Update on Project Activities
Over the last 2 weeks we made the last changes to our survey as discussed at the meeting we had before our last reflection. The survey is live and being put out to Mountain View’s various communities through social media channels and other resources at the city’s disposal. We’ve also translated the survey to Spanish to broaden the access and reach of our survey. During week 4, Romeo and Kendall went to a meeting that the Spanish Speaking Ambassadors had at City Hall. There they presented a truncated version of the midterm presentation in order to recruit some of the attendees for a focus group. Based on some speculation from city officials, the community that the Spanish Speaking Ambassadors reaches is likely one of the communities that will not be reached by the city’s online presence as well as one that will be well connected to the parts of Mountain View affected by the digital divide. The presentation went well and there was a lot of interest in the goals of the project as well as being part of the focus group.
What We Observed and Learned
One promising and motivating observation was seen at the Spanish Speaking Ambassadors meeting. Since we’re working with Mountain View rather than a community organization, one detail we’ve been trying to hone in on is how to grant the community control and participation in our project, which is inherently pretty high level. The members of the community meeting were all very interested in how to work with the city on fixing the digital divide. We hope that the results of our work won’t just stay in the city; in order to work towards a goal of putting the results in the hands of people who can benefit from them we have to establish those connections now. Part of our survey includes questions about the resources that Mountain View has to offer (i.e. city libraries, teen centers, senior centers, etc) that can help close the digital divide. However it’s very important to understand how the services that the city provides do or don’t reach certain communities. We hope that our focus groups will help shed some light on those issues and establish deeper partnerships between the city and the people that the city should exist to serve when it comes to the digital divide.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
As stated earlier, we are trying to be very mindful of how to cement community control in this project. Using Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation, it’s easy to view the digital literacy programs that exist in Mountain View as relatively low on this ladder. Fortunately there are very concrete steps to move the programs up the ladder through existing infrastructure. The Spanish Speaking Ambassadors are already in contact with the city and offering services such as information that can serve undocumented members of the community, tax information, etc to people who attend the meetings. We expect that one of the main policy recommendations that we will propose to the city is increasing access to the digital literacy services and programs that already exist through the community centers. Putting the distribution of those services high on the ladder of citizen participation, in this case, solves two problems at once. If we include the community as much as we can in the city’s attempts to reach those who need the classes the most, we can both figure out what would be the most useful information to get to the community and figure out how to actually bring them in. Too often we see that there is a missing link between laws, regulations, or policies and the people they’re supposed to benefit. The city of Mountain View can create as many digital literacy classes as they want, but if nobody is attending them - because they aren’t in Spanish, for example - there might as well be no classes. Moving forward we hope to set up a focus group that can help us develop policy that will make a meaningful difference. We will also start to look at results as they come in and either fine tune our survey or begin to make that next step of analysis based on what we have so far.
Update on Project Activities
This week our team moved forward to the survey process of our project. Katie worked on creating a design for the paper versions of the survey and Michelle created an online Google form document. Justin translated the survey into Spanish. Both paper and virtual surveys have both English and Spanish translations. The six of us have split off into pairs to maximize our team’s ability to reach out to different groups of people in Downtown Menlo Park.
The last few weeks have been focused on refining the language and content of the survey to make it understandable by a wide audience, while also generating usable data. The paper design of surveys was sent to community partners and the team for review, both for input on design and language. We had our canvassing training with Leora from HLCSM on Monday afternoon, and we were able to get tips, ask questions, and do role play to get us into the mindset.
There were three survey shifts this week. Michelle, Shikha, Sarah, and Yesenia stayed mostly on Santa Cruz Avenue and El Camino and surveyed small businesses. Shikha and Michelle focused on businesses along the El Camino and Santa Cruz. Cross Section. They surveyed from 10:30 am to a little after noon on different days. Sarah and Yesenia surveyed Thursday 12:30-2pm right around the tail end of lunch rush hour.
Justin and Katie originally planned to do a late night survey around 9 pm on Thursday to reach out to workers who work in a restaurant. However, Katie’s car battery was dead and they were unable to conduct that shift. They are making plans for doing a late night shift next week, in order to catch workers during off hours. This morning, Justin and Katie went to Trader Joe’s. They found that this was a good time to go for grocery stores since there weren’t too many people shopping and many of the workers were doing inventory and stocking, which is much easier to take a few minutes for the survey, as opposed to the workers at checkout.
We also had a debrief meeting this Friday to discuss our survey experiences with our community partners. Leora and Adina from Friends of Caltrain were present in person, and Chris phoned in.
What We Observed and Learned
Before beginning our canvassing, our biggest challenge was preparing the survey. We found it difficult to cut questions to shorten the survey and had to test the language of our survey with friends and service workers on campus to ensure it was clear. Each member of the group tested the survey with at least one person on campus and found no major difficulties. We then moved the survey to a digital format on Google Forms. We ran into technical difficulties with the iPad, especially with viewing permissions and getting internet connection on the go. We learned that a good solution was to create an easy to remember bit.ly link and tether from our phones while surveying.
We also learned about canvassing through a training on Monday with Leora, one of our community partners. We watched training videos and prepared introduction speeches. One of our biggest learnings were:
* Dress in friendly, approachable clothing. Don’t be too professional, don’t carry a clipboard. Smile and make eye contact.
* Don’t open with your name and introduction. Instead, go straight to the point with the ask. Leora emphasized that we should say that we are Stanford students (not researchers) to make people more willing to help us.
* When introducing the project, offer the iPad to the person. Once they take the iPad in their hands, there’s a high chance they will take the survey.
Leora was a huge help in making us feel more comfortable and prepared to canvas. Afterward, we each chose areas and days to survey in pairs and set out. Below, we will discuss learnings from each survey shift.
Michelle and Shikha: This pair surveyed small businesses on El Camino Real including McDonald's, Mattress Firm, a hair salon, and a bookstore. Like other groups, we found that most employees were quite willing to talk. However, employees tended to defer to their managers for permission first. Restaurants were difficult because they had constant streams of customers, even around 11 am, when we went. We had more success with smaller businesses, who had 1-2 employees and were willing to have long conversations. There also seemed to be a wait time often to talk to managers or catch the employees at a good time, so we only surveyed around 5-6 people in a 1.5 hour period of time. Each survey takes closer to 3-4 minutes, but it can be close to a 10-minute process for us to engage them, make conversation, have them take the survey, and move to the next business. Our findings showed that 3-4 of our respondents came from Redwood City, whose prices are much more affordable than Menlo Park.
We got a few star interviewees who could be great to capture stories from. One was the owner of Feldman’s Bookstore, who has lived in the Bay Area his whole life. He has owned his bookstore since 1996 and has seen online bookstores cut into his margins. He feels lucky to have inherited a home from his parents, but wouldn’t be able to live downtown if not. He had a lot of great insight on how the Bay Area has changed and why people aren’t able to use public transit reliably.
Another was a manager of Mattress Firm, who has lived in the Bay Area for about 10 years. He had a lot to say about transportation. He doesn’t trust public transit because it’s unreliable and there are few first mile/last mile connections from his home in San Jose. So he drives his car 45 minutes each way.
We also heard from multiple businesses about land use issues - how small businesses don’t always have a say in their landlords’ decisions about what to do about building renovations. For example, renters of business spaces receive no compensation if the city buys the building from the landlord to tear it down.
Yesenia and Sarah: This pair surveyed small business and a fast food chain, on Santa Cruz Ave between University Dr and El Camino Real between 1-2 pm. We found workers very open to having a conversation, especially since it was after the lunch hour rush. This could also be because it was a Thursday, and most businesses do not have a large amount of flux on weekday afternoons. While there weren’t that many customers in the stores, some workers/owners preferred to fill out the survey later rather than on the spot. We will explore other options of getting them to fill them on the spot, either by changing our canvassing pitch or offering the iPad for them to fill out the survey right away, so to avoid having to return to businesses to pick up surveys.
We learned a lot through experiencing first hand canvassing in Menlo Park. Again, we found that many people are willing to talk, which really helps our project and what we are trying to achieve as we wish to collect testimonials. By introducing ourselves as Stanford students, it seemed that business owners and workers were more open to talking and had a positive attitude about our work. Stanford has a reputation for being a prestigious institution so using this affiliation may have been one of the reasons that made people confide in our intellectual abilities, respect us, and wish to know how they could get involved. By the end of our shift, we had given 13 surveys, partially filled out in person, and partially to be picked up this weekend.
One of the people we spoke to wanted to know what the data was being used for, and after we explained that part of the project is writing a small brief for Menlo Park City Council, they launched into other ideas for ways they want Menlo Park to change for their individual services. Since that is not a part of our group’s breadth in our survey, it was sometimes difficult to find the language to tell them that we were not a direct line to City Council and that their proposals were not a part of our survey goals. For instance, one woman who has lived in Menlo Park for 40 years wanted us to talk to City Council about allocating the center of the parking lot for cars with permits. She became very passionate and entered into a tangent, to which we could only tell her that her voice matters and that we will include her sentiments in our deliverables, but that this probably isn’t going to be the focus of our appeals. Another observation was that non-commuters were more reluctant to fill out survey; one woman said “I’m not the voice you wanna hear from”. We feel like it is important to get data from all of the workers so as to not have bias data, so we told them, “your input still would really help our research”.
Katie and Justin: This pair went to Trader Joe's in Menlo Park and got a total of 13 responses for an hour of recording. Justin also talked to someone who was interested in participating further and providing a story for us to record and share.
* When surveying grocery stores, we found that it was difficult to find a time to survey people who were working checkout. A nice thing to do is to offer to help bag while they filled out the survey.
* iPad worked great. We liked that people could fill out the survey on the spot.
* One particularly vocal worker, who we plan to contact again for a testimony, described city council about not treating low income workers “as human beings,” and only caring
about the rich who can cash the checks. He is 44 years-old living with his parents in East Palo Alto, who have had the house for 30 years. He says the only way that people are
able to live in the area is if they have 14 roommates. He does not have children, and
does not know how people can raise children in this area.
* I gave a survey to one of the employees. In describing what it was, a customer came up
to me and asked to be part of the survey. She was very upset by how bad traffic was, and said that she generally does not even bother coming into Menlo Park because of the traffic.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Yesenia & Sarah: We went out Thursday afternoon from around 12:30-2pm. Unfortunately we
hadn’t expected to have technological issues going into the canvassing, and had to rely on our paper copies of the questionnaire. That being said, we were able to get 12 surveys filled out, and we will be picking up some of them in the coming days. Looking forward, we are going to make sure that we have the google survey at hand on the iPad before we go into Menlo Park, but also keep the paper copies at hand for the people who want to fill them out after their business day is over. We learned that by making personal connections and presenting ourselves as Stanford students who were conducting an anonymous survey, most people found us very approachable and were willing to have long conversations with us. Our goal in the coming weeks of canvassing is to make sure that we continue our progress in talking to workers and business owners and hearing their opinions through using the iPads and paper copies of the survey as well as the spoken word. Due to technical difficulties and limited time, we did not try to get voice recordings from the people we interviewed. In the future, this will be a much bigger focus for the both of us. We expect to have much more streamlined survey outings in the coming weeks, as we will have the collective knowledge of our group members as well as our own experiences to go off of.
Michelle & Shikha: Using an iPad definitely makes people more willing to fill the survey on the spot, so using two in a more crowded location should elicit quick responses. We need to be careful and make sure we are connected to wifi or a hotspot at all times, as we almost a lost a survey response when we were disconnected. In our experience, people did not find any questions difficult, and many would keep the conversation about their experiences, so we’d love to find a way to continue the momentum of their thoughts without stopping to clarify or take care of administrative waivers on our end. Our goal this week is to diversify our shift time and allow ourselves a longer period if possible/schedule permits. With our new documentation strategy, we can pick up on more of the comments people make. We’ve learnt so much more about the reality of transportation in these few conversations, and we are looking forward to understanding more in the coming weeks. One positive note is also how positively people are looking at our survey - many have thoughts and believe in the cause. Even if they aren’t interested in further advocacy or including their contact information, there’s a clear need, making our research relevant.
As a group, we met with the community partners on Friday to update them on our work and findings. They gave us a few suggestions for improving canvassing:
* Ask business owners if they have recruiting issues due to housing or transportation costs. This won’t be part of the survey but would be great stories to capture.
* To improve story capturing, have one person in the pair take notes on quotes while people talk, while the other holds the conversation.
* Bring waivers on spot and take photos of people who tell stories to avoid having to go back.
* Look into different times like after dinner rush at restaurants starting around eight or nine.
* Add a question of what time you usually leave for work to the survey (might indicate certain times of congestion/incentivize people to use certain forms of transport).
* If people discuss issues outside of our scope, listen but indicate our inability to aid that situation in order to not promise or intend something that won’t happen
Justin and Katie: Perhaps the most striking commonlity from all our surveys is how much people dislike traffic. As soon as we would mention traffic, the workers would immediately go off and want to tell us everything. Even though many of the people in this location did not have terrible commute times (as they were mostly minimum wage workers, who tend to live nearby their jobs), commuting is a very stressful task that affects a large swath of the Bay Area population.
After our first session, we have a few improvements to faciliate the quality of the information and our effciency. First, we want to come back at the end the Trader Joe’s shift around 10pm. This would also be a less hectic time and would allow us to survey a different group of people. This venue is great because the manager was welcoming, there are low income workers, there are many employees in a single location (reducing travel time), and workers have a fair degree of flexibility: besides the checkers, workers were able to take a few minutes off to answer a few questions.
In light of the opinions we received, we want a better mechanism to capture personal testimonies. Often times people make small comments. We want to write quotes down as they say them. The only difficulty in this is that by writing things down, it prevents us from connecting with the peopole as effectively (it makes us appear to be studying them, which can could be counterproductive). To be able to capture more of the data, we need to have photo release forms on hand so that we do not have to go back for footage.
Update on Project Activities
Today we had a phone call with Danny and Michelle from The Tech Museum to discuss our progress. Our discussion primarily focused on the struggles and successes we have faced over the past couple of weeks in engaging with various organizations. We have not received many responses from organizations, and while some do reply, they are usually only for a quick phone chat or referral to another person. Some of these phone calls have been fruitful, however, and have pointed us to organizations and events from which we can collect stories more easily. We’ve had successful conversations with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Acterra, Sierra Club, and a couple more. Additionally, we talked about the possibilities of uploading the audio files we collect onto a website and giving free museum tickets to members of organizations and communities that we interview. The website would include the whole length of the stories we collect in order to provide more information to interested individuals as well as increase accessibility. We would give free tickets to individuals as thanks for sharing their stories with us. While Danny and Michelle are encouraging of these ideas, they told us they'd have to talk over these ideas with other Tech Museum staff first. After bringing up the challenges we had encountered since our last meeting, Danny suggested we involve he and Michelle in our communication more. With more transparency, they can help us overcome struggles and accomplish our project tasks more efficiently. They have a lot of experience and connections that can guide us, especially through the process of finding potential stories and improving accessibility.
What We Observed and Learned
In reaching out to organizations over the past week and a half, we have learned that cold-emailing can be tricky - it’s hard to get a response, and sometimes we get caught in a delaying process of referrals, in which one contact will refer us to another who will refer us to another. Developing contacts sheets is a labor intensive and time consuming process, and through our conversation with Danny and Michelle this week, we found ways to improve our process.
Our phone call with Danny and Michelle was very productive and informative, giving us clear steps for going forwards. Upon talking, we realized that Danny and Michelle were not up to date on our activities. Initially the relationship we developed with The Tech was more business and client-like - we were conducting our groups communication in independent channels and only occasionally filling them in on our activities when we felt like we had met larger tangible goals. We now realize that Danny and Michelle felt like they were being more or less kept in the dark. For example, we have reached out to some organizations without knowing that The Tech already has contacts and existing relationships with these organizations. Going forward, we would like to approach our partnership in a more collaborative and egalitarian way. Danny and Michelle are not our bosses, but our team members. We can bounce ideas off of them, approach them for possible contacts in organizations we’re looking into contacting, and express our concerns to them as they arise, to address issues in a prompt and productive manner. To fulfill this goal, we will now be conducting all our official communications in a Groupme with Danny and combine our working doc with the Tech’s working doc, so that the process of contacting and interviewing community members is transparent and collaborative on all sides. We will also be sharing our email template with The Tech to get feedback and advice on reaching out to organizations and community members.
In our phone conversation, we also brought up our desire to get these stories online, in order to increase accessibility and affordability of The Tech’s content. Both Danny and Michelle were on board with this idea, but explained that it might be difficult to get a website up and running by the opening date. For The Tech, an online page is an eventual goal, but they do not currently have this budgeted into the 2020 release. They hope that by year 2 or 3 of the exhibit, they will have the funds to create a proper interactive online exhibit. However, this does not mean that our group can not release the stories we collect online on our own website. Danny and Michelle both would like to help us do this, but first there are some legal hoops to jump through. First, we must check in with The Tech’s marketing team and see if having The Tech’s brand attached to our website is acceptable. Next, we must figure out under what license we would publish the content. Danny had the idea to use a creative commons license, which would make our content available for non-commercial reuse with attribution. This is a great way to make the work we produce more accessible and productive - it’s part of a larger movement and conversation, and giving other individuals and organizations access is one step towards a more equitable project.
We also brought up the idea of offering the communities we work with free or subsidized tickets to The Tech. This would increase access to the exhibit, make our project more equitable, and foster deeper community connections with The Tech. Danny and Michelle were enthusiastic about this proposition, but need to check in with the development department at The Tech to make sure it is possible. We agreed that physical paper tickets would be preferable to putting people’s names in will call, as physical tickets motivate people to visit The Tech and likely make them more comfortable than approaching will call.
Critical Analysis / Moving Forward
While our emailing has not been received as well as we would have liked, we have managed to make a couple of connections that we hope to follow up on and interview. In this vein, we have been thinking about the Empathy Field Guide that we read in class last week - we will be going into people’s spaces to interview them, and we will be asking them about their work, and want to do so in an intentional and respectful way.
The field guide reading has some really helpful interview tips, which we will be drawing upon heavily. Some tips, like leaving silences and not suggesting answers to our questions, are critical to allowing our interviewees to be in control of the narrative. We want to amplify their voices, not impose our own.
Moving forwards we will also be more intentional about looping in Danny and Michelle to our progress, and what we are doing when we are doing it. Hopefully this way our partnership will be more reciprocal, and they can provide us with help and advice when we get stuck. This is particularly important now as time goes on and we have to start utilising their connections and resources in order to create our material, since we are slightly behind schedule with the number of people we have scheduled to interview.
They will also be useful in giving us feedback about our process, and our wording in our emails, which will perhaps help improve our response rate. Some feedback they provided to us was calling organisations on the phone instead of emailing, so they cannot ignore us. The process of calling can be a scary one, especially to those of us who haven’t had experience making these calls before, but Danny, Michelle, and Cameron have all had success with this in the past, so in the future we will be trying to call instead of emailing so we can have that immediate connection. Danny and Michelle will also be providing us with feedback on our first audio edit, the interview with Anja at the Tech Museum. We will be able to use this feedback as a guide for the following interviews.
Tomorrow there is an East Palo Alto Revitalisation Event, where many different non profits and community leaders are going to be planting trees, cleaning sidewalks, performing solar energy installations, and making repairs in homes, which we will go to. There, we hope to be able to talk to different organisations about the project, and if they are interested, set up an interview slot. Depending on the length and intensity of their stories, we might even be able to record some interviews on site tomorrow. However, we mostly want to build rapport at the event tomorrow, and build connections with people who may be able to provide us with stories. Since it is a big community event, there will be lots of people from different communities and different focuses, so we hope to be able to meet people who want to talk about a breadth of subjects in regards to climate change adaptation.
We also have a couple of leads outside that - one from a beekeeper who wants to share the story of how climate change is affecting bees, and a couple of people at Jasper Ridge who are working on the Climate Change Impact project that has been going on for many years there. We hope to get these interviews together within the next week. There are also more contacts that we hope to get in touch with, including Dr Sally Benson of Stanford’s Sustainability Energy Institute, and the farmers who work at the Tressider farmers market on Tuesdays.
In regards to the online exhibition, we would like to be able to factor creating a website and uploading our audio and images onto it into our timeline, as we do not think it will require too much on our end, however we need to wait for permission from the marketing team before we can make any progress on that.
Update on Project Activities
This week was mainly devoted to delving into our small group projects. We each gathered data from the census and other reliable sources and began some analytical work. We plan to bring a summary of each of our sub-projects to Sunday’s video conference with the Hartnell team and our other community partners so we can better see how each project is fitting together/overlapping and work through issues as a group. For clarity, we plan to give a brief summary of each sub-project in these weekly reflections:
* Segregation: Hannah compiled data tables and shapefiles from the 1980-2010 censuses through SimplyAnalytics, which has proven to be a really useful tool for quick, customizable visualizations. She found that race/ethnicity data is actually available at the block group level as well as the tract level, so she plans to use the block group data to get a more granular picture of residential distributions in Salinas. Next, she joined these data tables and shapefiles in ArcGIS and began segregation index calculations by generating deviational ellipses for each racial/ethnic group in each year.
* Transportation: TBA
* Crime: Jasmin and Jose started combing through crime statistics from 1993-2013 that were gathered from an online resource. We prepared questions and sent emails to both the police chief and east side commander to try to set up meetings with them about collecting more qualitative and quantitative police department data.
* Public Health: TBA
What We Observed and Learned
Getting into the nitty-gritty details of data analysis led some of us to reconsider even the variables and categorizations we chose. For instance, the segregation sub-project divides the Salinas population into white non-Latinos, Latinos, Asian Americans, and African Americans. Those categorizations initially seemed perfectly logical, but they failed to account for mixed race people and Latinos of Asian and African descent. Based on preliminary research into the demographics of Salinas, it seems like these mixed populations have historically been very small, but it is still troubling (especially to the mixed-race sub-project lead) that these groups are often re-categorized or left out of demographic analyses.
As we take a detailed look at our data, we are also finding new opportunities. One group member attended a geocoding workshop with Stace Maples and found that it may be possible to build an address locator for the 1930 census enumerator logs. Also, one of our colleagues at Hartnell, Jose, found detailed monthly crime statistics from the Salinas Police Department that we can use to create infographics. We have realized that there are many useful tools and data sources hidden amidst more conventional resources, and we will keep our eyes open for more of these great finds as we continue our research.
As we become more deeply involved in our respective sub-projects, it will become easy to succumb to a sort of tunnel vision. Although our topics are linked together by policy, history, and (of course) place, they each have their own specialized terminology, documentation, and data sources. Therefore, regular cross-group communication is essential now more than ever. Despite understanding this, we are still struggling to meet and communicate in a timely manner. We did not meet in-person at all this week, and it seems that illness, class/work schedules, and misunderstandings led us to cancel two planned meetings.
To get back on track, we would like to meet on Sunday morning, before the video conference, and discuss communication norms, goals, and work schedules. Hopefully, this discussion will get all of us back on the same page and help us move forward with minimal stress so we can create the best deliverables possible.
To that end, we are also getting a better idea of how our deliverables will look. Many of the steps in our analysis process are interesting, but they may not be the most illustrative or accessible parts of the project to display. We need to turn deviational ellipses, monthly crime reports, and acronym-riddled transportation plans into understandable, cohesive visuals. On the cartographic front, it will be important to limit both the number of maps and map layers so viewers are not overwhelmed by data. Bringing in written summaries and graphs through Esri StoryMaps or Carto could be an effective way to guide viewers through our analyses while still allowing them opportunities to explore based on their own interests. We want our deliverables to provoke curiosity and help people see their hometown in a new way.
Update on Project Activities
Since we did not have a reflection due last week, the following update will touch upon the last 2 weeks. Last Monday, 10/15, we met as a group to work on our midterm presentation and the Project Scope of Work (which we continued to tweak throughout the week before submitting it to AEMP). We also started to think more deeply about the oral history component of the project, and who we would like to interview. We wanted more clarification about the purpose of our interview, and how we could ensure that the interview would be mutually beneficial for both us (AEMP) and the interviewee(s). We were initially concerned for ethical reasons that, without a guaranteed publication/dissemination plan for the interview content, we might cause the interviewee harm (by bringing up emotional topics) without creating any tangible “good” for that person. However, we emailed back and forth with Adrienne and Magie, who clarified the AEMP model for interviewing and its purpose as a tool of empowerment for the interviewee. We decided it makes sense to approach the interview in a more open-ended way, and to allow the interviewee(s) to choose how the interview might be shared more publicly, or at all. On that note, we have scheduled an Ethical Research Training with Magie and Adrienne for November 8th to begin to help us learn the skills necessary for an effective and compassionate interview.
On Wednesday, 10/17, the day of the midterm presentation, we had a Zoom call with Erin and Mary to discuss the successful grant narratives we had read and to create a plan for drafting the NEH grant. This conference call was very useful for us to catch up and get back on the same page after not having spoken for a few days. On Wednesday, 10/24, we divided up the requirements for the “narrative” component of the NEH grant application amongst ourselves so that we can find language in AEMP’s past grant applications that could be used directly or adapted for the NEH application. We intend to have this language pulled by Monday, 10/29, and to check in with one another then to discuss what we found and what language we still need to write. We will then follow-up with Erin and Mary during a Zoom call on Wednesday, 10/31.
We have also been having individual meetings with each of the chapter editors to discuss what feedback would be most useful for them. Erin met with Spencer and Tony to discuss the Evictions and Speculation chapters on Tuesday 10/23, Elise met with Deland to discuss Transportation/Infrastructure on Wednesday, 10/24, and Lexi and Christian met with Mary to discuss Migration/Relocation on Friday, 10/26. Lexi and Tony will meet with Magie about the Indigenous Geographies chapter on Thursday, 11/1, and Christian and Elise will meet with Adrienne to discuss the Public Health chapter on Saturday, 10/27. These chapters are all in various stages of production, but we will all be producing a 1-2 page memo with feedback about that chapter within two weeks of our initial meetings with the editors. Because we will all have different focus areas when editing, it will be an exciting chance to think about language in several different ways (i.e. some of us will look at “big picture” thematic elements, while others will look at vocabulary and word choice, while others will look at the relationship between the text and images).
What We Observed and Learned
These past two weeks, we learned a great deal by looking at the past successful NEH grant narratives. These will inform our approach and our work on this component of the project, and help us craft a compelling grant narrative for AEMP, as well as inform our future grant-writing efforts more broadly. This grant specifically will be used to offset publication costs, which will keep the atlas cheap so communities can afford it. This is critical, as the t mission of AEMP is to amplify the voices of low-income communities and support their objections to gentrification with credible research.
We are also learning that we play a valuable role in consolidating, interpreting, and drawing connections across the atlas, and helping to clarify details like timelines, methodologies, and vocabulary words. We bring a fresh, critically-constructive set of eyes to material, and we frequently find ourselves asking how we can make the Atlas’s content as accessible as possible. These are valuable for the NEH narrative as well as for the broader collective itself in thinking about how their work can be the most effective. We are also learning to help clarify the collective’s expectations for our experience. For instance, we requested an updated budget break-down this week and provided an example AEMP had used for other grant narratives; the feedback we received is that the process of creating the budget break-down would be helpful for AEMP, and that upon consideration Erin and Mary were more in a place to know what kind of line items were needed than we were.
One thing we saw very clearly in the grant narratives is that it is important to provide exigence for the project. Many of the grant narratives seem to be geared toward projects with a sense of urgency. Why is it important, and why now? We’ve had to think about the significance of the project among other crucially-important topics that our funding might compete with, and consider how this project might implicate other broader issues in the Bay Area and nationwide. This has caused us to think critically, thoroughly, and creatively about how to situate the work and impact of AEMP in the SF Bay Area in light of the housing crisis and transit struggles. This work is even more salient in the age of tech booms, with complex and sometimes paradoxical politics of technology companies. On face, these companies stand for free equitable access to information, convenience, and quality of life, while at the same time buying up affordable homes of long-time residents to build housing and workspace for high-paid employees and driving an increase in property values. They thereby contributing to displacement and inequity in their own backyards which they claim to support and advocate for.
One of the strengths we believe is important to mention is how bottom-up the project is. Fields of infrastructure and planning (as well as maps in general) often run the risk of being a top-down approach both literally and figuratively, with crisp, idealized images that lack the complexity of lived human experience. The anti-eviction mapping project is an active effort to reclaim the genre and the practice to not only incorporate, but to represent the erased experiences of Bay Area residents. It is a powerful part of the narrative that the map not only depicts the end result of evictions: gentrified neighborhoods, but also the experiences of health, acts of resistance, and intersecting testimonies of residents. This helps put the area on an upward path on the citizen participation ladder -- the testimonies in the atlas frame knowledge as coming from the citizens, with verified data as support. Knowledge belonging to citizens is the first step in facilitating at least a consultation model, if not partnership or even citizen control, with regard to housing and displacement in the Bay Area. This project uplifts that knowledge through community storytelling and map-making -- two critically underutilized tools -- and empower others.
We are also understanding that because diversity and social cohesion are part of social sustainability, multiple perspectives are required to understand and address these issues. These collaborations may be broad and intersect policy, economics, business strategies, urban planning, community organizing, education, public health, and human rights. It must integrate a vary of perspectives, methodologies, backgrounds, and areas of expertise, and collaboration requires empathy, trust, and understanding. We’ve already begun to see the benefits of this process In terms of writing the grant narrative. Its collaborators come from diverse fields and backgrounds, and are organized in a horizontal structure, meaning that everyone contributes a unique and crucial component to the project.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
A major thought on our minds as we continue to work to provide finalized chapter feedback and prepare the NEH grant is the relationship of the Atlas project to the current sustainability discourse in the Bay Area. As we saw in “Plan Bay Area” published in 2013, most people emphasize environmental sustainability first before thinking about people. For example, Plan Bay Area listed and prioritized Climate protection as their first goal while discussion of addressing the housing crisis seemed to be secondary considerations. Similarly Section 15382 of CEQA, clarifies that it does not even consider a social or economic change in itself significant enough to necessitate an Environmental Impact Report. These documents provide clear examples of how often environmentalists place conservation of ecosystems and natural systems over socioeconomic disparities and needs of disadvantaged communities when thinking about sustainability.
On that note, we believe that the publication of the Atlas should help reassert the presence and the importance of cultural continuity. Many of the chapters we’ve been reading comment extensively on the how strong culture, history and way of life of communities have been threatened by displacement and how communities have resisted this disruption of neighborhood culture. Cultural continuity is one of the four pillars of sustainability we’ve defined in our class, and documenting gentrification and evictions are a testament to how allowing people to stay in their homes and stay in their communities. Speculators buying up properties and reselling them to the recent wave of tech workers, threaten and undermine cultural continuity and contribute to values/priorities that are born out of colonial, capitalist histories. Preserving uniquenesses and identities is critical to sustaining healthy communities, relationships, moving toward equity of people and communities and identities.
But there are complex dimensions to this idea of cultural continuity. Why for example should ethnic enclaves like Chinatown, with origins to an era of intense anti-Chinese sentiment be preserved? Chinatown was formed because Chinese workers were not sold property anywhere else in the city and many buildings were men’s dormitories for an ageing male population due to the Chinese Exclusion Act. However, the beautiful culture, the unique shops and local businesses, and strong Chinese-American community that emerged over time provide strong reasons for how gentrification and change with community input should be opposed. Similarly, Oakland, with its history strongly tied to the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, was the site of state-sponsored violence against black community leaders. Yet, for decades before and during this era of violence against the black community, the city developed strong resources for art, education, community programs and more. Currently the black population has been decreasing due to gentrification. The history of both these neighborhood examples have taught us the importance of cultural context and history in discussions of evictions, displacement and neighborhood change. In chapter-editing and looking over maps, we’ve found instances of similar displacement over time, and been able to see patterns form throughout history. We’ve begun to consider the similarities between racial redlining policies in 1930’s Oakland and the racialized impacts of technology like AirBnB. This has given us a critical eye when thinking about the future, as we are careful to think about our projects amongst the broader historical context of urban planning and of grassroots organizing.
Additionally, many of the chapters also highlight how social sustainability is also under threat due to the housing crisis. The tech industry accumulates wealth and capital which perpetuates income inequalities and gaps in resource provision. People are forced to live far away from their works and are subject to long commutes, expensive housing, and often the worst environmental conditions. This in turn reduces quality of life, with people in poverty bearing the physical and mental health consequences of a sedentary lifestyle associated with long commutes.
Though reading through the wealth of historical accounts of neighborhood character, modern examples of resistance, data-rich maps and oral histories contained in the Atlas Chapters has been informative, our group has battled with a question about our experiences of these issues. Though we all live in the Bay Area and some of us have spent time in San Francisco and Oakland, we still are largely developing thoughts and opinions about the crisis through the recorded experiences of others in the Atlas. We all feel quite strongly about housing as a human right and not something that should be stripped from people, but we feel that there is a missing lived experience aspect of the project. Though it is easy to oppose the actions of speculators and real estate developers catering to tech-industry elites at the cost of the livelihoods of people of color, I think we would have a different perspective on these issues if it was our own door with an eviction notice taped on the front.
We’re particularly excited to work more on the public health chapter, which we expect to be informative on the disparate classed and racialized impacts of housing, gentrification, and environmental damage. It will provide an entirely new area of inquiry for the project, as it examines an issue with national significance, from Flint, Michigan to Oakland and Los Angeles, and is an exciting and important new lens to view to project with.
Another experience that will inform our approach to our future contribution to the Atlas is the town hall role-play that we did in class on Wednesday. In the activity, the success of the Department of Transportation relied on their ability to placate and address the needs of different stakeholders while convincing everyone of the common goal: a less congested, safer, more enjoyable, people-friendly road good for cyclists, shopkeepers, and drivers. However, what quickly became evident is that different stakeholders wanted different things and had contrasting goals, which made achieving this vision difficult. Similarly, the Atlas incorporates many different perspectives; the perspectives of planners, community members, evictees, activists, youth, retirees and more. The atlas incorporates these strengths and allows different people’s stories to interact. The Atlas helps people to speak for themselves, without a central narrator speaking for them. The stories are united by a common aspiration for more affordable housing, better transportation and a better quality of life, but the chapters sometimes address very different content. However, this means, it may be a challenge to unite the chapters, thread common themes throughout the Atlas and tell a cohesive narrative with so many different aspects. The goal is to respect individual perspectives and stories, preserving the voices and independence while also linking them and moving toward a broader narrative that is applicable beyond itself.