Update on Project Activities
Last week, we completed our Scope of Work and set our timeline and goals for the rest of the quarter.
As Week 5 comes to a close, we are continuing to evaluate our progress and assessing the feasibility of the work we set out for ourselves. We have observed ourselves, for example, spending more time creating a workflow to analyze transit data for all transit systems rather than working specifically with SamTrans, VTA, or MUNI data. We are realizing that a presentable final product is only partially the methodology, and that to remain on schedule for producing results, we will have to spend more time in the next few weeks than planned. However, we have developed a solid intuition of how to actually apply techniques like “isochrone analysis” (service area) to our transit and bike datasets using the tools we have access to. We will focus in the coming weeks on leveraging these new skills to multiply the number of our conclusions we have made thus far.
After receiving comments from Deland, Adina, and Ian on the Scope of Work, we have spent some time discussing how to implement the feedback. Specifically, we need to think more deliberately about our Project Definition and Seeing the Big Picture sections. Deland raised many important questions that are challenging us to think critically about the choices we are making in our project, which will guide us in our further analysis and what data we choose to include in our mapping analysis.
On Monday we spoke with Adina and Ian about our progress and next steps. They were pleased with our Scope of Work and timeline for the rest of the quarter. We updated them about our GIS mapping analysis and provided our first recommendation: there is one community of concern, located in San Bruno, that is completely unserved (in any part) by SamTrans Caltrain connection bus routes, posing an accessibility concern. Our next step is to put this recommendation on Story Maps (to avoid leaving Story Maps until week 8, as Deland brought up in her comments for our Scope of Work). Together, we established that by our next meeting on Thursday October 31 we will have completed analysis to present 2-3 recommendations for policy to improve Caltrain access. We believe this is a manageable goal to complete over the next week, especially with the learning curve to use Story Maps and how to present our recommendations.
We have also continued collecting GIS layers for bike lanes (all three classes) and streets in San Mateo county. After meeting this week to work on GIS together, we were also able to complete a network analysis of the collected bike data to see what areas are bikeable via a max 3-mile trip from a Caltrain station, looking next to integrate our elevation data. We still have a lot to learn about network analysis and other commute data that Deland directed us to. In the meantime, however, we have made use of ESRI’s plentiful tutorials on their software, and have reached out to staff at the Spatial Analysis Center for further resources.
The Transportation Commission activity in class was actually seen as an insightful exercise on where our recommendations might end up: being presented to the City of San Mateo to improve equitable Caltrain access. It is thus important that we are able to present them in a coherent and visual way, backed by our data analysis of who will be benefiting and highlighting very specific changes we are advocating for.
What We Observed and Learned
As we progress in our analysis, our community partners continually provide us with more useful resources which help us with our conceptualization of this project. One project currently ongoing in the Bay Area is extremely pertinent to our project: Caltrain is conducting an equity analysis as part of its Business Plan as part of its mission to make its services more accessible and attractive to the general community. Additionally, SamTrans is conducting a Comprehensive Operations Analysis to review and improve its routes. As part of a mandate from the Grand Jury report, this initiative is attempting to improve its connections with Caltrain. These two transit organization-led initiatives are directly relevant with our mapping analysis. Our group cannot help but notice the similarities between our work with the Friends of Caltrain and what these transit agencies are currently aligning themselves with doing. Hopefully, these aligned missions mean that our recommendations are received with a real hope for productive modifications to public transit routes.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
As we look ahead to week 6, our primary goal is to continue implementing layers as defined by our Scope of Work. The layers and their details are as follows:
As we discussed with Adina and Ian, we need to spend this week curating a batch of recommendations that they will review and give us feedback on by Thursday. We agree that it is best to first receive feedback before moving forward with more analysis to make sure that we are on the same page with our analysis methodology and the quality of the recommendations. Strong and clear data visualization will be essential toward making our case. Ian is an expert at visualization, so we are eager to hear his thoughts on how we can best achieve our goals of communicating our recommendations successfully. We also hope to start working on our final report over the next week. While we currently have not finalized any recommendations with our community partners in order to include them, we can still begin assembling our introduction, literature review, and summary of ongoing initiatives to educate and influence the community about public transportation.
Update on Project Activities
During the past two weeks our team has been doing survey work in the field at various community events. On Thursday afternoons we’ve been working at a food distribution event at the Mouton Center, and last Saturday we worked at the Latinx festival at the East Palo Alto Library. We have been fortunate and grateful that the Acterra team has taken on the digital inputting of the paper surveys, so we have been updating our spreadsheets with the new data. The key data points that we wish to investigate are climate change awareness in relation to age, ethnicity, and response language.
What We Observed and Learned
The opportunity to do surveying fieldwork has been a really valuable learning experience for our team. I think we all realized that surveying is much harder than it seems and now further appreciate the time and efforts it has taken just to gather the existing data we have so far. The biggest challenge in surveying is asking people for their time. The survey is rather long and involved and it is an inconvenience for people to sit down and take it. Furthermore, we have realized the importance of language in connecting with people and helping them feel comfortable. For example, on Saturday we were surveying at the Latinx festival and many of the people there were Spanish speakers. Brian is the only native Spanish speaker among our group and he was able to talk to residents and persuade them to take the survey much more easily than Steven and I could. I pushed myself to try speaking Spanish and had limited success. I think it does help people feel comfortable and trust you when you approach them in their own language.
Throughout the surveying process we have been continually changing and adapting the survey to improve it. We received feedback from the climate change community team that community members are more comfortable with using paper surveys because of unfamiliarity or distrust of technology, so we have transitioned to paper surveys at all our events. We have made note of specific areas in the survey that often get skipped and make sure to double-check that respondents fill out those sections. We also observed a need for Chinese translation in the survey materials, specifically with the group of people who attend the food distribution event. The main takeaway from our survey work is that it requires patience, community awareness, and meticulous double-checking. If a certain part of the survey is not completed, that could render the data unusable. As a result, we’ve also had to spend a good amount of time bothering people to come back and fill out the survey correctly.
Critical Analysis and Moving Forward
This weekend, we will be attending the adaptation planning meeting with East Palo Alto community groups and surveying at another food distribution event. This will be one of the last survey opportunities and we hope to make significant progress on our goal of 400 responses. We have a plan for how to proceed with the data analysis, and we hope to jump right in next week and begin spatial analysis by coding the survey addresses into GIS format through georeferencing. We will also work in Excel to sort through the survey data and find relationships between climate change awareness and age, location, and ethnicity. We will have to make decisions about which awareness metrics to use for this. We will need to check in with Derek again in the next few weeks to get a little more guidance and direction for the data analysis. Looking forward, we should continue to keep the principles of ethical and participatory research in mind, prioritizing the needs of the community in our work. This week's Wednesday class about zoning laws and CEQA was very applicable when thinking about East Palo Alto and I think we should definitely keep these considerations in mind in our work. Just being in the space, we can observe how city planning might have failed the needs of residents. For example, university avenue runs right through the city and the road is extremely busy and congested during traffic hours. We even observed signs in residential neighborhoods that said "no commuter traffic 4pm-7pm" because I imagine commuters would try to drive through residential side streets to get around traffic. This is definitely a huge environmental quality issue for East Palo residents, and although this is outside the immediate scope of our project, I wonder what work we can do around this issue.
Over the past two weeks the two primary accomplishments of our group have been developing a more comprehensive Scope of Work and visiting the city of Milpitas with our community partner Alex. Our visit not only helped us visualize the future innovation district and its surroundings, but lead us to understand the implication and impact that this innovation district will have on the surrounding culture, physical characteristics, and development of the city of Milpitas. As mentioned in Plan Bay Area which we read this week, a major goal of future development of the Bay Area it to address the spatial mismatch between jobs and housing. In Milpitas, we saw a shockingly high amount of new housing and housing developments. These housing developments mainly target young couples and their children. Families living in these housing developments tend to be highly educated, which in the Bay Area means they are likely to have tech jobs. Based on what our community partner Alex, told us these new residents are most likely driving a long distance to go to work in San Jose or to even further cities. This indicates a mismatch of jobs and housing, and the creation of the innovation district can effectively alleviate this problem by bringing suitable jobs to those Milpitas residents, so that they do not have to commute. A reduced commute is both sustainable, as it reduces the per-capita gas emission, and important to improve the resident’s quality of life, as they spend fewer hours driving to work each day.
Additionally, this visit helped us to further understand the social equity issue that has been a primary focus for our project group and a key problem addressed in Plan Bay Area. Alex told us that one tech job typically brings five jobs in the service sector. We observed that the city currently does not have many retail stores and restaurants, and the only grocery store we saw was a bargain grocery store at the edge of the city. It would be beneficial for the city if the service industry started thriving as the innovation district takes off, offering more service sector jobs for residents. One consideration that would need to be made is where these employees will live and whether or not there is an appropriate amount of lower-income housing currently available in Milpitas or plans exist to build more. Additionally, it is quite obvious that many of the current restaurants are run by older Milpitas residents including many immigrants. It is important to keep the current residents in mind as Milpitas is one of the most diverse areas in the Bay Area, with a majority Asian and Latinx population. We are wondering to what extent the current local community would be affected by the development of innovation district. In this week’s Department of Transportation Meeting workshop, we witnessed first hand how important it is to think about different stakeholders and take their needs into consideration. This lesson is something we will take with us as we continue to help create a plan for the innovation district.
This week’s class also showed us the importance and effects of zoning and urban planning. It is interesting to see how city planning influences the ambiance of the area. In the case of Milpitas, we see that its Main Street has mostly one story buildings and a lot of empty lots. Additionally, there is also an industrial park in Milpitas that is currently occupied by churches. Both cases indicate either a lack of urban planning or a failure to execute on the plan.
Moving forward, we are very excited about our meeting with Christina Briggs, the director of the Innovation Planning Committee for the Fremont Innovation District. We have drafted a list of questions that hopefully address all our concerns regarding social equity, the housing problem, and integrating the transportation system into the planning process. We have also begun a conversation with two members from the Seaport Innovation District in Boston, and we hope to learn more from them about integrating a city’s unique location and culture into the plans to develop an innovation district. In the coming week, our team will be focusing on drafting our research paper.
Update on Project Activities
We continued our transcription work this week in hopes of reaching our self-imposed transcription completion deadline of next Friday (Nov 1). So far, the transcriptions have been going well, but have definitely taken a significant amount of time and energy to complete. Listening to the interviews has been incredible and rewarding, and we are learning a lot about the lived experiences of the interviewees. We have been continuing to find sections in the interviews that we could potentially use in our final editing clips.
In addition to the transcriptions, we have been familiarizing ourselves with the website design process, and we have been thinking of ways to incorporate our edited clips into the website. There is a lot of room for creativity here, and we have been brainstorming ways to represent the interviews on the website in a way that is reflective of their content (for some, it could be a video, and for others it could be an interactive clip, etc.).
We have also been looking at times to go to the city and observe Alexi doing an interview in order to experience the intimacy and vulnerability this kind of work requires. Lydia and Claire are planning to accompany her soon, and we are looking forward to learning more about the interviewing process.
In addition, during our call this week with Alexi, Jim discussed what he learned through the interview he was transcribing and the background research he did on the events related to it. It was interesting to discuss the ethical issues of eviction due to safety. Is it okay to put people on the streets if a building is deemed “unsafe”? Is it okay for landlords to profit off low-income housing and government housing programs?
What We Observed and Learned
One of our transcription interviewees, was a veteran defending his landlord over the controversial housing she provided homeless veterans. This specific interview and situation raised questions of ethics and profit. Fundamentally, should landlords of low-income tenants be allowed to profit off government programs? In addition, should the city be responsible for homelessness due to evictions related to building codes?
Through the interview, we were able to see the tenant’s side of the story. He describes the landlord as well intentioned and caring. She went beyond his expectations as a landlord and despite that, the city is after her for banking millions of dollars by squeezing formerly homeless veterans into cramped illegal dwelling units.
According to the veteran and other interviewed sources, the landlord would go around looking for stable-minded veterans to take off the streets and provided them with safe housing. It is not often that the tenant and landlord stands on the same side of an argument, but in this case, the tenant is defending the landlord against the city.
“Everything was new all the appliances are new... The stoves... The uh... uh... Washers and dryers downstairs, the refrigerators, everything was new. When we moved in here and all the rest of them too. She bought appliances in bulk. And Whirlpool washers and dryers downstairs. I mean... Who does that? So it wasn't the fact that she was worried about the money. She worried about us and the city doesn't see that. Too much bureaucratic red tape. They don't care about the vets. They just want to get Judy and they want to make her tear down everything that she's done which is putting us back out on the streets …” -Interviewee
From the city’s perspective, the landlord skirted building codes and abused the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Homes for Heroes program. She had divided 12 buildings with 15 legal units into smaller spaces that housed 49 individual tenants, making about $1 million a year in rent. Although her actions reduced veteran homelessness, which was the intent of the program, the city had to enforce safety standards for tenants and neighborhoods. According to the city, her buildings contained jerry-rigged natural gas and water lines, while neighbors complained of overcrowding, noise, and littering.
Based on some quick research, as a result of the city’s actions against her, she agreed to pay the city a $2 million fine and bring all the buildings she owns into compliance with the law. What this meant for the tenants was that 10 of them had to relocate or end up homeless again.**
Another transcription interviewee touched on themes of environmental justice. She had moved to a new housing development in Bayshore, which promised beautiful amenities and a thriving community. She moved in before it was finished, with her family, and were told to “have faith” in the development process. A few months after, a headline in a paper ran, detailing that the housing development company had lied about the quality of the development, and it had been built on land that was radioactive from a shipyard there years prior, and declared officially unsafe for living. The interviewee detailed the injustice of literally living on radioactive land, and how betrayed she felt that the development had lied so blatantly. Most of the new tenants were people of color. After the news broke, the development stopped new construction, and the tenants were trapped in half-finished housing full of radiation. This type of environmental injustice is not uncommon, and hearing an interview about it is incredibly powerful, especially one so close to home.
Update on Project Activities
We have one new interview that has been captured on audio. The interviewee is a Stanford student who grew up in the Stanford/Palo Alto area and has noticed the changing water levels of Lake Lagunita within the past decades. In our interview, he shares the story of seeing Lake Lagunita change.
We have a few leads that we are pursuing for future interviews. We have been in contact with Danny to find time to meet with Sarah and Zack, the Tech Interactive summer interns.
What We Observed and Learned (& Some Critical Analysis)
Even though we conducted an interview and the interviewee shared his experience of witnessing the ebbs and flows of Lake Lagunita and attributed this trend to climate change, we also want to reflect on the process of validating claims made in interviews and not focus on capturing such claims exclusively. After we shared the raw interview clips with our community partner, Danny, he suggested that we speak to Stanford staff who might be able to confirm that the reservoir is dry due to climate-change related reasons to confirm the connection.
After all, we may not have extensive scientific knowledge on the tangible, local effects of climate change regarding what is and what is not attributed to climate change. For future interviews, we may try to do background research on the stories interviewees intend on telling in order to ensure the validity of the information.
Conducting the interview was great practice in using the heavy duty recording equipment Danny supplied. This interview will help us to gauge how long an interview actually takes including time to set up and test equipment.
Regarding audio editing, I was able to play around with iMovie to edit the raw audio and get familiar with the software. With this, editing Danny’s short stories from the climate march will be a more streamlined experience. I learned how to overlap clips, shorten clips, and quiet white noise in the background of audio.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
First, we are planning to listen through the edited audio files that Danny shared with us to bolster our understanding of an ideal sound clip. Moving forward, we will focus more intently on generating leads to interview.
Second, we are planning to aggressively pursue leads and conduct interviews. In order to find leads we have primarily been trying to contact people we know and ask if they have any connections to people who might have an interesting story to share. The past interns, Zack and Sarah, also left us a list of potential contacts and/or fields that they were unable to pursue during their time working on this project. Therefore, we are hopeful that we will be able to find leads through that source. So far we have already made some connections with some of our peers who are from the Bay Area. We are excited about getting stories from college students as it gives us a youth perspective without having to deal with the complexities of trying to interview minors. We also are looking into collaborating with an organization on campus, Habla, that offers English language lessons to campus service workers. We might try to attend one of their meetings and conduct some short interviews with any service workers who would be interested. After contacting some professors/faculty members, I was given the contact for Community Engaged Learning on the Environment who might either be able to be interviewed or point us in the direction of some other really fruitful contacts. Our next steps in this realm are to continue contacting leads and starting to set up times/dates/places during which we can conduct the actual interviews. The preparation aspect of this interview process has proven to be a little more difficult and slower than anticipated. It took us a while to narrow in on what types of community members we hoped to get in contact with and therefore have only recently started reaching out to leads. However, we still have a decent amount of time and are confident that as long as we continue to be persistent in the search for interviews that we will be able to get the 8 quality interviews we need to complete this project.
Third, we are planning to edit short stories Danny recorded at a climate march. All but two of Zack and Sarah’s interviews have been edited, and all of Danny’s have not been edited. Two clips in particular that he noted might be promising are called “Raging Grannies.” One of the clips is chanting, and the other is an interview. Synthesizing these two clips together for the final would be engaging and is something we will do.
Finally, we are planning to get in contact with Zack and Sarah and consult with them about pursuing leads in areas other than Stanford/Palo Alto. Though capturing stories nearby Stanford is important, providing the visitors of the Tech with a representative portrayal of the climate crisis in the Bay Area is critical