Waterspots a Finalist in 2017 MIT Solve Competition by johanna hoffman

Great news -- we’re thrilled to announce that Waterspots is a finalist in this year’s MIT Solve competition

Designed as watering holes for the 21st century, Waterspots are water catchment & treatment hubs combining rain, fog and dew harvesting with public gathering and education space. By synthesizing water collection systems and public space, Waterspots serve as both vital water harvesting systems and a means of bringing people together around the value and increasing scarcity of water. 

In the coming decades, rainfall levels in many semi-arid climates across the globe are predicted to decrease. Rain events that do occur are slated to be stronger and shorter. Chronic water scarcity will increasingly be the norm. Integrating decentralized water catchment strategies into regional water systems increases the resilience of our water supplies. Harnessing often overlooked resources such as fog, dew and rainwater creates a more diversified water supply, thus increasing water security across the globe.

In addition to providing these alternative, decentralized water catchment services, Waterspots enhance public and recreational spaces. In doing so, they provide opportunities for enhanced community connections and education, a critical ingredient of resilience. As more researchers agree, the best bet for creating more resilient systems is to foster community awareness and organization, thus strengthening our collective capacities for learning and adaptation

We're so excited to push this project forward and are honored to be among the Solve finalists selected this year. Shiftworks founder Johanna will be pitching the project to the Solve community in the middle of September for seed funding and developmental support. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on developments. In the meantime, check out the project on the Solve website and share your support! 

Future Vision Project Makes Finals of MIT Climate CoLab Competition by johanna hoffman

We’ve got some exciting news! Future Vision made it into the finals in the year’s MIT Climate CoLab Competition. It’s now eligible for both the Judges’ Choice Award and the Popular Choice Award. Visit the link and check out the project – we’d love to get your vote!

An interactive furniture series, Future Vision increases community resilience by spreading information, awareness & civic collaboration on climate issues in public transit hubs worldwide. In all models, interactive touch screens are embedded within modular furniture, presenting & collecting information in ways that encourage physical interaction. Each type is designed to cultivate various degrees of social interaction according to available space & traffic patterns.

“Gather” pieces are designed for areas with more room. Pull out desks & seating encourage more people to assemble & learn together. “Lean” pieces are for slightly smaller, more trafficked spaces. “Screen” pieces are crafted for crowded spaces. All models provide charge outlets & wifi, inviting users to linger & absorb more information.

By building off existing transit systems, Future Vision accomplishes three important resilience goals. One, it spreads vital information about climate change.

The community that is informed & able to self-organize is better prepared to bounce back from hazardous change. From evacuation routes to maps of flood zones, Future Vision places facts in some of the most public urban places – transit hubs.

Two, Future Vision encourages community wide action in dealing with climate hazards. Its digital interface invites users to plan for coming changes, from connecting with other planning-minded people in their area to uploading ideas of actions they’d like to take.

Three, Future Vision connects people with their regional resources. Because environmental threats can compromise local support networks, understanding how to connect to greater regional systems increases security in times of stress. Future Vision enhances connections between local residents & wider regions by spreading information through existing regional transit hubs.

By enhancing existing transit networks, Future Vision provides public forums for learning about & collaborating on adaptive, climate-sensitive adaptation options.

Check out the project here and click on the box in the upper right corner to show your support. Every vote gets us closer to winning the popular choice vote and creating a viable prototype to promote greater resilience to climate change impacts across the globe.

NOTE: This blog was first published at Urban Fabrick's blog  on June 7, 2017. 

Storytelling for Climate Change Planning by johanna hoffman

More and more these days, negotiating climate change is a storytelling issue. While scientific research is an essential part of the process, it’s far from enough. Encouraging people to act takes more than rigorous data. In the U.S. for example, while 87% of scientists now claim that human activity is driving global warming, only half of Americans agree.1 Even for those who accept that the science of climate change is real, how exactly to adapt – what policies to enact, which time frames to focus on – remains a conundrum. Start planning for the future and short-term interests quickly contrast with long-term uncertainties, paving the way to confusion.

This tension between short-term and long-term reasoning is an integral part of human nature. Together, the two form the foundation of our primary means of thinking.2 Short-term thought is our instinctual brain in action. This is the part of us that knows to flinch when we get too close to fire, that helps us avoid that speeding car when we step off the curb, that reminds us how to read subtle social cues during a date. Through experience, we learn to navigate the world around us. Over time, the process shapes greater cultural patterns and perceptions. Think of the Japanese — through their longstanding history of surviving tsunami, the population has developed a widespread understanding of how to respond when disastrous tidal waves strike.

Long-term thinking, on the other hand, is more deliberate, more conceptual. This is the thought process that helps us plan our yearly spending budgets, complete math problems, and conduct cost-benefit analyses. It’s more orderly and takes more effort. Lived experience counts for less.

The two often come in conflict but perhaps nowhere more so than in the arena of climate change planning. Thanks to short-term thinking, we’re the most motivated to act after we experience an event; when we go through a risky episode firsthand, we’re more likely to reduce the risk of it happening again. For example, people are more likely to buy flood insurance after they’ve gone through a flood. Time and again, we engage only after the worst has happened.

But that approach doesn’t work with climate change. Predicting the precise timing, scale and condition of climate impacts is largely impossible – systems are too wide-ranging and complex. Trying to plan for events that we’ve never seen before, that will happen at some unknown point in the future, goes against our fundamental nature. And yet if we don’t do that planning, we’ll find ourselves in increasingly dangerous situations. Cities like New York will soon have longer and hotter summers than humans have ever seen, with scientists predicting the number of days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit to more than double by 2050.3

Processing these kinds of facts before they occur calls for long-term thinking. Because climate change is very much a snowball situation – i.e. the more greenhouse gas emissions we put into the atmosphere now will result in increasingly drastic and unpredictable consequences in the future – adaptation and mitigation options demand a more logical approach. Once we emit those greenhouse gases, we can’t easily take them out of our atmosphere or oceans; the laws of physics don’t work that way. Yet because the consequences of runaway emissions are hard to precisely predict, it’s all too easy to say “that won’t happen to me” or “I can worry about that later.” Again, if we haven’t experienced something firsthand, it’s nearly impossible to view it as a critical issue to deal with now.

In order to harness the long-term thinking needed in climate planning, we have to work with our short-term brain. That’s where storytelling comes in. Studies have shown that when we find ways to connect to events and impacts that we have yet to personally experience, our levels of empathy and engagement grow.4 We start to care more, which helps us think beyond the envelope of our own families, communities and lifespans, and take the long view more intimately into consideration.

Cultivating that greater sense of empathy is a direct factor of good storytelling. Relating to phenomena outside our personal experiences happens when we see a powerful movie, read a gripping book or listen to well-made podcasts. Some efforts, like the 1990s movie Waterworld — in which all the world’s ice caps have melted and the oceans flood entire continents — take a much more science-fiction based approach. Projects like Years of Living Dangerously – a TV show exploring modern-day examples of climate change — harness the power of celebrities and Hollywood filmmaking to get the word out. It’s time to push this work further and faster forward. We can be faithful to the science while bringing in character development, plot and comedic timing. With these tools in hand, we can help people feel the ramifications of future climate change scenarios, to experience them far enough in advance that effective plans can be developed and put in place.

This approach activates the short-term brain in service of long-term thinking. While emotionally investing in futures that have yet to happen is difficult, it is also the key to navigating our increasingly shifting world. Climate change is arguably both the hardest issue to grasp and the most important one to understand. Strong storytelling is our way to get there.

1 Vaidyanathan, Gayathri, “Big Gap between What Scientists Say and Americans Think about Climate Change,”Scientific American, 2015, retrieved January 9, 2017

2 Kahneman, Daniel, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2011.

3 New York City Panel on Climate Change, “Building the Knowledge Base for Climate Resiliency,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2015, retrieved January 17, 2017

4 Keen, Suzanne, “A Theory of Narrative Empathy,” Narrative 14:3 (2006), 207-236.

NOTE: This blog was first published at Urban Fabrick's blog  on March 20, 2017.