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.