Today marks the end of my third week as a design fellow at the Providence Department of Planning and Development. I’ve fully settled in and finished my first couple of projects, so I have some tasty first deliverables and impressions for you!
I started the week before PVDFest 2018, which meant that the Department of Arts, Culture, and Tourism (ACT) was in a huge crunch to finish everything for their biggest event of the year. As such, I got to help out in a couple ways for that event. One of my favorite things that I got to do was event photography. Photography has been a passion of mine for several years now, so I definitely enjoyed the opportunity to utilize my skill set. Also, getting to work with ACT was a blast! They are truly a dedicated, experienced, and hilarious team that are exactly the type of people that I was hoping would work in city government.
The size and variety of PVDFest made it an event photographer’s dream
One of biggest takeaways from the event came from the PVDFest Ideas Conference, which kicked off the weekend of festivities. Every panelist was incredible in their own way, but there were a few that stuck out to me. The keynote speaker, Sarah Williams Goldhagen, gave an overview of the findings of her most recent book Welcome to Your World. She has done an incredible job of compiling cognitive psychology and neuroscience research to effectively link the appearance of our built environment (architecture and urban design) with our own thought patterns and mental well-being. I could gush about her findings for the entirety of this post, but instead I’ll just encourage you to look into her work at the link above. In addition to Sarah, I also had the pleasure of hearing and meeting Julia Gold, the Chief of Sustainability, Autonomous Vehicles, and Innovation (or, as Julia calls it, the Chief of New Stuff) at RIDOT, and Dr. Sasha Costanza-Chock, a professor/researcher at MIT as well, as a one of the heads of the Design Justice movement. Together, these speakers really helped to affirm the importance of equity through design, and the fundamental framing of design as a public good.
After the craziness of PVDFest, I began to focus in on my work for the Planning department. I’m in the process of creating an education campaign for new traffic control devices (street markings and traffic signals) that are being put in throughout the city. You can see one of my very first drafts of this campaign below. I’ve developed the style and message significantly since this point, but the deliverables are still internal, which means you will just have to stay tuned in coming weeks for the final product!
My main goals here are for it to be eye-catching, readable, and accessible for a variety of road users. I was also curious about how to expand the reach of this campaign beyond the follower base of the city’s social media channels.
One of the biggest pieces of news is that this past weekend we had a truly wonderful demo day for the City Walk project (a walk/bike corridor going through Providence proper and one of my main focuses this summer)! This included a ground mural, the presence of a street team to answer any questions and collect input from community members, and a temporary bike lane that was true to the principles of Tactical Urbanism (a term developed and implemented by The Street Plans Collaborative, one of the major consultants for City Walk). Below you’ll find some photos I took the day of as well as some posters I designed for the event.
It was really inspiring to see the variety of bicyclists and community members that were interested in the project, from street artists to local shopkeepers to kids on bikes riding around their neighborhood.
This style of graphic design was certainly outside of my comfort zone. Really fun to be pushed towards different styles and types of content!
I think the event was really visible and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Not only did community members seem excited and interested in the project, but the murals and commotion had a noticeable traffic calming effect on Broad Street, which is typically quite aggressive towards pedestrians and cyclists. I learned a lot about planning a municipal event. There are a lot of boxes to check if you want to draw and maintain a crowd, such as food, water, bathrooms, music, shade, and of course something to do! However, it’s also important to think about what crowd you are trying to draw. For instance, if we went too far into the party atmosphere, we could have distracted from CityWalk as a project. This event seemed to be less about entertaining a crowd, and more about being visible and transparent to the community. I think I may just be spoiled from PVDFest.
I’m a huge tease, so of course I have saved the best for last. Below you can find a map that I am working on for the Urban Trail Network. The network is a future plan to connect the disparate recreational paths throughout Providence into a dense network that would let any pedestrian or cyclist get to most destinations in Providence safely. I think that if this project were to be implemented quickly and effectively, Providence would have the facilities necessary to begin to transition away from automobility.
My supervisor mentioned that I might get to work on signage and wayfinding for CityWalk and the Urban Trail Network. This is an exciting and intimidating opportunity to have a real impact on the accessibility of some large-scale city projects.
Thanks for reading! Until next time.
/ / micah epstein / /
p.s. here’s a bonus pic of me and my girlfriend at my first ever Pride Parade in Boston!
Hive Colab is the name of the office I worked at during the whole two months in Kampala. It’s a tech collaboration hub founded by one of my fellowship advisors, TMS or Teddy Ruge. As seen in the photo, it’s set up as a large open space with islets of desks spread throughout. It’s such a great space to work in because you never know who is going to drop in from which country, who you’re going to work with, and what projects you might discover. My colleagues range from coding nerds to serial entrepreneurs to mobile app gurus. A few weeks in, I found out that one of the creators of Winsenga, an award winning ultrasound app, was sitting at the desk just across me. The team, originally from Makerere University, had created this app to help reduce maternal mortality rates and most recently was awarded $50,000 by Microsoft. In the corner desks by the window sits my friend Anne Giuthu. She started a business in her early 20s, had it acquired by another company, is CEO of her second marketing company now, is deputy director of the marketing department at a university, and is a mother of one. Oh and she’s also only 25 years old.
Being at this space is how I easily got connected to my research partner, Joseph Wanda, pictured below. He doesn’t like having his photo taken so this is all you’re going to get.
He is serial researcher, having conducted all kinds of research for companies and universities, including Hive Colab. Once he came on board my research became a lot more concrete. I could finally determine what specific areas to sample around Uganda since Joseph knew the geography a lot better than me. Over the course of one week, we established a tentative schedule for 3 weeks of field research ranging geographically from central Uganda (Kampala) to eastern Uganda (Jinja and Mbale*). Kampala was a good starting point because we were already there and familiar with the place. We also knew of which slums to visit and could navigate ourselves around them because Joseph had done prior research in them. Jinja and Mbale were more foreign places to both of us but we knew we had to get out of central Uganda. One of the big reasons was to see if areas that were less industrialized with less access to media would have different perceptions of how they were represented in western media, if at all. Jinja and Mbale were less industrialized cities, both with large slums and many local NGOs present.
The blue poster seen above, and pictured below as well, illustrates the brainstorming process of my field research objectives. They were:
- To understand if the poverty-porn-is-bad argument is valid.
- To better understand how ‘victims’ of poverty porn want to be represented.
- To understand the effects of poverty porn on people’s dignity/self-esteem
- To understand African misconceptions of the west.
The planning process was more about framing the issue of poverty porn rather than about the logistics of travel and appointments, although that was quite a challenge as well. Thanks to the generous wall space in my room and the pack of Super Sticky Post-its I brought from home, I was able to do some visual mapping of the underlying aspects of the issue. Many questions came up during this process. Is “poverty porn” even the right term? Who are the main constituents of NGOs? Is donor dependency okay? Do the ends justify the means? How does a stereotype come to be?
Current Status of Project
I am currently back in New York, still scrambling to write catch-up posts on this blog and keep you guys up to date. It’s been difficult coming back to this bustling city and trying to process the past two months of adventures. Bear with me as I try to present the meat of my project in the next few weeks before school starts.
The next few posts will tell the stories from each of our sites: Kampala, Jinja, and Mbale.
Stay tuned and cheers,
*Mbale is pronounced em-balleh just fyi.