Landscape Architecture

Posted October 2, 2019

2019 ASLA Professional Award Winners: The FloMo

The FloMo: A Mobile Messenger for Sea Level Rise

Award Of Excellence: Communications

Bionic/University of Pennsylvania (Lead by Karen M'Closkey and Keith VanDerSys)
Client: Resilient By Design

The FloMo

"This clever and effective community education tool brings vital information to a flood-prone area in San Rafael, California, home to thousands of Spanish-speaking immigrants, many of whom have limited understanding of the threats posed to their community by rising sea levels and storm surge. FloMo, a van covered in curiosity-provoking bilingual graphics, along with a flood gauge, a laser level to project flood possible levels, social media connections, and educational outreach to schools and community gatherings, sends a compelling and approachable message that in an era of climate change, flooding will affect everything and everyone."

- 2019 Awards Jury

Project Credits:

Penn Design (Now Stuart Weitzman School of Design)
    Karen M'Closkey, Keith VanDerSys, Julie Donofrio, Allison Lassiter,
    Michael Luegering, Michael Tantala, and Ken Steif

WxY Architects
Studio for Urban Projects
Canal Welcome Center


Project Statement

The FloMo is a Trojan Horse to deliver a message of awareness and unity to a community of immigrants and businesses that are at risk of displacement or devastation by flooding and sea level rise.

The canal district in San Rafael California is home to a community of thousands of immigrants. Their community it tight knit, hardworking, and interdependent with a strong social structure. They are the workforce of the bay area, and critical to the regional economy; they live in an area below sea level and thinly protected by aging pumps and levees. A single flood event would devastate the community and its social cohesion. In time the whole community will inevitably be displaced by sea level rise if nothing is done.

Fun, informative, relatable, and bi-lingual the FloMo delivers a profound and simple message about climate change and flooding.

Project Narrative

WHY FLOMO?

The FloMo (aka the San Rafael Flood Mobile) is a Trojan Horse to deliver a message of awareness and unity to a community of immigrants and businesses that are at risk of displacement or devastation by flooding and sea level rise.

The canal district in San Rafael California is home to a community of thousands of immigrants. Their community is tightly-knit, hardworking, and interdependent with a strong social structure. These people are the workforce of the Bay Area, and critical to the regional economy. They live in an area that is below sea level and thinly protected by a system of aging pumps and levees. A single flood event would devastate the community and its social cohesion. In time, the whole community will be displaced by sea level rise if nothing is done.

Most canal residents do not speak English, and they are focused on day-to-day survival in a region with a rising cost of living and scarce housing. They are largely unaware that they live in harm's way. This condition is the result of decades of institutional racism in Marin County that has segregated the canal district at large with layers of automobile infrastructure, freeways, and walls.

DESIGNING THE MESSAGEā€¦AND MESSENGER

The FloMo was designed to hack the system. To blend in with the ubiquitous automobile in a landscape dominated by vehicular infrastructure, and deliver information and awareness to those that need it most.

Fun, informative, relatable, and bi-lingual the FloMo delivers a profound and simple message.

On one side, the FloMo communicates that "Flooding Affects Everything", with a map showing the extent of a 500-year flood event, including affected residences, schools, infrastructure, critical businesses (pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations), and governmental services.

On the opposite side, the FloMo communicates that "Flooding Affects Everyone", with a cross-section from the hills to the bay showing the range of potential impacts from flood events for residents living in different locations. Mud slides, closed roads, and lack of access to necessities, infrastructure damage, pollution, and destroyed housing in low-lying areas are risks that affect everyone. The specific causes of flooding in the Canal District (sea level rise, rain, and high tides) and their dangerous combinations are described to explain the interaction between these different events.

The FloMo's story is told by a bi-lingual stick-figure docent named "Flo", who engages the public with more casual, approachable, and relatable questions and comments across the van. Flo highlights areas of specific interest in the graphics, asking questions that a typical citizen, child, or elder might have. Flo provides a relatable reason to engage with the van's message and content, and to lean in closer and explore the finer level of detail in the maps and graphics.

FEATURES

The FloMo has multiple features: a graphic flood level datum encircling the van, a flood gauge measuring stick to convey flood levels, and a moveable laser level on the flood gauge to project various flood states on surrounding viewers and objects.

Collaborator logos, links, and hashtags to social media accounts connect the FloMo to other organizations, groups, and efforts addressing the issues of sea level rise, flooding, and climate change.

To communicate with all of the Canal District's residents the FloMo's infographics are translated into Spanish.

THE VAN

The irony of using a gas-guzzling van to raise climate change awareness is an intentional part of the FloMo's message. The automobile industry -- sales and repair -- is a dominant economic sector of the Canal District. It is home to a wide swath of auto malls and a sea of repair shops. The FloMo's rear graphics highlight its own carbon footprint and the contribution that automobile emissions make towards climate change. Carbon offsets were purchased for the van's own impacts. It also engages the political aspect of climate change with a statement by Flo directed at the current president and administration.

ACTIVE MODE / PASSIVE MODE

The FloMo is used at sea level rise tours, flood fairs, classroom visits, municipal meetings, and design events. In addition to its outward graphic message and content, the FloMo also travels with hands-on engagements tools, copious "Flood Line" stickers, and a 3D-printed interactive flood model. The model allows two different colored liquids, one representing storm surge and the other representing stream flow, to be poured simultaneously onto a scale representation of the Canal District showing how these two sources create flood events. The Flood Line stickers (including a measuring stick for accurate placement) leverage guerilla marketing tactics to introduce flooding awareness in unexpected places.

As a planned participant in events, the FloMo simultaneously functions as an educational briefing, a political lobbyist, a public engagement tool, and a keynote speaker.

But the FloMo also circulates throughout the San Rafael community daily without a particular event to attend. It runs errands, moves equipment, and transports people. On the street, in parking lots, day and night it is provoking questions, increasing awareness, and promoting change wherever it goes.

RESULTS

The FloMo has reached tens of thousands of citizens. Its informality and ability to appear both where it is expected, and where it is not, is its super power. It has appeared on television and visited schools, informed municipal officials, enlightened residents, and engaged children. It's been to dozens of events, including community meetings, photo ops with politicians, sea level rise tours, church and grocery store parking lots, and advocacy events. In a short period of time, for a very low cost, the FloMo has alerted a vulnerable community to an imminent threat to their way of life, and has set political and budgetary processes in motion to create change.
 

More information, click here.