Canvassing for Green Infrastructure in Providence

Canvassing for Green Infrastructure in Providence

I lift my hand to knock on the first door and pause, wondering. Will this be as easy as it was in Maine? Will I have to break out my Spanish for the first time in months? Will they even hear my knock, or will my three raps be too sharp to invite an answer?

I’ve spent the past two weeks canvassing several West End neighborhoods with the TRI-Lab green infrastructure (GI) team, trying to determine people’s receptiveness to vegetation-based flooding solutions. We’d mapped out some hot spots (both literally, and in terms of paved-surface percentage) in order to pinpoint good potential areas for GI projects, and now we are knocking on 200-some doors to figure out just how welcome such projects would be.

My first day, we split up into two teams based on a number of field-tested constraints: two men look too intimidating, two non-Spanish speakers limits our conversations, and, in my past experience, two people from less-familiar ethnic groups sometimes invites intrusive assumptions. That put Andrew, Grace, and me in one group, and Kai and Brandon in the other. As we canvassed our way down the streets, we soon noticed that our team seemed to be finishing each section much quicker than the other. Joking around on our way back, we wondered whether it could be that our individual personalities were encouraging different responses to the same questions.

In order to test our hypothesis, we switched things up the next day: I went with Kai, and Brandon, Andrew, and Grace went together. By the first house, I was already noticing a difference - where I would’ve backed off, Kai pressed forward with a smile. “No worries,” she said. “It’ll take only 5-10 seconds, super quick.” Though this was a bit of an exaggeration, it certainly opened doors. Before long, we were standing on an elderly stranger’s doorstep, conversing in Spanish about his flower garden. It felt so natural, I couldn’t help but laugh a little. So much for being nervous.