Articles in the Maps Category
I was in Denver last week for a few mapping and programming conferences that might be of interest to those following Farming Concrete.
One of these was State of the Map, the annual meetup for the community behind OpenStreetMap (OSM), the collaborative (wiki-esque) map of the world. I’ve been a part of the project for a few years, and much of the philosophy behind Farming Concrete–open data collection and collaboration using the internet–is inspired by OSM and similar projects. Talks ranged from collecting data (eg, using Walking Papers) to outputting this data (eg, into Pretty Maps) to mini, rapid-fire talks on the state of the map in various countries (eg, the UK, Tunisia, Haiti, Georgia, and the Phillipines).
One attendee talked about the Mushroom Development Foundation, an NGO in northeast India that is helping farmers grow mushrooms because they can be grown more densely than most crops and are therefore more valuable than other crops. The speaker roughly detailed a scheme for mapping farms, which are organized in clusters of 80-180 around 10+ central villages. The foundation’s plan was to use the map to ease the difficulty of working with many hundreds of farms, specifically the logistics of getting the required inputs to farmers. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any mention of mapping mushroom yield, but maybe that will happen once the farms are mapped!
My favorite session revolved around a method of research that is often called citizen science. The basis of this method is the democratization of scientific research by including community members and amateur scientists. Speakers included representatives of Public Laboratory and Grassroots Jerusalem, and Muki Haklay. Public Laboratory has been doing some awesome work with hardware and software to make it easier for people to collect many kinds of data. In the context of State of the Map their focus was on cheaply creating aerial photographic maps using kites and balloons.
This technique has been used perhaps most famously to map the spread of oil in the Gulf of Mexico during and after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Similarly, on the ground, Grassroots Jerusalem has been mapping Jerusalem in a collaborative and inclusive way.
Mr. Haklay’s talk was a critique of citizen science that is summarized by Public Laboratory above: “much of so-called citizen science treats people like mere data points.” At what point are researchers using so-called citizen scientists and at what point are the citizen scientists driving the research? To what degree are the citizen scientists taking part in the definition of the problem being researched, the data collection, and the analysis of the data? Surely all citizen science projects vary by degrees of inclusiveness for each of these dimensions, so Muki introduced the term extreme citizen science to denote those projects which strongly include non-scientists in all three dimensions. I’m not a big fan of adding “extreme” to anything, but I do find these levels useful:
Where does Farming Concrete land on this scale? What could we be doing better?
When it comes to data analysis I think we have done a good job of giving gardens and gardeners the data that they recorded. We do not accept any data that we do not return to gardeners. This way gardeners can look at how their numbers line up with other gardeners, both within their gardens and with gardens citywide. Gardeners can then use this data when defending their land, fundraising, or for whatever reason they see fit.
The problem definition part of the research seems less favorable since Farming Concrete was started solely to estimate the amount of food grown in NYC’s community gardens. However, the problem has evolved through conversations with other gardeners since the project’s inception. This year, after a number of passionate school gardeners contacted us we decided to include school gardens in our survey. Last year and this, some gardeners weighed things other than plant yield such as honey and compost. While we don’t have enough data from other gardens to give these gardeners a citywide context, we’re ecstatic that providing scales and a technical structure for recording weights has led to people weighing what’s important to them.
Finally, we’re utterly dependent on gardeners collecting the data that we use in our analysis. We know that it can range from tedious to impossible sometimes, but from our perspective asking gardeners to weigh their own produce if they want to is far less invasive and much more sensible than sending teams of researchers to gardens to do this.
Otherwise, I had many fun conversations and learned so much about open source map technology that should help Farming Concrete, but I won’t bother you with that yet.
Maps, Project Status »
To say we made progress since we started two weeks ago is an understatement. Last week, we got a great review in The Wall Street Journal, delivered the first scale to Hollenback Community Garden in Brooklyn, and launched a Facebook page. This week, we took advantage of the newly opened Herb Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to study common edible plants (as well as some tropical foods, like bananas, tef, and rice!), followed by an incredible evening with Prospect Heights Community Farm master gardener Virginia Webster, who told us we were making history as we chased her around the garden asking what potato plants look like, and how to distinguish a summer squash plant from a winter squash.
In the meantime, Farming Concrete’s 20+ strong research team called, visited, and emailed nearly 100 gardens, signing up more than 20, with 1-11 gardeners in each garden committing to tracking their harvest for the 2010 growing season. We drew maps, starting the tedious process of measuring square footage under edible production in NYC community gardens. If you have a few hours here and there and want to try your hand at mapping urban agriculture, we could certainly use your help – no experience necessary.
The rest of the scales arrived today, and will soon be delivered to our gardeners, many of whom are already harvesting radishes and greens. Many thanks to GrowNYC for letting us borrow some storage space, and to GreenThumb for helping with distribution! We’re so excited to roll these out, and we look forward to sharing frequent updates about this year’s community garden bounty.
I figured this was a good topic to start with, since there is so much going on in terms of food systems mapping and urban agriculture in NYC. It really is incredible how many people are currently researching the local urban food system. Let’s do more.
Here’s a running list of who knows what:
GrowNYC (formally Council on the Environment of NYC) – Maintains the database of all of the community gardens in the city (which I am in the process of updating). This includes gardens from GreenThumb, New York Restoration Project (NYRP), Trust for Public Land, and Brooklyn GreenBridge (program of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden). They use this database to update the Community Garden layer on OASIS.
OASIS (Open Accessible Space Information System) – A project in collaboration with dozens of grassroots organizations, city agencies, and non-profits, currently housed at the CUNY Graduate Center, OASIS maintains publicly accessible maps of data about the city in one cohesive, interactive space. It is used by planners, council members, community boards, academics, organizations, etc. to make thousands of maps annually. For our purposes, this serves to put aspects of the food system in some sort of context. You can find community gardens and farmers’ markets, but you can also find census data, parks, schools, and more. Link to the new website here.
New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH) – “The New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH) represents the more than 1,200 nonprofit soup kitchens and food pantries in New York City and the more than 1.3 million low-income New Yorkers who are forced to use them,” with a goal of self-sufficiency. They have mapped soup kitchens, food pantries, summer food programs, and more.
NYC Department of City Planning – As part of their FRESH (Food Retail Expansion to Support Health) initiative, DCP has done extensive research on supermarket need using an index of food retail locations and census data.
New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets – beginning the process of creating a database of community gardens in NY State and school gardens in NYC.
Please email me if you see something missing – mara (at) farmingconcrete (dot) com