SCAD Design for Good: Bettering Savannah One Tree at a Time

SCAD Design for Good: Bettering Savannah One Tree at a Time
Words by Sheila Chau

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has designed an impactful project that looks into the positive effect of trees on the environment and local communities. This project is creative and innovative—Paula Wallace, SCAD President and founder, saw a link between urban deforestation and its negative impacts on the lives of locals. SCAD has planted or donated over 200 trees in Savannah neighborhoods to improve the quality of life. Trees dramatically decrease surface temperatures and have a beneficial effect on communities. Design for Good helps to support the Savannah communities that have been the victims of urban deforestation and tree inequity.

With Wallace advising, students were chosen to be part of the university’s Design for Good course, GOOD560. Design for Good is 10-weeks long, and it is meant to get students to creatively develop ideas that help the communities that the university is a part of—Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia, and Lacoste, France. The students in this course are from different areas of studies: industrial design, fashion, illustration, service, to name a few.

The project is a part of a larger project: SCAD SERVE. SCAD SERVE aims to provide solutions that increase quality of life relating to food, shelter, clothing, and the environment. Ultimately, SCAD serves to better communities—and to have SCAD students understand and see that change can happen. Lindsay Brine, an MFA student involved in the project, commented on making a difference on the Savannah communities. “The most impactful aspect of this project is seeing research that led to an outcome. The university’s SCAD SERVE initiative empowers students to listen to the needs of its neighbors and local leaders, and to create meaningful design solutions that improve quality of life.”

Through research, students have found that temperatures on sunny afternoons were roughly 30 degrees hotter in areas that had a small number of trees than areas that had many trees providing coverage. This is a stark difference, and it’s these findings coming to light that will add to the betterment of Savannah. When asked about the research and its influence, Brine said, “Our combined research makes a compelling case for why trees are important, and how shade, cleaner air quality, and storm water retention really does add up to benefits for individuals, families, and communities.”

Many students in universities conduct research, but not many of those students can say that the research they’ve completed has made a visible difference on people. Implementing impactful research is what motivates students to continue their studies and to continue making a change. Education is powerful, and SCAD shows how it can also be empowering.

In addition to impact, Design for Good brings up questions of how other communities are impacted by construction and urban deforestation. It makes students realize that there are implications when construction takes place without considering nearby communities. Brine said, “This project has made look at trees in an entirely new way. When I see new construction, I question if the developers are going to include trees, what types, and how many? Being able to volunteer with SCAD SERVE and plant trees in Savannah was a way to apply what I had learned at a personal level and go be a part of the solution.”

The most pivotal difference between urban deforestation and Design for Good is that Design for Good considers the feelings of residents. The question of how communities may feel about change is the first step in bettering neighborhoods. Oftentimes, decisions are made without asking how the people it will most impact how they feel. SCAD is working towards more involvement with communities. Instead of ignoring neighborhoods and declining qualities of living, SCAD shows how important it is to listen.