Illegal tire dumping. Land contaminated by toxic chemicals. Fetid standing water. Sewer overflows. These are just a few of the environmental health issues that for decades have plagued the Proctor Creek Watershed, a 16-square-mile swath of Northwest Atlanta that includes dozens of neighborhoods.
In 2013, Proctor Creek caught the attention of activists and researchers when the watershed was added to the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program meant to reconnect communities with their urban waterways. Finally, there was investment and momentum to tackle the pollution and neglect, but the community was skeptical about whether the publicly available data were comprehensive enough to reflect all of their concerns.
“It’s important to identify what’s actually impacting the people who live in the community,” says Dr. Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, co-chair of the Proctor Creek Stewardship Council and a recent PhD graduate from Georgia State University School of Public Health. “Yet datasets often miss that fine-grained, street-level data.”
To address the problem, Dr. Jelks and other Georgia State public health researchers began working to build an app that would allow watershed residents to identify and document the environmental hazards that were negatively affecting their health and quality of life. Dr. Jelks says that bringing in community members to co-design the mapping tool was key.