Ramblings for a Thesis II

In an attempt to help formulate a thesis proposal and develop our ideas, our professor, Stefan Gruber, gave us a series of questions to think about answering:


  1. Which city would you want your thesis to be?

From the summer up until now, I have been looking at a variety of sites that involve disenfranchised communities that have been subjected to mistreatment or negligence with regards to water quality or access. The primary ones that have come to mind now are:

  • Braddock, PA – A neighborhood on the eastern end of Pittsburgh that have been struggling with water quality and fracking issues for a while now. Of late, there have been news articles about how the lead in their water sources has been increasing and is potentially the worst in the region. It makes more sense being next to both the Edgar Thomson Steel Works and the Grand View Golf Club.
  • Dallas, TX – a city that has been battling issues with fracking that has uncovered dangerous levels of arsenic in their water sources through a study from the University of Texas at Arlington.
  • Hunters Point, CA – a neighborhood that is considered “one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of San Francisco”, subject to high levels of industrial pollution, the closure of industry, and loss of infrastructure, resulting in high rates of unemployment, poverty, disease and crime.

Of these 3 areas, I am leaning most towards Braddock for ease of access, information and ability to interact with various community members and authority figures.

  1. What do you envision the scale of your “urban milieu” being?

I envision my project to be at the scale of a neighborhood, focusing on a community that is working towards a common goal, but might require a process or a place for discussion, deliberation, and decision making.

I will choose this particular location in the neighborhood from mapping the obvious socio-economic data (demographics, income, pollution, food, and community centers – to name a few), followed by research and interviews of activism in the community, their history with water and the negligence of state and market towards their struggle.

  1. Do you envision your thesis to be in a location that is shrinking/deteriorating or growing/booming?

From my currently minimal research, Braddock has been having issues with decrease in population and various environmental issues. From a 2008 magazine article, it seems that “After losing 90 percent of its peak population, today it looks more like the nightmare at the end of the American Dream.”

  1. Do you envision your thesis to have a formal or informal construct / What is going to be the level of involvement of the state and market?

I envision my thesis to have mostly an informal construct, with possibly some influence from the state, less so the market. I have come across PA State Rep Summer Lee, of Braddock, who has been extremely active in issues regarding the environment. 2 months ago, she was quoted at a rally at Allegheny County Courthouse saying “Democrats are supposed to be the ones who do stand for the people, but we know in Allegheny County that that’s not the case. If we want clean air and clean water, we have to get political.”



  1. Is this thesis topic a personal passion of yours?

Most definitely. I have been seeing disenfranchisement and environmental injustice around me, in Pittsburgh and in Mumbai, mostly toward food, air, and water. It is something that we need to be concerned about for the future of the planet and all living beings. I am passionate about it mostly out of fear – fear that we are already quite late to the game.

  1. Who is this thesis catered towards / Whose interest(s) does it consider?

I believe that this thesis is catered to the community of Braddock. I would like to interact with grassroots organizations in Braddock (still looking). But from the several news articles, there are definitely several concerned residents and organizations focused on communities struggling with issues surrounding water – Braddock being one of them.

  1. What would be the public’s degree of participation in the process of this thesis?

I would like to involve the members of the community quite a bit, starting with interviews, discussions with community leaders, and leading to maybe a public meeting focused on hearing their struggles and difficulties with fighting against the problems. As per Arnstein’s ladder of stakeholder participation (pictured below), I would like to create a partnership with this grassroots organization, falling under the category of citizen power, but I am worried that given the time and involvement, it might fall under tokenism, probably placation.


  1. What do you think the shared resource in your thesis would be?

At first, I thought my thesis would focus on water as a resource, similar to the Coopelluvia project by Stephanie Newcomb of the Arid Lands Institute (pictured below – read more here). However, after seeing the effectiveness of The Breathe Project of disseminating information to the masses on a topic, I am debating that information might be the shared resource – information surrounding the collection, treatment, and rationing of water.



  1. Would you be taking a deductive or inductive approach of learning and research for your thesis?

The main difference between inductive and deductive approaches to research is that whilst a deductive approach is aimed and testing theory, an inductive approach is concerned with the generation of new theory emerging from the data.

From this, I believe that my thesis would involve more of a deductive approach, testing lessons learned from case studies I have come across this semester, to apply in this scenario. I also think that this deductive approach would lead to a new theory or hypothesis, maybe making it a bit inductive as well.

  1. Do you envision your thesis to be a final product (like a building or a development) or a process?

I think that my thesis would involve a bit of both – it would focus on a process of getting the community together to work towards sharing information and learning, but situated in a space that is accessible to them, and can be used for various fundraisers and events surrounding this topic of water pollution.

  1. Try to visualize your final thesis presentation. What do you see yourself having at the final presentation?

This is probably the most difficult, as I can just say what would be the most ideal presentation material for my thesis.

  • It might have images from the various community events I will be holding, renderings of potential events taking place, diagrams of various networks and organizations that aid in various processes.
  • This next one is strange, but I almost pictured a life size cut out of one of the events.
  • Maybe a series of booklets/pamphlets that are handed out to the residents.
  • If the end result is a website / digital platform, maybe screenshots of that or a computer to access it.
  • If the end result is a series of products that the community comes together to build, then maybe a set of instructions on how to build it (similar to Ikea furniture).
  • I do not think my project would have any architectural drawings such as plans or sections, possibly axons. Definitely diagrams of processes.


To whoever reads this, if you have any suggestions or advice, let me know!




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