Most people don't realize that everything that we ingest into our bodies will eventually end up in our tap water. And I mean everything: from birth control, to anti-depressants, to that red bull you chugged in order to meet your article deadline (not that I would know), these pharmaceuticals get recycled by back into the water we drink. In London, one artist-designer has started a project to categorize how and what the citizens of London ingest affects the various regions' tap water: London Biotopes.
Originally conceived as a project by Tuur Van Balen, a graduate of Design Interactions at the RCA, London Biotopes categorizes tap water according to what was ingested by inhabitants of each region of London. For example, according to research mapping city dwellers' habits, “the City of London houses the most ambitious and successful businessmen and women in the UK. This result in a vitalising water, enhanced with fluoride and traces of various stimulants like: coffee, cocaine and antidepressants.”
The London Biotopes site has labels for each region, based on their testing, that London dwellers can use to download and label their own bottles of water. It even allows people to upload descriptions of their particular region's water, and create their own label. This “map” of local city body-ecologies combines to create what Van Balen refers to as a biotope.
Following this practical, possibly frightening idea to it's whimsical conclusion, Van Balen postulates that eventually you'll be able to buy different regions' tap water, according to the chemicals you wish to ingest/experience. Uptight? Try Stoke Newington's tap water, which, “contains traces of marihuana for a truly relaxing experience.” Infertile? Try drinking tap water from Golders Green, “the area with the lowest use of birth control hormones.”
Of course, labeling regions according the various pharmaceuticals ingested by it's inhabitants raises some scary questions about accountability and privacy. If we are able to test water for substances, will where we live eventually create assumptions about how we behave? Could we get denied insurance because our regions' tap water is heavily medicated with anti-depressants? Could a region with high doses of illegal drugs get you in trouble in a background check at work?
Van Balen addressed these issues by teaming with bioengineer James Chappell in a project called Urban Biogeography. Although the technology is still young, the eventual hope is that any amateur will be able to test his or her region's water. By putting the tools in the hands of everybody, it will hopefully forestall any big brother scenario that could come to pass. At the very least, make us more knowledgeable about the water we ingest. Hey neighbors–enjoying my red bull?