How to surveil yourself for (y)our own good

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Though environmental standards have improved over the past decades, in these muggy days of early summer in New York the quality of our air and water becomes palpably questionable. We bicycle through clouds of truck exhaust that hang in the damp air, and it won’t be long before we’ll almost be able to smell the Gowanus from Manhattan.

What can you do this summer to make sure that your daily habits contribute to a city with cleaner air and water? Surveil yourself.

We’ve been tracking a few open source technology initiatives that make it easy for everyday citizens to monitor the air quality of the areas we inhabit, track our own daily water usage, and keep feelers out for things like sewer overflows in our boroughs.

Take, for example. According to the project’s  website, maintained by inventor Leif Percifield:

“The idea behind this project is to allow NYC residents to help reduce the amount of pollution in the harbor. Some 27 billion gallons of raw sewage is dumped into the harbor every year. This comes from Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) that open when the sewer system is overloaded. The idea is to enable residents to understand when the overflows happen and reduce their wastewater production before and during an overflow event.”

Use the widget on the website and updates from their twitter account to monitor when it’s safe to flush, shower, and do laundry, or when you should hold off due to a possible sewer overflow in your borough.

You can also use this map to track rainfall in the blocks surrounding your apartment, office, and regular haunts to keep an eye out for combined sewer overflows due to rain and snowfall hitting our outdated sewer systems. A feed of tips and facts under the map offers simple ideas to help you help us all steer clear of of code brown [example tip: take a shorter shower on rainy days]. 

From a team including coders, educators, hackers, and activists from  Citizen Sensor, Pachube, and some of the same people from, comes #AirQualityEgg: A community-led air quality sensing network that gives people a way to participate in the conversation about air quality.

We’ll keep giving you tips on self-surveillance for sustainability throughout the summer, but will leave you with this video on an open-hardware, data-collecting air quality egg to look forward to: