Today, many cities on the U.S. East Coast are already dealing with the effects of sea level rise in the form of tidal flooding or sunny day flooding. This type of flooding happens when water from the ocean goes up the sewer during high tide and reaches the street.
Rockaway, a coastal town in NYC, is one such town.
There, my team and I partnered up with the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, a local environmental organization, and through observation, interviews, and on-site workshops we were able to understand better how the lives of residents are disrupted by recurrent flooding episodes. Finding solutions to this issue is the goal of our thesis project.
In Rockaway, flood due to high tide prevents a pedestrian from reaching the entrance to the NYC subway seen above.
We believed that if we
could identify existing daily problems that residents could relate to, and were exacerbated by tidal flooding, they can make a personal connection to sea level rise and identify actions they can take regarding flooding in their neighborhood.
DAILY PROBLEMS REPORTED BY RESIDENTS
Trash on the street ends up in the sewer system and makes flooding worse. In fact, the Department of Sanitation estimates that in 2012, 23% of the sewer blockages in Queens County, where Rockaway is located, were caused because of trash and debris. Although residents cannot stop flooding from happening, they can prevent garbage from clogging the sewer. They can also call and ask 311 to clean the drains when they are backed up.
If more people in Rockaway raise complains about clogged catch basins to 311, there would be fewer clogged catch basins, and when flooding happened the water could go down faster, and there would be less standing water exacerbating secondary problems.
Together with the Rockaway community, we designed, prototyped and tested a few possible ways to reach this goal..
1 - AUGMENTED REALITY GAME
Following recommendations received from teenagers in Rockaway we tested an augmented reality game that takes users to discover and monitor their neighborhood while earning rewards.
User testers found great that it gives businesses owners the opportunity to promote their businesses and become part of the efforts to educate and adapt to climate change. The opportunity to win coupons or prizes was a clear incentive.
On the other hand, all testers thought the game was much more complex to learn and required more usage time which would cause the target audience to be reduced.
2 - TEXT MESSAGE
We prototyped a text messaging system. It is almost like texting one of your friends. It works with automatic responses previously written by our team.
This prototype worked very well because it is simple and easy to use. The added benefit is that no app download is required as text messaging is already a feature in all cell phones that most people already use.
3 - APP
All users reported liking this prototype because of how simple it is to use. They just need to open the app and choose an issue. It took all users less than 1 minute.
However, in order to use this tool people need to have a smartphone and download the app which limited our audiences and prevented us from creating a product that is accessible to most people.