We’ve crossed the halfway mark in our quarter and gained momentum on our Golden Gate project - our introductions to Plan Bay Area by Marisa Raya on Monday, to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by Deland on Wednesday, and participation in Carly’s ‘Brave Space’ workshop circle soon thereafter allowed us to further consider both the greater sustainability implications of our efforts in this class and the importance of reflecting on identity politics in service learning contexts.
Marisa Raya presented us with Plan Bay Area’s goals and current progress, emphasizing, as she put it, that it was created to be a “tool for democratic decision making.” The Plan sought to embody the visions of individual regions’ communities and organizations, a commendable goal that she acknowledged had its own difficulties and contradictions. Some of these complications included lawsuits filed against Plan Bay Area and others evoking CEQA.
We were able to review in class Wednesday how we may best organize our service learning experiences in accordance with sustainability - defining the community members and individuals we serve as well as taking advantage of pressure points. Carly helped moderate a class discussion on the most sensible and genuine ways to approach different individuals in service learning projects. We’ve come to correspond with more community partners thanks to Deland, Janice, and Dyanna’s help getting us in touch directly with SF Youth Commission, Walk San Francisco, San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR), La Playa/Great Highway Neighborhood Watch, Outer Sunset Merchant & Professional Association, Java Beach Café, and 45th Avenue Neighborhood leaders.
Though the rainy weather forced us to cancel our series of Golden Gate Park interceptor surveys scheduled for Friday morning, we still took the opportunity to meet and make use of the lessons we picked up on in class during the week. We emailed all of our community partners and finalized the majority of our online surveys for contacts recommended to us by Supervisor Tang’s office. We created tailored surveys for Java Beach Cafe Patrons, Outer Sunset Merchant & Professional Association, 45th Avenue Neighbors, and La Playa/Great Highway Neighborhood Watch.
As we engage in our classwork and research, we continually must bring ourselves back to some key guiding questions of our project. These include:
● What communities are we serving and how can we best serve them?
● How do the principles of sustainability relate to and shape our project?
● How can we best connect the work we do in the classroom with our field work, outreach, and project goals?
These past weeks have been instrumental in addressing some of these questions. The class session on community outreach helped us define our own strategies for engaging with our respective communities. We realized that we must be careful to not use the word “community” as a blanket term and must be aware of the many different community groups and individuals we are interacting with. For example, the residents of the Sunset District are a separate community than the members of the SF Bike Coalition and we must be mindful of these distinctions. We were particularly inspired by the three-step outreach process of the Broadway Street renewal and, in crafting our own project, are emulating a similar process. Continuing in the vein of outreach, we were moved and inspired by the Open Spaces talk about assumptions and left with a feeling of appreciation for both the safe space that was created in the classroom as well as insight as to how this idea applies to our project. Reflecting on the assumptions that could arise in our work allowed us to proactively analyze potential issues and misunderstandings. This reflective activity ties into the larger theme of service learning as a continual and mutual learning process.
To that end, we have taken the skills we learned in class regarding outreach and have devised a number of surveys to disseminate to different community organizations. These include the SF Bike Coalition, the La Playa/Great Highway Neighborhood Watch, the Outer Sunset Merchant & Professional Association, the Java Beach Cafe, and the 45th Avenue Neighbors. We were sensitive in customizing the survey for each group, with our overarching theme being to discern transit and access patterns to Golden Gate Park. We realized the complexity of working with varying interest groups. One point that was reiterated from our class discussion was the use of the Stanford name: we were hesitant to immediately qualify ourselves as Stanford students because of the weight that name carries. We ultimately decided to introduce ourselves as students and then add Stanford in after when talking about the Sustainable Cities class. We found this to be the most inconspicuous and respectful method when engaging with community groups.
Shifting to a more comprehensive picture, the lessons on Plan Bay Area and some of the policies driving development helped us situate our project in a larger context. Literally, we realized the environmental review process this project or other development initiatives would have to undergo in order to be realized and what a lengthy process this can become. However, we found it even more important to remember the scope of our project and not become too myopically engaged in each individually designed entrance to the Park without considering the larger neighborhood and regional consequences. As we approach the design phase of our project, we realize the importance of justifying our design recommendations based on a well-researched knowledge of the many stakeholders and regulations at play.
We are very grateful for all the contacts with whom Janice has put us in touch. They will be invaluable in providing expert information and recommendations. Unfortunately, we were not able to go into the city this Friday due to weather concerns, but we have rescheduled this visit for next week. We do not believe this puts us under a serious time constraint, although we of course are remaining mindful of the rapidly passing quarter. We have set deadlines for ourselves that we continue to reassess as necessary. Overall, we would describe this week as an administrative one in which we tackled many emails and survey distribution electronically. We are excited to get back into the field again next week.
With our new contacts such as Commissioner Persky of the SF Youth Commission and Nicole Schneider of Walk San Francisco, we will be able to take the valuable feedback they provide for us and use it to improve our design methods and approach. Marisa Raya of Plan Bay Area, also opened our eyes to issues in renovation/building in communities that are already comfortable with their current living conditions, or wish for something else to be implicated other than what we plan. We will be addressing this potential issue by constant interaction with our Community Partner Janice Li, and members of organizations that are heavily involved in the community such as Commissioner Nicholas Persky of the SF Youth Commission and Nicole Schneider of Walk San Francisco.
Another tool from this week that will prove very valuable to us was Carly’s ‘Brave Space’ circle. Providing tremendous insight as to how we should go about conducting surveys and interacting with the people of Sunset District and its surrounding communities, we were able to look at our project through the lens of individual potential emotion and possible desires of the community members we will be interacting with. We learned that it is extremely important to take into consideration how we may come across to the people we survey and interact with, i.e., whether or not we show genuine interest and care for their community and the project, how well we can relate to them, and being conscious of some biases that may be there, but eliminating it from interaction. For our project, we are well aware that we will be talking to and interviewing a wide variety of people with extremely different backgrounds, thus we will look at finding common ground with the people we survey to show we have a genuine interest in helping them and their community rather than coming across as wanting to take over without respect to their desires. We will also be conscious of time commitments and will make the surveys and interviews relatively brief.
As mentioned before in the descriptive portion of this reflection, we were not able to go to the city today, but we did gain some ground and are moving forward. Taking the opportunity to reply to and request feedback from community organization members that have reached out to us and are willing and eager to help us will prove of great importance to our project. As
mentioned before, we will be able to use their expertise and experience to enhance or project ideas, implications, and direction as soon as we receive the feedback. We also took today as an opportunity to customize and send out surveys to contacts recommended by Supervisor Tang’s office including: Java Beach Cafe Patrons, Outer Sunset Merchant & Professional Association, 45th Avenue Neighbors, and La Playa/Great Highway Neighborhood Watch. With the information we gather from these contacts we will be able to look at how dangerous nearby community members to Lincoln Way feel the street is, and what they wish to see implemented to increase the safety on this street. We will be heading into this coming week with hopefully a strong base of knowledge collected via the surveys sent out to the recommended contacts and ready to conduct interceptor surveys in the park and meet face to face with community organizers and organizations on Sunday, February 16th.