Divergent Ideas for a Dynamic Educational Campaign

As an overall update from this project, I have learned from method card, interviews and previous homework assignments, the topic of urban environmentalism is too large in scope to effectively pursue within this semester. However, as I have mentioned in my previous posts, I have found the following insights:

  • decreasing the education gap to highlight issues of climate change
  • making actions for environmentalism more convenient
  • focusing on reducing large scale consumption via food and materialism
  • incorporating urban environmentalism with current ideas and seemingly more urgent act (e.g. promoting increase in fresh fruits and vegetables in urban spaces and increasing access in food deserts as a way of tying in better health conditions for current residents and decreasing environmental impact)

Based on these insights, I have narrowed my focus to be the first point — eliminating the education gap around issues of climate change. The ability to learn about these issues particularly through a none politicized platform is the element that gets people thinking about and acting on issues of climate change the most. As such I curated the following questions using the methods recommended:

  • How might we increase education and awareness on issues of climate change and steps to combat it in an evolving space?
  • How might we increase knowledge about climate change and promote actin as the background information changes?
  • How might we disseminate new climate change information with a message of hope?
  • How might we make an educational campaign on climate change like the campaign against cigarettes?
  • How might we make updates about climate change apocalyptic while still conveying the urgency?
  • How might we depoliticize updates about climate change?


From these questions, I realized the issues that I care about is disseminating information where the information itself may change over time and how do we get groups of people to trust in changing data and adopts these change.  As such, I have settled on the following how might we question recognizing that it still may be a little general.


How might we increase knowledge about climate change and promote action as the background information changes? 

From there I have created the following 10 divergent ideas:

  1. Create an ad campaign surrounding how the information has changed and keep changing –> leading to the idea we can make change and stop climate change
  2. Create an early education learning platform to institute the fight on climate change at an earlier age
  3. Partner with smart home companies keep an electronic visualization of everyone’s carbon footprint
  4. Mandate a state specific training upon 18th birthday or when you move there teaching the states recycling policy
    1. Similar to that of a getting a driver’s license
  5. Incorporate environmental impact information around food in a similar way calories are included
  6. Create a reality tv/documentary series addressing the issues of climate change –> installments also include the latest updated information
  7. Art exhibits that demonstrate current damage to the planet and what that could currently look like
  8. Create a virtual reality experience showing earth as it used to be, earth today and earth projected at our current rate and earth at various protective actions
  9. Photo series in nationally acclaimed papers showing area most impacted by climate change
  10. Ad campaign showing what “luxury” goods are at stake if this continues
    1. Running supermarkets without produce most vulnerable if climate change continue
    2. Running ad campaigns detailing that Caribbean island vacation destinations will disappear –> new vacation destination could be the Midwest
  11. Send receipts/reports of where past electronics are and for how long
    1. Within this vein tracking where personal waste remains
  12. Visual art of plastic waste in high traffic places for long periods of time to show how it doesn’t degrade
  13. Children TV show focusing on the environment

Unknown Uknowns

For my semester project, I am trying to understand the issue of urban environmentalism and who to hold accountable for righting issues of climate change. While I haven’t honed in on a particular solution yet, the answers seem to lie in:

  • decreasing the education gap to highlight issues of climate change
  • making actions for environmentalism more convenient
  • focusing on reducing large scale consumption via food and materialism
  • incorporating urban environmentalism with current ideas and seemingly more urgent act (e.g. promoting increase in fresh fruits and vegetables in urban spaces and increasing access in food deserts as a way of tying in better health conditions for current residents and decreasing environmental impact)

However, as I try to hone in a solution there are a lot of ways in which this situation could deviate. As I am working through this process, I would like to list what unknown unknowns there might be.

One unknown I would be interested in looking into is if I follow a solution of reducing large scale food consumption, what ways can capitalism adapt to over-work and extort this seemingly new and better model? In a similar vein to how the sudden interest in quinoa because of its super-food benefits have led to quinoa shortages and unfair labor and wage conditions for farmers, could increasing consumption of less environmentally disturbing food actually further this disadvantages. Where would the sustainable farming sources from land, to water, to power, to transportation, to food waste come from to supply a world in which everyone at 20% more vegetarian meals? How would increasing the demand for fresh fruits and vegetables impact deforestation?

Another potential solution in this area is to get people more involved with snout to tail policy, utilizing the entirety of an animal. In this hypothetical world, people are expected to use the entire animal if they were to purchase an animal part. However, I am unsure what impacts that may cause on the pricing of animal products. Currently parts like gizzards, chitterlings, sweetbreads are low priced because they aren’t demanded, however, an increase in demands could make pig snout the new fine dining changing what is affordable to the everyday people. How would encouraging use of an entire animal play into expected serving sizes for people? How would that change in serving sizes impact the populations health? Would this new trend in foods impact the understanding of a nuclear family as people attempt to have enough people at dinner to finish an entire animal product? Of course, changes to the nuclear family could have ripples on tons of other industries especially, the home goods industries as large groups of people share resources. Instead of one hammer per household, we could potentially see a single hammer being shared across a culdesac. How would the animal farming industry be impacted? Would we move towards purchasing smaller animals with more manageable portion sizes and potential lead to western nations eating more types of animals such as pigeons?


If these policies work out, how might this impact the life expectancy of the average human? How would we handle the potential for overpopulation if life expectancy dramatically increases due to these policies? How would this potentially affect housing reform? How would this impact the food supply chain? Would it increase or decrease disparity in food allocation? I think if these policies are adopted to the scale of millions of people, we could definitely see effects outside of the realm of food and climate change. More importantly, I am unsure if we are prepared to handle a mass-adoption of these policies. The first step of mitigation would have to be around sustainable methods for food production from farming to disposal.

Urban Environmentalism: Interview Updates – Part I

I, unfortunately, haven’t been documenting the necessary updates about my interview on the class site. A continued update of the progress will be published throughout today. As such, I wanted to give some updates about where I am in this project. I began by interviewing 3 peers from states with different political affiliations to understand how their political background can impact their understanding of climate change and environmentalism.  From these interviews, I got perspectives from a red state, a blue state and a swing state. Given that issues of climate change and environmentalism have become heavily politicized I wanted to investigate if these definitions change between regions and hopefully unearth an area to work on to increase urban environmentalism. In addition to understand urban environmentalism, I am investigating the connection between being a person of color and engagement with environmentalism and climate change. For this reason, I also chose to solely interview people of color. As such, I asked all of my peers the same questions, with additional questions asked depending on the interviewee. The overlapped core questions went as followed:

      1. Where are you from?
      2. What is your cities policies/stances on climate change?
      3. Would you say you are an environmentalist?
      4. What is your definition of environmentalist or environmentalism?
      5. How does your community understand environmentalism?
        1. Community here was defined not as your entire city but as cultural affiliation.
      6. How does this idea play into the latinx/black/asian community at home?
      7. How has your understanding of environmentalism evolve?
      8. What caused these changes?
      9. How would you compare your evolution on the topic to your peers back home?
      10. What do you think it would take for you and people in your community to make changes?
      11. Do you think environmentalism is inaccessible? Why?
      12. Who do you think has the biggest responsibility to prevent climate change?
In conducting these interviews, I actually found that the answers changed very little across racial demographics and political demographics. None of the people I Interviewed would consider themselves an environmentalist. They did not think people in their community generally considered their environmental impact; most people attributed the lack of concern with the lack of convenience that comes with making environmentally conscious choices. More importantly, the discovery I had in these conversation was that people felt they became more aware of their environmental impact because of college attesting that the difference in what makes this an issue of importance is education. I think the reason I assumed this may actually play among racial lines is because education in America is so inherently tied into class and race. Similarly, I was surprised that everyone recognized the real change would come from forcing corporation to be more environmentally conscious but none believed that change will ultimately come; as a consequence, interviewees ultimately believed the responsibility to stop climate change would land on the individual.
To summarize, the parts I found most important from my first interviews came from:
  1. recognizing that few people deem themselves to be environmentalist because the actions and mentality they would associate with environmentalism had too high of a barrier of entry
  2. education seems to be the deciding factor in how urgent and prominent you find the issue of climate change to be
  3. people don’t engage in having a smaller environmental impact because of convenience
  4. while people recognize the largest perpetrators of climate change, they don’t believe there is a way to create change so the change must come from the individual

Climate Injustice: Coalition Spaces, Reducing Urban Carbon Footprint and Making Environmentalism Acessible

This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that we have until 2030 to limit the effects of climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. Warming greater than 1.5 C will lead to global catastrophe by extinction of several species, drought, heat waves and food shortages that will disproportionately impact those in poverty. Since beginning college, I have read more and more articles detailing the negative impacts of climate change and more importantly highlighting its urgency. 12 years for radical change in carbon emissions, renewable energy, plastic use and more does not lead for a lot of time. For this reason, I choose to pursue the issue of climate injustice for the rest of the semester. In particular, I aim to think about how can we make urban spaces more environmentally friendly for the Earth and its residents.  My current musing on this project is that environmentalism as a topic has been strictly correlated to conservation of wildlife — which is still important but limiting in the scope of what needs to be done about climate change — and limited racially and financially to white middle to upper class citizens. Climate change has fully become everyone’s problem when talking about environmentalism and also hasn’t become accessible to everyone. Low-income urban resident face food deserts which prevent engaging in healthier eating choices that reduce individual carbon footprints but also will lead to a healthier lifestyle. Similarly, toxins from airplanes, buses and trains create poor breathing environments and change soil content that community gardens to combat food deserts become difficult. The increased warming in urban environment due to glass skyscrapers are also out of the residents control. For this semester, I want to focus on engaging communities, creating coalition spaces, on the issue of climate change, brainstorm and create with them solutions and hopefully promote environmentalism as a topic for everyone. While I am focusing on the individual level, this is not to forget that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions and as such the blame of climate change does not heavily lie on the individual but recognizing that in the process of bringing environmentalism to the individual level can still create healthier lifestyles for those being denied and could potentially lead to collective group effort to influence these 100 companies of reducing emissions.


As such, I am creating a influence map to highlight who are the stakeholders and how do they interact as I begin delving into this topic. The image should appear below. I highlighted the overall, 5 major players in this situation and what impacts I think they might have and onto who.

Making Values Real

When designing, I would like to maintain these five values:

  1. Understanding – All participants and designers work to fully understand the extent and nuances of the problem being solved. This core value should exceed empathizing with individuals — still an important step — by understanding the larger systems at play that influence this problem space and communities within.
  2. Inclusion and Collaboration – Design should not be a privilege or have a barrier of entry. I believe in designing with meaning that everyone should be represented at the table. Similar to EquityXDesign’s value of radical inclusion, I want to recognize those traditionally removed from the process. I would like to maintain the thoughts of designing at the margins and ceding power.
  3. Accountability, Critiques and Growth – When creating, designers should always maintain accountability for their decisions and outputs and be willing to re-design, bring to light to rein in negative externalities. In order to do so, self-critique is an essential part to ask the questions: Does design solve this problem? What parts of my solution do I think are good/bad? Who has been included? Am I solving the right problem? Is my scope correct? What could go wrong? These critiques will keep people accountable throughout the process and require growth to maintain.
  4. Remove constraints – Throughout the design process, I would want people to remove some of the traditional constraints of design during the ideation phase such that they don’t limit themselves in  creativity. This means challenge what may be industry norms, imagine what you could create if profit wasn’t an issue. The goal is to ask what would we create or do such that our output is right and just. Remove what constraints are in the way of solving for what is just and right, and see what solutions arise.
  5. Support – Designing for social issues is hard. We often get it wrong. Systems are hard to change. The work can be physically, mentally and emotionally tiring. For that reason, we should support each other through the process. Critique with love. Offer help. Be present for each other.

These ideals would be present at a hackathon surrounding climate change, particularly looking at how do we make urban spaces healthier for residents and the world. This event would be in collaboration with architects, scientist, engineers and community residents to start with inclusion. The initial portion of the event should be information sharing across all parties to get to understanding. Architects should share how architecture influence climate within urban environments, what problems they see now. Scientists and engineers should discuss what technology we have ready to use, the science behind climate change within urban environments. The residents would be asked to share what challenges they see from a day to day and how it impacts their live, including food deserts, high temperature, clean air/water/soil, the political climate, etc. Hopefully, this would generate a comprehensive view for all participants and begin building a community where support can be given. From there, they would go through the usual design steps keeping the aforementioned values in mind. I would add two steps to the design process. 1) Post ideation should be a critical check background to ask: Are we actually answering the question we sought to? How? Are we asking the right question? Who has been included? Who are we missing? 2) Post Prototyping there would be a stage to ask: how do we stay accountable and responsible for what we just created? How do we make sure this idea continues past this hackathon?

At the Intersection of Injustice

When thinking of what avenues I would like to create social change in, I often consider climate injustice, economic injustice and mobility injustice as the three biggest areas to pursue. These potential issues, when overlapped, tend to impact the same group of people the most regardless of community norms and geographic location: low-income people, people of color and people with disabilities. I’ve also recognized that I have felt the negative impacts of all three of these areas prior to coming to Harvard. I grew up in a low-income area of NYC; I live in a food dessert, in a public transportation desert and below multiple JFK air-paths — a situation that already promotes climate injustice and as a consequence negative health impacts, inhibits the movement of people from work and unable to afford and get to fresh fruits and vegetables. As a consequence, I am determined to make impacts in these three issues.


Climate Injustice

  • Law: We need to institute higher taxes on organizations with high CO2 emissions and/or that don’t participate in proper recycling and waste disposal habits. in addition, we need to implement stricter waste disposal laws. Given that the top two industries that create green house emissions are transportation and electricity. We should put into law that all companies need to remove fossil fuels from their procedures within the next 4 years. Change zoning laws within major urban pockets to make the cities environmentally friendly. Reduce food waste in supermarket and restaurants by mandating excess food be donated prior  to spoiling or tossing.
  • Market: Subsidize and/or make free technology items that utilizes clean energy source would be a good start.
  • Norms: The norms battle would have to be to get people to understand that climate change is real. I would start by highlighting that the “debate” on climate change is not coming from the scientific community documentaries, articles and social media campaigns. I would spend more time highlighting areas already seeing the effects through social media.
  • Code: Create a website or extension that monitors what individual green house gas emissions look like as well as highlight what individual company emissions look like. This is to help people, especially those in developed nations that emit the most amount of waste and green house gas but also highlight for people which companies are the worst perpetrators to put public pressure on them.

Mobility Injustice

  • Law: Laws would need to change to create a stronger infrastructure around America for accessibility purposes. Sidewalks should be a regulated width, smooth concrete (or a more sustainable material) and with ample cross walks. Increase the budget of infrastructure to maintain roads, bridges, tunnels and highways. Create a nation-wide high-speed train system to allow for cross-country travel with less emissions and at a cheaper cost.
  • Market: I am not sure how the market could exactly fit into this section aside from using sales from another place to subsidize these infrastructure sales. I would decreases pricing on assitive technology and public transportation in cities.
  • Norms: I think we need to highlight how many places are actually inaccessible such that people can work to understand the need of accessible spaces and inspired to create more. I would want to move conversations around technology from innovation to maintenance because maintenance is equally as important and something I think the U.S. forgets about. Creating a campaign to highlights its importance, thank those who do it could incentives communities to put more money into maintaining infrastructure.
  • Code: I’ve actually seen some really cool website and apps to help in this realm. One uses crow-sourcing to highlight where bus stops actually are on a street for the visually impaired. Another uses Google images and crowd sourcing to highlight what curbs don’t have accessible ramps. I think databases for accessibility purposes are great to show what spaces are accessible for different needs. I think a database for local governments to know what needs the most attention would be great but I don’t think they would do anything with that information.

Economic Injustice

  • Law: I firmly believe there should be no billionaires, more social programs to reallocate resources and we should remove system where one’s value is based on the economic value of the communities surrounding it. To start, school funding should not be tied to property value. All schools should get the same funding and we should probably mix schools such that attendance isn’t dependent on a zip code. There should be heavier taxes on the extremely wealthy people and business that should be directly put into social programs. We should have universal healthcare. Minimum wage should be increased to a livable wage for all. College should be free. Everyone should receive a basic income. Large conglomerate business should be broken up to provide more competition and potential variation of prices as well as a stronger possibility for small businesses to thrive. I recognize I am stating a lot of ideals but I think these all should be put into law.
  • Market: I stated this earlier and I feel like law and market would have to work together here but we should break up large conglomerate businesses to allow smaller businesses to thrive. I am not sure how you would use the market in this area to help with this issue but I think it could.
  • Norms: I think we need to push the boundaries of what is considered “really liberal” ideas around social programming considering America’s liberal are many European countries’ conservative. I think there should be a continued effort from boycotts, protest and social media to make these ideas heard including the idea that billionaires shouldn’t exist and schools deserve equal funding regardless on community value. We should push the norms of the country to believe that everyone deserves to live a healthy and fruitful life and as consequence deserve things like shelter and food. On a completely different note, I think people should actually talk to each other about wages and benefit packages. We should normalize these conversations so we can eliminate unfair pay discrepancies.
  • Code: When I think of using code for economic injustice, I tend to want it to have a more interpersonal impact. I really believe in financial literacy for everyone. I think code can do a great job of teaching financial literacy and money management to create healthy spending habits.

Not Enough Time and No One to Carry the Torch

My freshman year, I participated in a winter session study abroad program in Sao Paulo, Brazil where I worked with fellow Harvard students and Brazilian students to help find a solution to Sao Paulo’s transportation problem. Hosted by Sao Paulo Transit and MobiLab — a think-tank/incubator for “innovative” ideas as it relates to transportation to Sao Paulo, this was my first encounter with human-centered design and the design process — so I didn’t have the critical skills to critique the process, the work I was outputting nor the focus.

This is to say the winter session program wasn’t perfect — not based on what I know now of the design process and what my values are when it comes to entering and working with a community. However, this project still remains one of my proudest ones thus far and I think it is important for these two ideas to co-exist and continue to inform my future experiences.


The full scope of the problem as presented to us by Sao Paulo Transit and Mobilab was how might we utilize aerial images to  eliminate traffic jams and relieve congestion of the overall transportation system within Sao Paulo? Looking back on this experience, I still have mixed-opinions on the structure of the program. To begin, I do appreciate the fact that we were given a problem to solve as opposed to a group of Harvard students entering a community we have limited to no knowledge about and deciding how we frame the solution. Had we been given the reins to frame and choose the scope of the problem, I imagine we would have been very off-base as to what problems we truly needed to solve. Similarly, I appreciated that this program was a joint effort between Harvard and Brazilian students and the institution that works on transportation to create co-design environment. However, I think the problem presented to my six-person college team was far too large for our given time period of 15 days.

During this short period of time, my team and I worked to create an image processing website that identifies aerial road images by width to support up-to-date spatial planning for the provision of urban services in Sao Paulo specifically designed for the local metropolitan level. This project hasn’t created any terrible impacts in the area to my current understanding. The real issue with this solution was the impact in which it actually had and our ability to execute said solution. Our goal was to help identify road-widths such that traffic could possibly be re-routed to allow the number of cars a particular road can handle thus relieving congestion; to standardize street widths for accessibility of pedestrians and bikers; lastly, to alert the municipal government to what roads might be most critical for them to update from a spatial standpoint. However, we were not the ideal group to craft this solution. Of the 6 college students, only 2 had any sort of background in image processing and not enough to build a robust image processing website. 2 of the 6 had no experience coding until this winter session — I was one of them, so I could really only learn and help with front-end development. After we brought this idea to a proof of concept stage, this program ended, meaning there was no one to continue the development of the solution, so it can actually be used. We left the code open-sourced so others at MobiLab or future program participants can continue with it; however, 2016 was the one and only year in which this program ran. Lastly, we created a solution to the problem, but I don’t think it was the best solution. Even if we built out this site, the actual effectiveness of the site would have been questionable; similarly, would this solution have actually been used by Sao Paulo Transit? We framed our goal to be narrow in who we impact. While up-to-date spatial planning could be beneficial to the local metropolitan area, traffic congestion and those most impacted by it extend way past the local metropolitan boundary.

This project had the potential to become something impactful. What the project needed were people who specialized in image processing, people who understood how Sao Paulo Transit operated and what tool could actually be used in their work, people who could correctly identify the target audience and someone who could dedicate the time to bring this project to life. This project has given me a lot to think about and questions I am still pushing myself to answer such as: What does is look like to enter a community that is not your own and partner with them? How do I engage in critical issues and output solutions in a collaborative manner that will actually create positive impact? How do I extend the confines given to me in future projects to give a project more meaning than what can go on a resume? How do I ensure my work can continue on without me? These are questions I haven’t yet found the answer to, but I will continue to pursue.

Finding the words

My name is Zaria Smalls and I study a special concentration called Design Engineering and Social Change — a major where I focus on how technology has previously inhibited or promoted social change and how future design processes can be intentional in that change. I can’t give a clear explanation of how I got to my special concentration because it wasn’t until very recently that I could vocalize what I cared about but I can highlight the moments where I got my first glimpse into this world.


I first began my academic career at Harvard as an electrical engineer. I didn’t mind the math courses; I loved the hands on work and project aspects and found electricity kind of cool. Then the upper-level course began and I got into the theory of electrical engineering and intermediately knew that I absolutely hated it. I personally knew, I would need to change what I studied to enjoy my last two years at Harvard. In my sophomore fall, I decided to take a design class just to change the pace of what my classes were. It was there that I actually found myself enjoying the work and excited to learn again. This particular class highlighted human centered design — the concept that you should always design to the needs of the target community — something that seemed so incredibly obvious and revolutionary for me. This is the moment where I began to form the words to describe what I am interested in.


Later in my sophomore year, I attended the class for all sophomore students planning to pursue engineering degrees. This course was meant to teach students about the future job market, ethics and resources within the engineering school. The last section of this course, every student was asked to examine the data of a hypothetical car to determine whether to enter said car into a race. The data showed at what points the car engine would combust in relation to weather. None of the data was conclusive. However, we did know that not entering the race would theoretically cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars. If we did enter the race, we had the potential of winning millions. With this information, each student was asked to make a decision — do we or do we not enter the race. The obvious answer to me was no because there was a chance that our engine would combust and the potential that someone could get hurt or die. This thoughts had not apparently crossed the mind of all my peers; I was astonished to watch as some of peers advocating for racing and never even considered the possibility that anyone could get hurt. The data was later revealed to be the same as that of the Challenger.


I still can’t tell you exactly how I learned about human factors work, design impact, user experience and really critically understanding how technology has radically shaped our society but I started by putting together this concentration. The experience about are the moments that made me think the most about what technology could and should be. From there, I decided to put together a special concentration that: analyzes how past technologies have impacted society, teaches the technical background of electrical engineering and finally use hands-on design classes to critically think of and practice the design process to build socially conscious technological solutions.

The interesting part to me is that if I were to look back on my life thus far, I would see that technology and social change has always been what I cared about. I grew up deeply caring about social justice. I have been a First-Year Urban Program leader for four years, where I spend my time teaching and talking to first-year students about how to engage with social justice issues in the Boston area. I’ve continually looked at mobility access a priority by working in Sao Paulo, Brazil on public transportation access, wheelchair design for those without upper-body mobility and discussing transportation deserts within from my own home of NYC. The businesses and technologies I have always found most interesting and innovative have tackled issues around economic, racial and/or climate injustice. So my focus has always been about how technology has failed under-served communities. It has always been how technology is inherently political and to ignore the power in which technology has to shape our world around us from a social standpoint would be an injustice to ourselves. I just couldn’t find the words until recently.