Sustainable Cities is a service-learning course offered through the Program on Urban Studies and Earth Systems Program. Students learn and work collaboratively with Bay Area government agencies and community organizations to support their sustainability goals. Now in its sixth year, the class attracts undergraduate and graduate students from a multitude of disciplines, ranging from urban studies to civil and environmental engineering to law and public policy majors, to support clients on meaningful fieldwork-based projects.
The Winter 2015 class worked with five community partners on the following projects: 1) assessing feasibility of an equitable and integrated Bay Area public transportation fare structure - Friends of Caltrain; 2) mapping residential displacement and demographic shifts in San Mateo County - Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto; 3) developing a public engagement strategy for household hazardous waste disposal in the City of San Jose - Department of Environmental Services; 4) creating a toolkit for Women Bike SF to increase bike ridership in San Francisco - San Francisco Bicycle Coalition; 5) providing technical and policy analysis for the City of Oakland soft story retrofit program - Resilient Oakland Initiative.
The final presentations took place on March 11, 2015 at Stanford University (Video).
1) Last Community Event: This past Sunday, we went to our last community events to survey: The Earthquakes vs. Galaxy Game and the San Jose Flea Market. We had a great turnout at the stadium. Almost everyone we approached completed the survey. In addition, we were sharing a booth with the City of San Jose Recycling. They used a multiple of outreach activities that we found very efficient. The most attractive was a sorting activity where the participant throws bean bags labeled as a type of waste into bags categorized into trash, recycling, hazardous waste, etc.
We had a much harder time at the Flea Market. Just as we pulled into the parking lot, we saw ominous clouds hovering over the area. After sorting out where we set up a booth for free, we realize that we were suppose to bring all supplies. The spot we were given was literally an empty lot. So we stood there, two oddballs in the middle of the flea market with clipboards and surveys. People gave us suspicious looks and the impending rain did not help. We were pushed out of our comfort zone. After half an hour, we realize that 5 surveys may be all we were getting and called it a day. All in all, while the visit to the flea market was short, we both felt that we learned a lot and most important, it did not challenge us any less, if anything, it was a bigger challenge than surveying at the Earthquakes game. As we think about finalizing our outreach strategy recommendation, we need to find a way to convince the population who do not find hazardous waste yet relevant in their lives to care. We need to make disposing hazardous waste easy and convenient for everyone.
2) ARCGIS Map: We cleaned up our data and created layers to separate the type of wastes. We are ready to make the ArcGIS online map.
3) Partnership: After seeing the activities at the booth last Sunday, we have an idea of how to create a lesson plan for our partnership with the Tech Museum/schools.
A) Survey Progress:
Last Sunday we went down to San Jose to gather more survey data at the Tet Festival. Our goal was to target the Vietnamese demographics of San Jose. With the help of our coordinators, we secured a booth representing the Environmental Services Department of the City of San Jose. We arrived at the Fairgrounds at 4:30pm just as dark clouds started to roll over and wind began to pick up. We saw a lot of people streaming out the exit of the Fairgrounds. Luckily once we picked up our surveys at the entrance and went inside the convention center where the main activities were located, we found there were still hundreds of people inside listening to a concert.
At the beginning, we both tried approaching people separately to engage them about HHW and encourage them to take our survey, but a trend quickly arose. As soon as Adam began speaking, most of the festival visitors immediately became standoffish. Out of all the people Adam approached, only one man—who was clearly completely comfortable speaking English and was in fact manning another booth—ended up filling out the survey. The obvious racial disconnect, further heightened by the culturally specific nature of the event, proved to pose a huge barrier to people’s willingness to engage. On the other hand, when Aitran approached people, speaking Vietnamese, people were more willing to talk and open to taking our survey. Some people who were particularly interested spent as long as 30 minutes talking with her about HHW, recycling, and activism in the younger generations in general. This pattern soon became clear to both of us, so we divided up tasks: Aitran continued talking to visitors and encouraging them to take our survey, while Adam handed out fliers to passers by. If he just smiled and offered a flier, most people were completely willing to take it, and would even read it as they kept walking, looking sincerely interested in the information that it contained. Therefore, our efforts were maximized as we diversified our roles with Aitran obtaining survey data for later analysis and Adam distributing materials to educate the public and help address the problem of HHW that is currently sitting around in people’s homes. Overall, the trip was certainly a success. We spent roughly two hours surveying and completed 25 surveys.
Our last community event is on Saturday Feb. 28th at the San Jose Earthquakes soccer game. The game starts at 2pm, so we will arrive at 11:30am and help operate a city booth from 12-2pm. We plan to survey as well as present fans a static map of the retail drop-off locations and ask for their feedback. Afterwards, we will head over to the flea market and try to get some more surveys before we return to campus.
B) GIS Map:
On Wednesday, we visited the GIS library and met with Yari. She showed us how to import our Excel database to ARC Map. We experienced some technical glitches connecting to the network as well as making our data compatible with ARC Map language. Fortunately after multiple tries, all but 15 of our retail drop-off sites showed up as points on the map. Yari told us that 498/513 is a very good turnout. We can manually input the rest of the remaining sites. She also showed us how to customize our map by creating filters and color-coding our points. By the GIS session on Monday, we will have made the necessary Excel revisions and be ready to develop a more advanced map. Our coordinators Lauren and Alana are working with the Country of Santa Clara to see if this final products can be embedded in the Household Hazardous Waste website.
Despite the lack of any site visits or group meetings, this week served productively set us up for the final phases of our projects. After collecting a small number of surveys last week, we have revised our Vietnamese survey and Alana and Lauren have graciously offered to print out new surveys for us at City Hall in preparation for the Tet Festival this Sunday, Feb. 22nd. The City of San Jose has secured us a festival booth for the afternoon where we can take surveys from festival visitors and walk around surveying people if needed. We also plan on passing out fliers from the booth that give information about what constitutes household hazardous waste as well as information about the San Jose HHW Facility.
Surveying outside the downtown public library last week certainly gave us valuable survey data. We believe that the demographic of the people we surveyed there was disproportionally young and contained a higher percentage of white people than what would accurately reflect the demographics of the city. By surveying at this festival, we hope to incorporate the input of some of the sizable Vietnamese population that San Jose holds. Operating along the same line of thought, we gained the input of of a portion of the Latino demographic when we surveyed at the McKinley Neighborhood Meeting. We are expecting the people at the San Jose Earthquakes soccer game on Feb. 28th will be a fairly diverse mix.
As far as setting up new partnerships, our connection with the Tech Museum has been slow in developing. However, we are starting to develop ideas for some way to engage visitors near the entrance, either through some sort of poster-like display, or an interactive activity targeted at children in which participators sort objects representing different examples of waste into three bins: trash, recycling, and hazardous waste.
Additionally, we are currently in the process of contacting two middle schools and one high school. The hope is that we can prepare some sort of short lesson plan, to be carried out by either a volunteer or a city employee, or maybe the two of us, that would educate the students about common types of household hazardous waste and why they need to be disposed of separately. This could be a short video (there are already some put out by the city that we might be able to use) or a similar type of sorting game. It would also be useful to survey the students to see how much they already know about HHW to gage the extent of current social exposure to hazardous waste. Afterwards, fliers advertising the San Jose HHW Facility would be distributed to the students to take home and show their parents. According to the ex-Seattle City Councilmember who I interviewed about the strategies used by King County, having children teach their parents about hazardous waste was the most effective way to spread awareness to the homeowner demographic who produce the bulk of household hazardous waste.
Lastly, our GIS project has been coming along nicely. This week we finished entering in all the retail locations in Santa Clara County where residents can drop off their various types of HHW, totaling at over 500 locations. The finished spread sheet can be viewed here.
The next steps will be to slightly reformat the address column to make the data convertible to exact locations on the map. Pretty soon, we can start creating the actual map. We hope to have it ready by next weekend for the soccer game so we can get feedback from San Jose residents about whether they believe it would be useful or not. Hopefully people will find it a helpful tool.
We have been chipping away at our three deliverables and here are updates:
1) Survey: We have written a survey and translated it into Vietnamese, Spanish, and Chinese.
After exhausting the color printer in Green Library, on Wednesday, we carried our stack of surveys and fliers to San Jose.
First stop: The Flea Market
Unfortunately, the attendance rate on a Wednesday was close to zero. We have a hard time finding participants. A pair of mother and child, however, were very invested in the survey and spent ten minutes asking us questions about hazardous waste. Eventually, a vendor approached us and said that we had to register at the information booth. Walking around soliciting surveyors was not permitted.
Lesson 1: Flea markets on a weekday and soliciting survey participants are a big no-no.
Next Stop: Downtown San Jose
We stopped by the San Jose Technology Innovation Museum and explored the area for some possible project exhibitions. Unfortunately, we were not able to schedule an in-person meeting with our contact Michelle but we hope to arrange a phone conversation in the coming week.
San Jose Public Library: The crowd rushing in and out of Tully Cafe annexed to San Jose Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library gave us a great pool of people to survey. We had university students and professors from San Jose State University, city employees, Girl Scout parents and their children, and other downtown visitors.
McKinley Neighborhood Meeting: We had a great turnout at the community meeting. It was a change of environment surveying in a close-knit community setting where everyone was seated around a table and knew each other. As opposed to the surveying at the San Jose Public Library, it was easy to gage what the main concerns of the community was from the meeting and understand where household hazardous waste fit in their lives. One of the main concerns that night was the homeless population in San Jose. The police who came spoke about the Jungle, a homeless encampment that was cleared away recently. He said that because these 300 people are now without a place to settle, most of his job involves clearing away new homeless hotspots before they grow as big as the Jungle was. The problem is once he clears one, another pops up. It was humbling to see our cause in the perspective of a community agenda. That is not to say that household hazardous waste is not important, but rather, taking about homelessness or security is a more relevant topic for many residents. It is something they see and witness every day. Whereas the hefty jargon that comes with household hazardous waste can be intimidating. We need to find a way to make household hazardous waste feel as relatable as these other pertinent issues. The fact is everyone has them. People who we surveyed told that they just keep it lying in their house. Many put their motor oil, paint, and other hazardous products stored away in the garage. It exists but it can be kept out of sight and out of mind, until it comes time to move out of the house.
To help us put household hazardous cause into the political perspective, we spoke with San Jose City Council Member Raul Peralez who offered to drive us to the Caltrain station. He told us that the first thing on his agenda right now is pension reform. There are unresolved litigation that carried over into his term of office. Before he proceeds to other pertinent issues, he first needs to finalize the details on pension reform. Then, he would like to focus on affordable housing. Mr. Peralez said that Santa Clara recently closed down its only homeless shelter, sending an influx of homeless people to San Jose's already overfilling homeless shelters. While this can be perceived as problem, the influx is also a social implication. Compared to many cities in the Bay Area, San Jose is more welcoming to persons of low or modest income. They are accommodated in San Jose. Thus, Mr. Peralez wants to implement for housing to further this welcoming spirit. We were again humbled by our conversation with Mr. Peralez. If there was any takeaway from that day, it was the humbling feeling of presenting our work, the survey that was created in an academia bubble, to the forces of the real world where it took a lot of effort to draw people attention to a topic that is often dismissed amidst other worthy causes. We are not discouraged. In fact, as we hear about all the other ongoing political, social, economic happenings, we know that reaching out about hazardous waste is important. If people are continuing to come to San Jose, we need to make sure they can have a safe living environment devoid of illegal hazardous waste disposal.
Future Outreach Events:
February 22nd: San Jose Household Hazardous Waste Information Booth at Vietnamese Tet Festival Celebration
February 28th: San Jose Household Hazardous Waste Booth at Earthquakes vs. Galaxy Game
2) Tech Museum and Green Schools Collaboration: We are in the midst of jumpstarting this project: finding appropriate contacts, setting up phone calls, sharing our vision, etc. The idea is to create a collaboration between schools and the tech museum for a household hazardous waste workshop. Our main contact from the Tech Museum is Michelle and we look forward to speaking with her in the coming week.
3) GIS Map: We are compiling our Excel database sheet. We hope to finish by next week so we can start working on the template.