At this point in our project, we have moved beyond ideation to formal organization of our paper, detailing what we consider to be the most pertinent components that an innovation district should address, especially in relation to the issues in the Bay Area. Social equity issues, as discussed in this class and with regards to affordable housing, concern us the most.
While writing for Politico, journalist Ethan Epstein described the changes San Francisco has made with regards to public— or rather, now private— housing in his article “How San Francisco Saved Its Public Housing by Getting Rid of It” (Epstein 2017). As the housing crisis and technology boom exacerbate gentrification and marginalize low income residents, Epstein describes how the privatization of previously city owned buildings has not only alleviated the stress of paying San Francisco’s characteristically high standard of living but has also provided amenities and afforded privileges that alleviate the stresses inherent to being low-income (i.e., lack of access to gyms, healthy options, stress relievers like massages). By doing so, this change affords the residents a higher quality of life and theoretically boosts confidence, happiness, and productivity.
Epstein’s article implies that there exists a feasible and sustainable way to provide equitable housing even amidst the rising median income of the Bay Area— at least, on the small scale. Elaborating on this model as well as other affordable housing complexes like 990 Pacific in Chinatown may provide insight as to how innovation districts can integrate affordable housing, with the many amenities and functions provided in the examples in San Francisco, into its design.
Innovation districts seek to create microcosms of creativity and to foster a sense of community and belonging. Creating such a community, however, requires a level of equity and equality between parties— a proxy for that being housing. The Milpitas Innovation District targets young tech entrepreneurs with, or looking for, high wage tech jobs. But as our mentor Alex Andrade explained, five service jobs accompany every one tech job. Since many of these service jobs have low wages in comparison to tech jobs, the idea of an innovation district seems to imply that these service jobs must be housed elsewhere. This false dichotomy between tech and service only contributes to gentrification. If the Milpitas Innovation District can provide equitable and accessible housing for both groups, it could limit the effects of gentrification and model equality in cultural and social spheres. Not only would these two groups interact with one another, but the amenities provided by accessible housing could mitigate differences in the daily rhythms of life.
More specific to our project, I am currently working on a literature review analyzing the extent of cultural inclusivity of innovation districts and the integration of different cultures, ethnicities, and socioeconomic classes. We have divided the final research paper into segments and added more details to our timeline, including a conversation with Christina Briggs, the chief economic development director for the Fremont Innovation District, to gain insight on the issues she faced and any guidance or advice she would be willing to provide. We would like to also contact a member of the planning committee from the Boston Innovation District, but have had issues communicating; we are now expanding our search to other innovation districts and will be sending emails to people in the Seattle South Lake Union Innovation District as well as that in Detroit.
This week our team has been focusing on the best way to approach writing our final group report for our community partner. We have found reputable articles and outlined our paper. We want the paper to be both cohesive and consistent in our analysis of the two case studies. We did not realize how challenging writing a group report is, so this week in our team meeting we brainstormed various ways to write the paper. The first idea we came up with was assigning each person an aspect of the case study to focus on; for example, one person could focus on the economic aspects, such as incentivizing businesses to move into innovation districts, for both the Boston Seaport District and the Freemont Innovation District. A drawback to this approach is that the two cases are different and we don’t want to force a broad framework that may not necessarily fit or apply to the situation. The second idea we came up with was having two people focus on the Boston Seaport District and having the two other members of the team focus on the Fremont Innovation District. We are going to continue to discuss the best approach to writing the paper, as we add to our research and further develop our outline, but we all agreed that it would be best to meet to draft a conclusion and best practices section so that we can compare findings, discuss why the case studies matter, and relate our findings back to Milpitas. We think it is very important to synthesize our findings as a group, and make sure all of our perspectives are represented in the executive summary.
Next Friday, we are going to the Fremont Innovation District to meet with Christina Briggs, the Economic Development Director of the City of Fremont. We are planning on touring their district. Below are some of the questions we are planning on asking Christina:
On Monday in class, we visited the Stanford Educational Farm and heard from Ryan Thayer on what he learned from working with corner stores in the Tenderloin District. The unifying thread for our visit to the farm and our discussion with Ryan was food security. While, the development of an innovation district in Milpitas does not directly tie back to food security, the introduction of an innovation district to the Milpitas area does have the potential to impact the composition of the city, and thus potentially impacting the food landscape. On our visit to Milpitas, we noted that there was only one grocery store in the city, a bargain grocery store located on the outskirts. Alex pointed out the location of the Sunday Farmer’s Market and told us that many people buy their fresh produce from there. Additionally, many of the restaurants we saw were mom and pop shops and many of them also appeared to be run by immigrant families. While the main focus for our project, is not on food security, I think we can find ways to include this in our report as it is an important topic relating back to social equity, something our team is really interested in. Additionally, this is an important issue for the city to consider going forward, as it is important to make sure residents have access to healthy options; however, the city must be strategic to work with existing restaurant and grocery store owners, so that they do not cause local businesses to be displaced.
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.
After identifying the major limiting factor to success on this project as schedule coordination, our team prioritized creating a timeline for deliverables and benchmarks. Last Sunday, we discussed the scope of our project and decided that it would primarily function as a mini research project exploring the successes and failures of modern innovation districts, namely those in Boston and Fremont, and what contributed to those outcomes as well as what could be improved or removed. (I am personally curious to investigate how these factors would and should change in different cultural contexts-- i.e. the Asian-immigrant heavy, tech-influenced area of Milpitas, and the draw for young entrepreneurs in the innovation district). The following weeks consist of a schedule much like that used for other writing classes: due dates for initial research articles, various outlines and drafts, and the final paper. To this end, however, my major concern is how the variety of different ideas and perspectives that inherently come with working in a group will come together to create a cohesive paper. We previously discussed dividing the paper into segments, with one person in charge of each portion, but I think a more collaborative approach would definitely aid with cohesion and flow.
Most immediately we will be visiting the area intended for the Milpitas Innovation district to get an idea on the culture and community; ultimately it will help us aggrandize our imagination on what the innovation could be and what different practices might and might not work. To combine this with a better understanding of the parallel innovation districts, Yvonne has been working to coordinate a meeting with someone from the Boston Seaport District, and Alex has agreed to set us up with a meeting with Christina Briggs, the economic advisor for the Fremont Innovation District. (We have created a list of questions and hope that these questions will broaden the discussion.)
As someone who has grown up in the Bay Area, my primary concern is continued gentrification and minority marginalization, especially considering that the main customers and target audience are high-income tech workers and their families. After this week’s readings, I am curious to hear more narratives about the marginalized groups-- both in the ways they have benefitted as well as the ways they have been negatively affected, since so much media focuses on their oppression and not necessarily on the social and economic benefits that come with innovation and modern industrialization of areas. As I go into the preliminary research phase, I would like to explore this concept more in terms of the effects in Boston and in Fremont; I do not know hose areas nearly as well as I know San Jose/Milpitas or whether gentrification is as pronounced there as it is locally.
During this first week of our project, we met with our project mentors and discussed initial thoughts and scoping around the project itself. This project learning fell into a few main categories: defining an innovation district, beginning to understand how other innovation districts were designed and flourished, and understanding how the City of Milpitas is similar and different to those other cities which have successfully created innovation districts.
Broadly speaking, an innovation district is a realization of the shifting desires that millennials and younger generations have around their workplaces as well as the changing requirements of workplaces in the 21st century. Previous generations saw the rise of the industrial district, where proximity allowed reduced shipping costs and made job-seeking easy, and the research park, where an isolated environment allowed for the protection of intellectual property and mirrored the wealth of its’ workers. Now we see a reversal of that same trend with millennial workers. In a world where financial security is increasingly rare, children come later in life, and entertainment no longer comes from within the home, millennials are looking to their living spaces to provide a vibrant community with entertainment, amenities, and a range of job opportunities. Simultaneously, the rise of the Information Era has made apparent the value of cross-company collaboration, industry partnerships, and disruptive new ideas, so innovation districts bring together a range of companies, accelerators, incubators, and research institutions. All of these components are brought together into a compact, walkable, transit-accessible space complete with social spaces and public utilities.
So how do we create such a space? We began studying the case studies of the Boston Seaport District and the Fremont Warm Springs District, both of which are examples of innovation districts under development. We learned about the Triple Helix model of leadership, where government, industry, and research institutions collaborate in a structured manner. This brings together the powerful forces required for an innovation district to thrive, enabling more effective and realizable development plans. We also learned about the importance of
nontraditional community outreach. Advertising for the Boston Seaport district was done primarily via “community brokers” who would embed themselves into local communities and seek out entrepreneurs and other leaders who could support the nascent innovation district. Notably, the economic development of the Seaport district was reportedly slow until the mayor was able to convince MassChallenge, a local startup accelerator, to move in (in return for free rent, which again required convincing on the part of the mayor). This spoke to both the need for a “kickstart”, an initial push which begins a positive feedback loop of development, and to the need for a strong catalyzing agent who has the connections and the will to pull organizations together and enable development.
The city of Milpitas, however, has its own idiosyncrasies which present unique challenges for us. The proposed innovation district is separate from the housing zones, which precludes the same spatial intertwining of housing and social spaces that seem to have developed in other similar locations. A large portion of the proposed innovation district is currently occupied by a public storage facility, which we learned may be difficult to move due to its’ stable profits. About a mile away from the proposed site is the Great Mall, the largest shopping center in the area, which could either augment or compete with the social space that we would need to create in the new innovation district. We learned that a primary concern of the city council is that there is considerable housing development occurring in the Milpitas area, however, business development has been slower to come due to lack of amenities and lack of other businesses.
In line with some of the themes around environmental gentrification we discussed in class this week, a crucial concern for us as we move forward in this project is the disadvantaged people living in the area. Housing prices in the area are already in the millions for a townhouse, and creating an economic center close by will certainly drive those prices up if we don’t take action against it. There is a substantial Asian and Latino population in the area which may be vulnerable to displacement if tech companies move into the area. We discussed ideas about rent control or other tenant protection mechanisms which may help alleviate the problem, and it’s something that we will certainly discuss further as we move forwards.