September 23, 2021
Last week, my signs delivered and I installed them at the Diamond Street and Sprague Street Sankofa Gardens!
The Diamond Street garden dealt with misunderstandings around how to properly turn on and off the hose. Growers need to go inside the shed to turn the tap first, before turning the outside hose handle. If the order is switched, it leads to expensive flooding.
The Sprague Street garden sign is intended to encourage sharing knowledge, since there have been many accounts of miscommunication and stealing. In addition, Southside Community Land Trust asked for a couple copies of this sign for 3 of their gardens! One of their translators generously helped me with making both signs.
After installing the signs, Julius (the market manager) arranged a small lunch gathering for staff at West Elmwood Housing Corporation and growers I know from the garden. I spoke about my experience this summer and explained my intention with the signs. It was lovely being able to see everyone’s reactions and support towards my work.
Last month, I connect one of my favorite podcasts with Sankofa. Mosaic highlights stories about immigration and identity in Rhode Island; they are currently speaking with Raffini, one of the growers for a future piece. The producers also invited me to submit a community essay to share my thoughts from Sankofa! I am so grateful to be able to share my story on such a platform. 🙂
Communicating Climate and Cultures | Jasmine Gutbrod | Teaching and Learning in Art and Design | 2021
Connecting with Community
After many remote events this Summer and past year, it was great to be able to work outside and connect with the public in person. The Blessing of the Fleet festival in Narragansett was a great way to learn more about Rhode Island’s fishing community and meet the people directly involved in the industry. The festival centered around a boat parade, where fishing vessels received a blessing for a safe year. Working on a fishing boat can be dangerous, and there was also a memorial to honor those who have lost their lives working at sea.
Eating with the Ecosystem was at the event to help visitors learn more about different seafood species and how to practice sustainable habits for eating seafood. Some in the crowd were already familiar with local species because they had friends and family members who worked in the fishing industry, and the Narragansett, RI is home to multiple seafood unloading sites and local fish markets. Many visitors were interested in learning more about where to find local fish, how to support small businesses, and how climate change might be affecting the ocean. I was able to distribute information that I had learned through courses at RISD and Brown in addition to the research that I have been doing this summer. My interactions affirmed previous observations of mine, in that overall people are willing to learn more about the environments they intermingle with and want to know how they can help build a healthy relationship with their ecosystem. Many were concerned with ocean health. To me, this symbolizes a core issue with how we approach discussions of sustainability and climate change. The issue is not necessarily that people do not care about creating resilient ecosystems, but rather they lack the tools to become involved in the discussion and do not know what they can do about it. I think that discussions around sustainability are often over-simplified to try to get people on board, explaining that if you simply conserve energy by turning off lights, eat local, and recycle your plastic then you are on track to solve climate change. This over-simplification is, in my opinion, harmful because it does not take into account the nuances of climate issues and the resulting nuances solutions. Visitors to my booth wanted easy answers to “what kind of fish should I be eating” or “what seafood is sustainable”, when it depends on the species, location, and time of year. By taking a few extra minutes to explain to visitors some of the complexities of ocean migration patterns and seafood supply chains, people can be empowered to see their food as a part of a system that is constantly changing and adapting to economic and environmental shifts. To me, this represents a stronger and more memorable way to talk about sustainability, as a concept which will always be evolving and updating and will require a mindset that is equally adaptable.
Telling the Story
In addition to the in-person event, I have also been designing social media graphics to help tell the story of various projects Eating with the Ecosystem has been working on. One of these has been the seafood donation program, which began about a year ago in response to the onset of COVID-19. This grant-funded project has made whole, fresh fish accessible to community members for free, while also helping to sustain local fishermen. Organizations such as the Women’s Refugee Center, the Narragansett Tribe, the African Alliance of Rhode Island, and the George Wiley Center all have received and continue to receive fish through this program. The project also provided a platform for those in historically underrepresented communities to share recipes and stories about their relationship to seafood. Seafood can serve as a way to bring together those from diverse cultural backgrounds, as recipes are passed down through generations and different families and cultures have their own unique ways of preparing fish. For example, many in New England’s vibrant immigrant and indigenous communities know how to turn whole, unprocessed fish into delicious meals. Learning more about the many ways that seafood can be prepared across different cultures can help center these communities in important discussions.
The overdose epidemic continues to rear its ugly head, only exacerbated but hidden by the global Covid pandemic. Decades of research have demonstrated that the “War on Drugs” has not changed society’s relationship to drugs nor limited its harm: on the contrary, the criminalization of drugs has led to mass incarceration and a staggering number of deaths, especially of young people.
The data exists and the literature has been written that demonstrates how these mortalities can be avoided–but how to change public policy? How to change public opinion? How to lead people to dense texts on the topic? And most importantly, how to de-stigmatize some of the conceptions people have around drug use?
This July, I began my fellowship with Transform. Transform is a desk-based research organization in the UK focusing on the catastrophic effect drug policies have on communities. Transform’s educational literature and videos seek to bring attention to the harm that drug policy causes, maintaining that drugs are a health issue, not a criminal issue. The organization seeks to protect children through tighter regulations around drugs and an end to the criminalization of drug users. Transform, like so many other progressive institutions, relies on stock imagery to illustrate their points, which often reinforce particular stigmas around drug use. My proposal for this fellowship was to experiment with new forms of representation that call the initial images into question and point to the larger systemic issues at play.
As we are living in a pandemic, this fellowship is remote. I have been familiarizing myself with Transform’s literature, hundreds of pages of thorough research into legal policy as well as public health. I have been pulling out data points that are extremely compelling in shifting opinion about drug use, and then sketching these moments in the most simplistic ways.
I have printed out the stock imagery that Transform has used in their publications and spliced it up to make the viewer aware of the problematic nature of stigmatizing, user-focused imagery. Sometimes I juxtapose these images with photographs that Transform member Steve Rolles has taken while visiting various forms of harm reduction centers around the world (such as the Heroin Assisted Treatment Centers in Switzerland and Copenhagen; Safe Injection Sites in Vancouver; or free and decriminalized drug testing operations at festivals in the UK) to create a visual dichotomy between criminalization and mutual aid.
Addiction and drug fatality are systemic problems, not personal ones. But all of the imagery we have ever seen on this topic focuses on an individual, draped in a hoodie, cowering in shame under the shadows of a dark alley. What were the forces that brought people who use drugs to this place? Just as the prohibition of alcohol didn’t stamp out alcoholism but did empower mafia organizations, drug addiction hasn’t been healed by a tough on crime approach. Addiction is the one neurological situation labeled as a disorder where showing symptoms precludes someone from getting treatment.
I share these images and experiments with the team at Transform through zoom meetings throughout the week. We have conversations about what they are working on, how particular visuals have helped to shift public opinion in the past, and what has failed. I’ve noticed in these meetings how much more interested I have become in the politics and law aspect of drug use, and how much more creatively-minded the team meetings are. We have involved conversations about how to be visually impactful.
July 12, 2021
This is a long overdue update as I have been caught up meeting people and getting my hands and mind busy! My priority this summer is to build meaningful relationships with as many growers, vendors, and other Sankofa members as possible; while finding small and large moments for my art and design orientation to support their needs.
For the first few weeks, I plopped myself in the main Sankofa Garden, which is surrounded by Sankofa Apartments (affordable housing from the West Elmwood Housing Corporation). Whenever someone would come out to water their plants, I’d start to weed with them, and ask about the vegetables they were growing. One such woman I met was Ana, a Dominican woman who immigrated alone to Providence at 18 years old. When I first met her she was grieving the recent loss of multiple members in her family, yet finding time to nurture her plants in between calls from relatives. Ana is an English-learner; she pointed to weeds, demonstrated how to pluck them correctly, and directed me to do the same. Her gestures, directness, courage, and patience reminded me of the warmth I often feel with Indian aunties or women in my family. They see you as their own, and are always thinking of you. After only an hour or two together, Ana playfully pushed me inside her home for some home-cooked beans and rice. On another occasion, she brought out popsicles and had me rest inside to stay out of the heat. This generosity is seen among all of the growers. Everyone is an immigrant or a refugee from a multitude of places; such as Liberia, Rwanda, Dominican Republic, or Cambodia. Growing vegetables from their home countries, and then cooking culturally specific dishes for their families is a healing practice for them; as they are celebrating who they are.
So onto my greatest reflection of this internship: regardless of what country they come from, if they are wealthy or not, or if you have already eaten lunch, immigrant women will always force you to eat their home-cooked food!
The Sankofa Market opened June 23rd, and has been running every Wednesday 2-6pm outside Knight Memorial Library since (it’s open through October, so if you’re in town, you should stop by)! At the market, I have been helping vendors wherever needed, and as a result, getting to know them and their work better. Every week, I help set up tents, write out the prices of their produce, and spray cold water on vendors on sweaty days! On the first market day, a Cambodian vendor immediately rushed as he saw an African older woman struggling with her tent. Although they couldn’t understand each other’s words, the Cambodian man used body language to suggest an ideal placement of the tent and table. I find this kind of camaraderie between different immigrant groups pretty rare. Oftentimes, each community is struggling to meet their own needs in this country, and are pitted against each through capitalism and white supremacy. I saw this small act as a larger representation of mutual aid; which is critical in order for communities of color to move towards liberation and independence from discrimination.
Market sign before 2. Sketch for painted sign 3. Painted sign in progress at the Market
Growers often struggle to describe a vegetable on their table with its English name (especially if it is native to their home country). This usually isn’t an issue as their clientele are usually immigrants from the same region as them. However, learning about different foods, how to prepare them, and what the dish means to someone, is one of the most beautiful aspects of this community. I find it’s also a fruitful way to connect through care with someone from a different background and story. When I am struggling to communicate my questions about the produce or even themselves, I find drawing is a universal language. I sketch to ask questions, and also to communicate to other customers about the produce vendors are selling.
There’s no doubt that the gardens are a healing space for growers and vendors. For me, the place brings me a sense of home and comfort, like a bowl of warm dhal my mom used to prepare when I was sick. However, conflict is bound to arise with language barriers, cultural differences, and miscommunication. As I move onto the middle of my internship, I am collecting the needs of different individuals in these spaces in order to design a spatial intervention with them. Stay tuned to hear more about these observations and plans!
Ten minutes after arriving on my first day at the office, the city-wide Committee On Transportation met, a group consisting of representatives from myriad city and non-profit groups interested in improving public and active transportation options in Nashville. They discussed the city transit budget decision, upcoming events, political alliances, funding, and organization strategies. Then, I was surprised to hear scooters come up.
Because of several recent electric scooter-related accidents, there’s been talk around Nashville of regulating, or even banning, electric scooters like Bird, JUMP, Lime, Lyft, and others. Since I’ve barely been out of the Architecture building at RISD to eat and sleep, I hadn’t been closely following the introduction of electric scooters on US streets. Though making space for small motorized and electric vehicles was a focus of my studio design project this past spring, I hadn’t expected them to be a focus of my work experience this summer. Sure, I’ve seen kids riding them down the street on my way home sometimes, and I’ve noticed them laying around Providence in a few unlikely places, but I hadn’t taken a moment to really consider how they might be subtly catalyzing an important shift in urban design. I hadn’t realized that the scooter industry might be just the extra pressure cities need to expand biking infrastructure.
In Nashville right now, scooters are the source of much controversy. With around 70 accidents and 1 death involving scooters since the beginning of 2018, many are calling for intervention and regulation. Because of our shared interest in biking and scooter lanes, Walk Bike Nashville has emerged as a natural ally to the scooter cause. Walk Bike staff have begun teaching scooter safety classes and including scooter helmet giveaways at some of their events. This week, WBN’s executive director, Nora Kern, appeared on National Fox News during my second week here, to represent the pro-scooter interest. She took the opportunity to point out that far greater numbers of people have been injured or killed in car-related accidents, including pedestrian-car incidents, in the period in which scooters have been in our streets, suggesting that cars may be the greater issue. She took the opportunity to make the case that moving to a more safely diverse (“multi-modal” as they say in the biz) transportation system is a better long-term solution than the banning of devices that might get people out of cars.
In the transit meeting on my first day at WBN, committee members expressed concern that the Mayor might ban scooters, and that the city council would not vote to fully fund city Transport. The next day the word came that basically all of these worst case scenarios–funding cuts to public transport and a temporary ban of scooters–had indeed taken place. What a way to start the summer!
I decided to take a scooter to work while I still could. When there wasn’t a bike lane to ride in, I felt pretty uncomfortable, and definitely got some looks from drivers. When I hopped on the greenway on the way home, I wasn’t sure whether I belonged there either, but it felt great to ride in the cool respite of the greenway on a 90+ degree Tennessee day. A few cyclists cheered for me as we passed each other; one mother held her child nervously to the side of the path though I slowed to a crawl as I passed them.
From regular community ride events around town to safety classes, kids education, fundraising, and tactical active transport interventions, Walk Bike Nashville is already doing so much, that including scooters in their advocacy and education efforts is a lot to take on. The general feeling around the office is, however, if we don’t advocate for the scooter option, who else will? Scooter representatives came to our fundraising party last Friday night and their sponsor logos are now all over the graphic materials I have been designing for various upcoming events.
All around, it’s been a great start to my time at Walk Bike Nashville. The first week even ended with a big fundraising party where I was able to meet many of the organization’s supporters, board members, volunteers, partners, and a few people that accidentally wandered in from the bar next door. Next I’m looking forward to helping more with event planning, and diving into discussions about my city design guide.
Okay, here we are at the end! I’m writing this post about a week after my last day at the Providence Department of Planning, looking back at what I would consider a successful fellowship!
So what did I accomplish?
My biggest professional accomplishment was definitely the traffic education campaign I made that details new traffic control devices (traffic signals and street markings) that are being introduced in Providence over the next couple of years.
Can you spot how I photoshopped the base image?
I’m proud of this project for a couple of reasons. I think I was able to find a happy medium between my personal aesthetic and the seriousness demanded by an official publication by a municipal department. I also really enjoyed the opportunity to design for a multi-lingual audience, the specifics of which I detailed in my last post. Finally, the posts using my graphics and language got quite a bit of exposure. I can’t take full credit – announcements of new developments are important and exciting in their own right – but I do think their strong visual presence helped to make them stick. Getting my work featured on the local news was a goal I didn’t even know I had!
Personally, I think my greatest accomplishment was the concepts this fellowship helped me grasp. When I went into this fellowship, my biggest goal was to have a vague understanding of “how stuff happens” in cities. Even with that broadness, I have a much better understanding of the timeline behind city projects. I know more about the complex web of funding (federal grants, the city’s general fund, and corporate sponsorship to name just a few) and politics (the influence city council, the mayor, and department heads have on different aspects of projects) that can get a project of the ground, stop it at the gate, or change its course (I’m writing this from the airport, please excuse my plane puns).
Not necessarily relevant, but I really enjoyed this city government-specific magnetic poem set on the office fridge.
I think the most personally valuable outcome of this summer was a better understanding of when, where, and how I could have the biggest impact with a career in municipal government. While I am happy with the projects I got to work on this summer, the timescale of many projects in city government is long, spanning years and sometimes decades. Becuase of this, I think if I want to actively make our cities more equitable (and believe me, I do!!) I should be prepared for the long haul.
If I had to use one word to describe my summer, I would call it “enlightening.” When I am ready to settle down, mortgage a house, and iron out a morning routine, I know that municipal government is a place where I can make a difference. Until then, I have a lot of work to do and a lot still to learn.
Thanks for reading!
On August 15th, members of DARE’s Tenant and Homeowner Association, What Cheer? Brigade, and I staged a press conference/action and political theatre outside of Rhode Island Housing. The purpose of the action was to call attention to RI Housing’s handling of the Barbara Jordan II “redevelopment” project. RI Housing had hired Camiros Ltd, a Chicago consulting firm, to conduct community engagement on the “revitalization” of Barbara Jordan II (also known as Clowntown for its colorful appearance) a recently foreclosed, 74 unit low-income housing project in South Providence.
Roline Burgess, a DARE member, spoke about her experience working to help a former tenant of Barbara Jordan II find housing, when RI Housing couldn’t help her.
Me and Eli Nixon, prepping for the political theatre.
Me in the Camiros Camaro running over DARE members, representing the exclusion of DARE members from the redevelopment process.
For me, this protest has been an interesting point for me to reflect on my own design process and political stances. Specifically, I’m interested in thinking more about how community work and design can intersect in a meaningful way that values voices of community members.
Of the myriad of reasons for how RI Housing poorly handled the process of redeveloping Barbara Jordan II, I was particularly offended by the lack of due diligence RI Housing did in understanding the history of Barbara Jordan II and who picked up the pieces when they foreclosed on it. Their hiring of an outside consulting firm, rather than truly engaging with community members and organizers as the experts, speaks to their stance on whose voices are valued. DARE and other Providence organizations have been working on housing and helping tenants of Barbara Jordan II long before it foreclosed, and as Malchus Mills, a DARE board member put it, “we have data out the ears” when it comes to the housing needs of low-income Providence residents. It seems disingenuous and performative to hire an outside consulting firm and funnel RI money into other organizations, rather than back to our community.
There are also some thoughts that have been forming in my head around how, as someone who wants to live at the intersection of design and community work, to present oneself as being aware of the pitfalls of design and how design has historically served capitalist ends and not necessarily community needs. How do I describe the work I do to other designers, without playing the legitimation game and using design buzzwords like “leverage” and “stakeholders”?
To most people Greenland seems to be a place where life stands still in ancient traditions of whaling, sealing, and kayaking among the icebergs, but in fact Greenland is becoming increasingly modern and you’ll even find fresh tropical fruits in the supermarket that you won’t find in Providence markets (passion fruits, guava, star fruits, papaya). Nuuk is the largest city in Greenland and has a population of 18,000 people making it about a third of the country’s entire population. The settlements of Greenland are mostly on the western and southern coast (none exist inland due to the ice sheet), but due to difficult terrain it’s not feasible (or sensible) to have roads that connect the towns and villages, so all transportation is done by boat or plane. Who own’s Greenland? Greenland has a long history of colonialism and is still technically a part of Denmark, though in 2009 they were granted self-rule allowing the people of Greenland to establish their own government. This history of colonialism has had a myriad of effects on the citizens of Greenland and they are still figuring out how to navigate their own cultural identity.
Cultural context aside, my original intention for traveling to Greenland was part of a collaborative study with scientists at CU–Boulder and University of Copenhagen looking at the potential extraction of glacial sediment deposition as a new economic opportunity for Greenland. As populations grow, developing countries increase construction rates, climate change threatens coastal infrastructure, and a global sand shortage approaches (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/357/6355/970)… we could really use any sand we can get our hands on. When the glaciers retreat from the fjords the sand and rocks trapped in the many layers of ice melts and falls to the sea bed floor. The ice sheet will inevitably melt regardless of climate change meaning that for the foreseeable future (a couple thousand years) sand will be deposited into these fjords. Harvesting the sand is a win-win-win: 1. Removing the sediment maintains the nutrient levels in the fragile ecosystem 2: It assures boats can navigate harbors to deliver goods and 3. It allows for Greenlanders to be in charge of their economy in pursuit of become a fully sovereign nation. Currently Greenland’s lack of economy and incredibly high cost of building and maintaining infrastructure ends up meaning that about two-thirds of their GDP comes from Danish subsidies about $650M. For this reason Greenland has been exploring potential economic opportunities that are becoming easier and more accessible as climate change makes things more accessible. One controversial path that has been considered is the mining of rare earth metals such as uranium. This research instead invites Greenland to put climate change to work for their economy and for the global resource needs.
During my stay in Nuuk I was able to have many conversations with people doing all sorts of different work and hailing from all parts of the world. I was able to talk with an ex-vice mayor about the new development patterns and urbanization of Greenland, a flight attendant about transportation infrastructure and the high cost of traveling, an architect about the challenges of building in remote and difficult terrain, a photographer about the seasonal differences, a chef about the import of ingredients and cost of food, a hunter about the decreasing population of musk ox, and a native student who had live in all four corners of Greenland. Each has their own unique story about how they found themself in Nuuk, but often the sublime nature and endless inspiring landscape were a major allure for most. Those looking to understand Greenland and the complex issues its facing I recommend traveling to not just Nuuk but also the more tourist locations like Ilulissat and especially the small settlements where the lifestyle of subsistence hunting is still quite common. Go soon though as climate change is rapidly changing how connected settlements are to trade of goods which will inevitably threaten the older ways of life. More next time on life in the office and the progress of the maps with JONAA.
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 //