Using Public Art to Make Sense of Wastewater Infrastructure

The city of San Jose and designers from the University of California, Davis have completed a community-led design process to raise awareness about the connections between the kitchen, sewers, and the environment.
May 12, 2017, 9am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Michael Warwick

Faith Kearns reports on a new method for informing the public about the effects of FOG waste (the fats, oils, and greases that people can flush down sinks and toilets that lead to troubles in the sewer and beyond).

Public art might be one of the last things people associate with sewer and wastewater infrastructure, but that's the approach chosen by Claire Napawan, a landscape architect and urban designer in the Department of Human Ecology at UC Davis, and Brett Snyder, an architect and graphic designer in the Department of Design at UC Davis.

The duo worked with the city of San Jose, "as part of a unique collaboration between the city's environmental service and transportation departments, as well as its Public Art Program." Kearns details the approach to the ideas and approach behind the community engagement process before revealing the product of the project: a "suite of materials that connected household kitchen waste with sewer infrastructure."

The materials included flashcards that provide reminders of the kinds of kitchen waste that contribute to the FOG problem, marked manhole covers on city streets, and related graphics on wastewater trucks. Together, the trio of bright green and integrated graphics served as a reminder of the connection between individual kitchens, city infrastructure, and the larger ecosystem of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The hope is that the lessons gained in the community engagement process, as well as the final design product, could provide an example for other municipalities.

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