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August 26, 2021

Design for change: An endeavor, Vrinda Mathur, MID Industrial Design, 2022

by mathurvrinda

Design for change: An endeavor, Vrinda Mathur, MID Industrial Design, 2022

Today, I am writing to you from the last working week of my fellowship. It’s been quite a journey these past few weeks with moments of ‘I can do this!’ briskly transitioning into ‘How do I do this?’

Design as a discipline is still in its nascent stages in India – where I am from. A layman’s understanding is limited to the superficial aspects of design and it is not necessarily viewed as a tool for powerful thinking and problem-solving. As a young, creative practitioner part of my goal is to reconstruct this very perception not just for my home country but across geographical and societal bounds. I consider design as a medium of expression, of communicating ideas and igniting conversations; Perceptive, relevant, and relatable. 

To culminate my research around tree canopy cover and equity, I conceptualized an experiential ‘walk and talk’ with the trees of Providence, in collaboration with Social Enterprise Greenhouse, supported by the PVD Tree Plan Steering Committee and Tree Equity Score.

Social media assets designed for the event. Sign up via

Let’s walk with the trees is a pilot walk designed keeping in mind the PVD Tree Plan that is set to launch in November 2021. Through this event, I hope to garner interest amongst those divided by tree canopy cover to come together on a journey traversing through low and high tree canopy neighborhoods of the city. You can read more about the PVD Tree Plan or watch this Youtube video.

The walk is set to start on Benefit St, home to two powerful institutions, Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University maintaining a score of 100 on the tree equity analyzer. The end point of the walk lies near Eddy St. on the Southside of Providence where the coast is lined by mountains of coal, salt, and recycled metal parts. In the 1.2 mile walk, we will be covering different themes around urban forestry and climate change including tree canopy equity and it’s impact on different communities, health, land use, and development.

Tentative route map of the walk

While planning and programming the event, I focused on how to make it more than an educational walking tour. Using a set of creative tools I worked on gamifying the walk such that it would encourage people to engage and collaborate with the facilitators. Think ‘Follow the Leader’ or ‘Simon Says’ where the group is asked to follow a set of actions that the facilitator sets. For example: ‘Hop to the closest shaded spot’ or ‘Take off your sunglasses for 30 seconds’. Simple prompts will be planned to simulate the effects of low tree canopy. Along the walking route, I will be installing posters that highlight the tree equity score of those particular areas with different expressions voiced by fictional trees.

Poster designed to highlight tree equity score. Seen here, 55/100 and ‘Uh Oh’
Timelapse video of the poster design

Members from the PVD Tree Plan Steering Committee will shed light on the upcoming master plan and also advise on how each participant can find a way to increase tree canopy cover in their neighborhood. Whether it means collaborating with local tree-planting organizations or speaking up for their communities with their respective council people.

Discussions with Doug Still, City Forester and Cassie Tharinger, Executive Director, Providence Neighborhood Planting Program

In my practice, I have always enjoyed packaging a project with an identity of its own. For this event, I tried my hand at digital illustrations and created a fun set of communication assets for social and print media use. I went back and forth multiple times between colors, typography, and design styles to create something that would appeal to people of different ages. My favorite part was the crooked trees inspired by different species I’ve noticed around Providence. 

Timelapse of the crooked trees illustration

It has been an overwhelming nine weeks since I started the Maharam Fellowship. Initially with just a seed of an idea addressing climate change through the lens of urban forests. I hope this event sparks important conversations and enables the participants to engage with the natural environment in different ways. 

If you are reading this blog post from Providence, RI consider signing up for the walk via Eventbrite.

Hope to see you there! 🙂

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