Visualizing environmental inequality with Google Earth

My former student Mia Renauld recently sent me a link to a great post by Tim de Chant on his blog Per Square Mile. It features side by side aerial images of poor and wealthy neighborhoods in the same city. He got the images from Google Earth and invited his readers to do the same and send in what they came up with.  The result is a study in contrasts – the wealthy neighborhoods have dramatically more tree coverage than the poor neighborhoods.

I thought these paired images would be great to use in teaching environmental justice and inequality. Poor communities of color have a disproportionate burden of pollution as compared to wealthier, whiter communities.  They also have fewer environmental amenities like parks, sidewalks, and the trees in these photos.  See the photos from two neighborhoods in and next to Oakland below, or click on over to Tim’s post for more.

In an introductory class I might show both images without their neighborhood names and ask students to tell me which community they think is wealthier, and discuss why.  Or I might ask them to go home and bring in their own side-by-side images from other places to share. Or I might just add them to a powerpoint as a visual example of environmental inequality.

West Oakland


Community curators at the Museum of the American Indian

I recently visited the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. for the first time.  My favorite parts were the depictions of each tribe’s community curators.  I’d heard before going that this museum does a great job of portraying Native American culture and history from the perspective of Native Americans themselves instead of from the perspective of outside observers, as has so often been the case.  It reminded me a bit of one of the small town museums I visited in Mexico in 2006 that was part of the  Union of Community Museums of Oaxaca.  One historic photograph on display stood out in particular.  It depicted a handful of local residents in a large city, perhaps with rugs in hand, accompanied by a white woman.  The caption was an inversion of what one would typically see in a different setting.  Instead of naming the white woman and representing her as the discoverer of the local artisans, it named the locals and described how they took their arts out into the world, accompanied by a nameless white woman.  I loved it!

The community curator profiles at the Museum of the American Indian give some insight into how the exhibits came together, and did a nice job of personalizing the individual tribes.  It must have been hard to figure out which people, and tribes, to feature in such a high-profile space.

I was also intrigued by the children’s zone in the museum.  I love that the interactive features shown below teach children to understand Native Americans as multifaceted members of contemporary society by showing them in a variety of clothing styles that the viewers can mix and match. From what I saw they were very popular exhibits with the kids! On the other hand, turning Native youth into objects for viewers to play with made me a little uncomfortable.

Blast from the past

My friend Matt and I happened onto a vintage European poster store in Berkeley last week and had a great time looking through their collection.  All the posters were originals, and some had been made as long ago as the 1890’s.  Matt was interested in the war propaganda posters, but I found myself drawn to posters that inadvertently advertised the social problems of their time:

On racial stereotyping (right-hand poster):

On efforts to quell labor disputes – bottom right.  The scenery features a rainbow landing in a bucolic alpine valley  (“Let’s Clear the Air. Let’s iron out the trouble. You’ll feel better, work better, get farther.  You’ll be treated fairly.”) How creepy would this be to have hanging over your desk?

On the stigmatization of sexually transmitted infections:

On women’s subordinate status in the working world (“There’s a Man-Size Job For You in Your Navy”):

Part of what makes these old-time posters so great to look at is that the social messages embedded in them are clearer now than they would have been to most people at the time they were made.  Are today’s advertisements any less explicit?  In some cases yes, in others, no, but I imagine they are generally harder for people to decode because they are so much a part of our everyday life.