• The Flushing Community

last modified January 28, 2013 by tomlowenhaupt

­­­Imagine a more livable New York City surrounded by beautiful, clean, safe, and inviting beaches, bays, basins, and rivers where local children swim all summer long - or just about.

­Hi, I'm 527.35-35­.75Street.queens.toilets.nyc


Dissecting a Toilet's Domain Name

The toilet domain name:


represents the first toilet ( A ) in apartment 527 at 35-35 75th Street in New York City's borough of Queens.  

Toilets are one of hundreds of infrastructure domain names that can be used as part of a universal tagging system for city resources. Other tags will be for street lights, fire hydrants, streets, monuments, blocks, lots, etc. See our Internet of Things page of  more on this.

Mile High View of Flushing Bay


Flush-Don't-Flush Alternative

While our focus is on the .nyc TLD and domain names, there are other ways to skin this cat. For example, think Twitter accounts.

The Twitter version of this idea was summed up by Ned Burke, editor of the Sheepsheadbites.com blog as follows:

"You mean I'd get a Tweet telling me not to flush instead of one telling me not to swim?"

Exactly Ned.

How it works:

Background: Every toilet in New York City is connected to one of 14 processing plants. (See map by DontFlush.me.)

Here's the step-by-step.
  • Create 14 Twitter accounts with names for each of the city's waste water treatment plants. The account names will include the treatment plant names and a leading SWIM. (Stormwater Infrastructure Matters Inc., a city not-for-profit, is leading the effort to clean our water.) The resulting Twitter account names are as follows:
  1. @SWIM-HuntsPoint
  2. @SWIM-WardsIsland
  3. @SWIM-NorthRiver
  4. @SWIM-NewtownCreek
  5. @SWIM-RedHook
  6. @SWIM-OwlsHead
  7. @SWIM-PortRichmond
  8. @SWIM-OakwoodBeach
  9. @SWIM-BoweyBAy
  10. @SWIM-TallmansIsland
  11. @SWIM-Jamaica
  12. @SWIM-Rockaway
  13. @SWIM-26thWard
  14. @SWIM-ConeyIsland
    • Set up a connection to a weather.com-like resource that generates a tweet based on weather forecasts and plant capacity.
    • Create rules for when to flush and when not to flush.
    • Code the rules.
    • Create a "plant locator" and invite residents to Follow their plant on Twitter to receive their "Flush-Don't Flush" tweets.

















        Few will argue with the desirability of this vision, but how do we get there? With combined sewers that spew raw sewerage onto our beaches and waterways after virtually every rainfall, and with traditional solutions taking decades and billions of dollars to accomplish, what's to be done?

        A number of initiatives are underway that evolved from the Clean Water Act and a federal court order for the city to clean up its waterways. One of the initiatives that seeks to clean the waters and meet the CWA standards is Minds in the Gutter competition which inspired our The Flushing Community proposal.

        To explain the mechanics of the Flushing Community we've used the eponymous Flushing Bay as the focus of our efforts. See Mile High View of Flushing Bay in right sidebar, and note that the large structure at top is LaGuardia Airport.

        How do we make Flushing Bay, where numerous storm sewer pipes spew raw human waste, a place where residents will feel comfortable sending their children to swim? 

        The Flushing Community submission as exibited at the Museum of the City of New York.


        See post on "toilets.nyc" the $2,300,000,000 domain name. No kidding.

        (See full size poster image)

        Activating a Flushing Community

        A big part of the solution is to stop stormwater from washing toilet waste and other contaminants into the bay every time there is a rainfall of more than 1/10 of an inch. With stormwater and raw sewerage flowing through the same pipes, there are two primary ways to achieve this: 

        • Spend billions of dollars constructing and operating holding tanks that catch the toilet contaminated stormwater after rainfalls.
        • Organize micro-efforts that stop rainwater from reaching the sewers and overwhelming the processing plant's capacities. The Flushing Community is one such micro-effort.

        Our plan is to organize a literal flushing community - that's every one of us - who flushes a toilet sending waste into the bay during periods of rainfall. The goal is to connect us all and coordinate our flushing actions to reduce bay pollution.

        Recent history presents several instances where the New York City community came together in civic projects of this sort:

        • No smoking in bars and restaurants (Thank you Mayor Bloomberg.)
        • Recycling (Thank you Mayor Giuliani.)
        • Picking up after dogs (Thank you Mayor Koch.)

        Note: This is not a total pollution solution, just a partial. It won't work when a multi-day hurricane type storm hits or in snow storms - but hey, they're in the winter and we're talking about swimming. So here's the plan.


        The step-by-step solution to reduce toilet contaminated stormwater from reaching Flushing Bay involves the following.

        1.   First, assign an Internet domain name to every toilet in the city. Here's the format for toilet names: 527A.35-35.75Street.queens.toilets.nyc. This name represents the first toilet “A” in apartment 527 at 35-35 75th Street in New York City's borough of Queens. Note: The .nyc TLD - like .com, .org, and .gov but just for New York City - is expected to become available in 2012, and will provide the necessary domain name structure.

        2.   Create a web page using each toilet's domain name. Provide fields for the toilet’s gallons per flush, latitude and longitude, sewer line, sewer plant, and contact information for its Responsible Flusher – email, voice, text…

        3.   Educate the public as to the goal and process. Perhaps get that great poet Ed Koch involved, rewording his TV commercial from a 1980's drought: If it's yellow let it mellow. If it's brown, send it down.

        4.    Recruit a Responsible Flusher, someone with access to a particular toilet, for as many toilets as possible. This Responsible Flusher should be someone with access to a particular toilet and willing to assume responsibility for its flushing, or not flushing, as appropriate.

        5.   The Responsible Flusher accesses the toilet’s web page and enters personal contact information and toilet data.

        6.   Publish a map showing the location of Responsible Flushers.

        7.   Coordinate with the weather bureau to identify when it is going to rain in a particular waste water processing (sewer) district.

        8.   When rain approaches, broadcast a general RAIN APPROACHING in your area, take necessary steps (i.e., do your “business” and flush).

        9.   When rain gets close, communicate with a segment of Responsible Flushers - using cell phones, twitter, RSS, email, etc. - requesting that they flush their toilets to clean the lines before the storm.

        10. With rain imminent, broadcast STOP FLUSHING to all Responsible Flushers.

        11. After the storm has cleared broadcast an ALL CLEAR.

        12. Communicate with Responsible Flushers: “Thanks for your responsible act.”

        13.  Finally, after the rain stops, go for a swim.

        Research Questions

        • How much water flows into Flushing Bay per year, per storm, per season, etc.?
        • How much rain has to fall to clog the processing system, allowing raw sewage to flow into Flushing Bay?
        • How many days per year is there "excess" rain and snow?
        • How much can a processing plant hold/process?
        • How much warning do we get about rainfalls and how precise are they in identifying the extent and location of the downfall?
        • What are appropriate general and specific warning systems?
        • How long does it take water to arrive at the Flushing Plants from the toilets at farthest reaches?
        • What impact does public awareness about the relationship between toilets and our waterways have upon activities such as littering and picking up dog waste?­


        This page was inspired by the Minds in the Gutter competition. While the sponsor was looking for solutions to the sewerage overflow problem from the field of civil engineering (e.g., enabling rain to seep into the gutter to become groundwater), we saw an opportunity to point out how computer engineering could address the problem. Our solution combined a careful Internet of Things development of the toilets.nyc domain name with civic crowdsourcing.

        Our test project focused on cleaning Flushing Bay, and thus we entitled our proposal The Flushing Community. Download our proposal to ­Minds in the Gutter (in .pdf format) here. See an 800K version of The Flushing Community graphic here

        We make special note that Flushing Bay provides the norther border of Queens Community Board 3. It was Community Board 3 that developed the concept of city-TLDs as public interest resources and initiated the drive to acquire .nyc TLD with its Internet Empowerment Resolution in April 2001.

        Finally, see our blog post on the $2,300,000,000 domain name.

        Key .nyc Pages