Weather station brings sunshine to once seedy alleyway
Interactive device seen as way to involve community, kids and McMaster students
A colourful, funky and unconventional weather station in the Elgin Street Alley adds a touch of art and practicality to this once rundown stretch in Beasley, one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods.
The weather station, made of bits and pieces of valves, pipes and gauges, is another step in a series taken to clean up a decrepit, neglected laneway — once known as Listerine Alley — and make it a safe, attractive and usable social space for the community.
“It’s kind of a barometer of change in the neighbourhood — from Listerine Alley where the marginalized people used to be … to a green alley project,” says Charlie Mattina, who first suggested the weather station.
“It’s all about change and building resilience in the face of change. It’s also a good tool to engage residents with what is around them,” he said
The station, which will monitor weather, pollution, noise, and temperatures, is located at the Cannon Street end of the alley — the alley itself is between Elgin and Mary streets.
It is also a joint project of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association, the students of Dr. Edgar Davey Elementary School and McMaster University engineering students, who volunteered their time to teach the kids about it and computer skills.
The station’s data will be collected once its microcontroller, the device gathering the data, is developed and installed, and it will be given to the city so it can gauge pollution and noise in the neighbourhood.
Louise Gazzola of McMaster, who co-ordinated the student involvement says: “If pollution is too high, or noise is too high, it can inform future city work in the neighbourhood.” But the station has additional functions. Mattina explains that “we decided to make it into a sculpture and also have it be interactive” with moving pieces that kids can play with.
It also has a symbolic tie to the alley’s past because, Mattina says, “weather impacts the vulnerable the most.”
The station was recently repainted, along with the wall of the garage it sits in front of, to raise awareness about homelessness.
The bright colours and painted words came from the Women’s Housing Planning Collaborative, who expressed how they feel about homelessness, Mattina said.
Neighbourhood resident Lisa Watt got involved in the project after seeing a posting proposing the station on Facebook.
“I thought it was a great idea,” she says, adding she particularly loved the idea of involving her children’s school and “getting children inspired at an early age.”
Watt said the school system often relies on parents to raise extra money for activities and even learning.
But in a low-income neighbourhood like Beasley, this project, with its Mac student volunteers, allowed Dr. Edgar Davey students to learn from them about computer programming and electronics using arduino microcontrollers.
“The kids are very excited. They see what they can do with correct coding.”
The weather station was recently painted as part of an initiative to raise awareness about homelessness. Beasley is one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods.
The Beasley Neighbourhood Association has partnered with McMaster engineering students to build a monitoring station to track pollution, noise and temperature.