The Center for Urban Pedagogy
What’s In The Water?
The Center for Urban Pedagogy
What’s In The Water?
This foldout poster helps bring graphic clarity to the process so that the 15.6 million people who drink water from the Delaware River Watershed can better understand the risks involved in fracking and have a voice in the decision-making around the issue.
Project Leads: The Center for Urban Pedagogy (Mark Torrey, Christine Gaspar)
Advocacy Partner: Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (Barbara Arrindell, Ron Hine)
Design: Papercut (Minh Anh Vo, Victor Schuft)
What’s In The Water?
What’s In the Water? is a pamphlet and poster that addresses the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing—or "fracking" —in which natural gas is extracted from deep underground with highly pressurized water and chemicals. This project provides a visual explanation of the process and the contamination threat it poses to NYC’s drinking water. This foldout poster helps bring graphic clarity to the process so that the 15.6 million people who drink water from the Delaware River Watershed can better understand the risks involved in fracking and have a voice in the decision-making around the issue.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Everyone is talking about fracking lately. But what’s fracking? Who is doing it? And how could stuff in upstate rocks affect people who live in New York City? The fracking process forces chemicals, water, and sand under massive pressure into underground cracks. The cracks expand and release natural gas, which is then collected back at the surface and used as a source of energy. Fracking is already being used in 34 states, and in those states, fracking chemicals, gas, and other substances have contaminated drinking water supplies and harmed human, animal, and environmental health. And now fracking is coming to the Marcellus Shale – a rock layer that stretches 600 miles under six states, and is the home to the water supply of more than 15 million people – from New York City to Delaware. CUP, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, and Papercut took on the challenge of researching and discussing how fracking works, in order to translate those hard to understand terms into a visual artifact which could more easily explain the process to those who want to know, and those who need to know.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) has been working on threats posed by the shale gas extraction industry for years. They discovered that they needed a compelling way to make their work accessible to the broader public, which prompted them to reach out to CUP through the Making Policy Public program. Through a collaboration between CUP, DCS, and the award winning design studio Papercut, we were able to break down and visually communicate the issue of fracking beyond the typical and less compelling standard pamphlet formats usually disseminated on the street, and at public events.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
CUP selects Making Policy Public (MPP) participants through an open call for proposals, disseminated nationally through CUP’s mailing list and press outreach. Advocates or community organizations are invited to apply by submitting a policy “brief” that details an issue that is critical to their constituency, why it would benefit from a visual explanation, and a description of the potential audience and distribution network. A jury composed of leaders in design and policy/advocacy fields (the jury for this project was: Mike Perry, Ellen Lupton, Eddie Bautista, and Michelle de la Uz) selects four advocates whose briefs are posted in an open call to designers and other visual artists. The designers submit a portfolio, CV, and statement of interest in response to one of the briefs. The jury then selects four designers to work with CUP and the advocacy partners in teams. MPP is focused on advocacy groups struggling to convey complex policy issues to the individuals most directly impacted by those issues. These organizations often lack the infrastructure to engage the design community, or the skills and resources to productively manage a design process. By linking them with talented designers, and providing extensive assistance with policy analysis and art direction from CUP staff, MPP gives advocacy groups a way to harness the communicative power of good design to increase their capacity as organizers and advocates. During the collaborations, CUP provides art direction, project management, and policy research; structures the collaboration process; and oversees production. We play a large role in helping the designers to learn how to collaborate with advocacy groups, which is often a new experience. The design process is a deeply collaborative one. Designers are asked to dig deep into the information and really understand the issue so that they can push the visualization to a higher level. We also help the advocacy partners to productively engage in design critique, which can be challenging for them. We help them build a vocabulary around design and by the end of each project, their capacity to collaborate with designers has increased dramatically. Because we partner with groups who work directly with the impacted constituency, we have access to the end-users throughout the process. They provide direct feedback on how to make the most successful and accessible communication tool possible. The final design is very much influenced by this feedback. What's In The Water? is aimed at helping communities and advocacy groups across the country to understand fracking and how it can effect them. Through the support of the Sappi: Ideas That Matter program, we were able to turn the MPP centerfold into an ad posted throughout the New York subway system in September of 2012, reaching millions of New Yorkers. CUP and DCS launched the project with a public presentation at the Cooper Union, that featured a conversation that focused on the risks fracking poses to the food, health, and drinking water of New York City residents.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
Though people in sparsely populated areas directly near the drilling sites are often well educated on the potential dangers in fracking, constituents in urban areas like New York, Philadelphia, and parts of New Jersey are less well versed. The poster will mostly be targeted to audiences living in these areas. Raising the level of awareness among these populations could add more then 20 million voices to the fracking debate, helping to ensure that adequate protections are enacted, and clean drinking water is preserved. DCS has already distributed thousands of copies of the poster to organizing groups in cities all over New York and Pennsylvania who are using them in their own advocacy efforts.