Update on Project Activities
This week we gathered as our full team for the first time, and met our community partner contact from the Tech Interactive, Danny. During our kickoff meeting in class on Monday, we had a chance to introduce ourselves and our motivations behind joining the project to each other. In this process we were able to see plenty of overlap in our interests and our goals for the project, both in terms of what we want to produce and in terms of personal skills development, etc. Namely, we share a common interest in engaging with climate/environmental crises on a personal basis, and in developing journalism skills through our interviewing and editing.
We also learned from Danny about some of the most recent work that’s happened for the project. Two summer interns have passed on to us a handbook for conducting our interviews and continuing to help sculpt the exhibit. We began thinking about how to most efficiently use our time in resources over the course of the quarter, especially by beginning to hone in on the groups of people we might be most interested in collecting stories from. The last interns focused on collecting stories from everyday people - folks who might not think about or engage with climate change conversations on a regular basis, but who nonetheless of course have experiences to share about their interactions with natural and built environments. We share an interest in looking at stories based in the area’s indigenous communities, as we see the importance in those stories being integral to any kind of inclusive representation of Bay Area experiences with the environment.
We continued this conversation at our second meeting, where Danny also taught us how to use our recording equipment.
What We Observed and Learned
Not only did we learn about the technical components and equipment necessary to conduct high quality interviews, but we also learned about important things to keep in mind when approaching and interviewing people. First, it is essential to remain genuine and transparent about the process without setting unrealistic expectations. We discussed the importance of communicating that there is no guarantee that their story will be part of the exhibit so as not to misinform to increase the likelihood of their participation. Second, it is important to communicate key points to the interviewee, such as the importance of clarity in the interview and telling a brief story. However, we also want to reflect on and remember to be ethical journalists and refrain from framing the prompt in a way that elicits a story we are searching for. In other words, we must be aware of and avoid confirmation bias and create an environment conducive to the true manifestation of their story. Third, we have started learning about how to remain sensitive in the interview process, especially as some of the topics may be sensitive for people to discuss. This is a skill we will refine through experience interviewing people. This week, we began to understand why sensitivity and remaining humble are essential when capturing compelling narratives.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
The Community Voices project has been in progress since last year and Danny informed us that this summer there were two interns who spent multiple weeks working specifically on this project. Over the course of their internship, they were able to record 11 different interviews from various community members/experts in the field of climate change. Listening to these recorded clips was very useful as it provided us with a guideline for how we should facilitate the interviews. Zach and Sarah (the interns from this summer) asked prompting questions but overall just let their interview subjects talk for as long as they wanted which led to very lengthy raw interview footage (roughly between 30-45 minutes long). They then edited down these large chunks of raw audio footage into 2-3 minute snippets that captured an important message from the interview. We predict that having access to the before and after of their interview footage will be very helpful when we have to edit our own interviews. However, listening to the previous interviews was especially useful as it gave us a sense of whose voices have already been taken into account and whose voices are still missing.
As a group we are all excited about the prospect of getting interviews from community members whose voices are less often heard when talking about climate change, whether that be young people, low-income people, people of color or even just people for whom climate change is not their area of expertise. Our most essential next steps are to reach out to people within the Bay Area community to ask if they would be interested in being interviewed. In addition to that we need to make a list of which groups we hope to focus on and brainstorm ways that we will be able to get in contact with and access these various potential interviewees.
Some challenges we are anticipating are founded primarily in the interpersonal intricacies of the conversations ahead of us, chiefly including a disclaimer in which we make clear that their story is not guaranteed to be included in the exhibit. Another challenge we anticipate is coordinating our schedules for team meetings and field work. We plan to address this challenge by splitting into two groups for certain events depending on the availability of the entire team. Learning how to ask the correct questions is a skill we anticipate to be challenging and plan to address by closely reading the handbook and notes left by previous students who worked with the Tech Interactive, and even by mastering smaller skills such as making sure the interviewee restates the question posed so that their story is cohesive and deliberate.
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.
Update on Project Activities
As a group, we reviewed the durations of the interviews given to us by Alexi and split the transcription duties based on time. The amount of transcribing comes out to around 2.5 hours worth of interviews per person. To get a better understanding of the stories and intentions of the AEMP, our team is reading through The Zine and their website, as well as their mission statement. We are familiarizing ourselves with Scalar, their interactive website platform, and are also in communication with Alexi regarding our next meeting and further interests in video editing and conducting in-person interviews. This weekend we are all working to tackle 30 minutes of transcribing in order to be able to debrief next week how the process is, how much time it takes us, what problems or questions we stumble upon.
We will have weekly Thursday meetings to support each other in the transcription process and check in to write our reflections. We tentatively plan to have all of our transcriptions done by November 10 so that we can begin editing our clips.
What We Observed and Learned
This week, in our class session with Alexi, we were introduced to the goals and purpose of the organization. It is widespread, with locations in cities all over the U.S., and all those involved are driven by a common goal of bringing light to the history and lived experiences of Black San Franciscans due to gentrification, particularly due to economic forces and real estate exploitation. One of the main purposes of the collective is to explain the long history of colonialism and present continuation and dispossession of Black communities by combining data, mapping, and narratives of resistance. Their purpose relates to our class because this project is aimed at addressing cultural continuity and social equity pieces of sustainability.
The horizontal structure of the collective gives us a lot of agency with the work we do. This is incredibly freeing and empowering, but also demands careful and attentive thought. We must frame our work in transcribing and editing these interviews using the literature we have read, as well as advice from the collective. One thing about the collective that was pertinent was their willingness to trust our judgment and believe in the work we would create. This creative agency is based in the collective’s lack of internal hierarchy. While this agency is freeing and exciting, it also demands close communication and an understanding of our own strengths and weaknesses so as to achieve our deliverable goals. To achieve this, we will have consistent lines of communication with the collective to ensure our work aligns with their goals.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
As we are transcribing, we will be attempting to account for “difference” in speech patterns that the algorithms that the software Trint uses can not account for. Before we begin transcribing, we are working through the readings of “Representing the language of the ‘other’: African American Vernacular English in ethnography” (Brown and de Casanova 2014) and “Problems of Editing "First-Person" Sociology” (Blauner 1987). After reading these texts, we plan to establish a working set of norms that with which we will use to approach our transcription process.
We want to move forward cognizant that academic Standard English is often privileged by research and ethnographers in transcribing interviews from communities, especially those that may have differences in dialects and speech patterns than the people transcribing the interviews. We are further want to move forward cognizant that in failing to capture the authentic voice and speech patterns of the communities that have been interviewed we would be contributing to the erasure of the culture of communities already suffering from dislocation. We also recognize that the language some of the interviewees may use is stigmatized in the United States. We want to work on the transcriptions with as much self-awareness as possible of our conscious and unconscious biases towards language and speech that is stigmatized and our position of power in choosing how we represent the language of others from communities we are not a part of.
According to Brown and de Casanova, studying language is the key to understanding social interactions and institutions. The authors bring in other scholars’ thoughts on AAVE in order to provide multiple perspectives on ethnography to the reader. One of these perspectives is Labov who posits that, “as inner city youth interact more with varieties of ‘White’ English, will bring about the demise of AAVE,” (Brown and de Casanova 2014). This is an example of a claim put forth by scholars, that has a direct impact on our work as speakers of ‘White’ English. We come from a position of privilege (we are not at risk from being evicted from our home at Stanford) that is reflected in the way we speak English. According to Brown and Casanova “Acknowledging language diﬀerences is important as it clariﬁes for the reader the power imbalances that exist between the researcher and participant… yet researchers tend to steer clear of such topics in their publications,” it is important that we do not.
What We Observed and Learned
The Grand Jury Report serves as the de facto guiding document and provides the background and justification for embarking on our project. The Report established that although SamTrans provides a fixed-route, bus transit network for San Mateo County of which 16 routes connect or terminate at Caltrain stations, these routes are not well-coordinated with the scheduled train arrival and departure times--this despite the two systems being operated by group, according to our conversation with Ian Griffiths on Monday. After speaking with Adina on Friday, we learned that SamTrans and Caltrain have responded to the Grand Jury Report and claim to be working on this issue. Our job through this project is to collect data and create maps that can be helpful in terms of decision making. Reading the Report prompted us to develop numerous discussion and investigation points, namely: 1) why only 3% of Caltrain commuters utilize SamTrans for their first/last mile trips, 2) why routes designated as “Caltrain Connectors” do not actually connect with trains, 3) how to manipulate existing resources (buses, scheduling gaps, etc.) to optimize the current system to provide better connections.
“Moving Silicon Valley Forward” was an eye-opening report that exposed the commuting difficulties, especially of minority populations, along the Peninsula and in the Bay Area. It concluded that, among other mandates, that transit in the Bay Area must improve to fit the needs of such commuters in order to lessen the impacts of pollution and traffic congestion. As the primary heavy rail system in the Peninsula, Caltrain is poised to reduce this congestion but only if other systems are coordinated to maximize its effectiveness. This reading allowed us to get a better understanding of the profile of those we are attempting to assist with the project, and the real impacts we might have. This issue is real and happening right now, as we observed through group members recounting their own experiences connecting through public transit in the Bay Area.
In our conversations with Ian Griffiths, we also discussed Bay Area transit and how it consists of nearly 30 separate, uncoordinated systems--a network that Ian hopes to integrate into one, functioning network via the work of Seamless Bay Area. In essence, the Bay Area is unique in this regard of so many systems serving their own purposes. San Mateo County alone has the Valley Transportation Authority, SamTrans, and Caltrain as the three major transit providers--and that’s not counting the amalgamation of smaller, local providers in the region. This fragmentation is something we hope to assist with mitigating along with organizations like Friends of Caltrain and Seamless Bay Area.
Update on Project Activities
Our first order of business was to exchange contact information and create a system for sharing information and dividing up work. After getting acquainted and sharing our backgrounds and skills, we created a Google Team Drive that will house all our documents and files. We then (luckily!) were able to set a weekly group meeting time for Thursdays at 5pm.
At our first meeting in class on Monday September 30th, we were joined by one of our community partners, Ian Griffith from Seamless Bay Area. He spoke about policy reform, grassroots movements to integrate transit systems, and reiterated data that only 12% of Bay Area commuters ride transit, whereas 75% drive. We did a thought exercise where we brainstormed reasons why people might not be using SamTrans buses to connect to Caltrain, based off personal experiences using public transportation in the area, and focused on missed opportunities and barriers that prevent Caltrain riders from accessing SamTrans. We then went over the project description and deliverables together. Ian suggested that we each go out and try to make a connecting with public transportation over the next week and ask other riders what their experiences were along that particular routes.
At our first team meeting on Thursday October 4th, we began working on Reflection #1, reviewed the Project Scope of Work assignment, and came up with questions to ask Adina and Ian the following day. During our Zoom call on Friday, we got acquainted with Adina and were updated on SamTrans’ and Caltrain’s responses to the Grand Jury Report. We then went over next steps and project expectations with Adina. After getting all our questions answered, we feel comfortable about the scope of our work. We will be meeting with our community partners again next week, when we will be able to gain their feedback on our initial data collection and analysis.
We have also set up the computation foundation of our project: team members have installed the ArcGIS suite and system for sharing data over our Google drive. We have compiled a set of data layers to assist in our mapping analysis. So far, these include Caltrain centerline and station locations, preliminary mapping of the Bay Area with Communities of Concern, and SamTrans routes.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Speaking with Adina and Ian on Friday allowed us to define our goal for this project, immediate scope of work, and expectations for our deliverables. Our goal is to make recommendations about improvements to transit connections and for active transportation. We will summarize the recommendations on an interactive website, though we currently do not know exactly what these visuals will look like. Ian will help us decide the best way to visualize these transit recommendations and communicate the issue.
While the project description states identifying Communities of Concern within a 3-mile radius of SamTrans, VTA, SFMTA, BART Bus/Light Rail/Heavy Rail Stations, we decided to first focus on access to SamTrans Caltrain Connection bus routes in San Mateo. Adina told us to first establish a methodology for the mapping analysis: creating the maps, analyzing the data, creating the visuals, and presenting recommendations for just one transit system (e.g. SamTrans and Caltrain in San Mateo). We will then work incrementally and carry out the same methodology for the other transit systems and, if time allows, expand the scope of our work to Santa Clara County and San Francisco. Once we know how long the entire methodology takes for one transit system, we can create a schedule for the rest of the quarter to carry out additional analysis and recommendations. Adina also suggested using this first mapping exercise to determine which specific routes it might be interesting to try out as field work and interview riders.
We are currently scheduling a meeting next week with both community partners, during which we will go over our Project Scope of Work and assess any roadblocks related to the mapping analysis of SanTrans Caltrain Connection buses. We also hope to use this meeting to discuss the best data visualization practices.
As we start to establish the relevant metrics we need for determining transportation access, we need to find GIS files for those metrics in Bay Area cities. We need to be able to find quality GIS files, but they may not be the easiest to find. Since this project relies on the use of ArcGIS in order to determine our recommendations for changes in current Bay Area transportation systems, it is important that we all have an adequate understanding of how the software works. As of now, we are at varying levels of experience which we will need to improve upon throughout the quarter to ensure we create high-quality deliverables. Our current individual experience with ArcGIS are as follows:
* Brandon: I have no experience with ArcGIS or mapping software.
* AJ: Currently in ESS 164 (Fundamentals of GIS).
* Allan: While working with the City of San Jose, I used arGIS to map out gang-related crime around the City. However, this involvement with arcGIS is very minimal and doesn’t relate well to the work done in this project.
* Lilla: I’ve used ArcGIS once before for a research project and am currently in ESS 164 (Fundamentals of GIS).
* Ken: I have used ArcGIS previously in a public works internship, but it was mostly set up for me and I simply added and edited layers.
After we establish our mapping analysis protocol for the first transit system, we will need to replicate it for other systems. How many we are able to analyze over the course of the quarter will depend on how intensive the process (from data collection to presenting recommendations) is, and thus we are not sure what we will accomplish in this short timeframe. Adina told us that the more systems the merrier, but to focus on the quality of recommendations and working incrementally. Regarding recommendations for improving equitable Caltrain analysis, we are also unsure what form this should take: should we be highlighting simply areas that need work or recommend specific changes to routes?
Update on Project Activities
This week, we had the chance to discuss the project with both Violet and Derek. On Monday, Violet gave us an overview of the project and provided us with useful information about the East Palo Alto community. On Wednesday, we met with Derek, who discussed the project in more depth with us, gave us a rundown on the current state of the project data, and took us through some of the basics of technical tools that will be useful for us while working on the project. Katherine has begun to digitize the remaining paper surveys.
What We Observed and Learned
When Violet came in to speak with us on Monday, she gave us a high-level overview of the project and explained some of the goals of the project. Violet informed us that approximately 100 residents of East Palo Alto have been surveyed, with a goal of having approximately 300 surveys completed by the end of this month (October). The objective here is to gain a better understanding of community awareness and concern regarding climate change, and particularly flood risk.
Violet also talked to us in more detail about the community of East Palo Alto to give us an idea of the demographic and resources we’ll be working with. Hispanics account for the majority of the population in all of East Palo Alto. She mentioned that the Gardens neighborhood of East Palo Alto, a majority black community located on the bay, should be of particular focus in our project, as it is the neighborhood most vulnerable to flooding. Violet explained that East Palo Alto is undergoing rapid gentrification, and residents who can no longer afford rent are being pushed out by wealthy buyers. This is creating traffic congestion with more commuters, and leading to crowded homes for poor residents. East Palo Alto does not have as many resources as other nearby Bay Area communities, and is unable to allocate an adequate amount of resources to sustainability. This is because climate change is currently not considered a priority. There is a great need to build up the institutional capacity to allow East Palo Alto to better deal with climate change.
Derek gave us a tutorial on using Geographic Information System (GIS) tools and KoBoToolbox, as well as more detailed information about the survey itself on Wednesday. The GIS tools that Derek showed us are useful as they provide a visual in order to pick representative blocks to survey. The map contains borders dividing East Palo Alto into many blocks. The map also displays the area of East Palo Alto on the bay that is at risk for flooding. The blue flood zone on the map represents the area that would be flooded with 36 inch water rise. Climate projections tell us that such a flood has a 1 in 50 chance of occurring in a given year.
Derek showed us what questions the survey consisted of, and the methods with which the completed surveys have been administered. There are two primary ways in which the survey is administered: in paper form, and in digital form. Surveying was often performed in pairs of two, with the two surveyors alternating houses while traversing a block. Originally, the target for data collection was 1 in 5 surveys completed. Unfortunately, there has been a lower than expected response rate for various reasons (no answer, refuse to take the survey, language barrier, etc). The survey is divided into three main parts: initial questions, repeats of questions after additional information was provided, and demographics. The additional information provided comes in three different forms; the level of information provided for a given survey is randomized. The three forms of information are: text + block map, text + city map, and text only. The text + block map contains general information about climate change and a map of the participant’s block, noting whether or not the block is at flood risk. The text + city map contains the same information but with a map of East Palo Alto and the area vulnerable to flooding. The text contains only the climate change information. The purpose of this is to measure how residents would respond differently when provided with varying degrees of information. Surveyors are encouraged to provide all information to participants after the survey is completed, in the interest of awareness.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
The main goal of this stage of the project is to gain insight into the East Palo Alto community’s awareness and concern of climate change issues. This will provide critical info on how best to allocate resources and mobilize the community to take action in the future. At this point, it looks like our next steps will be to begin planning data analysis strategies for the digitized results as the rest of the surveys are being completed this month. A few other things we plan on doing in the near future to help with this are the following: