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Posts by mathurvrinda


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

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! 🙂


Take a walk along misery mile, Vrinda Mathur, MID Industrial Design, 2022

Take a walk along misery mile, Vrinda Mathur, MID Industrial Design, 2022

This week, I visited a few locations in the Washington Park Neighborhood to gain an understanding of the landscape. I started my walk down Allen’s Avenue, past the hurricane barriers, and turned into Collier Point Park after I spotted unassuming signage.

The park was designed in the year 1996 by William Warner Architects and spans six acres in size with open views of the bay, fishing docks, bridges and more. The park has been in the news lately with regards to public resistance towards its ownership by Dominion Energy. I read this excerpt from the Providence Journal to learn more about the issue.

This entire stretch of land is lined by industries like Sim’s Metals, Sprague, National Electric amongst others. Naturally, the state of air and water quality is compromised and other environmental issues continue to impact the residents in nearby areas. Even though the park is landscaped and offers beautiful views of the bay, it fails to impress in comparison to other parks, especially those on the East side of Providence. The Washington Park Neighbourhood Association (WPNA) is working with the city and the Department of Transportation to beautify the area and offer ‘adopt a spot’ options to the neighboring industries.

My next stop. within a one-mile radius was Public Street. The street falls perpendicular to Allen’s Avenue and leads to a 25-foot wide view of the bay. However, this street was not as ‘public’ until a few weeks ago.

“From its name, you’d assume that Public Street was intended for the public. But before the attorney general’s office intervened last winter, fences blocked off the road’s eastern terminus where it meets the Providence River. People from low-income neighborhoods in South Providence and Washington Park were cut off from one of the few places where they could walk to the waterfront and fish.” 1

On either side of this street are grated barriers with views of the mountains. Not the beautiful, green ones but those made with coal, salt, and recycled metal parts. On discussing further with Linda Perri, the President of WPNA we spoke about visualizing a cleaner, greener space where people from the neighborhood could spend their evenings close to nature, stroll, fish, and experience the outdoors.

The neighborhood around Washington Park has a tree equity score of 63/100 and is marked in bright yellow on the tree equity analyzer. As per the State of Providence’s Urban Forest report, this area has <10% urban tree canopy while the intended canopy cover goal stands at 48%. The other crucial demographic and environmental indicators of this area include people of color, senior citizens, unemployment rates, children, people in poverty, temperature, and health index. 2

A satellite view via Google Maps highlighting Allen’s Avenue and the industrial area

No wonder Allen’s Avenue is commonly referred to as the ‘Misery Mile’. In fact, Linda and I spoke about creating some banners for the area highlighting this very issue.

Back at the SEG office, I had a team meeting with four other members across different departments including environmental advocacy, food systems, and green events to talk about some ideas and design interventions that may be useful in furthering our communication with frontline community members. I have been working on designing accessible infographics on the theme of tree equity by highlighting the equity score and embedding a call-to-action as a digital take away. In the process, I am interested in exploring the use of AI chat bots, performance artists, and potentially a website dedicated to the conversation. While a lot of these concepts are still in the planning phase, together with all stakeholders we hope to launch them over the next couple of months.

What I am most excited about is a curated walk for members of different neighbourhoods to come together and immerse themselves in an educational, invigorating walk across low and high tree canopy areas. The goal of this experience would be to bring people together, whether it is local organizations, community leaders or the community members themselves, and start a dialogue around the need of better tree canopy and its many benefits to the environment, health, wellbeing, thereby providing a platform for every person to put forth their opinion, ask questions and find a sense of togetherness.

More on that in the next blog.


2 Urban Tree Canopy Percentage by Neighbourhood: “State of Providence’s Urban Forest” Report. April 2008. Providence Parks Department, Forestry Division,,


If trees could talk, Vrinda Mathur, MID Industrial Design 2022

If trees could talk, Vrinda Mathur, MID Industrial Design, 2022

I remember the young girl who leapt across puddles on a rainy day, she climbed trees to pick fresh mulberries, swung on the monkey bars, and jumped over concrete parapets too. As children, our association with the natural environment is a strong one but, how often do we see ourselves interacting with a fresh flower bloom or the whistling leaves as adults? How often have we mindlessly walked along an arid path with a tree stumped down to half? Have we questioned why that tree stands without its supporting limbs; Branches, stems, and leaves?

Anecdotes from a conversation with self

These conversations I had with myself led me on to explore the relationship between urban forestry and the need for increased public engagement towards land restoration efforts. I started working on Treeggered as part of my graduate studio in the spring of 2021.

From the archives, a guerilla experiment conducted at Blackstone Park to encourage participation from the viewers in rebuilding forgotten trees

Through the Maharam Fellowship, I am collaborating with Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG) A Providence-based non-profit organization to expand its presence in the realm of environmental and social justice through increased outreach and community engagement initiatives. My research is focused on understanding how the changing climate exacerbates existing inequities for frontline communities (members of low-income/BIPOC communities) in the state of Rhode Island. 

My interest in urban ecology and social justice issues opened my eyes to the warps and wefts of both these topics. 

According to American Forests, a national non-profit conservation organization, “trees across the U.S. absorb 17.4 million tons of air pollutants, preventing 670,000 cases of asthma and other acute respiratory symptoms annually.” Conversely, places that lack tree canopy also tend to be the poorest, the hardest hit by the impacts of the climate crisis, and the most urbanized, making tree access a social justice one as well.

A recent article I read states that in 92% of the urbanized areas surveyed, low-income blocks had less tree cover than high-income blocks. On average, low-income blocks had 15.2% less tree cover and were 1.5⁰C hotter than high-income blocks.

I spent the first few weeks of my fellowship creating a network of stakeholders I could interact with in order to gain on the ground information about tree canopy and the tree equity score. For everybody new to this, as was I until a few weeks ago, a tree equity score is a tool that analyzes map data across different neighborhoods including information on existing tree canopy, population density, income, employment, surface temperature, race, age, and health. “These metrics are combined into a single score between 0 and 100. A score of 100 means that a neighborhood has achieved Tree Equity.” 3

Tree Canopy Equity via American Forests

Over the next few weeks I will be working closely with the Washington Park Neighborhood Association and local Providence tree planting organizations to investigate the factors that contribute to low tree canopy scores and their correlation to historic redlining, systemic racism and governance. I will be using a two pronged approach to the movement through my skills in art, design and systems thinking. The first, to raise awareness amongst the communities who are directly impacted by low tree canopy. The second to enable them to find a voice in the dialogue surrounding climate change and its impact on health, wellbeing and other environmental issues.

More on the how in my next blog. Until then, I am leaving you with a link to the Climate Justice Plan drafted by the City of Providence. Might I also recommend the book ‘Rising’ by Elizabeth Rush, a memoir about climate change traversing through different cities in the United States.