History & People

What started as grassroots organizing by a group of dedicated activists in Brooklyn is now the non-profit behind one of the largest open-source databases of community-collected air quality measurements ever created.

HabitatMap was launched in 2006 by Brooklyn activists with a shared interest in developing technology to support community organizing efforts directed at cleaning up Newtown Creek and addressing health concerns in the surrounding Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods. Responding to the needs of the Newtown Creek Alliance, HabitatMap worked with the community to map hazardous facilities, contaminated properties, and potential access points as a way of raising the Creek’s profile and influencing public agencies and legislators to act on the community’s behalf. This work helped catalyze ongoing federal and state remediation efforts that are mitigating health hazards in the surrounding residential neighborhoods while cleaning up Newtown Creek and expanding public access to the waterway.

Encouraged by the positive impact community mapping had, HabitatMap - led by community activist and information designer Michael Heimbinder - expanded its technology platform and in 2011 launched AirCasting: an open-source environmental data visualization platform that consists of an Android app and online mapping system. Later in 2015, HabitatMap rolled out a palm-sized companion air quality instrument called the AirBeam. AirBeam2, HabitatMap’s second version of the product, shipped in mid-2018. This low-cost tool measures hyperlocal concentrations of harmful microscopic particles in the air, known as particulate matter, and in conjunction with the free to use AirCasting platform, helps community-based organizations, educators, academics, regulators, city managers, and citizen scientists map air pollution and organize for clean air.

Today, with thousands of AirBeams in use worldwide, the AirCasting platform is one of the largest open-source databases of community-collected air quality measurements ever created.

Michael Heimbinder, Founder & Executive Director

Michael Heimbinder is an information designer, community organizer, and educator. Since launching HabitatMap in 2006, he has worked with dozens of community-based organizations and schools to create planning and advocacy maps that publicize the issues they care about most. In addition to running HabitatMap, Michael serves on the Board of the Newtown Creek Alliance, where he has made community knowledge sharing the keystone of the organization’s successful efforts to clean up the Creek and improve quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods. Michael is a graduate of Colorado College and received his M.A. in International Affairs from the New School for Social Research.

Eileen DeRavin, Board Member

Eileen De Ravin spent 15 years at United Nations Development Programme managing the Equator Initiative, a partnership that brings together the United Nations, civil society, business, governments and communities to help build the capacity and raise the profile of grassroots efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Earlier Eileen was a nurse-midwife for 10 years. While she lived in India for five years she is a lifelong resident of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Eileen has a Master’s in Public Health from Columbia University.

Phillip Ritz, Board Member

Phillip Ritz is an Air Compliance Enforcement Officer with the US Environmental Protection Agency. He is also a project manager with the Vanuatu Pacifica Foundation, a nonprofit sending artists to a sustainable residency on the island of Vanuatu. Phil has an M.P.A from Columbia University and is a resident of the South Street Seaport, Manhattan.

Kathleen Schmid, Board Member

Kathleen Schmid is a senior counsel in the Environmental Division of the New York City Law Department, where she represents and advises City agencies in environmental litigation and special projects. Before completing her law degree at NYU, she was the legislative policy analyst of the NYC Council Committees on Waterfronts and on Transportation. After graduating from law school, she clerked for US Magistrate Judge Michael H. Dolinger in the Southern District of New York. Katie also founded The Newtown Creek Alliance in 2003, which she continued to direct until 2012.

Roberta Weisbrod, Board Member

Roberta Weisbrod Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Worldwide Ferry Safety Association, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preventing ferry fatalities and expanding the use of safe ferries globally. She also periodically consults on sustainable maritime freight and passenger transport and waterfront development. Previously she worked for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as Special Assistant to the Commissioner for the downstate marine ecosystem, the New York City Economic Development Corporation for Port and Intermodal Planning, and the environmental organization INFORM on Sustainable Transport.