com/vorangedc         @VOrangeDC

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https://twitter.com/dcchamber        @dcchamber

The Office of the Chief Technology Officer shared some of the technologies the city is already using. Further information on this can be found on their website.

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But “5G Technology” was the key word through the whole event. For people who don’t know about 5G, it is basically 4G with user data. For example, Google will detect the amount of traffic by counting how many people are using their map at a specific location, same as they are tracking the restaurant rush hour by counting how many people are searching for it online.

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Verizon is working to engage 5G technology in the D.C. area to make people’s lives more convenient. Here are some of the great products they demonstrated:

  1. Smart trash can

I was really impressed by this new trash can. They look like unimpressive boxes, but can fit four times more than a regular trash can. The smart part is that it can sense how full the trash bin is in real time and send a signal that it needs to be emptied, allowing garbage crews to come only as needed instead of on a set schedule, emptying bins that are not yet full. It can save time, resources, and energy emissions.

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2. Home clinic

Home clinics are long-distance personal doctors. A doctor can talk with patients over video chat and then send devices the patient can use to measure their own vitals, such as blood pressure or blood sugar. After they know the patient’s health information, they can provide suggestions and prescribe medication. This will save patients time and money by allowing them to skip a trip to the doctor’s office if they have only minor symptoms and don’t need to go to hospital. The same methods can be used for other doctors, such as psychologists.

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3. Agriculture drone

Agriculture uses more natural resources and has a greater carbon footprint than almost any other sector. Agricultural drones, however, will change the way crops are produced. Drones will gather information throughout the day on weather conditions like temperature, moisture, and wind. As more information is collected, the system will analyze the data and tell other devices how much water different crops need, if a certain action needs to be taken, and so on. This will significantly reduce resource waste and improve production.

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4. Smart car

This program is similar to Zipcar, but it’s currently only implemented on some university campuses. It works like Car2go, where the customer can use the app to track where there has an available car. However, Verizon is still testing this technology so I do not have too much information about it.

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From what I can see, 5G technology will save people time and help make life easier and more convenient. One of the downsides, however, is that I feel less secure because our personal information is publicized and stored on the internet. The internet will have information on where we are, what we are doing, and what we are talking about. I am excited about how the world is becoming more and more advanced, but I also want to be reassured that our information can be private. This is something people should keep in mind as these types of technologies become more prominent.

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.

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Local Elections and the Paris Climate Agreement

As an urban planner and environmental advocate, two items in the news today have really gotten my attention: the Paris Climate Agreement and local/state elections all across the country. In my mind, the two are deeply interwoven. But how do local elections affect an international movement?

In case you haven’t been following the news around the Paris Agreement, as of this afternoon (Tuesday November 7, 2017 at 12pm), Syria has announced it will sign the Paris Agreement, leaving the United States as the only country that has not yet agreed to sign on. In fact, the United States’ presentation at the United Nations Global Warming Conference in Bonn, Germany this week promotes coal, natural gas and nuclear energy as an answer to climate change.

I would be in even more despair than I already am if it wasn’t for the United States Climate Alliance, which is a bi-partisan coalition of states committed to the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The Climate Alliance is sending multiple governors to Bonn to reassure world leaders that, while the federal government is changing direction in its climate policy, multiple states are working to ensure the US meets the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement. This is meaningful because if enough states join, that will make a significant impact on emissions reductions. To put things into perspective, one of these states, California, has a GDP that ranks in the top 10 of all countries. That’s why it’s so important that these states are helping to lead the charge against climate change.

Which now brings me to local/state elections. Far too many Americans only vote in presidential elections, thinking that local government doesn’t matter as much. This couldn’t be more wrong. Change often starts at the local and state level. On a micro-level, the decisions your city council, mayor, state representatives, and other elected officials make affect your life on a daily basis. Urban planners often talk about the importance of creating sustainable cities through alternative transportation, energy efficiency, storm water management, and other infrastructure and policies. These planning decisions happen at the local and state level and improve the environment that you live in every day. On a more macro-level, however, successful innovative local policies can often become state policies, which may one day even become national policies. When elected officials see public support for policies in their home states, they are more likely to support them at a national level.

That’s why it’s important that cities and states are helping to reduce emissions, even when federal actions are not. Your councilmember can approve the addition of a bike lane to your street to help reduce traffic emissions. Your mayor can mandate that buildings are built to be more energy efficient. And your governor can just maybe work with the rest of the world to ensure that the United States meets the emission-reduction targets laid out in the Paris Agreement.

All of this is to say, if you haven’t voted in your local election yet, most polls close between 6pm and 9pm. Get out there.

*To find your local polling place and ballot information, visit www.vote.org/polling-place-locator/.





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