This week we got the ball rolling on our project. We met with Adina Levin, the Executive Director of Friends of Caltrain, who told us about a couple of other people we’ll be working with: Jessica Manzi, from the Redwood City Transportation Department, and Wendy Silvani, of the Palo Alto TMA. We set a meetings with all three for Friday the 22nd, as well as a meeting with Adina for the 29th. So far, our progress on the project has been limited by what we know about our partners and their goals. Because we have not met directly with Wendy nor Jessica, we don’t know where we need to focus to achieve maximum value. We’ve begun working through the Scope of Work packet and have completed the warm-up exercises, and plan to meet this Sunday to start work on outlining the Scope in earnest.
We are excited to start working on this project together. Between the three members in our group, we cover a diverse array of backgrounds, interests, and strengths. There is huge potential for us to inspire each other and for our thinking styles to complement each other in productive and surprising ways. Second, we look forward to working with a community partner who has a very clear idea of what they want as an outcome. From some of our experiences in the past, it can be difficult to work with community partners who have vague or unclear expectations and desires for the project.
Steps moving forward: clarify with Adina what the vision for the project is, and determine what information we need from her and our other partners in order to carry out that vision. Hopefully most of that will be resolved in our upcoming meeting on the 22nd. Before then, we’ll be exploring the past projects from this class, and any other resources Adina gives us, in order to prepare for that meeting and hit the ground running.
What We Observed and Learned
Even though we have not started the project, we have already observed dynamics that indicate the important aspects of a good partnership. When we set up our appointments with Adina, Wendy, and Jessica, we reserved our whole Friday for potential appointments. We realize it is important to be flexible and accommodate the needs of our partners; our partners may be very busy, so we should be mindful of that. This mindfulness has been reciprocal: Adina provided helpful directions for navigating to our meeting spot.
In the first two weeks of the quarter, we have read numerous articles to gain background information and help us better serve our partner. One of the readings, Moving Silicon Valley Forward, is pertinent to us because it deals with transportation in and around the valley. According to the article, in 2010, 36% of greenhouse gas emissions in the valley were from transportation. Just five cities, Palo Alto, Redwood, Menlo Park, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, all which provide stable jobs but high housing costs, contribute to 98 thousand out-of-county commuters and of those commuters, 80 percent of them drive alone. While these commuters are saving on housing costs by living in relatively more affordable locations, their daily travel to and from work adds to traffic in Silicon Valley. With the strong job market, Silicon Valley’s ratio of jobs to houses is 3-to-1 compared to the Bay Area’s 1-to-1. Because there are more jobs than homes in Silicon Valley, the need to offer various forms of transit will become increasing important. It is estimated that over 67 percent of Silicon Valley’s job growth will be in the low-wage workforce with sectors paying less than 50 thousand annually. At that income, it will be critical of cities to subsidize transportation to encourage commuters out of their cars. As Silicon Valley grows, the need for public transportation takes unprecedented heights.
Critical Analysis / Moving Forward
This project, “Equitable Access to Transit in San Mateo County,” fulfills much of the purpose of service learning. By allowing for us to engage with groups and individuals from other communities, this project will help us develop character and citizenship skills. In most education courses, students are not required to engage with communities, so this project will provide an enriching experience that most other courses cannot. Moreover, by working on a tangible project, we get to learn about sustainable transportation while working on a project that can possibly advocate for exactly that.
At first glance, the project seems to incorporate different aspects of the four types of service learning: direct, indirect, research-based, and advocacy. Direct: we will interview members of the community that this project will benefit the most; by engaging with the actual community member, we are directly connected with the people that we are trying to serve. Indirect: we will work with Redwood City Transportation Department, Palo Alto TMA, and others in order to improve the sustainability of transportation, creating benefits for the community. Research-based: we will be conducting literature review, analyzing data sets, and conducting additional interviews and focus groups. Advocacy: using the data and analysis, we will pursue opportunities to build a sustainable transportation system. Looking further into it, the four types of service learning seem to be fundamentally connected and complementary to each other. Direct and indirect approaches can connect the low-income.