Reflecting on my Green Map Summer Experience

Looking back at my overall experience working at Green Map System, I am impressed by the variety of insights I have gained about social justice work in both the environmental and urban planning fields. Primarily, I have learned that technology is playing an increasingly important role in promoting awareness about environmental issues and driving new solutions. Through online mapping, community members can now learn and gain autonomy over the development of their neighborhoods in new ways and can communicate the value of green spaces more effectively.

Since starting my internship, I have had an impact on my organization in a variety of ways, all with the effect of bringing Green Map System up to speed with today’s technology. On Green Map System’s new webpage, one can now see countless stories that I have created describing Green Map System’s history, impact, and reach through different site mapping projects. With this in mind, I am really glad to have learned from this experience how meaningful it is to work in an organization that gives you challenging but significant responsibilities, as each contribution you make has the potential to impact the development and path of the organization.

The NY-Subway L train, which is part of my commute.

On another note, I have learned from internship the challenges of commuting. I feel extremely fortunate to live in close enough proximity to Manhattan to use public transportation to get to work, however, I now recognize why living in the city during the internship experience would have been preferable. This experience has granted me more personal insight into the challenges of suburban sprawl and the importance of investments and innovations in public transportation. I think that had I known this earlier, I would have prepared to get up earlier and go to bed earlier so that I would feel more comfortable as I started my long and early trips to work. However, the tradeoff benefit of this living arrangement is being near my family and friends as well as in the green community that ultimately inspired one of my main internship projects.

Visualizing Data for Greater Impact Event at the Pratt Institute Manhattan Campus

Finally, for anyone wanting to pursue an internship or career in my field I would recommend gaining a broad background in sustainability while also developing specific skill sets that can be useful to an organization. A broad background allows one to pick up on the issues challenging different communities more easily and to relate specific challenges, such as hurricane risk and increasing asthma rates to overarching issues that could have led to them, such as climate change and air pollution. Meanwhile, some technical background or other hard skill set, from web design to statistical analysis, will provide incredible value to your organization that they will recognize quickly.

I am very thankful for the learning and professional opportunities I have had working at Green Map System and by being a Social Justice WOW Fellowship participant. This opportunity truly helped me understand what it is like to work on environmental issues from a technical perspective and in an urban space and I am really glad that I was able to pick up on so many different tasks and responsibilities as I have worked here. Every internship presents new learning opportunities and experience, but I can truly say that my Green Map System experience brought me a more diverse and exciting array of learning opportunities than I could have ever expected.

Skills Development and Professional Growth Through Work

While my Green Map System experience still feels fresh, it is both surprising and rewarding to see how much I have grown so far. Beyond some of my expected areas of growth, such as familiarity with the city and long-distance commuting, I have seen major strides in my professional development that will be invaluable as I continue into the professional work. From my internship experience I have gained confidence in my writing and task management skills, in speaking to other professionals, and in incorporating my interests into my projects.

Working on web content and map development for Green Map System at the civic tech coworking space, Civic Hall.

To begin, I have been excited to improve my speed and efficacy in completing complex tasks. For example, as part of the creating Stories and Tools as part of Green Map System’s new website, I have had to learn to incorporate basic HTML into my text to include hyperlinks, paragraph breaks, and other embedded content and have been excited to see how much more naturally this step has become now that I have practiced it with my earlier page uploads. In addition, as I practice each step for the powerful mapping platforms, Carto and ArcGIS, it is becoming much easier to input new sites and change information as needed. I have learned through this experience that some tasks that might seem hard to me at first, are actually manageable and that over time I can build skills in new areas while on the job.

Secondly, over the course of my internship I have had gained confidence in speaking to many individuals involved in local government, nonprofits, and the tech industry. In order to represent myself and Green Map System effectively, I had to take an initiative to introduce myself to others to ask about their work and effectively explain my organization’s mission and impact. In addition, I have learned to consider and discuss meaningful

Church Center for the United Nations, where I represented Green Map System during a Community Mapping the Sustainable Development Goals event.

connections and opportunities between my organization’s work with others of various unique focuses. Relating my experience and my organization’s mission to others will be absolutely invaluable to my future professional work, for tasks such as building partnerships, gaining clients, and simply working with others.

Finally, as noted in previous posts, I always find it meaningful to incorporate my own knowledge and interests into my tasks, and this internship has certainly helped me master skills to do so effectively. With my Green Map Story of the Northern Valley of New Jersey almost complete, I feel that I am adding educational value for using different mapping platforms as well as value to my own community with information of its own green spaces charted online. Thus, through incorporating my own personal knowledge, the completed project is valuable to users on both the local and global level.

I have taken no moment of my internship for granted, as learning opportunities have come up with each activity I have approached. With that, I am excited to see what the last few weeks have in store as I prepare to take these skills into my senior year at Brandeis and the world of work in the years beyond.

Three Pillars for Creating Sustainable Communities

As time has gone by interning with my organization, Green Map System, it has become apparent to me that community is at the core of the nonprofit’s social justice mission. Since 1995, Green Map System has worked continuously to expand the demand for healthier and more livable communities. What’s so interesting about this goal is that Green Map System is able to connect with so many distant communities on a local level- in Asia, South America, Africa and beyond – despite being based in the United States.

In order to achieve this goal, Green Map System has supported a network of mapmakers through its regional hubs. Green Map System supports these hubs with tutorials, workshops, and direct training, which help them to run their own branches and create maps to be shared with the entire Green Map community.

Design Space at Pratt Design Incubator Lab for Sustainable Innovation

In addition to its mapmaking network, Green Map System is in constant communication and collaboration with other organizations and institutions in the New York region and beyond. With this approach in mind, Green Map System’s founder has been arranging diverse and unique opportunities for me to interact with other organizations throughout my internship. From my past work with LES Ready, to this past week meeting the directors of the Pratt Design Incubator Lab for Sustainable Innovation, I have had really great opportunities to learn from and communicate with other groups to learn how community plays into different aspects of sustainability. At the Pratt Design Incubator Lab, I saw how today’s designers are incorporating sustainability into clothes and fabrics through reused and recycled materials. In addition, Green Map’s founder and the incubator’s directors discussed opportunities to co-produce events and attend unique programs related to community design and GIS. Green Map System’s founder’s philosophy is that great innovators can best achieve their goals by discussing and learning from others, and this meet-up reflected that idea generation and discussion.

Introductory Photo to the Green Map Story Map of New Jersey’s Northern Valley

Finally, Green Map System has had over 120 interns over the years, and has encouraged each to employ mapping to the communities and sustainability issues they care about the most. This approach has been important to my own internship experience, as Green Map System has allowed me to dedicate one of my main projects for the organization this summer to mapping out Green Spaces in my own community, the Northern Valley suburbs of New Jersey. When completed, the map will feature the nature reserves, park spaces, and farms in my community and will offer residents and visitors insight into areas where they can purchase fresh foods, play sports, and enjoy nature. With these spaces mapped out, community members will be more aware of sustainable businesses and recreational hubs in the region and will be more likely to utilize them.

Overall, the different aspects of Green Map’s approach to sustainability on the local and individual levels show me that collaboration, innovation, and personalization are the key to Green Map’s global impact. I am excited to continue and complete my Northern Valley of New Jersey Green Map Story and to continue learning from the broad network with which Green Map System collaborates.

Promoting Resilience Through Mapping

During my freshman year at Brandeis, I took the course, Sustainable Cities and Communities.  Among the various topics I had learned and discussed during the class – from environmental justice, to grassroots climate movements, to building healthy communities – one term that has stuck in my mind is resilience.  Resilience refers to the capacity of a community to recover from stress, whether it be environmental damage, social upheaval, or economic decline. However, by building resilience to a variety of stressors in a community, that community can protect its residents and organizations, alleviating much of the potential damage even if disaster strikes. Resilience is an important concept in both the fields of Environmental Studies and Sociology and I have seen elements of this concept trickle into various aspects of my work with Green Map System.

Reviewing the Emergency Preparedness Plan with the Lower East Side Ready! Coalition

Since starting my internship, I have seen how Green Map System interacts with its local community, helping it build resilience to climate change and partnering with local organizations to promote their own environmental endeavors.  In the Lower East Side, where Green Map System is the based, the community has been taking major steps since the impact of Hurricane Sandy to build resilience in the face of hurricane flooding. Green Map System has stepped out of its standard role to help the community build resilience to this threat in various ways. Primarily, the founder has mapped out the effect of flooding during Hurricane Sandy and the potential impact of sea level rise with climate change on the Lower East Side, which we have been able to present to community residents when they ask about the risks of climate change.

In addition, Green Map System has worked with the Lower East Side (LES) Ready! coalition on its resilience plan and has suggested ways to incorporate both sustainability and flexibility during disasters. Specifically, Green Map System contributed to the plan by making a resilience program called Bike Ready. Bike Ready is a practice of using bicycles to bring relief aid, such as batteries, water, and first aid kits, to areas inaccessible by cars during emergencies. This program was launched following Hurricane Sandy, and Green Map System has further contributed by distributing Bike Ready supply kits to various sites around the Lower East side, ultimately enhancing the resilience of the neighborhood.

Images of Bike Ready in Action after Hurricane Sandy

I have contributed in my own small way to community resiliency during the start of my internship by sharing and writing stories about former Green Map System maps that focus on community resiliency and health, such as the Recycle a Bicycle program and the Harlem Eco-Mappers map. The Recycle a Bicycle maps illustrate the areas one can bicycle through in Greenpoint-Williamsburg, which promotes flexibility when public transportation fails, and the Harlem Eco-Mappers promotes public health by charting eco-locations like gardens and farm stands and by addressing hazardous areas of the neighborhood plagued by pollution. Through bringing these stories to life, community residents are more likely to access and utilize the maps on Green Map System’s page and better able utilize the resources charted on each site to respond to challenges in their neighborhoods.





Charting Green Spaces in New York City

Me in Green Map System’s Office!

With a only a week under my belt, and with new experience in New Jersey transit and the New York subway system, I am excited to have started my first true city experience with Green Map System.

Green Map System, is an environmental nonprofit which encourages inclusive participation and knowledge generation about green spaces through maps. More specifically, the organization encourages active involvement in parklands, nature preserves, and local agriculture while also helping communities address areas that raise concerns, such as waste dumps, disaster areas, noise pollution, and more. Outside of maps, the organization works on local projects such as a community garden, called Siempre Verde, developed an energy passive house in Brooklyn, and encourages bike transportation and waste recycling throughout the city.

In my role, I am helping Green Map System as it transitions some of its Green Mapping technology and launches a new website to encourage further participation and alternative methods of projecting environmental data. I am specifically applying the skills I learned this past year in my Geographic Information Systems (GIS) coursework to carry over Green Map System’s iconography and descriptions to new maps on an open platform called ArcGIS. This is a critical transition as it will allow participants to use the maps in new ways, including visual customization and data analytics. I was really excited that I was able to start working on GIS right away and that I have even worked with individuals from ESRI, the Environmental Systems Research Institute, who have been guiding me through the GIS development process. In addition, I am helping catalog and share stories of mapping projects from the past by inputting details about them on Green Map System’s story page on their website. Through this work, I am beginning to learn how technology and business communication skills can play in the environmental nonprofit space.

Tabling with Green Map System’s Founder at the People Power Planet Party – Image by Erik McGregor

Finally, I have represented Green Map System at tabling and community events, where I have begun learning about the Lower East Side and East Village neighborhoods, where Green Map NYC is based. One thing I specifically learned was how gardens are often created in urban communities. While at a street event called, the People Power Planet Party, Green Map System’s founder pointed to a garden across the street from us, which was filled with vibrant flowers and trees. She told me that only twenty years prior the site was a vacated lot, where individuals would meet for illicit activity. Fortunately, neighborhood residents saw value in the space and transformed it into a verdant and inclusive garden for meetings and meditation. Clearly, understanding the geography of the region granted me a new perspective to the importance of this green space. Ultimately, I am very excited to learn more about the geography of New York City and beyond, and to learn more of how I can apply my skills – and new ones! – to foster community engagement in green spaces with Green Map System.