This past week we had the opportunity to travel to Los Altos for a coffee chat with local merchants and landowners, as well as to talk with leaders from the Chamber of Commerce over the phone. At the coffee chat, we were able to learn first-hand the sorts of wants and needs of small business/landowners in Los Altos. We were very happy to add a human experience to our project. An article had ran recently in the Town Crier about efforts on the behalf of our community partner, Jenn, and had briefly mentioned our involvement. A few of the coffee chat attendees had read this, and so welcomed our inclusion in the chat. The chat went well, as we were able to listen in to their discussions, as well as ask a few questions of our own. It was very interesting for us to listen in to their talk of issues; to this point, we had only thought of large-scale demographical issues. To hear them speak of wanting more light poles for public banner space was engaging. It reminded us that although Los Altos might have much higher than average per capita income and home sales prices, it’s residents still had to deal with everyday issues just like anyone else.
A few days later, our group got back together for a phone interview wit, two members of the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce. They are familiar with Jenn’s work, and were kind enough to give us some of their time to answer questions. From them, we were able to glean more about what went on in the political/regulatory side of the economy. At the coffee chat, we learned what the merchants and landowners want. In this interview, we were able to learn how their wants were considered and dealt with by Los Altos leadership. One interesting point that we noticed during the phone interview was that there were a few times where they were expressing that they did not have data for a particular statistic but would be interested in knowing more information. For example, we asked if most employees of various businesses within the community took transit to work and where they were commuting from. They were unsure of the answer, but seemed interested in what the actual statistic for this question was. Perhaps our project can provide the answers to some of these questions.
What We Observed and Learned
One of the biggest things we learned is that there are often two sides to a statistic, decision, or plan. Before we actually visited Los Altos we wondered how we could help a city, that by simply looking at data, seemed to be in a very good economic condition. However, while this data may be for the city overall, it is clear that it is important to look at each part of the town to get a comprehensive view of the needs and areas for improvement. Similarly, while it may seem like a policy or planning decision is beneficial for all stakeholders, we learned that the details of the project or decision should be considered, as many people’s livelihoods are impacted by these decisions.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
On Friday February 5th, Carolyn and Sungmoon will be taking a tour of downtown Los Altos. We experienced Loyola Corners last week, which had a small town, rustic feel, so it will be interesting to compare the downtown to Loyola Corners. We feel that getting a better sense of the culture and atmosphere of the different parts of Los Altos will help us to get a better understanding of the data we are analyzing and how this fits into the narrative that Jenn is hoping we develop through this project. However, one question we are hoping to answer this upcoming week is how these field experiences can work into the final project. For example, the merchants at Loyola Corners were expressing different concerns they had to maintain their customers and businesses. One idea our group had was meeting with these stakeholders and gather information to help Jennifer and Los Altos officials make decisions that have positive impacts on the local business owners. For example, many of the store owners were saying that the current road construction is making it more dangerous for people to access their stores, due to lack of cross-walk and barriers. This could be causing potential customers to choose stores in a different location. We could help deliver this information, so these concerns could be considered in future policies and decisions.