Connecting residents in Rockaway, NY to sea level rise through everyday problems they encounter in their community, and enabling them to take action against those problems.

The problem and audience

In 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City and the surrounding areas, it was a turning point in understanding how sea level rise and climate change could really affect the New York region. Rockaway, situated in the southern portion of Queens and floodable by two areas—Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean—makes it the city’s front lines to sea level rise. Like many coastal cities, Rockaway is also dealing with tidal flooding. Rockaway residents say they deal with tidal flooding about once or twice a month. When speaking to residents in the area about what they do during these floods, they said they “just deal with it.” In Rockaway, tidal flooding has been normalized and a part of everyday life. 

As we continued researching the community, we also learned that tidal flooding was only one problem among the many others in the community. These existing problems have an effect on how some residents view and act toward climate change/sea level rise. Their problems they deal with on a day-to-day basis are more of a priority.

Research and partnerships

We conducted research using a variety of methodologies. We first went out in the community to talk to locals and understand their context and the issues they faced everyday in their community related to flooding. We also partnered with a local organization—Rockaway Waterfront Alliance (RWA), an organization dedicated to educating the community on environmental issues—so we could reach other audiences. RWA helped us reach the teen community in Rockaway. We were able to conduct group research sessions where the teens helped us map specific problems they had observed in their neighborhoods related to flooding. The issues they mapped included bad smells, mold, accessibility to certain areas, garbage and sewage accumulation, swarms of mosquitoes, absence to school and heavy traffic.

During these sessions, we learned that specific problems they and their community dealt with everyday were not obvious as stemming from and some were seen as mutually independent from sea level rise. If we started from the topic of sea level rise, it was hard to connect the dots, but if we broke the topic down to just flooding, and asked what problems arose from it in their neighborhoods, the answers became things that they related to a lot more. This led us to our hypothesis: We believed that if we could identify existing daily problems that residents could relate to, and were exacerbated by tidal flooding, they can make a personal connection to sea level rise and identify actions they can take in regard to flooding in their neighborhood.

After further research, we found trash and clogged catch basins were the problems most prevalent in Rockaway.

These issues resulted in standing water after tidal flooding. Because of this we realized it also amplified a lot of the other problems teenagers pointed out before: smells, tardiness to school and work and swarms of mosquitos. 311 was the resource people in the community used to report such problems, however, 311 did not allow to learn about how sea level rise affects the community through these everyday problems, provided no feedback about your complaint and you needed a smartphone if you didn't want to wait on the phone and report quickly.

Early in our research, we learned that for communities dealing with climate change it's important to have a strong community network that allows citizens to stay informed about issues and what actions they could take. We found that RWA teenagers and those who already call 311 had a level of awareness that needed to be amplified so that others could take environmental actions, too. With all this in mind, we came up with our second hypothesis: if we created an easier way to report problems that affected them everyday, more people in the community could report and learn how sea level rise affects them as well.


the intervention

Hi, Tide is an SMS text messaging service that allows Rockaway community members to easily report issues in their neighborhood to 311. It informs users on how sea level rise affects their community, and leads them to the website where one could read stories about how sea level rise has affected their neighbors. The website also shows where certain issues are happening in their community through map visualizations. Hi, Tide allows the Rockaway community to: 1. easily report issues, 2. visualize the positive impact of their collective and individual efforts, and 3. better understand the connection between sea level rise and other issues in their neighborhood. Hi, Tide also allows to break down the bigger issue of sea level rise to something more tangible where community members could take action and learn more about how the issue affects them personally.

If you would like to learn more about the Hi, Tide design process, user testing, challenges and learnings, please read our process book below.


Research and UX Design by Andrea Cisneros, Karina Davila, and Marlyn Martinez Marrero
Technology development, prototyping, and user testing by Andrea Cisneros and Marlyn Martinez Marrero
Visual design by
Karina Davila