Building back Somerville’s urban forest – Methodology

We decided to create a new project to engage members of the community in an urban issue, rather than iterating on a previous idea. We wanted to portray the importance of trees by telling a story of the absence of one; specifically, creating shade in a place without trees on a sunny day with help from the community.

For that, we decided to create the chalk outline of a shadow to show the full potential of tree shades, and provide further benefits of urban trees within the shadow. We brainstormed two local calls to action to get residents invested in their local trees- petition to create an adopt-a-tree program (which has proven effective in other places), and directing people to contact the city’s Urban Forestry Department. We settled on the second idea as it better flowed within the narrative arc.

We identified locations where more trees could be planted as well as collecting facts about the impacts of trees in the city, using the following data sources:

Identification of location in Somerville: Link
Pollutant removal: Link
Peak temperatures: Link
CO2 absorption: Link

We created the skeleton of a tree from a tomato cage and wooden dowels (to simulate leaves), which was “planted” in a bucket of dirt.

We had participants choose between several different prompts (listed below), which were written on leaves, and then attach them to the skeleton using ornament hooks:

1. Draw your favorite tree

2. If you could plant a tree anywhere, where would you plant it?

3. Tell us a story about your favorite tree


Also, attached to the skeleton was a small poster which prompted passersby to “Help us build back Somerville’s Urban Forest,” with instructions on what to do.

We also created bookmarks in the shape of trees with our tree facts on one side and the phone number and email of Somerville’s Urban Forestry Department on the other.

This bookmark has three goals: 1) Give instant reward to participants, 2) Engage participants into taking action, and 3) Spread the word (other people will wonder where that bookmark comes from)

Finally, when we arrived at our site, we used sidewalk chalk to draw a hypothetical shadow around the tree skeleton and added several key facts in different colors (with the key statistic written in a brighter color than the rest of the fact)


Team: Yihang Sui, Scott Gilman, Haley Claire, Jay Dev, and Marc Exposito.