The New School News

The New School’s Urban Systems Lab Launches Ocellus XR App for Visualizing Climate Risk in New York City

Climate change has been accelerating across the world, producing severe weather phenomena like extreme heat waves, blizzards, and hurricanes. There is an increasingly urgent need for cities like New York to understand where, when, and how these events will affect neighborhoods and communities, especially the most vulnerable populations. The Urban Systems Lab (USL) recently launched Ocellus XR, a mixed reality mobile application that will help New Yorkers better understand their local climate risk, learn how to prepare for extreme weather, and advocate for equitable interventions and green infrastructure.

As the risks of climate change increase, the boundaries of the areas affected by flooding, extreme heat and cold, and other weather-related events keep expanding, and there are few ways for communities to find out just what their risks are. With the Ocellus XR app, New Yorkers will be able to use augmented reality to see visual depictions of the effects of both climate change and resiliency efforts like the planting of street trees and construction of green roofs. “The USL works on design, research, and engagement around how and where climate change affects people and who is affected. When we work with stakeholders, we get the question of how we can make this more relevant and salient for local communities and individuals. This is the background for Ocellus XR,” said Daniel Sauter, professor of data visualization, in a video interview.

The app is an extension of the USL’s Data Visualization Platform, an interactive Web platform for desktop created to bridge the gap between quantitative social, ecological, and infrastructure data and qualitative insights produced by local stakeholders. The app uses data from that platform to present users with interactive geospatial information on climate risks like heat waves and floods in New York. Originally conceived by the USL in 2019, the app was developed by an interdisciplinary team including the USL’s assistant director, Sauter; director, Timon McPhearson, a professor of urban ecology; research associate, Joe Steele, MS Data Visualization ’18; research assistant, Xinyue Elena Peng, BFA Design and Technology ’22; and associate director, Chris Kennedy, along with Schools of Public Engagement research fellow Claudia Tomateo. Funding for Ocellus XR was provided by the Architecture League of New York’s 2022 Independent Project Grant, which is made possible through support from the New York State Council on the Arts.

The app draws its data largely from publicly available sources such as the NYC Open Data portal, the U.S. Census Bureau, the American Community Survey, FEMA, and NASA and presents it in a form that is accessible to the average individual. Beyond helping New Yorkers understand the climate risks they face and prepare for extreme weather, the USL intends for the app to provide information that will enable local communities to advocate for equitable solutions to climate hazards. “We feel it closes the gap between expert audiences and communities in New York,” said Sauter.

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