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Author: Sean Cottengim
Title: DIS 2022: Watershed
Category: Justice & equity
Description: Referring to spaces that have been shaped by human interventions, the phrase, “built environment” tends to conjure images of cities, high-rises, residential streets, hospitals, and highways. But in a time of global warming, every environment is shaped by human activity. That means every person’s experience of nature is shaped by human relations and hierarchies; and, as a result, the inequities that structure our society are reproduced in seemingly ‘natural’ experiences. In 2021, GBBN’s annual Design Issues Series (DIS) hosted a conference on environmental justice. Inviting policy experts, community activists, housing advocates, and local leaders from the cities where we live, we asked how environmental justice—or its absence—is embodied in the built environment. Located in cities along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, water was a big theme. From stormwater runoff and flooding to sewer backups, our discussion not only highlighted the importance of water, but also how its behavior is a shaped by design. DIS 2022: Watershed sought to extend that investigation while diving deeper into water. How does water drain across our cities? Where does it contribute to landslides, flooding, and property damage? How are these problems compounded by global warming? And how is water’s behavior shaped by design? Working with multiple organizations we connected with in 2021, we supported a green infrastructure project in Cincinnati (Communities United For Action); a community engagement effort that will shape Pittsburgh’s water management priorities (Grounded Pittsburgh); and a neighborhood’s effort to envision an underused parking lot as a community asset (Team Up to Green Up and the Greater Northbrook CommUNITY). Presenting what we learned in a travelling exhibit, we visualized many of the environmental inequities we documented in an Augmented Reality installation that mapped environmental and demographic conditions in the neighborhoods that make up Cincinnati, Louisville, Minneapolis, and Pittsburgh. Purpose: Originally developed as a preview and gallery video for GBBN’s 2022 Design Issues Series (DIS), Watershed is intended to provide a quick introduction to how design and water management intersect to create environmental justice issues.