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 seventh 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. To see more information about the class, please visit: urbanst164.stanford.edu
The Winter 2016 class worked with four community partners on the following projects: 1) assessing equitable access to transit in San Mateo County (Partner: Friends of Caltrain); 2) conducting a community-serving retail analysis of the Tenderloin and Central Market Area in San Francisco (Partner: Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation); 3) developing economic drivers and development strategies for the City of Los Altos (Partner: Los Altos Economic Development); and 4) addressing local business displacement in the City of San Mateo (Partner: Urban Habitat).
The final presentations took place on March 9, 2016 at Stanford University (Video).
Update on Project Activities
Maddie and Fidel went into North Fair Oaks on Tuesday morning and solicited surveys from Plaza Jewelers and Fiesta Auto Insurance. We tried to return to Elsa’s Salon but the owner was unhappy that we came back again. Matt and Fidel visited North Fair Oaks again on Friday morning for the last round of fieldwork, interviewing owners and employees of Piñata Surprise, Computer Repair, and Donut Depot. This time, each person with whom we talked was very welcoming and shared even more information than the surveys required. We had informative conversations, and have now collected a total of 6 written survey responses for Urban Habitat/Faith in Action. All of the completed surveys, as well as businesses who allowed us to take audio recordings, will be represented on the finished GIS map. We are also finalizing our literature review, as well as updating the appearance of our map and plan to rehearse for our presentation practice-run on Monday.
What We Observed and Learned
While two out of the three interviews conducted during the Friday morning visits corroborated the notion of rising rents contributing to small business displacement, we were surprised to learn that Donut Depot hadn’t been nearly as negatively affected as other local businesses. The owner, Chun Tang who immigrated to the US in 1985 from Cambodia, has operated the small coffee and donut shop with his wife for over 20 years, and proudly remarked that they were always the first ones to submit rent checks to the landlord, whose name or contact information he did not know. He explained that because he kept good relations with his landlord, he’s never had any problems with unexpected rent increases. Mr. Tang also maintained that business was still booming for him, and although his main clientele consisted of the local Hispanic population, recently he’s seen a few more tech employees frequent his shop. He’s neither noticed a significant change in the surrounding businesses or the clientele, and has served the same coffee and donuts since 1995 (which Matt and Fidel sample on a weekly basis).Though increasing rent has undeniably plagued the North Fair Oaks area, it’s interesting to see how some businesses soldier on unaffected, with little regard for the chaos ensuing around them. Below is a photo of some North Fair Oaks businesses, and one can see how similar they are to the San Mateo ones we visited earlier:
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
As Friday concluded our survey collection, we now have all the information we need to complete the CartoDB website for our final deliverable. We’ve digitized the surveys and are displaying snippets of the responses on the interactive map. The weekend should give us some time to prepare for the presentation trial run during Monday’s class, and we’ve also begun work on the final written report. The workshop on Wednesday was very helpful for our website since we learned how to better use CartoDB. We received great suggestions such as implementing two buttons that when clicked will zoom in to the areas that we have surveys from (i.e. North Fair Oaks and San Mateo). We tried to connect the survey directly to CartoDB but it ended up not working due to the format that CartoDB uses, so we decided that we will clean the data ourselves.
Updates on Project Activities
Earlier this week, we prepared to present to the Palo Alto TMA board on Thursday. We met on Tuesday with Wendy and Adina to ensure our execution of the board presentation goes without a hitch. Since Wendy was not available to meet in person, she joined Adina and the team virtually over the phone. The Tuesday meeting provided us with topics to emphasize, what to remove, and how to structure and phrase our presentation. We had a general idea of what the main takeaways of the presentation should be coming into this meeting, but Wendy’s and Adina’s feedback definitely helped us refine our presentation.
After incorporating feedback from Wendy and Adina into our presentation and rehearsing the presentation, we sent the presentation slides along with a video recording back to Wendy and Adina for further feedback. We then adjusted our presentation a few times more. Our presentation took place on Thursday at the Palo Alto City Hall. We were pleased with the great questions we got because that meant the board members were very interested in our findings. We now have some feedback from the TMA, and will incorporate it into our final class presentation this Wednesday. Some of the feedback is more pertinent to the final deliverable. Specifically, the board is asking for marketing materials for business managers and employees. We will include this in the final deliverable.
We have also continued to make cross-tabulations for the Redwood City data. The cross-tabs will provide synthesis of the data and reveal what they can tell us about how variables are related. We are specifically looking for correlations that may help in planning the most effective TDM and/or marketing it to those it is intended to help. For example, our cross-tab of preferred transit mode with favored incentives to stop driving revealed that for non-city employees, while a Caltrain Go Pass was ranked as the most popular incentive overall, residents of Santa Clara County would actually be better served by a financial incentive, and residents of San Mateo County would felt improved biking and walking paths were almost as valuable. Sophie is going to meet with Jessica on Monday to look over the cross-tabs and determine what the most interesting and useful findings are, so the final report can focus on those.
What We Observed and Learned
After our Tuesday meeting with Wendy and Adina, we realized we were very underprepared for this meeting. This is ironic given that in our check-in meeting with Adina last Friday, Adina advocated: “Always be ready to present.” We did not heed this tip for Tuesday’s meeting. We didn’t think it was applicable, since we thought we were only going to causally explain our slides to Wendy. Hence we did not prepare as much as we should have. Instead, we should have been ready to present the slides, then and there, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon as if we were in front of the TMA board. In retrospect, considering that she asked to speak with us on the phone rather than just review our slides on her own time and give us written feedback, we probably should have inferred that she wanted a presentation. This could have been avoided with better communication about the expectations for Tuesday’s meeting and would have been aided by more careful use of email communications. (Not everyone relevant was always included in every email reply). We definitely could have prepared more ahead of time regardless. In the end, we think that our Thursday TMA presentation was a far cry better.
Sophie gained an increased appreciation for a well-organized data spreadsheet this week. The non-city employee data from Redwood City needed to be refined and reformatted before Sophie was able to work with it easily in Excel, and the time that process took was unexpectedly significant. However, the work is done and after modeling the re-formatted spreadsheet on the city employee database, Sophie has made good headway on the cross-tabulations. She learned a few lessons to apply next time she undertakes a project that will involve a large dataset. The most important of these is to always use numbers wherever possible rather than words—assign a number to each answer for a multiple choice question, and catalogue the number of the chosen answer rather than writing in the string. For example, if the question is “How do you get to work” and the answers are “Driving,” “Biking,” or “Transit,” create a column in the sheet for each answer and record “2” in the “Biking” column for anyone who answered “Biking.” This makes it much easier to work with the data using formulas in Excel, which are the only way to do anything quickly when working with large datasets.
Critical Analysis / Moving Forward
The presentation we gave to the TMA on Thursday was 15 minutes long and did not include any of the Redwood City data, so this weekend we will have to cut down and restructure the slides to both incorporate that portion and reduce the time.
Moving forward with the Palo Alto TDM program, we shall incorporate the feedback from the Palo Alto TMA board meeting in both our class presentation and in our final deliverable. We will develop sample marketing materials that can be used to target employers and employees. Generally the TMA was satisfied with the pricing structure of the TDM program that we proposed but the numbers may be subsequently refined. Given that our fieldwork data stems from 23 employees and 4 employers, the data is not statistically significant, but it has given us enough qualitative data to structure the different budget allocations and direct the marketing messages to groups who are most likely to use transit. We will be creating designs for hard-copy flyers and postcards which can be hung up in businesses and distributed by mail. We will also have digital versions that can be distributed by email.
Update on Project Activities
It’s crunch time! This week we focused most of our energy towards divvying up parts of the final presentation and report, making sure that we were on track for the runthrough on Monday. Casey and Sonja worked on creating a map for CartoDB, which will serve as part of the database of proposed developments in the Tenderloin. Jenai and Paul have been working on other aspects of the deliverables for the TNDC, including compiling interview data and filling in the literature review. On Monday morning we plan to have our final check-in with Lorenzo via phone in order to make sure everything is looking good on our end. We also plan to meet with Dave from the Geospatial Lab to get some final editing help on our map.
What We Observed and Learned
In our continuance of our literature review, we’ve found a couple interesting things. One of the resources that we’ve explored is an article discussing state initiatives that support healthier food retail. The article helped discuss the importance of needs of such programs such as reducing obesity rates and disease prevention. However, what was most striking was the overall number of states that have launched similar food retail programs the and the various steps they took to enact a change. A Lot of other articles we’ve read have focused more on the effects and the reasoning but this article also gave very clear steps that can be taken by public health practitioners, organizations, and various partners. For example, it discusses preparing reports, fact sheets, and health data to demonstrate a need, identifying communities that lack access to food retail venues, and even consulting with subject matter experts with experience with HFR research and policy development. This article will help us to formulate a course of action for our partner in the future.
In addition to the data we collected both on the ground and online about potential developments, it was also important to survey and hear from community members. Closer to the beginning of the quarter, we had the chance to meet with a diverse group of community leaders intimately involved with making the Tenderloin a better place. It is very important in any kind of community-based work to humanize the data/demographics through storytelling and listening. In this way, it was important to root our studies in community members’ actual lives as well as to balance the defining of community needs while also figuring out economic feasibility. Speaking with community members, it was clear that food justice services (grocery stores, communal kitchens, healthy/affordable restaurants) were an emphasis although not a sole emphasis. However, these and other potential retail (notaries, copy machine centers, laundromats, salons, etc.) as well as community spaces (for group meetings, study, and job preparation, etc.) are potentially viable additions to the ground floors of new housing developments. The thoughts and contributions from the TL’s community leaders/members will also play a role in the part of our deliverable where we help craft a list of criteria to judge new developments and their potential to serve (or harm) the community).
Critical Analysis / Moving Forward
As we prepare for our final presentation and draft our final report/deliverables, we’ll take this chance to briefly reflect on this quarter’s project as a whole. Our project was divided into two main efforts--field research and production of deliverables. The field research was conducted in three outings in the Tenderloin, and was ultimately fairly productive. Our first visit, we interviewed five community leaders working with the TNDC on various projects and on our second visit, Casey sat in on a Tenderloin Healthy Corner Store Coalition meeting. During our third visit, we visited twelve proposed mixed-use developments in the Tenderloin. The first two visits allowed us a context in which to place our efforts, and the third allowed us to gather the specific data we needed to complete our deliverables. While we were ultimately able to gather all of the information we needed, it would have been more productive if we had had more specific goals for our first two visits. As it was, we didn’t have our deliverables in mind for the majority of the quarter and instead were gathering more general information through our field research and literature review. If we were to continue this project after the end of the quarter, we would need to lay out at the beginning our final goals for the project.
Wow, we can’t believe that it is already week 9 of the quarter! It feels like we just began our project. This past week we have been really pushing to finish our report and presentation. It has been great to delve into our data and literature review and really put all the pieces together. Our goal is to finish a preliminary draft of both the presentation and report by Monday so that Jenn can review our results and offer any pieces of constructive feedback. Since we do not have as much experience as Jenn compiling these types of reports, we are interested to see if she notices any interesting findings from the data that we did not originally see. Also, Jenn let us know that David from her office will be coming on Wednesday to watch our presentation and take notes since she has a prior commitment.
For the presentation we have been talking about how we want to convey our findings and importance of the project. One idea we had is to begin by telling the ‘story’ that most people have of Los Altos, but then breaking down these stereotypes through our results and data. We think this would be a compelling way to present our findings because, through our research, we have found that our original impressions of Los Altos were not fully correct. We may also try to include posters and other forms of presenting our results.
For the report we have made significant progress to finish the literature review and deliverables section. Tonight we are having a remote study session to complete the methodology and project purpose components. Then on Saturday we are going to focus on ‘seeing’ what the data is telling us. Evan has produced a variety of graphs thus far, with the intent of being able to compare economic and demographic conditions within Los Altos so that we might better understand the foundations and drivers of the city.
Moving Forward (to the finish line!!)
This past week we’ve been working on finalizing our deliverables, as outlined last week in our meeting with Jenn. Moving forward we’ll continue to do so. In the talk with Jenn today, we realized we had a few more economic variables to consider for the data analysis portion, including unemployment rates and major industries of employment. We’ll work to find reliable data for these variables, and include them in our final presentation.
Additionally, we realized that including social components and characteristics of cities in the literature reviews is relevant and important to our project. We’ll analyze existing urban economic reports to investigate when and why social impacts are economically important (e.g. in areas with high tourism rates), and how that might be relevant to Los Altos.