HomePilots & Prototypes
Place making, understanding and preserving
November 2, 2020
Written by
Text LinkText Link

We welcome Emelia Williams, Civic Voice Fellow, to the Open Environmental Data Project team! Below is an introduction to her goals, interest and work.

All of my life experience and labor have directed me toward the exercise of place-making, place-understanding, place-preserving. I understand myself as a result of the places that have had me and it makes sense why I gravitate toward the work that I do, environment and natural resource science and policy. As we are the result of places, they are the result of us, and that relationship is at the heart of the work at the Open Environmental Data Project.

My home, my first place, is Kentucky, and because of this, I am intimately aware of the scarcity framework of thinking regarding the natural environment. I came into political consciousness with the issue of mountaintop removal and witnessed first-hand how the free market lacks in the ability to truly regulate in a way that will preserve our public resources. The data was present and stark; significant deforestation, destroyed headwater streams, valley fills and sludge ponds all resulting in increased air, soil, and water pollution for local communities. That data was disseminated into the broader public outside of Appalachia and slowly changed mining practices over decades of activism and government regulation.

I saw this place-destroying and scarcity trend continue as I did undergraduate research in Cameroon, where I visited the Atlantic Ocean offloading vessel of the Chad-Cameroon Pipeline. This pipeline symbolizes the intersections between the growing impacts of energy consumption, climate change, food and human security in communities in Western Africa and beyond. If my teenage years lent me consciousness around issues of environmental science and policy, my research and undergraduate education clarified my direction and dedication to place-understanding and preserving.

My early career was an extension of that dedication. I moved to Seattle shortly after graduating with a degree in International Relations and Environmental Science and went to work for a small non-profit called City Fruit, dedicated to protecting the city’s fruit canopy. I spent that first summer climbing ladders into apple trees, clamoring around hunting for figs, and delivering hundreds of pounds of fresh produce to local food banks and community partners. I felt comfort in the act, and in the connection with this new urban space and with the people who care for this land and call it home.

I was thrust into different neighborhoods, learning the streets and the culture as I spent time with fruit tree owners in their backyard and alongside fruit stewards in public orchards. It was a process, this new place-understanding, learning directly from folks in their own places but also in the new space of the West Coast, Washington, Seattle.

At The Fletcher School, I was able to put a technical and holistic lens on my understanding of environmental and nature resource policy issues. It was a privilege to spend two years honing my skills in qualitative and quantitative analysis, research design, and GIS. I was also intrigued by my coursework in monitoring, evaluation, and learning of social and economic policy programs, and I am intrigued to see where there is overlay between these systems of knowledge building and sharing, and the Civic Voice Archive project and Congressional oversight.

As a student of international relations, I look forward to turning toward the domestic with this fellowship, understanding the ins and outs of Congressional modernization initiatives and improving our representative government. Taking what I know about international and other countries’ governance systems and applying it to prototyping the Civic Voice Archive as a new method to audit the supply chain of information into law will test my design skills, and I welcome that challenge in place-understanding.

I’ve come to the Open Environmental Data Project at the culmination of my formal education (for now) and at a time of clarity regarding what I want my career to be. Simply put, I think I am most engaged and useful when thinking, writing, and designing and I think the largest issues I could put that energy toward are socio-environmental in nature. I am most interested in the process of designing better systems of governance and social cohesion and understanding moments of systemic change. This fellowship is allowing me to do that -- work in a way that I feel most productive and work toward goals that I find most valuable regarding people and their places.