Having completed the Lebanon phase of my internship, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Up until a year ago, I had lived in Lebanon my whole life. I was there during the start of the Syrian refugee crisis and through all its phases. Nevertheless, I had not seen refugee camps up close before and had merely visited the areas in which they are present a few times. The conditions in which refugees are living do not even come close to basic life necessities. They are harsh for children and adults alike. The financial aid they are receiving from NGOs is not sufficient to live a comfortable life, and the government is practically nonexistent. Nevertheless, the refugees tend to maintain a positive attitude, supporting their own mental well being, an essential necessity for survival.
I continued visiting the playground and talking to refugee kids in the area. The impact the playground has on the kids exceeded my expectations. It provides them with a space to be kids and nothing more. They forget their problems, stresses, hardships they have been through, and hardships they know they still have to go through. They can concentrate on the activities in front of them and interact with other children. They make friends with one another as they share similar experiences in life in addition to parallel future struggles they know they have to encounter. They hesitate to talking about what they have been through. Moreover, younger children do not fully understand where they are from. Some do not remember moving to Lebanon whereas others were born in Lebanon. Those born in Lebanon do not know whether they are Syrians or Lebanese as they are incapable of receiving either nationality. They either spend the rest of their lives in Lebanon with the inability to travel or they eventually return to Syria to be able to receive the Syrian nationality, although that brings a new round of safety concerns. Unfortunately, these kids do not yet fully comprehend the difficulties of their circumstances and their parents are helpless in supporting them, both economically and developmentally. Encountering these children and their circumstances up close was a sobering experience. Understanding the refugee crisis through the media has almost no window into the reality. We get used to talking about numbers, but in fact every single one of the millions of children has an elaborate story, and faces excruciating hardship.
During my time in Lebanon, talks about the future of a Karam House continued. The idea is to be able to open one in Bekaa. The Bekaa region of Lebanon contains over a million and a half Syrian refugees in Lebanon. It is approximately an hour and a half drive away from Beirut, the capital, and 15 minutes away from the Syrian border. The camps are located in various areas of Bekaa. The area is predominantly agricultural, and so most children end up working in the fields. A Karam House in Bekaa would be able to benefit the refugee kids and open doors for their futures. It does, however, require a lot of analysis and preparation in terms of navigating the political situation, especially with talks of refugees beginning to return to Syria. How many refugees will actually return, and what will they be returning to?
The most exciting moment of a printmaking project is always when the first proof is pulled. Last week we spent an afternoon printing designs that the Youth Power Project members designed. The youth worked in groups on five designs that inspired them in various ways. Some groups had drawn pictures of someone they admire for their social justice work and included a quote. Others had graphics and messaging they came up with themselves.
I asked the youth to work in groups of 4-5 each at a table and to collaborate to choose colors. The groups were in charge of designating tasks so that while one person printed someone else would re-ink the screen and another was in charge of placing new patches and posters under the screen to be printed.
It’s always excited to see the experimentation new printers are willing to take, inking areas individually, mixing new colors, embracing the variation in the otherwise repetitive process.
This red and black split-fountain style print on the #AbolishICE print would have been something I advised against because the ink can so easily become muddy when you add black to a screen with a color, but in fact the outcome was some of the most beautiful prints made that day.
It was also interesting to see the ways certain youth took to the process immediately with excitement and others were slower to become enthusiastic, but by the end each group had a pile of prints and was excited for the next printing day so they could bring in shirts and tote bags.
The photos in this post don’t quite capture the level of mayhem and messy inkiness in a room with 30 young people mixing yogurt cups of ink but that mess is always a sign of a successful printing experience.
This is the third of four blog posts for this fellowship, which is pretty shocking for me because it represents the beginning of the end for my summer at the Department of Planning. Time certainly flies when you’re having fun, and this summer has been a whole lot of that!
From a project standpoint, the most exciting news I have for you is that I’ve finally finished the web presence for the traffic education campaign I’ve been working on all summer. You can find the web page on the Department of Planning’s page here.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite part of this project has been the opportunity to do bilingual graphic design. An important aspect of this to me is not making the translation secondary in the design, which I’ve worked towards by using animation to embed the translation directly into the content. I’ve always thought that the visual presence of two identical designs, one in English and one in Spanish, is a little odd. Where space allows, I prefer to include both languages in a single piece. I think this is stronger visually and sends a more direct message of inclusion (rather than just checking the box of having both languages present).
So far, the first of these graphics has been posted on Facebook, which you can see here. The response has honestly been bigger than I ever could have expected, even getting an article in the local news! I really appreciate the opportunity to have an impact on how sustainable transportation infrastructure is presented on such a public stage.
Another project that has recently come to completion was my bike parking fieldwork, which I mentioned in the previous post. To complete this project, I got the opportunity to enter the data I collected into ArcMap, an industry-standard geographical information system (GIS) and mapping tool.
Here you can see an example of the interface and capabilities of ArcMap. It’s an incredibly robust tool for data mapping and spatial analysis. Like any program worth its salt, it does require some technical knowledge – such as the Select Attribute panel pictured to the right, which uses text-based logic syntax to make complicated and specific selections.
As a designer, my experience with programs are from an entirely creative perspective. It was really cool to try my hand with a more technical tool. I’m definitely hoping to build on my GIS education in the future and move my skill-set beyond the creative!
A fun piece of news is that recently Providence has fallen prey to the recent trend of dockless electric scooter share. I have really mixed feelings about them. On one hand, they fill a key gap in sustainable urban mobility, and are shockingly good at solving the last-mile problem. On the other hand, Bird (the scooter company in question) often operates by asking forgiveness rather than permission from city governments. Here is a really excellent article that sums up my apprehensions. For instance, the Providence deployment was poorly timed, coming one day after the city’s press announcement for its new dockless e-bike share initiative with JUMP bikes. This type of “move fast and break things” behavior creates an environment of combativeness between the city and the company, which is regressive to the common goal of creating equitable sustainable transportation options in cities.
Move fast and break things is a problematic business model in urban transportation. comic via the always excellent xkcd
Finally, to finish out the summer I will be working on signage for the Providence City Walk. Signage for wayfinding is something that I’ve been getting increasingly excited about. I see it as a perfect case of the importance of graphic design in civic projects. Pat Weaver in “Wayfinding for Bicycle Routes” writes that “An easy-to-understand wayfinding system helps users understand the bicycle network, and may be particularly helpful to new or infrequent bicyclists.”
This couldn’t be more true. A good wayfinding system can make bike infrastructure accessible, visible, and safe to people who are just starting to bike. As such, it is a crucial part of transitioning people out of their cars and into the public realm.
This map will (hopefully) exist on some of the larger sign types being installed. In addition to making the map clear and accessible, I’m also hoping to use it as a way to highlight some of the cultural landmarks that are important parts of the South Side’s history.
Thanks for reading, until next time!
// micah epstein //