Winner of the Tishman Environment & Design Center Research Award • Presented at the Earth Day at the New School Conference
Mastic Beach Village is a small coastline community that, like many others, was devastated by Superstorm Sandy. Ever since, residents have been debating start questions about their long-term future there.
The same is true across the region. According to the Regional Plan Association, just one foot of sea level rise will “inundate nearly 60 square miles [in the NYC metro area], where more than 19,000 residents in 10,000 homes live today, and where approximately 10,000 people work.” One foot of sea level rise is projected within the next thirty years—as much as six-feet could come by 2100 (though scientists continue to raise their estimates).
I’ve partnered with the RPA to develop the Coastal Futures Fellowship, a participatory 360º-videomaking workshop that grounds high level plans with grounded stories of future climate realities. And last month I ran the first session in Mastic Beach.
I created the Coastal Futures Fellowship, a weekend-long filmmaking and futuring project.
Why this form of video? One thing participatory filmmaking does extremely well is structure a debate and an eventual resolution. Scriptwriters have to sit around and discuss the project of representing a thing to which they’re all tied; they’ve got to reconcile their ideas in a propositional and creative way. 360º-video presents a new kind of participatory politics. Rather than traditional film, the script can respond to the direction the viewer is looking—thus the writers have a method to assemble difference of opinion into the same piece. What’s more, during the act of filming directors have no camera to hide behind! Because the lenses film a complete panorama, participants must act themselves, or run and hide. This is a lovely dynamic that makes filming fun, conceptual, unfamiliar, unexpected.
Fellows pinpointed future monuments on a map based on prompts I created. They then discussed what would unfold between now and then that would make such a story plausible. They used a framework to describe four different experiences of that future, then set out to film each site.
The logic behind their stories provided useful insight into local dynamics, while the scriptwriting allowed Fellows to compare their idealized future visions.
Constituents are asked to commit time and energy, often for very little in return. They contribute to long-view strategic planning that (at best!) doesn’t begin to materialize for months after community meetings, or (worse) becomes irrelevant, forgotten, poorly repackaged, not shared with similar advocates, poorly implemented, too impractical, too practical, not remotely representative…the list goes on. I bring this up not to critique the sentiment, but to challenge us to innovate this difficult, pressing work.