Road To Nowhere is an investigation using drone technology, historical research and analysis, interviews, and photomosaic visualizations. This story was conceived of and written by myself, and all photos, videos, and data created by myself. The publication partner was Guardian Cities. This project was a natural outgrowth of my previous photographic series "Unequal Scenes", exploring wealth inequality around the world using a drone. Road To Nowhere was a project that specifically looked at infrastructure in the USA and the root causes of how cities have been designed with segregation and separation as a fundamental principle. I sought to show through a variety of means how Redlining and the interstate highway system were in part tools to disenfranchise African-Americans. We are still living with this segregation to this day. The story is very relevant as the Trump administration has proposed a $1 trillion spending plan on the nation\'s infrastructure, and it is important that these mistakes are not repeated. Many communities, for example West Baltimore, are still traumatically scarred and their growth and movement impeded by decisions taken decades ago. It is argued (the Baltimore City Council almost unanimously agrees) that this type of institutional disenfranchisement continues to this day, through decisions like the one to kill the Red Line. The audience is primarily those interested in urban issues, urban planning, and race issues in America, although the topic speaks to a much broader conversation about inequality and opportunities of access and social mobility. This is the reason it was picked up by a major international outlet like the Guardian. The monetisation plan is to sell the story to the Guardian (which has been done) and other outlets who would like to run it.
What makes this project innovative?
I am quite well known for using a drone in my previous work, and this was no different. Most of the photos and all of the videos were taken by drone in Road To Nowhere. This is innovative and special in that it is really the only way to truly appreciate some of the macro-scale planning decisions taken in urban communities throughout the USA. The photomosaic of Detroit which I created was done by finding archival aerial imagery from Wayne State University, and then stitching the individual photos together into a whole. I did this for the the photos from 1949 and 1961, a time when major highways were being constructed across the city. By adding these photomosaics into the Juxtapos app (created by Knightlab at Northwestern Univ.) I was able to easily show the development of the highway system with a simple slider tool. The project uses these new techniques to bring an awareness of the issues that simply isn\'t possible by only using photos taken from ground level.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
The impact of the project was impressive. I don\'t have exact readership figures from the Guardian but their website shows that the article was shared 7,255 times on Facebook and had 614 comments, a very high number compared to their other Guardian Cities articles. They also featured the article on their social media feeds.
Source and methodology
I researched each city through a variety of means, mostly by reaching out to local news organizations in each city - The Baltimore Sun and The Seattle Times specifically. I also met with an organization that uses data of tax foreclosures (makeloveland.com) to research where to fly and which areas to look at in Detroit. I accessed the historical photo archives at Wayne State University for the aerial photos of Detroit, and used data from the T-Races project to inform my knowledge of redlining, and knowing which areas of the city had been previously marginalized through Federal policy. Lastly, I actually went and traveled to each of these cities - funded by the ICFJ, Code For Africa, and Google News Labs. I work as a Fellow within an organization called Code For Africa, based in Cape Town, which has many data journalists working for it, so was able to get ideas and inspiration from the work that all of us do here.
I used a DJI Mavic Pro drone and a Canon 5Diii camera to take the photos. Everything else was a combination of using Shorthand software to create the initial story format (which was repurposed by the Guardian to fit into their CMS) and Photoshop to compile the photomosaic - and Knightlab\'s Juxtapos tool to make it come alive with the slider tool.