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Last night I presented my thesis for departmental review, a half hour presentation to a panel of the professors in my department at the midway point in my project. While I still have a lot of holes to fill, they thought it was great so far, thank goodness.

A year and a half ago I moved to the District and I found that my closest grocery store was a mile away and more expensive than I could afford, being a full time student and a part time photographer. I didn’t have a car and worried every other trip how much can I buy this week? and how much can I carry all the way back to my apartment? I knew that there must be others who had the same problems as I did and I started looking into food deserts in Washington, DC to see if there were any and where they were. I’ve lived in many cities throughout my life and it’s a common problem; in small areas with lots of people and limited space, and where most people don’t have cars, residents rely on public transportation or their own two feet to get their groceries and there’s usually not enough supply to meet the demand.

Washington, DC has 7 USDA-defined food deserts, comprised of 11 neighborhoods, but many more than that struggle with issues of food scarcity, like Congress Heights and Washington Highlands, which make up Ward 8. This Ward has the highest rate of diabetes, the second highest rate of obesity and the fewest grocery stores of any Ward. Corner stores and fast food chains pop up to compensate for the lack of grocery stores, and the problem is not that people aren’t eating, they are, they’re often just not eating good, nutritious food because it’s not available. My thesis, Deserts in the District, documents one neighborhood, its local economy, its food access, and several residents who all live with and try to deal with food scarcity.

Inspired by new technology platforms and my visual storytelling class, I decided to build an interactive map using a combination of TileMill, Mapbox, and Zeega. During a lecture at the Corcoran College of Art and Design by Ivan Sigal, photographer and author of White Road, he said information is given meaning and relevance by the context and platform that shapes and informs it instead of only the inherent. We still construct stories on the internet the way we would as if in a magazine or a book, linearly, although the internet conforms to whatever shape we give it. With that in mind, I started constructing my data visualization map. And though I have a long way to go and a lot of technical and atheistic ideas to hammer out, Deserts in the District is beginning to take shape.

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