Update on Project Activities
On Tuesday, Shikha, Yesenia, and Justin met to collect more surveys and bring us closer to the Menlo Together goal of 100 surveys. We canvassed for 1.5 hours, targeting both stores we had already canvassed before, during different work days/hours, and new stores that we had not seen. Justin thought that we should especially focus on Trader Joe’s, as it has many workers in a centralized spot, but the manager said we could not interview workers inside of the store. Yesenia and Justin visited other stores along Escondido road. In total, we collected 7 surveys. Meanwhile on campus, the team met during class on Wednesday in the d.school to start working on final deliverables and sorting through the collected data.
What We Observed and Learned
Shikha, Yesenia, Justin: For the last shift, Justin and Yesenia planned to go to Trader Joe’s, where our group has previously had success, to cover a different shift. Justin talked to the manager, and he did not want us there, despite the fact that it was an off time for them, and a week ago, a different manager told our group to come back at this time. To fill the shift, we had to find alternative places to canvas. Justin and Yesenia walked down El Camino and Escondido Road to any small businesses that had been missed by previous shifts. As this was our last shift, we had already covered the easier businesses. In most of the small businesses, there are not many workers, and the workers present are busy, so these are hard to canvas. We went to Safeway and were permitted to survey, but every worker was busy. In total we received 7 responses (we struck out many times). However, after this experience, we came to the conclusion that we have covered all of the businesses that were willing to talk, serving as a natural end to our study. This is useful information for our survey because it shows that we represent Menlo Park businesses to the extent that is possible.
Justin: During our Wednesday meeting at the d.school, I “cleaned” the data so that it is in a format that we can study. This involved creating dummy variables for the modes of transportation and incentives people would want for public transportation.
Sarah: Even though I did not canvas this week due to sickness, I worked on starting to fill out the final write up during class on Wednesday and work on the weekly reflection remotely.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Shikha, Yesenia, Justin: At Applewood pizza, one of the workers declined to fill out the survey, stating “Oh, I know none of that” in Spanish. Yesenia tried reassuring her, in Spanish, that the questions on the survey were simple, like ‘how many minutes does it take you to get to work’. However, she remained unwilling to fill out the survey and we thanked her anyway. We were interested in seeing how the language barriers and even literacy could play into other canvassing interactions, but as Tuesday was our last day, we no longer have to worry about that. Still, it is important to consider we are considerate of literacy challenges or things that may dissuade workers from filling out a survey. Reading between the lines, it is possible that such a response is to avoid saying “I am unable to read the survey,” or perhaps to more politely decline to take the survey. In either event, we cannot force somebody to take the survey if they do not want to, as this would undermine our integrity as surveyors.
Justin: We can use some of the graphs that were automatically generated by Google. However, for some metrics, we will want to study responses with respect to race or income, or compare metrics in new ways that present illustrative conclusions.
This week we were assigned readings extremely pertinent to our particular project. The SPUR Report worked on breaking down the transportation patterns, needs, and recommendations for the Bay Area and Alex Schafran’s “Silicon San Francisco, and the West Bay” focused on the urbanization (and lack thereof) in Marin County. The SPUR report deals with more of the findings and literature we have come in contact with in our work with our community partners. The way that the writers decided to put together the publication in terms of the figures, colors, and headings was very visually pleasing, and we hope to be able to incorporate aesthetic ideas from that report into our final deliverables. In their introduction, they state “the Bay Area has more than two dozen different public transit operators—and yet only 3 percent of all trips here are made using transit.” That statement is something that we probably would not have expected before our group work started, but now makes more sense as we have canvassed and increasingly seen trends that people from all socio-economic brackets tend to drive to work alone. To us, that means that a lot of the public transportation options are inaccessible because they are so disparate and sometimes illogically planned that it makes using multiple types of public transit untenable, to the point that driving alone in a car through hours of traffic is more helpful. We hope that our project can address this fatal flaw in the public transit system in Menlo Park, and hope that the findings of the SPUR Report as well as their recommendations can be seriously taken into account. It can be done with effort and money, as evidenced in London’s updated transit routes that are now widely used and accepted and touted as being one of the best laid out plans and easiest ones to understand.
Switching to the second reading, Schafran’s “Silicon San Francisco, and the West Bay,” focused more on Marin County. Historically, the area has been home to extraordinarily wealthy people in search of a quiet and nature-centric location to settle down. To that end, as evidenced by the Schafran article, there was quite a bit of pushback regarding urbanization of West Marin (aka the 1973 Plan). The article even states that “at virtually every turn, efforts to combat the unnecessary urbanization of West Marin were innovative, aggressive, and progressive.” These innovative approaches took the form of environmental protection rather than equitable living and social equality. By hiding under the guise of protecting the natural beauty of Marin County, the already well-to-do residents were able to subvert most efforts for urban development in their bucolic mansions on the hills. This parallels a little bit of what we have seen in Menlo Park: there are wealthy residents who do not welcome new change in their traditionally well-off and well-to-do area, pushing back on the idea of welcoming affordable housing to their area. For example, the financial barriers in Menlo Park like the average monthly rent for an apartment being $3500. This has traditionally made low-income families unable to move into these neighborhoods, leading to issues such as long commutes for the workers in the area. However, in 2008, Schafran documents that Marin County passed a “countywide measure to fund transportation improvements. The major provision of the bill was to fund a commuter train, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART), between San Rafael and northern Sonoma County.” While this seems to have been some sort of panacea, it was not.
Schafran goes on to say that even with all the money funneled into transit, there would still be
a disconnect. It all goes back to Marin County’s reliance on the environmental versus social
good fight. Thus, there is precedent of good ideas going to waste. Unfortunately, our group does not have the bandwidth to see our project all the way through and make sure that our recommendations make actual change in the long run. However, since there is a history of money going into transportation and not getting used in the proper ways, our team will focus on emphasizing the benefits of including affordable housing and better public transportation in and around Menlo Park.
Because we can identify and call out communities like Marin for what they are doing, and because we can see the flaws in the public transportation sector and examples of how to fix them, we should do what we can to ameliorate the situation in the Bay Area. It starts with baby steps like Menlo Together’s work on trying to understand the commuting patterns of low income workers in Menlo Park and their quality of life, and it ends with actual change on a city, regional, state, and maybe even national level.