EPA REgion 7

Mapping Change, Preserving Continuity

By Karl Brooks

We, here at Region 7, have just completed a huge undertaking that changes the Agency’s “internal organizational map”: we relocated nearly 600 agency employees and contractors into a new Regional Office. Agency maps of regional headquarters will now reflect Region 7’s new hometown: Lenexa, Kansas.  The Regional Office has moved, but maps will show Region 7 still maintains a substantial presence in Kansas City, Kansas: our Science and Technology Center (“the lab”).  Our move went really well, thanks to lots of capable people putting in huge amounts of time to prepare and execute excellent plans.  Part of their effort consisted of drawing a multitude of maps: to guide movers, building contractors, security guards, and our own employees.

As you might expect, a physical relocation of that magnitude literally redrew Region 7’s own “internal map”: everyone now works in a new building, in a new city, and in a new workstation surrounded, in most cases, by new neighbors.  Even my agency colleagues who didn’t move to Lenexa, but still had to vacate the former Regional Office, relocated to places new to them: our Science and Technology Center, just down the street from our former Regional Office, and our Training and Logistics Center (“the cave”), across the Missouri River in North Kansas City.

All this shifting is making us remap our workplace.  Large paper maps hang on prominent walls throughout our new Regional Office.  Each map shows, with fine granularity (down to the individual workstation) everyone’s new location.  The maps show the new location for what were familiar common areas (cafeteria, record center, library, and the all important restrooms).  I consult these big maps frequently both because, as Regional Administrator, I should know where my colleagues work, and because I’m also trying to get my bearings. I’m not alone: the big wall maps have become popular places to chat about our new building, find out where to get coffee, and maybe even meet a colleague who will become a new friend.

I have always been a fan of maps.  I treasure old backpacking maps, city maps, college town guides, and historical reference pamphlets.  I love how they synthesize fact and imagination, negotiating an understanding between the “world as it is” and the “world as I have to imagine it on a two-dimensional surface.”

So much do I value maps that I rescued four of my favorite from the mass of outdated paper material that I had to recycle when leaving my old KCK office and moving into my new, much smaller, work space in Lenexa.  Those survivors of the “Great Recycle” tell a story, on paper, about Region 7 that I really can’t read as well anywhere else.  I saved them because they remind me why I often describe Region 7 as the “Guardian of America’s Great Rivers.”  They illustrate how our physical landscape still reflects fundamental natural realities despite the massive transformations we have made across the Heartland’s prairies and plains during the past 195 years.

Four big paper maps show all the principal waterways in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas.  They came from an old “water atlas” bequeathed me when our long-time Deputy Regional Administrator retired in spring 2011.  They show major cities and towns, and county lines (all-important here in the Midwest, where most residents – rural and urban — still consider county government their most accessible level of public decision-making).

These watershed maps breathe the magic of Midwestern place names: the Maquoketa (in Iowa), the Verdigris (in Kansas), the Niobrara (in Nebraska), and the Jacks Fork (in Missouri).  They don’t just orient a user to today’s water-quality challenges, they invite consideration of how past settlement patterns and agricultural cropping strategies now shape states’ present politics and economics.  In addition, they encourage a user to think about connections and continuities across broad landscapes.  For example, the Missouri River – North America’s longest – ties St. Louis, at its mouth, to Kansas City, where it bends straight north.  The “Mighty Mo” also links the Heartland in Region 7 to the northern Plains and Rockies encompassed by Region 8.  We Heartlanders should always recall that the Missouri ties into the Mississippi, America’s principal commercial waterway.  This great shining highway, which Lincoln respectfully dubbed “Father of the Waters,” functions still as a cord of liquid steel binding America’s entire mid-section – from Region 5 in the Great Lakes through Regions 4 and 6 on both sides of the Delta.

I like my road maps.  In fact, I directed that every Region 7 GOV contain a full, current set of our states’ highway maps because, despite GPS’ wonders, a good road map still gives you precision and context.  Yes, I treasure my big, old watershed maps: they convey information, encourage reflection, and promote understanding.

Dr. Karl Brooks is the Regional Administrator for USEPA Region 7.  Brooks earned a Ph.D in History and Environmental Studies from the University of Kansas, and served as Associate Professor at KU until joining EPA in 2010.  For his full bio visit EPA Region 7.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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New Place, New Signs

By Jeffery Robichaud

Yesterday was the first day in the new office.  My things all arrived.  I have unpacked.  I found the restroom.  For those of you who were left with a cliffhanger based on my last post, this is my view out my new window (which actually looks out on a window which looks out on the windows across our courtyard).

In a meeting yesterday our Regional Administrator told Senior Staff about his trip to Joplin Missouri last week for an event with the City marking the additional funds EPA is providing for sampling and remediation of contaminated soils disturbed by the May 2011 Tornado.  It didn’t show in the directions he generated online, but the RA certainly noticed the lack of street signs as he doubled back a few times before making the correct turns to arrive at the event.  The city is doing a wonderful job rebuilding, but with 2000 signs to replace, the City has had its hands full.

Driving in to our new office yesterday in the dark, to a part of the metropolitan area that I rarely visit, I really had to pay attention to the signs without the benefits of the few landmarks I knew to help guide me.   It got me thinking, is reading street signs starting to become a lost art, just like reading a map?  The proliferation of GPS in cars and phones now give you turn by turn directions.  GoogleMaps or BingMaps will give you a route with turn by turn instructions and even provide you with streetside views of those turns and your destination.  Some GPS units let you even choose the voice (one of the guys here has Darth Vader…he says for his kids but I’m not too sure).

With the explosion of these devices, for those of you with kids, do you think you could hand your own kids a map and have them navigate while you drove?  I know my Dad would hand us the maps while on vacation to help navigate (partly I’m sure as a way to keep my brother and me from fighting).   Are navigation instructions from hand held devices keeping us from making sense of maps and even leading us in the wrong direction? 

My wife and I started watching a new show called Revolution a couple weeks back.  In a nutshell, it is a post-apocalyptic world, if the apocalypse was caused by all electricity ceasing to be.   The characters do quite a bit of walking and one character says to the other, something to the effect, “I’ll meet you at this small town in Indiana in a couple weeks.”  In last week’s episode, while more walking was taking place, the second character pulls out a crinkled paper map to check their progress.  It wasn’t lost on me that this character’s back story was as an executive at Google.  Just another reason to teach your kids how to read a map.

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  He will miss his view of Kaw Point.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.