This week our group focused on narrowing down the focus of our project and trying to map out how we will complete each of the project deliverables. We met as a group on Wednesday and we discussed where we will access the data we are going to analyze. Evan also reviewed some basic Excel graph features so that we can have a structured, clean format for all of our tables and figures.
Another purpose of our meeting on Wednesday was to try to identify the main purpose of our project in relation to the class coursework and discussion. While we are trying to specify the scope of our project, we want to ensure that it complements the ideas of sustainability that we have been learning about in class. For example, one benefit of our project is understanding how the Los Altos can better prepare for a future recession by understanding the main economic drivers and areas of economic improvement within the city.
The Los Altos Economic Development Project is a bit different than the other class projects, such as the Tenderloin project and the Friends of Caltrain project. Our work has been strictly off-site, and we lack many of the intimate conversations and primary resources that other groups might have. However, we also realized that since we are analyzing the data without any previous trips to the city, we are helping ensure that the ideas in the Economic Big Book will be based on objective, non-biased analysis. But we also collectively agreed that incorporating first-hand testimonies does have its benefits and can certainly strengthen and ‘humanize’ our project, so we decided to bring this up at our meeting.
We then later met with Jennifer for our weekly meeting; we made sure that we identified exactly what our role would be for this project in regards to the City of Los Altos. In order to better prepare for the midterm presentation on Wednesday, we went over specific duties that each of us had.
After voicing our concern regarding incorporating conversations and interviews to our project, Jennifer provided us with potential contacts that we could interview in order to provide different perspectives and insight on the City of Los Altos’ economic status: the President of the Chamber of Commerce and the Director of Los Altos Village Association. We plan on participating in coffee chats with them over this weekend and learning valuable concepts, which we will incorporate into our deliverable. Adding new inside perspectives will be highly valuable in helping us develop a project that will be beneficial to both our learning and the economic resilience of Los Altos. This realization allowed us to look at our data with a fresh perspective; because of this, we are able to humanize the data and look beyond the numbers. With this new sense of understanding, we are able to truly comprehend what the numbers that we’re working with mean. Afterwards, we spent time reflecting on the project objectives, and with our renewed sense of how we’re going to progress with this project, we ended the meeting with an agreement to regroup over the weekend after analyzing more data sets on our own.
One of the largest take-aways from this meeting was the importance of understanding how analyzing this data would help the city of Los Altos and how our work would help the city move forward. We agreed that understanding the big picture helps motivate us and helps us understand how to take the next steps. We identified some main questions that we’d like to help answer with the data that we’ll be analyzing, including: what does having higher income mean? Does it necessarily mean lower crime rates? Is diversity impacted? Are better school systems an automatic result of communities with higher incomes? Next week, we plan to actively focus on answering these questions. We also plan on potentially attending a city hall meeting in Los Altos in addition to reaching out to community members and conducting chats and interviews.
Update on Project Activities
Firstly, we’d like to say a mournful goodbye to Amabel, but also commend her on her bravery to take care of herself and not stretch herself too thin. In happier news, however, we’d also like to give a warm welcome to the newest member of our team: Paul! We all had an exciting chance to get to know each other on our first excursion together to the Tenderloin this afternoon.
In the Tenderloin (TL), we met with community leaders in a small group setting. The four of us first met with five community leaders, all Tenderloin residents, who work with the TNDC. The group was racially diverse: three African Americans, one Hispanic, and one Caucasian, who have lived in the TL for different amounts of time. Some live in single room occupancy housing (SROs) and some live in affordable housing units run by the TNDC. Each of these community leaders have had significant struggles in their life but were able to recover from those challenges and are doing all they can to give back to the community.
After our meeting with the community leaders, we went to a community meeting with a developer. All community members were welcome to come and ask questions about the proposed building. About ten community members came to the meeting and five or six asked questions or expressed concerns. The community members in attendance were racially diverse--Caucasian, Asian, and African American, and it seemed like people of all of the represented ethnic backgrounds were able to express their thoughts.
What We Observed and Learned
In our first meeting, we were introduced to 5 community leaders within the Tenderloin: Jesse and Sherry, members of the Tenderloin People’s Congress, Don and Steve, Tenderloin Food Justice Leaders, and Darrell, an organizer for a community homeless coalition. After hearing a little from each of these leaders about their lives and how they came to the Tenderloin, we provided more pointed questions about their experiences with services and retail within the TL. When asked about which services were available in the neighborhood and which services were only available outside it became clear that the TL was lacking in many services that went beyond the realm of healthful food access. Some of the services listed were laundry, cleaners, notaries, women specific services, and office supplies. Yet despite the range of lacking services, when asked what kind of service/retail would be most beneficial to the TL, the resounding answer was stores selling healthy, affordable food. It is clear that the proliferation of corner stores in the TL not only exacerbates issues surrounding poor nutrition and associated health problems. For some residents, it’s possible to take public transportation to the nearest supermarket; however, for a community in which many people are elderly and/or disabled it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to reach those same supermarkets.
During the community development meeting, a construction company presented on and answered questions about 1 of the 14 new proposed developments occurring in the Tenderloin area. This confirmed project would be a conversion of the existing parking lot on the 400 block of Eddy street into a residential unit. The new one story building would host 24 units on a 700 square ft plot land and include 9 stalls of parking. The limited parking spaces are an effort by the developer to appeal to residents with no cars and thereby increase public transportation usage. The building would be in accordance with San Francisco’s 12% inclusion ordinance, with low-income defined as a total income of ninety thousands dollars a year per unit of two individuals. Concerns brought up by the attendees of the meeting revolved around the impact the building would have on the outside community and the need for a community space. Comments were made how the building might interfere with sunlight entering residential units where the walls run parallel to the neighboring buildings; the representative responded to those concerns with assurance that a light well would be installed. The community members had a lot of logistical questions that the representative redirected to people he has been working including Claire, Lorenzo, and Dan. Lorenzo stressed that the community desperately needed a communal space for events and meetings, expressing frustration with the current state of existing communal spaces being limited and often times used for storage. Overall the meeting was pretty tense, but most community members left seeming to feel resigned but not angry.
Critical Analysis / Moving Forward
It was an extremely important step for us to visit and actually connect with community members and leaders in the neighborhood after the conceptual research work that we’ve been pouring our time into until this point. The community leaders were full of energy and offered us an abundance of information stemming from their personal backgrounds and lived experiences in this neighborhood both as residents and community activist leaders. Our notes from the meeting are still fairly messy since we just met this afternoon, but we will have them organized for our post next week.
One of the largest take-aways from these meetings, however, were identifying two specific areas of need within the community and thus potential recommendations for newly developed retail space: the need to address food justice issues and the need for more community space. Throughout our meeting with the community leaders, we kept coming back to the lack of a large grocery store and the plethora of liquor/candy stores in the area. Groceries at corner stores are significantly more expensive than groceries at larger grocery stores, but since many Tenderloin residents often have limited funds and disabilities, they can’t afford to travel to larger grocery stores and stock up. The space where the developer meeting was held is currently the only real “community space” and it was a particularly small, poorly-lit space that appeared mostly to be used for storage.
Next week we plan to attend the food justice coalition meeting with the TNDC and some of the community leaders we met with this Friday. We also got the phone numbers for Sherry, with the Tenderloin People’s Congress, and Steve, a food justice leader with the TNDC and will be following up with specific community needs around retail development.
In the meantime, we have reached out to our community partners Lorenzo and Ryan about survey data that will be of use to us in our continued research and analysis of the needs and opportunities around community-serving commercial businesses in the TL; when we first met with Lorenzo and Ryan, they encouraged us to focus mostly on pre-existing surveys and data because there have already been a myriad conducted and in these cases, not having to reinvent the wheel is of much benefit both to this project and to the community. Once we have this data, we will then also be better equipped to delve deeper into renewed first-hand research and overall analysis.
Update on Project Activities
We’ve set up a meeting with Tony for next Thursday morning from 9-10 at Kaffeehaus in San Mateo. We hope to have a Project Scope of Work draft by then to ensure that our project is useful to our community partner and to receive specific feedback of ways the community partner can support our project.
This weekend we plan to digitize the survey and turn it to a Google form. Next week, we will copy current survey data onto the google form, including translating Spanish surveys into English.
We are hoping to go into San Mateo the first week of February to begin surveying small businesses. By that time, we will have a shortened version of the survey that we can use for businesses that refused to do the old survey.
Throughout the process, we will also be conducting a literature study to identify other reports that have investigated small business displacement. We would like to find studies that have tracked small business displacement as part of overall gentrification as well as those that have looked into various solutions to prevent small business displacement.
What We Observed and Learned
Tony emailed us a 2005 case study on Silver Spring, MD titled Minimizing Small Business Displacement in a Revitalization Zone, conducted by the Urban Studies and Planning Program at the University of Maryland. The study identifies the issues facing small business owners brought on by the County’s redevelopment effort. Many were struggling to adjust to the negative externalities of the revitalization effort, such as the disruption caused by construction activity, losing market share to the new businesses, rapidly increasing rent, and insufficient exchange of information both among local businesses and between the businesses and the county government. Many of these issues are extremely pertinent to the situation currently unfolding in the B Street Corridor in downtown San Mateo. But rather than a county-funded revitalization effort like that of Silver Spring, San Mateo’s business displacement is being driven by the Bay Area’s transformation into an affluent region centered around the tech-industry. Many of the small, ethnic businesses in the B Street Corridor will either choose to relocate due to lack of clientele and lower profit margin, or be forced to leave because of failure to adjust to the new market. Nonetheless, the Silver Spring case study asserts that small ethnic businesses provide affordable goods and services unavailable at larger retailers, as well as aspects of diversity and stability to the local economy, proving that loss of these businesses is more than just a sentimental issue.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
The Silver Spring cast study cited poor exchange of information as a critical issue regarding small business displacement. Many owners didn’t take advantage of county assistance programs either because they were unaware or they believed that the programs were inaccessible to them. Others lamented about the excessive paperwork required by the programs, and claimed the process took too long to justify the work needed to see benefits. It is for this reason we are significantly shortening the length of the survey and converting it into an online Google Form. We also plan to meet face to face with owners to reaffirm the survey’s intent in tracking gentrification to minimize the negative impacts these small ethnic businesses are seeing.
Updates on Project Activities
Today we met with Jessica Manzi and Diana O’Dell from Redwood City Community Development Department and with Wendy Silvani from Palo Alto Transportation Management Association along with our community partner Adina Levin, executive director of Friends of Caltrain.
This meeting constitutes our get-to-know of the major stakeholders who will receive the final deliverables. After today’s meeting we are now able to brainstorm and propose actionable steps to improve both Redwood City and Palo Alto’s downtowns. The ultimate goal that both cities are aiming for in their partnership with our class is to reduce the usage of single occupancy vehicles (SOVs) to commute to and from work and promote more transit use. Obviously with the limited time we have, our involvement is to bring the cities closer to their goal, not to oversee complete shifts in transportation in a matter of two months. Additionally, we note that while the end goal is the same for both cities, Palo Alto is a year ahead than Redwood City in its progress. Palo Alto has already compiled data on commuters’ use of different transportation; Redwood City is more on a nascent stage and only has preliminary survey information. Part of our work is to inform Redwood City on what other data they would need to gather to get them to the next step.
What We Observed and Learned
Over the last week, we studied background information about the people and organizations we will be working with. Adina gave us a document from the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (TMA), which interprets the data from a survey of employees in downtown Palo Alto that was administered last May. The data addresses many variables—workplace size (number of employees), business type (e.g. tech versus restaurant), commute distance, commute mode, commute preferences, home zip code, etc. —and the report examines trends in how those variables affect commute mode and how they might influence an employee’s likelihood of changing from driving to an alternative mode. The Redwood City’s TMA is still in its very early stages, and thus had no data available online, but after our meeting today, Jessica Manzi has emailed us the results of a survey similar to the one administered in Palo Alto.
Redwood City is just beginning the process of developing a TMA, and according to Adina and Wendy, it is currently where Palo Alto was about a year and a half ago. This difference in stage of development means that we are essentially undertaking two separate, though related, projects dictated by what data each city already has and what data they still need. Redwood City is providing us with both summarized and raw data from their survey, which was modeled more or less on Palo Alto’s. Their survey reached fewer employees than Palo Alto’s, with just over 300 responses compared to 1173 response in Palo Alto. However, Redwood City’s downtown workforce is also a good deal smaller than Palo Alto’s, so by percentage, its reach was perhaps half as wide as the Palo Alto survey’s. Additionally, Redwood City focused its survey on city employees and just a few other businesses, whereas Palo Alto’s study aimed for a representative sample of all employees working in the downtown area. These differences will likely inform how we are able to interpret the data and what recommendations we make to Redwood City for further surveys.
Palo Alto, being much further along in establishing their TMA, is not looking for data work so much as the development of a program they could roll out once the TMA is up and running. They are providing us only with summarized data (e.g. the report we read this week), not raw data. One of Palo Alto’s biggest problems with shifting commute mode is the accessibility of discounted fares, and this issue is central to our project. The Go-Pass, Caltrain’s discounted yearly bulk pass, is an inefficient way for businesses to subsidize their employees’ rides because businesses must purchase a pass for every one of their employees, even if they know a subset will not use them. There is also a high minimum purchase, blocking businesses with fewer than 84 employees from taking advantage of the program. The alternative, a monthly pass, is almost as expensive as the yearly Go-Pass, and thus is unaffordable for most small businesses. The Palo Alto TMA is hoping to develop its own subsidy program that would use Clipper Cards instead of Go-Passes. Clipper Cards can be used on a variety of transit types (“all major Bay Area transit systems” according to their website) and can be used to purchase individual fares or passes. The TMA envisions a system that would provide employees of small businesses with a Clipper Card on a monthly basis, for a six-month trial period. After the trial, the employee and his or her employer would ideally recognize the benefits of using an alternative commute mode, and the employer would be willing to subsidize the Clipper from that point on.
Critical Analysis / Moving Forward
Now that we’ve met with Jessica, Wendy, and Diana, we have a better understanding of the roles in this partnership. Jessica, Wendy, and Diana have the greatest specialization of knowledge and fairly clear visions of what they want as the outcome of this project. Adina, having worked with both Redwood City and Palo Alto, has a greater breadth of knowledge though not the depth of the city employees, and she is acting as a liaison to help us navigate the city processes and find links between the two TMA projects. And we, of course, have the least knowledge at all—but will need to very quickly orient ourselves with the data they’ve now given us, so we can get into the field and make their visions into reality.
Curious about mapping and visualizing cities? Great! This week, we visited the Stanford Geospatial Lab to discuss ways that we can integrate mapping and data visualization into our final projects. David and Stace offered a brief introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and a tutorial of two mapping tools: CartoDB and SimplyMap. For those of you who are interested in developing your expertise further, you are invited to sign up for the 3-hour Introduction to GIS workshop offered regularly throughout the quarter.