Associate Professor, Visual Art
"Environmentalism is often focused on publicizing concerns that are global enough to be newsworthy. But the average person wants to respond to such issues as climate destabilization in a way that is local enough to be actionable."
Natalie Jerejimenko uses her unique background in art, computer science and electrical engineering to explore opportunities for social change that new technologies can provide.
"I'm particularly interested in how the design of new technologies can help people address local environmental issues. Environmentalism is often focused on publicizing concerns that are global enough to be newsworthy. But the average person wants to respond to such issues as climate destabilization in a way that is local enough to be actionable."
That's why Jerejimenko founded the xdesign Environmental Health Clinic. "It works like a real health clinic. People make an appointment and come in - not with medical health concerns but with environmental health concerns. They leave the clinic with prescriptions for interventions that can improve the environmental health of their local community. We call the people who come to the clinic impatients - because they're too impatient to wait for local environmental health to change!"
Indoor air quality is a common concern for many impatients. Jerejimenko "prescribes" them a regime that includes something she's developed called the Green Light System, a solar powered, high-efficiency LED lighting fixture that supports indoor plant growth. "As we improve the environmental performance of our buildings, by insulating them better, indoor air contaminants build up more significantly. The green light system uses solar power to clean indoor air by encouraging vegetation, while also stabilizing indoor moisture levels."
Outdoor air quality is another area of concern. The clinic addresses this with the No Park Project. "The project takes a no parking area, like those in the vicinity of fire hydrants, and removes the asphalt to create an engineered micro-landscape that allows infiltration of the storm water and road run-off.This replenishes the hydration of the entire block, supporting trees and other vegetation. The area remains as emergency vehicle parking, but now it's also treating a different kind of emergency - an environmental health emergency."
The use of outdoor solar awnings is another "treatment" Jerejimenko advocates. "Solar awnings incorporate good, proven technology that has been around for a long time. They not only reduce the heat gain to buildings, they also are a visible reminder to people of solar power at work. It's like putting out a gay flag or an NYU flag - it raises consciousness to people who see it from the street. Installing such awnings is an easy and quick way to help the environment, but it's an option rarely recommended to home owners." That's where the clinic comes in.
Jerejimenko develops these treatments with students, who work at the clinic as research assistants. "Using the medical model again, masters students will come through to do a rotation or residency - just like a med student would do. They come up with an environmental problem they don't know how to ‘diagnosis' and we discuss it and develop ‘treatments.' In this sense, the work I do is very co-developed, and the students I work with are wonderful."
Jerejimenko looks forward to creating more environmental clinics around the world. "It's my goal to figure out how to address individual mediation in the face of climate crisis. I think the xdesign Environmental Health Clinic, in collaboration with my colleagues in the Department of Art and Art Professions, is poised to make major contributions in this area."