Abolition Plaza

Being wrapped up now is Abolition Plaza – a multi-use, solar-powered, wifi enabled outdoor meeting area and community garden.

Located behind the Little House of Lombard Central Presbyterian Church, former station on the underground railroad and current home to the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration and Human Rights Coalition offices.

Over the last few weeks, Holobiont Lab along with our comrades from CADBI and HRC pulled up weeds, leveled ground and built the plaza. We used permeable pavers to create a sizeable central area including a seating structure shaded by solar panels to generate energy for outdoor power/plug-in stations and an irrigation system for the nearby garden beds.

Raising the pergola

Raising the pergola

By spring, the garden beds currently being tended by CADBI members will be serviced by a rain collection system with automated irrigation. One set of barrels will be connected into the downspout on the back wall of the office building, elevated with tubing attached and extending to the garden beds. A second set of barrels will be situated between two of the garden beds along the chain link fencing near the middle of the lot itself. Tubing will connect the two sets barrels and gravity feed the second set. An irrigation controller, built from open source hardware and software will distribute water periodically to the beds.

In the central open area, there is an outdoor meeting and socializing space with seating and a table, covered by a shade structure roofed with solar panels. The solar panels provide power for the irrigation, as well as to low-key electronics and/or lighting (laptops, cell-phone charging, etc.). They also provide significant shade for people utilizing the outdoor seating.

Also being powered by the solar shade is a wireless access point running a server providing a breakdown of the project and the history of the church's abolitionist history (a mirror site is here).

The name Abolition Plaza, draws upon both the abolitionist past and heritage of the space/church and the current movement to end mass incarceration. It will allow CADBI and HRC members to safely and comfortably meet outside in person to further their movement organizing (which is especially important in these moments as the Covid pandemic is still being brought under control and will continue to be an asset/resource far beyond then). And, of course, it will be generally available to everyone who makes use of the space.

Ribbon Cutting ceremony

We had a great ribbon cutting ceremony on November 21st. After a generous amount of snacking chatting amongst those who had volunteered and CADBI and HRC members, we held a brief intro to what we had done. After which Mama Pat herself wielded the scissors to cut the ribbon, officially inaugurating the Plaza!

Ribbon cutting ceremony

More updates to come! We'll be back with more public events in spring!

Tech Details

The Solar

The ingredients:

  • 3 290 Watt Schott PV panels

  • Epever 3210 30A MPPT Solar Charge Controller

  • Renogy 2000W inverter

  • Raspberry Pi 4 as web server, wifi access point and irrigation controller.

  • 2 LithiumPower 12.8v 32ah 410wh LifePo4 batteries

This is a small, yet somewhat overpowered system. The PV panels here serve as a cheap building material for the pergola roof. These unreasonably heavy recycled panels put out close to or more than full capacity despite being over 10 years old at this point and were sourced straight from the Johnson and Johnson corporate HQ's roof thanks to a collaboration with Power Up Gambia. The 3 panels connect in parallel to the charge controller. We chose the Epever over others since it was one of few that could handle the particular configuration, specifically here with overpowering. We needed a charge controller that could handle consistently overpowered PV input, just clipping the power if it exceeded the 30A. This was important because we are using the 3 panels for shade and shelter, but the area is also very shaded for most of the day as is with trees to the West and the church to the South.

The charger of course converts the erratic PV input to a steady flow to charge the 2 LifePo4 batteries in parallel for a 12v 64ah battery. We picked LifePo4 because of its safety and because unlike some other chemistries, it can handle cold days, for charging, storage and discharging. It will need this if rising climate temps don't entirely eliminate our cold days.

The battery in turn powers a 2000W inverter which can power devices and most power tools outside. It will also be powering the irrigation system and web server powered by a raspberry pi, a tiny single board computer.

All of these components are housed in a bench under the pergola.

Irigaciilo, the irrigation system

The ingredients:

  • Raspberry pi

  • Ethernet cable

  • 12v NC solenoid

One of the main tasks for this set up is to irrigate the garden plot tended by CADBI members. Because the back space lacked a water hookup, watering the plots was a real PITA requiring lugging water from an upstairs bathroom on most days. So the innovation here is to catch a significant quantity of water in 4 rain barrels and use them to irrigate the 4 plots using a programmable irrigation timer powered by the raspberry pi in the battery enclosure.

<barrels pic>

We were lucky to find someone had done this before :) The best of the lot from what we sussed was the Sustainable Irrigation Platform, an open source irrigation control platform. It turned out to be straightforward to set up and so far has worked reliably. A web interface or phone app allows a user to log in and adjust the sprinkling schedule for 8 or so different lines. It also has a number of plugins available, but we kept it pretty simple with minimal plugins and 1 solenoid connected. We're developing this whole idea aspect seperately as irigaciilo. Check out the project page here.

To control the solenoid, we connected the raspberry pi to a relay which powers a couple strands of sprinkler wire to activate the solenoid. The one solenoid is then connected to all the tubes at once.

The Access point and server

Of course Abolition Plaza should have wifi, so we built a small wifi access point. Once one accepts the verbose agreement, voila:a tiny local website which breaks down the abolitionist history of the institution hosting the Plaza and its connection to the current abolitionist movement as represented by CADBI and HRC. A mirror of the local website can be viewed here.

The Access point is powered using RaspAP.

Splash page

Setting it up was relatively straightforward. We added a simple splash page using nodogsplash and the web server is apache.

The website itself is built using Gatbsy.js / React / javascript. It's a small fast static site.

All assembled and configured in our extraspatial lab.

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