Talking to Trees: Spackman Mossop Michaels Facilitates a Complex Conversation Around Trees in Detroit


Talking to trees: Spackman Mossop Michaels enables a complex conversation about trees in Detroit




Talk Tree To Me is an interactive design project installed for Design Month – a month-long design festival in Detroit. The project is a collaboration between Spackman Mossop Michaels (SMM) – a landscape architecture and urban planning firm in Detroit and New Orleans – and its partners, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. The project is partly an urban eco-scavenger hunt and partly an interactive exhibition. Residents can explore the Detroit Riverfront throughout the month, texting and interacting with a collection of 12 different tree species programmed with real-world thoughts and questions from the local Detroiters. The exhibition will be live throughout September 2020.

Talk Tree To Me aims to facilitate a conversation about trees by using trees themselves as a means of conversation. Trees are important to a city. But there are a lot of mixed feelings about trees in Detroit. Beyond the specific issues related to urban ecosystem health, economic benefits, and resilience, trees are tied to larger cultural narratives about identity, race, prosperity, and justice. With this project, SMM tries to involve the community in this chaotic conversation and to link it with place, memory and the potential for transformation.

The aim of the project is to open a space for discussion about the attitude of the community towards urban trees and at the same time to bring people into close contact with the trees in their city. The project combines a Detroit with a tree as the voice of the tree – asks the questions and sets the issues that the trees will discuss with the public. At the end of the month, select conversations between the public and the trees will be posted on the website, revealing some of Detroit’s unfiltered thoughts about trees and their role in people’s lives.

Hosted by Design Core, Detroit Month of Design is a citywide celebration of creativity where designers and the wider community come together to celebrate Detroit’s role as the national and global design capital and the only U.S. city to be recognized as a UNESCO City of Design is designated. From September 1 to September 30, partners across Detroit – from emerging studios to established businesses to educational institutions – will come together to showcase their latest work and ideas.

Learn more about the project and the participants on the website to further develop the content of the project during the month.

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Dusty Kennedy