Our Fall 2019 Sustainable Cities officially kicked off today with our first Meet and Greet with Community Partners.
Sustainable Cities is a service-learning course offered through the Program on Urban Studies and Earth Systems Program. In this intensive seminar, we collaborate with Bay Area government agencies and non-profit organizations to support their efforts in creating sustainable and equitable cities. Now in its eleventh year, the class is open to undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines.
The Fall 2019 class will work with five community partners on the following projects:
1) Community Voices - an Interactive Exhibit — Partner: Tech Museum Interactive
2) (Dis)location/Black Exodus — Partner: Anti-Eviction Mapping Project
3) East Palo Climate Change Community Survey Analysis - Partner: Acterra
4) Equitable Access to Caltrain Mapping Analysis — Partners: Friends of Caltrain, TransForm
5) City of Milpitas Central Manufacturing Area South Innovation District/Lab — Partner: City of Milpitas
Follow our adventures here on this blog throughout the quarter!
This week, our group had the pleasure of meeting our project partners at the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project! Adrienne and Maggie introduced themselves and the project to us, and gave us a little bit of their own backstories of what led them to the project in the first place. They told us about their interests and areas of expertise, and told us how they were incorporating them into their work for the Atlas. After receiving a full-planning document including a chapter table of contents from Maggie, we’ve divvied up the available chapters and plan to work one-on-one with chapter editors. We plan on then reuniting as a group, and we will discuss together the overall theme and narrative arc of the Atlas, as well as how well it is communicated to the intended audience.
Moving forward, we’re excited about the prospect of preparing educational materials once working text drafts are available and shared with us, as well as for the grant-writing process which will take place during November. We also have an upcoming virtual meeting to discuss the Atlas and its progress this Sunday, and an ethical service workshop sometime in mid-to-late October!
Even from these brief interactions with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project Staff, it’s clear that the collective of artists, scholars, and activists working on the project have poured their heart and soul into it. There is a strong sense of horizontalism among the different members, and there does not seem to be a set hierarchy in terms of importance or amount of work completed. This model makes sense given the decentralized nature of the project, and what seems to be a very individual and non-linear style of work. It sounds like a lot of our work will be “creative vision” for the project, and ensuring that there is continuity amongst and between chapters, and that overall, the atlas has a coherent and intelligible message.
Given our eagerness to collaborate with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project researchers, our initial plans to move forward center on: i) streamlining communication avenues with our partners; ii) getting to know our partners personally; iii) spending good time reading up on chapter drafts and iv) brainstorming ways of teaching this content to young audiences.
i) Digital Communication - Adrienne and Maggie made it very clear to us that the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project was a horizontally structured project. This meant that decisions on the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project Atlas were to be made by the consensus of a large and diverse group of researchers rather than a single project lead. One strength of this structure is that it makes space for specialists in many different interconnected disciplines and allows for the discussion of diverse issues, spanning from incarceration and police brutality to housing prices and transport access, in a single issue. Notwithstanding this strength, currently Maggie and Deland are our only contacts to the large group and so we plan to make direct contact with each of the chapter editors to relieve the burden of two people managing the connections between a large number of people. Once we have everyone’s emails we plan for members of our team who are analyzing particular chapters in detail to connect with those chapter editors. For all our communications we want to be clear on general practices such as frequency and timing of check ins. On the whole, recognizing that all the authors have their own community based research projects, and likely classes and other priorities, we concede that we must be flexible and understanding of people’s schedules.
ii) Getting acquainted with the chapter editors - This step is not just a nicety but will influence how we interact with the chapter editors and how we can best collaborate with them. By hearing about how the chapter editor’s own history is tied to the issues they are studying we can learn about the things that motivate them and do our best to respect and imitate these motivations as we provide advice. For example, Maggie told us that for her Postdoc she is working on the link between social organizing and art as well as the role of indigenous communities in today’s Bay Area. Awareness of her knowledge of art and organizing may come in handy should we want help in offering advice on the documentation of art in other chapters. Similarly, Deland told us about her experience of learning to communicate complex urban planning jargon into everyday language for community members. We should try to make use of this strategy in looking to bring Atlas content into educational materials for high schoolers.
iii) Understanding the project - This step will involve a lot of reading of the chapter drafts, oral histories and visuals to be included in the chapters. As we do extensive reading we want to ask the project editors about things such as key elements to remain consistent throughout the atlas such as layout, themes or vocabulary so that we can perhaps contribute by adding consistency. We also want to check on the status of languages of the atlas and website since, given the experience of some of our members living in the Bay Area, we could maximize the spread of information about the Atlas if it was in Spanish and other languages, such as Chinese.
iv) Brainstorming educational modules - We do not yet know what audience we would present this information to but will keep track of basic teachable social-justice related content that we think younger audiences would understand. It would be good to talk to programs that run on campus for low-income youth to get their perspective on what aged children and what content they think would be beneficial to teach.
Update on Project Activities
This week we had our first meeting with our project partners, Alex Andrade, the Economic Development Manager for the City of Mountain View, and Christina Gilmore, Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Mountain View. Our meeting focused on developing context regarding the demographics of Mountain View, existing digital/civic literacy resources and programs for low-resource individuals to access the internet. While this project will focus on exploring the demographics of Mountain View residents that have access to computers and the wifi, as well as their knowledge of pre-existing programs, the motivation is rooted in the 2020 Census. The 2020 census will likely be distributed digitally, thus making digital inclusion a higher priority now more than ever. If an individual or family does not have the resources able to register for the census, there can be widespread economic impacts such as decreased funding for federal projects. While the individuals without a digital access face hurdles to civic engagement, they also face economic disadvantages. For example, if unemployed, an individual will be employed seven times faster if he/she has access to the internet.
What We Observed and Learned
Housing costs in Mountain View are incredibly high, with the median cost of a single-family home in the millions. These skyrocketing housing prices have attributed to the homelessness population in Mountain View tripling. Many residents now live in cars or RVs. In addition, Mountain View residents include immigrants, some undocumented, that do not speak English. It is hypothesized that these groups also have lower rates of digital access. Engaging with both of these populations is crucial to ensure that the 2020 census represents all demographics of Mountain View residents. As our team ponders a future without a digital divide, we question the competing nature of the sustainabilities defined by Mariam Greenberg in “What on Earth Is Sustainable?” Access to the internet provides economic benefits, as well as civic involvement: the City of Mountain View relies on its website as its main communication platform. While digital access favors justice oriented sustainability by ensuring that all residents have the same access to jobs and information regarding programs like AT&T and Comcast’s reduced cost internet, it may compete with eco-oriented sustainability. Wifi connections and necessary hardware like computers increase energy consumption and the ecological impacts of some hardware components, like lithium batteries, are immense. In addition, we wonder about the impact on community. We need to be observant. Perhaps central places where residents go to gain access, like a library for example, are important cultural institutions and public meeting places. Eliminating the need to commute for digital access may impact the cultural aspect of sustainability. The idea of free, public wifi in certain areas of Mountain View was mentioned. We wonder if that would result in a similar phenomena as environmental gentrification. Would free wifi in residential areas result in increased home prices, which are filled by residents that can afford to have their own personal internet connection?
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
In the next week, we hope to create an initial draft of the survey that we will distribute to determine who in Mountain View has digital access, how they practice that access, and awareness about digital literacy programs. Our biggest question is in regards to distribution. How will we best engage residents that are not connected? Traditional means, like an online survey, won’t reach the entire citizen population. Christina has suggested talking with members of the City of Mountain View’s ambassador program that is composed of monolingual and bilingual residents that learn about civic resources, and can then share that information with their communities. Alex has suggested connecting with residents at Council Neighbourhood Meetings and seeing if we can distribute the survey through them. While the citizens at these meetings are more civically engaged than their peers, their current roles involve disseminating information to their communities, and can perhaps serve in that same capacity for distributing our survey.
Update on Project Activities
This week, we began by reading about the history of Salinas and the economic, political, and social forces that influenced its development. The two pieces of background reading, excerpts from Lori A. Flores’ Grounds for Dreaming and Carol McKibben’s history of Salinas, made it clear that the narrative of race relations in twentieth century Salinas is highly contested.
We also met with our project collaborators, a diverse group of students, government workers, and academics, and set a date for our first meeting in Salinas. Before that date (October 14th), we plan to discuss our research goals with David Medeiros, of the Geospatial Center, and Kris Kasianovitch, a research librarian. Even planning a one-day meeting proved difficult due to the size and schedule variances of our project group. We were restricted by our classes and the time it takes to drive to Salinas, and many of our collaborators had to find time outside of their work schedules, classes, and family obligations as well. To address this issue, we all shared our contact information and chose student liaisons for the Stanford and Hartnell groups.
What We Observed and Learned
As previously mentioned, we realized that Salinas’ history, especially in regards to settlement patterns and race, is very complex. Salinas, like much of the American southwest, is located on Native American lands that were seized by Spaniards, later to become part of Mexico, then the US. Farmers used the area’s rich soil to grow a wide variety of crops, including lettuce, which helped Salinas prosper even as the rest of the country plunged into the Great Depression. The huge growing and packing operations that once made Salinas one of the richest cities in America depended on a diverse community of laborers. These workers came from China, Japan, the Philippines, Mexico, and the Dust Bowl in several distinct waves of migration. This information is what our sources could agree on. They disagreed, however, on the issues of community integration and discrimination.
Flores’s paper presented a fairly simple historical narrative: all these groups were subjected to legal, social, and economic discrimination. The government and community may have used different laws or acts of violence to harm each group, but ultimately the mechanisms and motivations for discrimination were the same. Flores also described Salinas as a segregated city, which jibes with the reports of our colleagues at Hartnell College. However, Dr. McKibben’s research suggested that the historical picture of Salinas was more nuanced. She described many instances of social integration (some forced and some chosen), from Mexican men going to bars in Chinatown to the whole city celebrating a Filipino hero. She acknowledged that racism still had (and has) a significant impact on life and settlement in Salinas, but she also added that some aspects and members of minority communities were widely appreciated and celebrated. At first glance, the historical maps of Salinas seem to support both Flores’s and McKibben’s arguments, showing both seemingly segregated areas and prominent minority-owned businesses and land plots.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Out of all the URBANST 164 projects this year, ours initially seemed the least connected to sustainability. After reading Miriam Greenberg’s discussion of justice-oriented sustainabilities, the role of this project has become clearer. In order to address issues of inequity in present-day Salinas, it is critical that we come to understand the historical roots of those issues. By examining settlement patterns and their influences, we will hopefully be able to see if and how certain groups have been restricted and others have been encouraged to prosper. In order to do this, we next need to narrow the scope of our research.
While this project has a fairly straightforward set of deliverables, our initial instructions are rather open-ended. Dr. McKibben referred to the first phase of our research as an “exploration” of our data in which we will have to select a few drivers of settlement patterns and geographic areas of interest. Even with the maps and census data we already have access to, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by this amount of data. Dr. McKibben suggested that we might select a geographic area of focus within Salinas, and this would allow us to immediately screen out a lot of data. Also, we would like to select a few of the most important drivers of settlement distribution and delve further into those. For instance, we could focus on economics and chart demographic changes in relation to lettuce sales and key events like the onset of the Great Depression. No matter what we decide to focus on, it will be crucial that we continue to critically examine our sources and ask ourselves how different authors are trying to portray the city of Salinas. Even seemingly “neutral” sources like maps and census documents have their own subtle biases that we must evaluate with caution. As we continue to examine the references we have been given, we will also consider which GIS and graphic design techniques we should use to analyze and present this information.
Update on Project Activities
This Monday, we met with members from our community partners: Friends of Caltrain, Transform, and the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County. During our meeting, we got acquainted with one another and got a better idea of what we will be working on the for the quarter. To further our knowledge of the issues our community partners are taking on, we did the proposed readings specific to our project. These included housing reports from Legislative Affairs Office, the general plan for the Menlo Park downtown area, and UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Projects. After parsing through the documents, we all had a much better understanding of the affordable housing in the Bay Area and how it connects to transportation. These former studies are useful to our project because they provide background information on housing and transportation in the Bay Area, as well as highlight the gaps in the research that our project could expand upon.
On Friday, October 5, we had a second meeting with the community partners to discuss scope of work. We discussed our target audience, goals, types of questions to ask, and potential outcomes. We also set a broad timeline for the rest of the quarter: 1 week for survey design, 3-4 weeks for survey collection, and 3-4 weeks for analysis and preparing deliverables. Leora, one of the community partners, will lead a training on canvassing and workshop our survey with us in two weeks. More detail in the section below.
What We Observed and Learned
Through our Monday meeting with partners and in-class activities, we have had the ability to learn technical knowledge in the form of lectures and readings and see plans that have had varying degrees of success put into action. This is an invaluable platform for us to start out on, and will provide a great base for us to build off of in the coming weeks. Our meeting on Monday helped us take baby steps in interacting with community partners and asking them questions about what they have been working on.
Our Friday planning meeting helped clarify our goals and deliverables:
There seems to be some flexibility for us to define our goals and deliverables, so an important next step is to outline our scope of work for the rest of the quarter and design the survey.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
One major goal of our group contribute meaningfully to the pursuit of creating more affordable housing options. Our partners have communicated that they need help with collecting metrics and stories by going door to door to homes in Menlo Park.
The group as a whole has little exposure to surveying, especially at the scale that we are conducting ours. This experience provides a unique opportunity to empathize with people in real life, and transcend the boundaries of the classroom.
As the brunt of our research consists of surveys of the community, it is important that we maintain proper respect. We recognize that people, ourselves included, have little desire to help surveyors. Surveying can prove challenging as people are often busy, and may take their impatience out on the surveyor. Our community partners point out that it is necessary to be enthusiastic and recognize when people are busy (for example, we should avoid interviewing employees at a restaurant during major meal times). They also recommended that we say that we are conducting research from Stanford University, as people in the community tend to be more inclined to help local students, as well as to be a part of academic research.
Because statistics can be generated to support any position, as researchers, it is necessary that we conduct fair surveys. This means that our surveys should be representative of the population in question. This may be challenging as we predict that there will be a large nonresponse bias, which may lead us to only receive data from people with extreme perspectives. This may lead us to avoid certain platforms such as internet surveys, which have very low response rates, according to our community partners. Second, to conduct representative samples, our community partners highlight that we want to survey business owners and employees alike, as they both present a worthy perspective. Through the surveys, we hope to hear the voices that general statistics cannot reflect. We also hope to include ways of bringing into account the experiences of marginalized communities, if applicable. In some cases, it may be useful to record (with permission) an interviewee’s testimony, even if we cannot quantify the response. This representation is important because, as the Greenberg paper reflects, we want sustainable policy with the people in mind, and not a “strategic branding device.”
Moving forward as a group, the hardest problem will be coordinating meeting times, as we all have very full schedules that overlap. We may be available to meet all together at lunch, though this may not always be possible, and so we may have to meet over conference call. While conducting the research, we will not have to coordinate our schedules.
Some immediate next steps include setting regular meeting times, designing the survey, and taking canvassing training. We plan to meet after class on Monday to set team norms, contribute digitally to a list of survey questions throughout the week, then have an in-person survey work day on Friday (10/12). We will send our survey draft to the community partners on Saturday (10/13). The next Friday (10/19), we will meet with the community partners in person again for canvassing training, led by Leora, and another revision of our survey. We look forward to learning about canvassing and survey design.