Mapping the Global Urban Water Crisis
By Jennifer Farman
B.A. Candidate in History, 2014
Read about the CityNature project on the OutWest student blog. Over the summer, a team of undergraduate student researchers combined spatial analysis with innovative mining of planning document text, photographs, social media, and published historical narratives to explain why nature is unevenly distributed in and across cities.
I first became interested in water issues last summer during my time exploring the complex role of water in the western United States as part of a Sophomore College course sponsored by the Bill Lane Center. This summer I have had the opportunity to investigate water issues on a global scale as a Research Assistant at the Center, where I have been exploring some exciting data on urban water availability as part of the “Global Cities” team of the City Nature project. With some excellent research from the Nature Conservancy as our base, my co-workers and I have spent the summer looking at many of the interesting interactions between urban growth and water availability. My research has focused on cities with current populations between 50,000 and 1 million people, as these cities will experience some of the most dramatic growth in the next 50 years. As the global urban majority continues to grow, these cities will face significant challenges in the areas of water quantity and quality, as well as in their capacity to deliver this water.
This summer I have focused on representing these challenges in an interactive map that will display our fascinating global data as well as more specific narratives about the unique water challenges faced by different cities. Although my previous experience with data visualization was very limited, summer workshops organized by CESTA and the Spatial History Project has given me the opportunity to learn about tools like Tableau and ArcGIS. Using these programs, I have been able to visualize our data on urban water availability in a number of dynamic ways that have provided inspiration for the interactive web map. As a history major, I am often caught up in finding and explaining the story behind the data. Through my experience with the Digital Humanities specialists at the Bill Lane Center and the CESTA workshops, I am learning how to let the data speak for itself. The interdisciplinary nature of undergraduate research team, which includes students in Urban Studies, Symbolic Systems, and Earth Systems, has also allowed me to step outside of my academic comfort zone.
As I finish up my interactive map, I aim to create a finished product that meshes the new data visualization perspectives I have explored this summer with narrative elements that place these water challenges in context. By providing a general overview of global data on urban water availability as well as the opportunity to focus in on a number of particular water challenges, the interactive map will tell a story about water on a number of levels. My work as a Research Assistant this summer has made me even more passionate about issues of water availability and management, and I am excited to use the knowledge and skills I have gained this summer to explore these critical issues in the future.
Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns »