Week 7: Arts of Noticing Update

Rain Garden Observations

After researching rain gardens and visiting several sites around my neighborhood, I selected to observe two rain gardens near the intersection of Nostrand and Kosciuszko. I have named them East Garden and West Garden:



On my first observation visit, I decided to take an inventory of my rain gardens. Here is what I found, including an inventory of the trash:

West Garden



  • 46 cigarettes

  • 5 pieces of plastic

  • 1 aluminum yogurt top

East Garden



  • 9 cigarettes

  • 1 pom pom

  • 1 teddy graham bag

  • 1 spork

  • 1 milk carton

  • 1 lollipop wrapper

  • 1 muffin wrapper

  • 1 bottle cap

  • Multiple candy wrappers

  • 1 lid

  • 1 chips bag

  • 1 snapple bottle

  • 2 shot bottles

  • 1 apple core

  • 1 paper towel tube

  • 1 glasses cloth

  • 49 unidentified

Boundaries and borders

As porous piece of infrastructure that is embedded into the landscape of the city and interacts with other systems, I am particularly interested in understanding the different boundaries of the rain garden. I am particularly looking for evidence of border crossings and have already found a few examples:

Little bird!

Little bird!

  1. Bird: While I was observing the East garden, I scared away a couple birds that were sitting under a bush. Once I moved to the side a bit one of them returned and a second one joined it. They seemed to be eating, picking up little pieces of something. Just as quickly as they came, they left again.

  1. Evidence of water: After a rainstorm, I found evidence of water entering the rain gardens. From the marks in the soil, I could see a clear path of water flowing down and into the garden from the street. I could also see what looks may be a high water mark - the leaves had been rearranged into new patterns from where they were strewn earlier in the week. There was a line of leaves that seemed to have indicated a high water mark and a couple new clusters where they looked like they had been pushed by the water.


Evidence of “high water mark”

Evidence of “high water mark”

Evidence of flow into the raingarden

Evidence of flow into the raingarden

I have also been drawing different boundaries in order to explore how they all overlap in one place:

inside garden.png
outside garden.png


On my visits I was very aware of the sounds around me as I observed the garden. I have also noticed that these change depending on the time of day and day of the week that I visit. When I first chose this, but I find notw that there is quite a lot of activity on teh  treet. So on one visit, I spent time listening closely to these sounds. Below is what I heard:

  • Caw of crow

  • Birds chirping

  • Car idling

  • Cars on busy street

  • Music from car

  • Laughing on phone

  • Music from cafe

  • Trucks on street

  • Whistling

  • Hammer

  • Bike passing by

  • Wind rustling leaves

  • Car diving by

  • Kids in stroller

  • Man with cane

  • Man walking with music

I recorded a 1.5 minute clip for each garden to capture some of these:

After a Rain

I visited a the rain gardens after a big storm to record the moisture levels using the device I made for the measuring device assignment. Here were their measurements:

West Garden

  • Input area

    • Moisture ranged from 358-566 - on a second measurement when I placed the sensor farther into the soil it read 288 (this is high)

    • Temperature: 53.50 degree F

    • Humidity: 58.23%

  • Output area

    • Moisture: 270 (this is high)

    • Temperature: 57.2 degrees F

    • Humidity: 58.23%

East Garden

  • Input Area

    • Moisture: 386

    • Temperature: 56.70 degrees F

    • Humidity: 57.74%

  • Output area

    • Moisture: 433

    • Temperature: 57.90 degrees F

    • Humidity: 56.94%

Reading Response: Time

Reading Notes and Questions

This week with our focus on time, we read three pieces. Below are some notes, questions and quotes I liked from each.

The Times and the Seasons by John Durham

  • The article says that clocks raise the question “what is to be done” more than calendars. Is that really true?

  • I like the idea that a calendar can suspend time - I had never thought of it that way before. I sometimes feel like this in the very early morning - 4am feels like a suspension of time too.

  • “Why do resources run out on the microscopy and not in its macroscopy?”

  • Water clocks remind me of the fountains that the Incas built at Machu Picchu that still flow today. It makes me wonder - were they designing for this time scale?

  • I had never really considered a time before a second hand and this is making me wonder what my life would be like in that setting

  • Some concepts that stuck with me: 

    • “Sunlight as yet one more commodity subject to the socialist redistribution”

    • “Cruel distortion of human existence”

    • “Mortgage of ourselves to do things we did not actively choose but will not give up”

    • “The challenge with climate change is to make chronos as urgent as kairos”

    • “Clouds transcend geometric and atmospheric logics”

  • I don’t agree that our air is now silent. I hear my the neighborhood church bell often on my way to school or while I’m running. In New York the air is full of the sound of the subway moving according to a daily schedule and birds in the morning during different times of year for example.

  • The tower section reminded me of the towers of Sacsayhuaman, the Inca’s greatest fort that was also one of the main sites of their defeat by the Spanish.

  • I agree that the tower mediates between heaven and earth and a fundamental medium of surveillance but I am still unclear on how it signals between the living and dead and the secular and the sacred.

  • I hadn’t thought before as the weather being constructed by talk, instruments, journalism, but like this framing.

Phenological Mismatch by James Bridle

  • “The greatest trick our utility directed technologies have performed is to constantly pull us out of time” -- I think about this a lot with phone notifications. I have all of mine turned off except for texts and even then usually keep my phone on silent. I am always surprised when people get push notifications from all of their apps - it is so completely overwhelming and jarring to me.

  • “We thought technology was about means, but it has been subverted for ends.”

  • The ends cannot justify the means because “the means employed determine the ends produced” - I have never quite heard this argument phrased this way and I find it helpful and compelling.

  • I love the Tamagotchi reference and vividly remember seeing behavior of my friends in 2nd grade change when they got one - suddenly they were controlled by/attending to this other thing I didn’t understand but it made me want one.

  • I often think about the energy consumption of my computer when I am developing VR projects - my computer heats up, it makes noise and pretty much can’t run without being plugged in. I haven’t yet dug into the ethics of working on projects like these, but it is something I think we need to address at a place like ITP or IDM because we don’t often make the connection to a bigger system.

  • Pervasive technology terms:

    • “Computers can be proactively persistent”

    • “Novelty of technology can mask its pervasive intent”

  • I am currently doing research on the history of the development of the internet and I can’t help but thinking that some of these problems could be addressed by going back to some of the earlier ways of thinking about this particular technology and approaches that have since been lost. The question I have been asking myself over and over again in this research is: What would a feminist internet look like?

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

  • I like and think that it is significant that everything in this story is mechanical - it allows a level of abstraction and removal from our current technologies that gives us a step back when thinking about the analogy.

  • Is this story explicit in response to CO2 levels rising and causing a decline in cognitive ability or more generally?

  • Do these creatures feel pain?

  • Quotes that stuck with me:

    • “Air is the medium of our thoughts”

    • “The price of speed”

    • “Then time itself will cease”

    • “With every movement contributes to fatal equilibrium”

  • Coming from a background of economics, this story had a satisfying ending because equilibrium is the state the whole field is trying to achieve. It makes me think again of a quote from the first reading about weather: “the privilege of being ordinary” (to me, this is the definition of privilege). This has never seemed to me like a natural state, which was also learned in the reaction to cybernetics. 

  • Going back to the last quote - “then time itself will cease” - I wonder if this something economists overlook in their models, that what marks time is the movement back, in and out of equilibrium and trying to get back to equilibrium.

Measuring Device: Rain Garden

This measuring device is designed to be used by a Garden Stewards to collect data on NYC Rain Gardens and post the data on the site, opening up a new relationship between the public, data and infrastructure.



Rain Gardens (bioswales) are a form of green infrastructure built to improve street drainage, sewer system overflow and water quality in New York City waterways. They require extensive engineering to build and are actively maintained by the city and volunteer Garden Stewards. Anyone can apply to be a Garden Steward, and depending on the volunteer’s experience, the City provides training on how to perform simple maintenance a few times a month, carry out sediment removal and weeding, and organizing planting events.

What is striking about Rain Gardens is that they invisible infrastructure. Underneath their surface are imperceptible flows, a living spongy world made of dirt, rocks, gravel doing hidden work as part of a larger water ecosystem. One of the goals of the project is to unearth and bring to the surface what is underground. I have primarily done this by applying the ideas from Spongiform, an article by anthropologist Andrea Ballestero, to the NYC rain gardens context.

Like Ballestero’s aquifers, the presence of the rain garden fuzzes the the boundary between our lives and the NYC waterways. By acting as a permeable layer with multi-dimensional movement and flows, it destabilizes our conceptual model of the solid water system made of concrete, gutters and pipes.

In this project I ask: how could this device...

  1. Expand the boundary around citizenship to include maintenance of systems?

  2. Make inputs and outputs explicit in order to re-draw the boundary of the Rain Garden?

This project addresses these questions by making the rain garden data part of the visible aspects of the infrastructure. How does this type of intervention adjust our volumetric understandings of what is below our feet and how we are connected to New York City water ecosystem? My hope is that this project prompts the passerby to acknowledge that both they and the rain garden are actors in the same system.


In the context of the larger water system, I wanted to make the passerby connect the dots between the different actors and blur their previously conceived boundaries in order to reconfigure the Rain Garden data in a meaningful way. The rain garden data is normally separate from the physical garden, usually located in an open data portal or report produced by the city. This project aims to make it part of the Rain Garden form itself. This project asks: in what ways is the rain garden a manifestation of the data? In what ways is the data a manifestation of the rain garden?

The device uses two sensors: 1) a moisture sensor and 2) a humidity and temperature sensor connected to an Arduino that takes the data and displays it on a mini LCD screen when the corresponding buttons are pressed.


The garden steward uses this device to display the data points on the rain garden signs that explain how the rain garden works:


There are six signs in total with three different measurements:



To design this collection and display of information, I started by drawing the boundary of my rain garden.


I also looked at the Rain Garden diagram made by the city and thought about the movement flows and which elements I could bring to the surface:

With the sensors I had available (in terms of time, money and availability), I decided to measure temperature, humidity and soil moisture. I also wanted to incorporate a water level sensor, but there was no rain in the forecast, so I decided to focus on what I would be able to measure.

Next, I thought about mapping these measurements to the city Rain Garden outcomes:


Next I listed out all of the part of the system I wanted to draw attention to and drew out where this information would go physically in the rain garden:


I mocked up signs in illustrator, printed and laminated them. Although these are simple printed signs, in terms of design, the goal of this intervention is to also ask: what if these data points had been integrated into the original garden design plan? How would that change the shape of the fence or how community members conceive of the rain gardens?

In terms of the data collecting device, I imagined a device that data stewards could use and I also wanted the device to be something that a citizen scientist could make. I decided to use legos for the enclosure in order to evoke a construction kit feel.



The agency in this interaction lies with the steward. The communication of information is mediated by the garden steward who takes measurements with the device. In this interaction I was hoping that the steward would go inside the garden and get close to the dirt, literally making themselves part of the infrastructure.

I implemented this device in the morning on a weekday, so although a few people looked over and seemed to read the signs, no one stopped to inspect them more closely. The interaction I was hoping for was that people would read the signs, become award of the rain garden, learn about the system it is a part of and reconsider their own role in this system. The agency of the passerby would be how they act in relation to the rain garden receiving this information. This might change if this were a permanent installation. 

Reflections and Future thoughts

If I were to do another iteration of this project, I would like to experiment with a permanently installed devices and a more creative output. I think it’s important to display the data, but would like to hide it a bit more, which would require more work from citizens to connect the dots. Perhaps I could draw on the ground with chalk or paint or install several small interactive devices. I’d also be interested in getting the rain garden “online” or into an “electronic” format either in real-time or by uploading the data after a collection period. I think additional insight could come from connecting two rain gardens or having them “communicate.” I would be interested in exposing other forms of data such as plant poses or using computer vision to understand the garden dynamic spatially.

Week 1 Part 2: Choosing a Site

Using the city’s online rain garden mapper tool, I found a few potential sites near my apartment and took my bike out one morning to check them out. The too lists all planned, under construction and completed sites, so I visited a variety to see what they looked like:

Stop 1


Site 1

  • Bus stop

  • Very busy

  • Lots of trash

  • Lots of entry points (not traditional ran garden/linked to sewer)

  • Couple of trees

  • intersection


Stop 2


Site 2

  • Outside of coffee shop

  • New development

  • Across street from empty lot and weeds

  • 1 tree

  • Feels bare

  • Shaded in morning

  • Sewer at intersection

Site 3

  • Large tree, 2 bushes

  • Intersection less busy

  • Storm drain

  • By citibike

  • Construction across street

  • Some trash

Site 4

  • 2 bushes, grass, flowers

  • Tree

  • Some trash, paint

  • Petrified animal

  • By apartment + construction

  • Wide street

  • Someone added plant next to it?

  • Sewer down the street?

Stop 3


Site 5

  • Dekalb + Walworth

  • Under construction

  • Fences, dirt, need to plant

  • Some sand bags

  • By parking lot

  • Sewer at other end of street corner

  • Busy street

  • Trash lump nearby

Stop 4


Site 6

  • Overgrown

  • By bike lane

  • Saw someone come buy and pick up trash

  • Between fulton + atlantic

  • Lots of traffic + sirens

  • Flowers 

  • Some trash

  • Broken fence

  • New apartments

  • By job training site

Site 7

  • Church garden? On map looks like rain garden but I can’t find it

  • Behind a fence

  • Lots of flowers

Site 8

  • Atlantic + clinton

  • Bushes, trash

  • By construction

  • Across from verizon

  • Busy

  • Near other trees

  • Sewer at corner

  • By clinton washington C stop

I also found some sites marked for construction: