Know Your Watershed, Mapping Rivers, Mapping Our Commons

Mississippi river upstream sources
Part of my childhood was spent living just a mile from the Mississippi up around Minneapolis.  Screenshot from the US National Atlas Streamer Map

Fresh water is more valuable than oil because humanity can live without one of these. There’s something about mapping water, about mapping rivers, that resonates so well with our online hyper connected lives. Maybe it’s because we take water for granted almost as much as we take all of our social connectedness for granted.

Maps used to be very powerful during the so-called age of discovery when sailing ship design and technology was considered to be cutting edge, when surveying the world was celebrated as a great human achievement even though the purpose was largely focused on exploitation of people and their lands. Mapping then was a tool for innovations in what is possible by regimes focused on greed.

"Americae Nova Tabula" by Hondius in 1640.
Americae Nova Tabula” created by Hondius 11 human generations ago  (in 1640)

In today’s geospatial digital mapping the question we should be asking is, as with any technology, who is making it and for whom? As with the Internet itself much of the mapping technology has come from military usage, and much of the power in mapping today is held by the credit card and banking systems that are tracking our spending in great detail to optimize methods for encouraging further spending and debt. So many of these maps are made by the already very powerful for the increasingly more powerful.

Hudson river upstream sources
I live in NYC, along the estuary portion of the Hudson river. NYC’s water source is under threat of fracking. Screenshot from the US National Atlas Streamer Map

This is why it’s refreshing to see maps like this National Atlas Streamer Map created by the National Geospatial Program of the U.S. Geological Survey that provide some service for all of those organizing to protect freshwater for future generations by fighting the selling off of land rights for fracking, and fighting against policies that enable land usage for industrial petrochemical farming and its toxic effects on our world. It’s maps like these that we should be most excited about that should be celebrated, maps like these can better help preserve and protect the commons that we all share. Check it out, pick a place in the US that you know and care for and look at all of the rivers connection.

John Dewey 2.0 – We the P2P Public, Reassembling, Eclipsed No More

John Dewey wrote 2.5 human generations ago (in 1927) about what we now find so valuable in digital peer to peer systems of communication that enable better freedom of Expression, Transparency, and Collaboration. Dewey’s writing was in response to Walter Lippmann who wrote cynically about the “Phantom Public” and in that era of broadcast-top-down-one-way-media on the rise it’s no wonder Dewey offered that the public was just temporarily “eclipsed.”

Today, not only are we the Public able to return, but we now have technology systems for constant rewriting of social code, laws, relations, power dynamics.  Jay Rosen’s aphorism hits on this, that the publics are “the people formerly known as the audience.” The struggles that lead to Lippmann’s cynicism are far from behind us, the concentration of power has also increased in our digital networked era, and we the Public will need all the smarts and collaboration we can muster to remove the constant obstructions and restrictions continually put in our paths.

“There can be no public without full publicity in respect to all consequences which concern it. Whatever obstructs and restricts publicity, limits and distorts public opinion and checks and distorts thinking on social affairs. Without freedom of expression, not even methods of social inquiry can be developed. For tools can be evolved and perfected only in operation; in application to observing, reporting and organizing actual subject-matter; and this application cannot occur save through free and systematic communication.”

– John Dewey, The Public & its Problems, 1927

(Image: RHoK Nairobi, Kenya, photo by whiteafrican)

Civic Social Media – PARK(ing) Day Video

“We now have all these powerful social technologies that instead of using them for entertainment purposes we can use them for civic purposes.”

Been thinking about my product design work on mass collaboration and ongoing sustainability of peoples’ participation. The short video below on PARK(ing) Day includes nice shots of the site which I conceived and was the Senior Product Manager. began as my volunteer project with Transportation Alternatives’ Brooklyn Committee and came to life in collaboration and consulting work with The Open Planning Project, it’s one recent project that’s helped clarify the variables at play in civic involvement and also at play in the cultural assumptions of those working on civic collaboration tools.

In many ways change is needed in the cultural understandings of human nature, the social animals we are, on all sides involved in civic social media from the makers and the participants of this media. More to come on this theme…

For now check the video, the team quoted me and one of my favorite mantras these days, “we now have all these powerful social technologies that instead of using them for entertainment purposes we can use them for civic purposes.” Looking forward to more peers of mine joining in and switching their energy towards these challenges of renewing what democracy & civil-participation means in our networked globe.