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A review by Tapiwa Chabikwa of Geoffrey Duh's presentation to the Water Justice Seminar

Jiunn-Der (Geoffrey) Duh – Associate Professor of Geography, Director of GIS Programs, Portland State University. “GIS, Spatial Thinking, & Environmental Justice”

In this seminar Professor Duh speaks about the intersection of Geographic Information Science (GIS) with Environmental Justice. Environmental Justice issues can be brought to the forefront, be analyzed and their solutions be sought and explored via GIS applications. GIS is a tool which is used to make and convert physical maps and digital data into maps and databases which can be analyzed. When Environmental Dis-amenities are rejected in communities, Environmental Justice arises and in most cases it affects the socially, economically, and politically dis-empowered communities according to the principle of Distributive Environmental Justice, which states that, ‘that environmental problems should not be disproportionately concentrated in poor communities or communities of color or, more broadly, in socially, economically or politically dis-empowered communities.’ These communities are usually communities of color and poor communities. Doctor Duh discusses how the most vulnerable communities shoulder the heaviest burden. Maps showing Social Vulnerability Indices, and intersections of health-based water drinking violations with racial, ethnic, and language vulnerability indices by county in the USA are some examples Professor Duh used these to show how GIS can be utilized to reflect Environmental justice issues at country and state level. When such maps are produced citizens and authorities can then use them to tackle problems which affect the most dis-empowered. Maps created for these environmental justice issues tell stories, and they reveal patterns that can be used to help create solutions in marginalized communities. The maps have critical statistical components which can be utilized by different stake holders to proffer solutions starting at community level up to global level. Professor Duh gave a prime example of how GIS has been used to map Green Storm water Infrastructure (GSI) in Philadelphia. The maps produced helped to identify factors that influence the variability in the distribution of public and private investments in GSI in the state between 2011 and 2015. Maps showing prioritization rankings for different minority groups like Black, Hispanic, Asian or poverty ridden and high crime zone etc., were made for Philadelphia. These maps factored other variables like education, income, and green-spaces. The end product maps were then used to find high priority areas which needed GSI prioritization. Aside from the good uses, some people have used GIS to manipulate voting districts ‘gerrymandering’. These manipulated maps can affect election results, this in turn has a trickle-down effect to minority groups which are affected by environmental justice issues as politics can influence whether minorities rights or concerns are respected. To tackle such problems Professor Duh encourages volunteered Geographic information or citizen science, counter mapping, and narrative cartography. When citizen science or counter mapping is applied by affected constituents or by well-wishers’ proper solutions to problems can be found.


Tapiwa Chabikwa recently graduated with a BS in Environment Science and Management and is currently working on attaining GIS a graduate certificate.

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