Update on Project Activities
The following reflection will comment on our activities of both this week and the week of Thanksgiving Break since we did not have a reflection due last week. Over break, we each took ownership over developing one portion of the grant narrative by fleshing out some of the language we had pulled from AEMP’s past grants, and by adding our own text to tailor the narrative specifically to the NEH Collaborative Research Grant. We really want to highlight how interdisciplinary and collaborative AEMP is as a horizontal collective, and how this has been useful in creating a comprehensive Atlas that takes multiple perspectives into account. We’re attempting to convey the power of community-centered understandings of space, as well as the inherency of using the stories of affected individuals in understanding both problems at hand and their solutions. We compiled our text into one coherent draft, and sent it along to AEMP for feedback. We are still waiting to hear back from Mary and Erin about any changes they would like to see, and we are also still waiting to receive budget and collaborator information from AEMP as well. We intend to revise this draft and complete the grant application on Saturday, December 1st.
This week, we focused on creating educational materials for AEMP to include alongside its Atlas. We also hope these materials can be adapted for a workshop in the 2019 Listen to the Silence conference. Spencer and Christian created a list of relevant vocabulary from throughout the Atlas and defined these terms explicitly to help students who might not be familiar with housing and policy language. Lexi created a timeline of policies and other events that have influenced the Bay Area’s current housing and equity issues to provide students with the necessary background information to be able to engage fully with these topics. Elise wrote sample discussion questions based on each chapter’s overarching goals and themes to encourage students to think critically about housing injustices and how they play a role in their own lives. Tony worked on a lesson plan for a community power mapping activity that high school and/or college students could do to help them identify what matters to them in their communities. We then met with Magie on Thursday, November 29th to present these drafts and ask for feedback. We intend to revise these materials and perhaps develop a few more activities before submitting them to AEMP on December 12th.
What We Observed and Learned
Throughout this week, we largely worked on the production of educational resources, and in doing so, were forced to consider the larger context for the information that we learned throughout the quarter. In thinking of which information we wanted to disseminate and to whom, we were forced to also think about the implications of our work in terms of the project’s target audiences and intended results. We decided which information was most valuable as a teaching tool for younger audiences, and in a sense had a large amount of autonomy in dictating that aspect of the project. This demonstrated the subjective power that researchers, scholars, advocates, and activists have in completing their work, as well as how important it is to recognize that power.
Additionally, this process taught us the difficulty of producing content with specific audiences in mind. Given the diversity of audiences that AEMP speaks to, we had some difficulty identifying ways that we would best be able to inform and uplift those communities. Particularly at the middle and high school level, we had some trouble identifying ways to distill down some of the terse academic language to an appropriate level.
In conjunction with this week’s readings, we had a lot of opportunity to think about our work in housing activism in the context of technology. Given that our project is one based in the digital humanities, we’ve been forced to think about the consequences of working through platforms that might be inaccessible to the people that they reference. In class this week, we broached a similar theme when talking about “smart cities” and the deployment of technology to resolve burgeoning crises in urban contexts. In thinking about how this relates back to our work, we’ve been thinking a lot about the dimensionality to sustainability practices, as well as how projects like this one might best have the potential to revolutionize the way that we visualize and conceptualize information. It has also caused us to think about the ways that our project can become more accessible, and it provided a lot of necessary context for how we plan to approach our work in the future, especially in tech hubs like the Silicon Valley.
Finally, this week’s bike tour provide a glimpse at the vastly developing world of Stanford sustainability politics. Several times during the tour the guide mentioned how much money some of their facilities cost, and the luck that they had to be able to pay for them. This made us think back to earlier conversations, though, that we had about seeing sustainability politics as more than just about the environment. Rather, they’re about social and cultural sustainability as well, which led us to question how these investments -- while in projects that are beneficial for the Stanford campus -- might have more broad reaching effects like gentrification on the surrounding region. It made us think critically about what is often posited as a ‘trade-off’ between environmental protection and the interests of the impoverished individuals living in affected areas. In light of the Indigenous Geographies chapter of the Anti Eviction Mapping Project Atlas, we were also struck by the framing during the tour of the Indigenous history of the land on which Stanford’s campus is currently built. In this case as well, phenomena described as fortune in the tour brought to mind systemic histories and made us consider the importance of undertold narratives such as those AEMP is placing forward.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Is there anything you might have done differently if you were to embark on your project from the beginning?
One of the greatest obstacles from the beginning of the quarter was understanding how complicated communication between community partners and our group would be. It would have been useful if we better divided the deliverables amongst our group, making each person responsible for consistently communicating with our partners for each deliverable. Despite the difficulty in deciding who communicates what, we managed to figure out what had to be done and how to complete it by important deadlines, and with the input of our community partners.
Clarifying exactly what was expected of us in terms of deliverables and experiences would have also been useful. We were under the impression that some things had to be prioritized, like creating a useful oral history either for the Atlas or our own experience. It took a while to clarify exactly what we needed to accomplish, and what was supposed to be a useful experience if time and resources permitted it. Eventually we did clarify what the deliverables are, and since then we have been more focused than ever.
Lastly, perhaps scheduling a consistent meeting time every single week where we could all gather and discuss our goals would have been useful. Finding a time to meet each week presents its own difficulties, from changing schedules to family matters, so if a group meeting time were not possible we could potentially have had two meetings, each with half of the group, to discuss progress, then sending brief updates or meeting notes to the other half. In addition, this would have helped us clarify priorities and timelines for meetings with collaborators from the AEMP collective, which could also have been delegated more thoughtfully on our end both in terms of preparation and sharing responsibility for participation. In any case, each of us setting time aside to meet consistently would have created more opportunities for us to clarify expectations and work on deliverables more collaboratively.
What was your greatest learning from your community partner and/or from your fellow teammates?
One of the most salient aspects of our project that taught us all the importance of communication was the opportunity to collaborate with the AEMP research collective. We learned a great deal not only about the subject material itself and the interconnected issues of housing justice, health, infrastructure, sustainability, and planning, but also about what it means practically to organize as a horizontal collective and to put forward material that challenges dominant narratives and power structures of the Bay Area.
Rarely in academia do collectives like AEMP exist, and even more infrequently are they collectives that aim to mesh research with activism. As a group with multiple backgrounds ranging from biology to urban studies to anthropology, we learned how a collective can work in an efficient manner to bring about important social change with the help of data. Most importantly, we learned how to collaborate using our specialties, and this division of academic labor made our work even more interesting and convincing. Within the Stanford bubble, it is often hard to see exactly how coursework will help in a professional setting, and it is easy to become tunnel-visioned in one’s own department, unaware of how research with students in different departments will ultimately help each one achieve their own research goals. This work has been an encouragement and a privilege to say the least, and we have all gained valuable, real life experience from our group work.
Was there a particular "a-ha" moment during your project that shifted your thinking about sustainability or community-based work? Or if you cannot pinpoint a specific incident, what major learnings will you take away from this experience?
In class, Deland instilled the idea that the definition of sustainability can vary greatly, depending on who is defining it. This idea that something like sustainability, which might initially seem objective or exclusively based in science, is inherently value-based, connected quite well to the idea of countermapping, which is how AEMP describes its map-making technique. The idea behind countermapping is that what is shown on a map is dependent on who is creating the map and what they care about, and moreover that some voices are more often represented in maps than others. AEMP attempts to give marginalized groups a voice in the field of cartography by helping those who have been affected by displacement, gentrification, and eviction in the Bay Area to create maps describing what is important to them and their communities. This style of mapping tells stories that are usually hidden from the mainstream to help empower individuals and create a more holistic view of the spaces that people occupy. We believe that our work with AEMP has shown the importance of viewing the conditions of our environment from multiple perspectives, and examining further the ways that seemingly benign or fact-based policies and decisions can impact communities in overlooked or unanticipated ways.
Update on Project Activities
This week, we focused largely on internal organization and completing existing projects. During class on Wednesday, we mapped out various project deliverables, talked about the timeline for project completion, and plan for some of the upcoming projects we have to work on. From internal conversations, we decided that this week would be dedicated to completing chapter memo’s and having final conversations with authors about our feedback, and we set a hard deadline of 11:59 P.M. on Friday night for those to be sent out. We also decided to work on the first draft of the grant narrative over Thanksgiving Break, and we plan to have a zoom call on the November 23 to discuss and finalize our first draft. Given that we’ve previously divided sections and pulled existing grant language, we see this as a step in both synthesizing and producing new “pitches” of the AEMP project. We intend to send this draft to the AEMP team on November 23, and request that if they would like any additional work done on the narrative, that it be returned to us by November 29. Week 9 we plan to dedicate to the development of educational materials, and we hope to sent a first iteration of what some of these might look like on November 29. From here, we hope to begin working on both revising educational materials and making final edits to the grant narrative prior to the December 5 deadline. Finally, week 10 we will dedicate to the production of the final paper and powerpoint in preparation for the Human Cities Expo!
This week, we also familiarized ourselves with the presentation space at the d.school, and tried to get a sense of how we would divide up content during the presentation. While we have yet to make any final decisions, we’ve begun to discuss which areas we feel most comfortable with, and which topics are most important for us to cover in the exposition.
Finally, meeting as a team on Wednesday, we discussed some of the possible educational materials, and tried to come to a better understanding of what was being asked of us. After emailing some of the folks at AEMP, we settled on a list of several potential resources, including: Interactive Worksheets, Basic Concepts/Fact Sheets, Vocabulary Sheets, Sample Discussion Questions for groups and pair-shares, and Sample Activities like Individual Community Power Maps and discussion about home values. In the meantime, each of us have begun working on a list of topics, thematic ideas, and infographics that could be effective when used as a teaching tool for younger audiences. We hope to begin settling on these ideas and dividing up work at the beginning of next week.
What We Observed and Learned
This week, we learned the importance of planning ahead and setting small deadlines in order to meet our project goals. With 2.5 weeks remaining in the quarter, and a number of deliverables still remaining (several of the chapter memos, the NEH grant, educational materials, campus activism resources, and a potential oral history), we were feeling stressed about finishing everything on time. However, on Wednesday (11/14), we sat down as a group and mapped out the rest of the quarter, giving ourselves internal deadlines throughout the rest of the quarter. We also decided on when and how we would continue to check-in with Magie, Erin, Mary, Adrienne, and Deland. After dedicating about 30 minutes to this organizational mapping, we feel much more confident in our abilities to get everything done. Below is an image of the plan we developed for ourselves.
We have also learned the importance of on-going, earnest communication. As a group of five, working with an even larger collective, it is incredibly important that we are all aware of and respectful of each other’s time commitments, and that we understand what is expected of us as individuals. Although it can be tempting to “bite off more than we can chew,” especially because we are all very excited about the work we are doing, we have learned that we can and should be honest if we do not feel that we can reasonably accomplish what we originally set out to do. For example, at the beginning of the quarter, we were excited about completing an oral history with Stanford employees. However, given our time restraints and ethical concerns about not being able to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with a Stanford worker, we have decided to scale down this aspect of this project to and instead compile a list of resources that could serve as a starting point for a future project on campus housing activism.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
A key strategy we will be using as we move forward and finish our project will be to use, as much as possible, to using in existing material to complete the grant and educational material. The AEMP, founded in 2013, has been doing research on the Bay Area housing crisis for 5 years and have produced a number of maps, collected dozens of oral histories and written articles about the various social justice dimensions of housing and transport. In producing our educational materials we will distill key content from each of the chapters and present it in a simple and accessible way. Additionally, we’ll try to incorporate maps into the educational materials so students can reach their own conclusions about obvious trends in gentrification happening in redlined neighborhoods and happening disproportionately to people of color. Another idea we planned to execute is compiling a list of key terms and policies so students reading the educational materials can be informed about the forces at play contributing to inequities in the system.
We are looking to inspire conversations among students utilizing educational material that mirror our conversations about transportation in class on Monday of this week. People brought their own experiences of public transportation and had clear suggestions about how integrating transit networks and lowering fares could improve the experience on the whole. Similar to how our class read Schafran’s history of public transportation in the Bay Area, which helped to explain the systems present failures, we hope providing a brief history of housing, transport, infrastructure, public health and such will increase students understanding of these issues, contextualize their frustration with current issues and be empowered to work towards change. Drawing particular attention to successful public collective action in changing policy would be greatly impactful.
Similarly, with the grant we plan to use language that AEMP has already used for previous winning grant application and adapt it for our purposes. Having a good amount of in depth knowledge of the Atlas and the motivations of the project we feel adequately prepared to write a convincing narrative. The fact that the Atlas is a collaborative project with interdisciplinary study makes it a great candidate for the grant.
Update on Project Activities
This week, as usual, involved a lot of small 2-3 person meetings – most were focused on preparing good feedback for chapter editors but we also spent time discussing and finalizing our plans to engage with the oral history part of the project.
Christian and Lexi submitted their two-page memo with feedback on the Migration/Relocation chapter to Mary on Sunday, November 4th. After Mary thoroughly reads this memo, the three plan to chat again to answer any remaining questions. Similarly, Tony and Spencer have been working on their feedback for Erin about the Speculation chapter, and Elise has been working on the Transportation/Infrastructure chapter feedback for Deland. Lexi and Tony had a check-in with Magie about the Indigenous Geographies chapter on Thursday, November 11th, during which they discussed what types of feedback would be most useful and strategies for editing down oral histories. Lexi and Tony were worried about inadvertently inserting our own voices over the interviewees’ based on how we edited their stories and what we cut out, but Magie showed us ways to shorten individual sentences without removing large portions of the narrative.
Christian, Spencer, and Lexi also attended the Ethical Research Training with Magie and Adrienne on Thursday, November 11th. Tony and Elise watched a video recording of this training in their own time. We reviewed several pieces of literature, such as the AEMP handbook, prior to this training so we could gain further insight to AEMP’s philosophy of mutual benefit and using academia for activism. We decided, given our time constraints and lack of connections to people with direct experience of housing displacement on campus, not do an oral history of a Stanford employee (as we had originally hoped to do). Instead, Spencer, Lexi, Magie, and Adrienne discussed the possibility of doing some background research about campus housing activism to serve as a starting point for next year’s cohort of students. We may begin by conducting an informational interview with student members from SCoPE (Stanford Coalition for Planning An Equitable 2035). SCoPE is a student organization that cooperates with Stanford’s workers union on campus and advocates for equitable outcomes in housing, transportation, labor provisions and GHG emissions.
We also scheduled a meeting with Magie on Thursday, November 29th to go over our draft educational materials, which we will begin developing next week. We are hoping to create something that will be useful for AEMP as well as for the 2019 Listen to the Silence Conference. We are also tentatively planning to send two people (probably Christian and Elise) to shadow Adrienne as she conducts an oral history interview in San Francisco some time late November. This is dependent on the interviewee’s schedule.
What We Observed and Learned
One of the main objectives this week was to provide feedback for each of the chapters we were editing, and we discovered that many of the chapters were at different stages of writing. We noticed that much of our feedback depended on what stage of writing the author was currently at, and that we all gave very different feedback to our respective authors. For example, the evictions chapter was more or less finalized and in PDF format, so most of the feedback had to be tailored to more specific, easy fixes that wouldn’t require an overhaul of the finished product. Other chapters like the migration chapter had basically no text or layout, and was a compilation of figures, graphs, and interviews. For a chapter like this, weaving a coherent story was more the focus in addition to providing criticism or suggestions about any data, and the team was focused primarily on finding common threads to link bits of the story together. Altogether, it was difficult to think about the overall design of the publication as a whole given that, currently, they are at such different stages in the writing process. Looking forward, it is important for us to make sure we know how our chapters fit together through discussion with ourselves and our authors. By discussing the big picture concepts from each chapter and how they fit together, we can better provide feedback for our individual chapter editors and create a more compelling finished product.
We also clarified the expectations for our project deliverables while completing the Ethical Research Training this week. Our impression of the oral history component of the project was that we should reach out to any individuals or communities we knew of that might be interested in completing an interview, and that we would conduct an oral history ourselves that would be included in the Atlas or on the AEMP website. What we learned during training was that completing an oral history was not an expectation, but rather something we should try to accomplish for our own understanding of the meaning of ethical research, the importance of the project’s goals of collecting and compiling stories, and the impact of having the voices of people most affected by the housing crisis heard in our Stanford community. In fact, we might shadow one of Adrienne’s contacts while they complete an oral history, and this would effectively be achieving our goals of learning about ethical research while maintaining an appropriate level of participation.
However, we are still interested in applying oral history work to workers’ rights on the Stanford campus. We do not feel as though we have the right knowledge and skill sets to create meaningful change in AEMP’s focus areas (San Francisco, Oakland, etc.), but we do know and understand Stanford’s community dynamics enough to get involved. Stanford is a major source of employment, as well as displacement, in the Bay Area, and AEMP has not yet begun to explore the stories of people affected by the institution’s regional dominance. Spencer had been to a SCoPE meeting earlier in the quarter and remembered seeing a map SCoPE compiled of the counties the workers were from – some several hours away. Clearly the problems we’d discussed in class around developers in the Bay Area not having sufficient incentives to build affordable housing, and lack of enforcement in ABAG’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation are reflected in the long commutes Stanford workers have to make to get from where they can afford housing, to where they have to work.
Spencer, Lexi, Adrienne, and Magie began a discussion of what sort of work could be done on campus to help empower workers’ and motivate students to help push the university for workers’ housing. However, we believe that this work would require a lot more time than we have remaining in the quarter, so we brainstormed ways our group could help prepare materials for next year’s Sustainable Cities cohort. We are considering doing some preliminary research on Stanford housing activism to establish a “landscape” of what has been happening on campus and where there is room for AEMP/Sustainable Cities to get involved.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
At this stage in the quarter, we have been working with AEMP for quite a while, and have gotten a sense of the sheer complexity of the housing crisis in the Bay Area. As we have seen both in our field work with the organization and from readings in class, solutions to the housing shortage are not as simple as constructing more houses. Given legacies of gentrification, racial exclusion, and income inequality, the situation demands a holistic look at the issues affecting countless individuals in the Bay Area and beyond. This week was particularly informative in that regard, as it forced us to begin putting some of the Atlas chapters in conversation and begin drawing out the thematic arc of the text. The sheer difficulty of cohering a single atlas to depict the wide range of issues falling under regional displacement demonstrates the complexity of the issue at hand, as its narrative exists beyond single issues like AirBNB and the preponderance of Single Family Homes. Instead, each chapter has really begun to feel like single pieces in the collective “housing puzzle,” and conversations -- as working on chapter editing has shown -- are not relegated to particular sectors or even disciplines. They are complicated, interlocking, and often-times co-constitutive with other issues, requiring the earnest collaboration of all parties with something to contribute.
Another idea that came up in this week’s readings that seemed especially relevant to the work we’re doing at AEMP is the idea of critical reflexivity. We were drawn to new metrics to evaluate urban change, as well as given case studies of several failed pilot projects, each of which providing context to many similar policies being debated today. Examples like Pruitt-Igoe and the high-rise developments following WWIgetting people off the streets and into better conditions, Pruitt-Igoe backfired, resulting in the proliferation of crime and “city-slums” throughout Saint Louis. This example seemed to be particularly poignant, as it forced us to consider practicality as much as ethicality, and to temper efficiency and moral exigence with reasoned analysis about how these problems might be solved. It also forced us to think about how space becomes amenable, safe, and accessible, especially with regard to development and changing urban landscapes. AEMP also exemplifies this goal, as their work on cutting-edge issues like “vacation rental homes,” and AirBnB seeks to problematize even superficially “unrelated” or even “beneficial” services.
Perhaps most importantly, our work this week has provided us the opportunity to reflect on displacement not as a single act, but as an ongoing process of removal and erasure. During a conversation with Magie, we talked briefly about how settler colonialism resulted in the original theft of indigenous land. In thinking about indigenous displacement today, it became clear that colonization and displacement are not singular events with a defined beginning and end. Rather, displacement represents a logic that exists today in acts like the denial of indigenous sacred spaces, traditions, and family. Seeing social and physical location as the constellation of single acts has enabled us to think about these events in concert rather than in isolation, and be able to identity some of the persistent structural flaws inherent within the housing system. It has also enabled us to broaden our vocabulary when discussing events like eviction, migration, and racial displacement today.
Based on our discussion about the definition and examples of urban resilience, what does resilience look like in your particular project or project community?
In Monday’s class, we talked about resilience as the ability of a system to handle a shock or disruption. We touched on both the emotional ability and the physical capacity of a community to recover to an equal or higher level of wellbeing than it had had before a given disturbance. The discussion on Monday primarily dealt with disaster resilience through social capital, such as leaning on a sister village program to provide accomodation for people displaced by an eruption or relying on a social media network to provide physical and moral support. Similarly, our work with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project is showing us the importance of social connections and natural disaster preparedness, although we are also learning about many other kinds of resilience that are involved in fighting for equitable, sustainable housing.
In the sphere of housing equity work, resilience looks like connectivity and collective leverage. AEMP is connecting people together so they can fight their evictions. This angle is consistent with the hypothesis proposed on Monday that social capital increases one’s power to respond to a situation. In addition, from an ecological perspective, ecosystems with more actors, distribution of function, and redundancy in function are often more resilient to disruptions; correspondingly, human ecosystems with more collaborators and distributed power are better able to bounce back from stressors, and less burden is placed on a few particular actors.
An example of this collective leverage can be found in the speculation chapter of the Atlas. One of the written pieces describes the process by which community land trusts were used to buy up Pigeon Palace, a six-unit property from which residents would have otherwise been evicted. Together, the residents, with help from the San Francisco Community Land Trust, were better equipped with the money and voice necessary to successfully dismantle the threat of eviction, preserve the cultural continuity of Pigeon Palace, and maintain their homes and livelihoods.
However, it is also important to wrestle with the relationship between resistance and resilience. AEMP frames their work as helping residents resist eviction and injustice, which is not necessarily the same as being resilient in the face of evictions. AEMP’s framework of resistance focuses on fighting individual people, actions, and laws, while our current understanding of resilience incorporates a broader context of setting oneself or one’s community up to better address the possibility or reality of injustices and evictions. However, there is a lot of overlap between resilience and resistance in terms of a community’s access to resources. A resilient community with adequate money, health(care), and leverage to effectively advance its interests will be more effective in its efforts of resistance. Likewise, the same social capital that encourages resilience, as in the case of neighborhood recovery after Hurricane Katrina, can also precipitate collective action that helps keep a neighborhood together.
What types of issues would fall under “resilience” and why is resilience needed in these areas?
Creating a system that is able to withstand disruptions is a major goal of the AEMP, and multiple issues brought into focus by the project illustrate the challenges that need to be overcome before attaining a resilient system. One of the main avenues of encouraging resilience in our project is building social capital in the communities affected by the housing crisis. By creating more tightly knit communities, disruptions like evictions are more likely to be resisted. As discussed previously, building resilience can be a stepping stone to resistance, and having stronger communities is a sure way to achieve both of these.
Another issue that falls under resilience is cultural continuity. Evictions certainly prevent a community from maintaining its cultural identity, and our project’s goal of preventing evictions will hopefully address this issue that is connected to resilience. Cultural continuity is intertwined with social capital, where a community will have a better capacity to conduct collective action as a result of resources and organizations built up over time. This could come in the form of public spaces used by the community for political action, or building a legacy of legal representation that acts as a safeguard for individuals being displaced. In any case, evictions threaten cultural continuity, and they make communities less resilient as a result.
Public health is also vital to any discussion of resilience because the health of individuals will necessarily shape the health of communities. When people are displaced, they often lose access to resources they had relied on in the past to live a healthy life. An example brought to light by the AEMP is the inability of those with HIV/AIDS to receive proper medical treatment after being displaced to a community with less familiar resources or to a community that lacks them altogether. This also connects to the concept of cultural continuity, which ultimately encouraged the provision of HIV/AIDS treatment in those original communities. Another example from the AEMP involves communities that lack toxic waste disposal services, which have been forcibly moved by the government to avoid public health issues. In this case, the government did not seriously consider the relationship between public health and resilience. Otherwise, the creation of toxic waste disposal services would have been a clear solution.
Related to this example of government action is the creation of a stable political climate that promotes well-being in the community it serves. Elected officials generally have a high rate of turnover, and it would follow that extreme changes in elected officials (and as a result, the political climate) can be considered a disruption to the system. Therefore, communities that can manage to maintain a stable political climate will be less likely to experience a disruption.
Having a resilient community also means having infrastructure in place that prevents disruption. One example of this is infrastructure built in response to climate change. With respect to disaster preparedness, are low-income and at-risk communities resilient to earthquake damage and relocation? Do coastal communities have infrastructure to prevent massive displacement? It is also important to consider infrastructure as a means for connectivity. Having widespread and affordable public transportation options can help mitigate the effects of displaced communities that have to commute far distances. When discussing resilience, the built form of a community is an inseparable issue that needs to be included.
One final issue related to resilience is economic diversity. Ensuring that a community can be financially stable over time is closely related with the displacement of low-income workers that form the pillars of any economy. By ensuring a diverse workforce and market economy within a community, the ability of that community to withstand economic shocks is greatly enhanced.
If you were to meet a resilience planner from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), how should these regional organizations prioritize and fund resilience initiatives in your project’s community? What would be your recommendations for the ABAG/MTC resilience division to address, in regards to your project?
A resilience planner from ABAG or MTC should, first, be forward thinking enough to anticipate changes in neighborhood conditions before people are displaced or find the city they reside in lacking in housing, transport, basic services as well as cultural and social resources. Through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, ABAG planners have made it clear how much housing cities should build for each income group. Nonetheless, given how cities have largely ignored RHNA, planners need to be more aggressive and penalize poorly performing cities more strongly or provide stronger incentives for affordable housing. Additionally, RHNA recommendations have only recently come into place and largely as a reaction to the Tech Boom 2.0. Planners should have anticipated gentrification, because resilience is impossible if the community you are trying to build resilience in is being broken up and displaced. As far as preventing such damaging displacement goes, ABAG could play a role in encouraging cities to adopt more rent control measures and expedite affordable housing development to allow for displaced communities to stay close to their homes and reduce “root shock”.
The MTC, could play an important role in building resilience to try to mitigate impacts of displacement. The development of new transport rail initiatives that increase connectivity in the Bay and reduce transport times could do a lot to help people commute to work and reconnect with old community friends. For example, Facebook’s recent negotiations with San Mateo County Transit Community to restore the old Dumbarton Bridge and provide a rail line could do a lot to reduce transit costs for low-income workers and also reduce health impacts from drive-through traffic in East Palo Alto. Additionally, making existing public transport cheaper would also help to reduce transportation cost burdens for displaced families that often are forced to move further from work.
Ultimately, housing initiatives should be paired with transportation initiatives especially to reduce the overall proportion of income low-income groups spend on just housing themselves and getting to work. For example, as people need to move out of expensive housing areas, they will need to spend more money to travel to their jobs in order to maintain their livelihoods. Therefore, it is imperative that transportation costs are reasonably affordable. “In 2005, low-income and working class families in the Bay Area spent 66 percent of household income on housing and transportation” (Plan Bay Area). ABAG/MTC could help to address this by reducing toll prices, or by encouraging SFMTA to reduce the cost of BART. This is particularly important because a large percentage of Bay Area commuters are low-income. ABAG/MTA could also work to ensure that they build an appropriate amount of housing units near their newest transportation projects so that the gentrification and displacement caused by increased property values near their transportation projects is offset by a greater supply of housing.
Another way that ABAG/MTC would improve Bay Area resilience would be to help create physical gathering spaces for marginalized communities to connect and share ideas. AEMP is currently working on this in the digital sphere by connecting individuals who have been evicted with other individuals in order to create a regional resistance movement. However, there is also value in physical spaces for people to gather, especially those that may not have access to digital resources. For example, in Bayview (a neighborhood of San Francisco that has historically been home to SF’s Black community), the growing Asian community has found that there are few cultural resources for them. In response, the AsianWeek Foundation created the Florence Fang Asian Community Garden, which is an urban farm run primarily by elderly Chinese residents. The garden grows culturally-relevant crops, but also creates a space for Chinese residents to connect with one another and share resources. It is also a space for traditional arts, as well as a venue for food pantry donations. The community members involved have now begun to negotiate with CalTrain to buy the land that they are operating on, and thus creating a permanent space for their community.
[Pictured above: two women tending to garden beds at the Florence Fang Asian Community Garden]
We would also argue that ABAG and MTC look into several of the policies that AEMP has been actively supporting to protect renters from evictions (both no-fault evictions and those due to dramatically increased rental costs). For example, AEMP is encouraging that all California cities have rent control laws because they allow for diversity and stability within communities. Currently, only 19 of the 482 California cities have rent control laws, meaning that a majority of Californians are at risk of unfairly increased rent prices. While this does not necessarily protect new low-income renters, rent control does allow for existing renters to stay in one place for a longer amount of time and contribute more fully to their surrounding communities. AEMP is also supporting “Just Cause for All,” a campaign to repeal the Ellis Act. The Ellis Act allows California landlords to evict renters in order to leave the rental market, although this is often used to change rental units into condominiums. As a result of the Ellis Act, AEMP argues that more “no-fault” evictions are occurring in the Bay Area, because landlords are able to sell their land to high-paying developers instead of maintaining relationships with low- and middle-income tenants. Finally, AEMP also urges for the Costa-Hawkins act, which limits community’s abilities to enact stronger renter protections, to be repealed. AEMP argues that repealing the Costa-Hawkins act, by voting YES on Prop 10 this November, will increase stability in the rental market and reduce the prevalence of evictions. Currently, over $25 million has gone to support Prop 10, with 91% of this funding coming from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Because access to HIV/AIDS treatment facilities and resources decreases as people are forced out of urban centers, and because the low-income people who are being evicted are more likely to have HIV/AIDS, Prop 10 can be viewed as a public health protection. However, on the other side, $75 million has been used for campaigns to oppose Prop 10. A majority of this funding is coming from realtors, such as the California Association of Realtors, who have more money to use to spread their message than individual renters. We would hope that the ABAG/MTC resilience divisions would help financially support campaigns for the above initiatives, or release public statements in support of these initiatives, in order to prevent further evictions and therefore increase the resilience of a community
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.