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Citizen engagement, DIY, Environmental sustainability, Science, Technology

Maps without Borders: A storytelling exhibition on civic science

This storytelling exhibition showcased powerful aerial photographs created by citizens using kites, balloons, and point-and-shoot cameras. We told the stories of how people around the world are harnessing the power of Do-It-Yourself techniques to address local environmental, social and political matters.

Using props and storyboards in four specially curated settings we shared the stories of unsung heroes in the U.S. and the Middle East. Our protagonists have crafted tools and gathered evidence that has reconfigured the perception of space, place, and issues that shape their lives. Their maps took us on journeys that reveal who created them: their challenges, struggles, and successes in achieving change in their communities. These stories highlighted that these DIY aerial maps lie at the intersection of technology, science, the environment, and social justice; they revealed the power of engagement and how people are creating alternative narratives of place and transformation.

Our stories…

How to navigate a refugee settlement (South Lebanon)

This is the story of a project centred in the community of inhabitants at Bourj Al Shamali, a Palestinian refugee camp in South Lebanon, whose engaged youth is using citizen science techniques to map and analyze their overbuilt, unhealthy environment with the goal of using this information to plan and advocate for future improvement initiatives.

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Gowanus Canal ghost streams (Brooklyn, New York)

We have paved over our watershed to make way for urban landscapes. But once thought to be dead, the ghosts of historic creeks, veins of the city, are more alive than ever. However, it takes a keen eye, an understanding of common sense rules and investigative knack to find them – and fight for their restoration. These maps tell the story of how the historic streams are coming to life once again. You can view the story told by the mapper himself [here].

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After the spill: Gulf Coast restoration (Louisiana, U.S.)

The environmental disasters created by the crude oil industry are rarely fully contained, especially in complex coastal landscapes. Long-term effects are also rarely documented but this has become the work of dedicated stewards who know the inner workings of these environments. Their work not only keeps wetlands’ health monitored but also keeps their stories alive through aerial photographs that reveal who we are and where we want to go.

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The spatial testimony – alternative strategies in human rights activism (East Jerusalem)

In this story DIY aerial photography was not used as a mapping tool as much as it enabled to create a photograph that made public – and visible – the structural abuse created by discriminatory planning practices, which cannot be grasped from the ground. It is a spatial testimony, narrated by victims who are also experts, bringing together the objectivity of aerial evidence with the subjectivity of a witness.

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About the storytellers:

Hagit Keysar is a researcher and activist living in Israel-Palestine. She is a PhD candidate at the Politics and Government department in Ben Gurion University (Israel) and takes part in Public Lab’s open source community (Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science). In her PhD thesis, titled: “Prototyping the Civic View From Above: DIY Aerial Photography in Israel-Palestine”, Hagit critically examined how DIY aerial photography, and more widely “civic science,” functions in situations of civic inequalities and human rights violations. Hagit completed her MA with distinction from the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology in the University of Manchester (UK) and BA in Fine Arts from the Bezalel Academy for Arts and Design, Jerusalem.

Cindy Regalado is a research associate at University College London’s Engineering department, developing and promoting public engagement methodologies of ‘do it yourself’ (DIY) and ‘doing it together’ science practice. She is a London-based community organiser for the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science training communities, activists, and stewards on the use of DIY tools for environmental monitoring. She is co-founder of Citizens without Borders, a London-based group committed to building the public’s capacity to act as civic agents. She leads on the initiative “Science has no Borders” through the EU Horizon 2020 project ‘Doing It Together science’, which aims to bridge the gap between public engagement and policy action on Responsible Research and Innovation.

Prologue

This event was experimental in nature. Having never done anything like this, it afforded us an opportunity to know the work of our friends at Public Lab, work with each other, how to quickly incorporate feedback into each new tour (we performed three), how to use the props to convey more depth in the stories, and how to weave each of the stories together. We also used this event to invite attendees to roll up their sleeves and learn those very same DIY aerial mapping skills themselves in an upcoming workshop. We hope we did justice to the true heroes of these civic initiatives and we would like to thank Claudia, Eymund, and Scott for sharing their stories with us. We would also like to thank Aleks, Cristina, and Maria, for their invaluable help without which this event would not have been possible.

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