Human in the Data Fellowship Profile: Rebecca Walker

Rebecca Walker

Critical Cartography for Urban Environmental Planning: Exploring the Role of Participatory Mapping in the Quest for Environmentally Just Cities

Rebecca Walker is using cartography to highlight inequalities in environmental and health decision making and to empower suppressed community voices.

I am investigating data used in environmental decision-making, the power structures reinforced through this data, and the role participatory mapping might play in challenging these power relationships. My research focuses on inequality in the urban environment and how sustainability interventions might challenge or deepen these inequalities. My work aims to center the needs of community partners in order to raise the most pressing environmental justice concerns facing my community. This summer my research will interrogate the relationship between the urban environmental quality and the prevalence and severity of COVID-19. Further, I aim to investigate the role of "big data" in shaping our understanding of inequities in environmental and health outcomes. 

I produce maps of the lived environmental and health experiences of historically marginalized communities in Minneapolis. These maps will investigate relationships among the legacies of racialized space (produced through policies like racially-restrictive housing covenants and redlining), air pollution, and COVID-19 risk and prevalence. I ask, "how do maps, and the power to produce maps, shape our imaginaries of the places and people represented by those maps? Whose voices are legitimized or silenced through urban planning decision-making via spatial overlays of data? What role can participatory mapping play in challenging these power dynamics?" Ultimately, I aim to produce maps that empower community organizers in their fights for environmental and health justice. 

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