Update on Project Activities
Our week mainly consisted of beginning our final report and conducting data analysis. Justin led some of the more formal statistical analysis, and Katie worked on the literature review while we all had a chance to look through the data. We finished up a first draft of the report and sent it over to the community partners early today morning, and we are awaiting their comments over the weekend. With so much data collected, we were having trouble choosing what to highlight, but we tried covering the important baseline goals, as one of the starting reasons for our project was to show Menlo Park that it is not an exception to the trends of unaffordability and deficient housing supply in the Bay Area.
What We Observed and Learned
One of the greatest learning experiences is the difficulty of civic engagement. Initially, we aimed to conduct 100 surveys but we were only able to capture 81. In total, we conducted around ten 2-3 hour canvass shifts with shifts ranging from 2-3 people from the group canvassing. While our primary audience for the survey were service workers in the downtown area of Menlo Park, we were often unable to survey folks we wanted to represent in our findings. Many of these workers did not have time and space to fill out the surveys. We had several initial thoughts: there might be people who don’t speak English, know how to use iPad technology, or feel disincentivized by our survey. To address these issues we created both English and Spanish surveys, created paper versions of the survey, and announced to folks we were canvassing so that if they left their email, they would automatically be entered for a raffle for a $25 gift card of their choice. However, we think there are still a lot of different ways we could have creatively promote civic engagement and designed with their needs in mind.
This has made us think a lot about how to design civic engagement; in class, we learned about the case study in San Francisco’s Chinatown and how unique techniques and approaches were taken in order to design with the audience in mind, like by using the toy cars to illustrate how traffic flow would change with the sidewalk adjustments. If we were to do this again, we would want to reevaluate how we approach canvassing and use creative techniques in order to engage the audience that we were unable to capture in this round of canvassing. Some of these techniques include having a digital component for reaching people and collecting data. We potentially could have collected more responses if we had city support for collecting data and gauge the need for affordable housing and public transportation options.
We would also allot more time to data analysis. With break and the extra week of canvassing, our data analysis time and ability to translate that into a report got shortened. Trying to get project components moving a little faster at the beginning to allow for more time on the deliverables would have been be ideal, but we are still feeling good about our work for the constraints.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
We each discuss a personal example of an “aha” moment in our project.
Yesenia: While canvassing in Safeway, I learned how difficult it is to reach some of the people we wish to hear from the most. As the class readings and lectures revealed, minorities are among those who are heavily impacted by inaccessible housing and transportation policies. They constitute a large part of the workforce in Menlo Park, and while roughly 45% of the people we surveyed were hispanic or black, I would have appreciated greater opportunities to speak with more workers who were of this background. Menlo Park is also mainly white and Asian in terms of demographics, so the workers coming from underrepresented racial backgrounds are not only comprising much of the workforce, but are also part of the huge flux of employees commuting long distances to get to work. At Safeway, the manager on shift was very reluctant to let us talk to the workers, as he paid them by the minute. In the future, it would be great to have more time to talk to the workers and gather more testimonials, even from non-english speaking ones, because their voices are historically silenced or ignored.
Shikha: When we started off our project, I thought quantitative data was the goal. However, in having conversations through our canvassing experience, I realized how much more valuable the personal stories and testimonies were. People discussed watching their community change beyond recognition, from having to commute two hours on public transportation to wasting a quarter tank of gas in traffic - these individualized reactions went far beyond our initial survey. Our very first survey respondent highlighted just how unforgiving Silicon Valley can be. A manager at McDonald’s, the respondent worked in technology until he lost his role without much warning with the onset of new technology companies. He now lives in a house with 11 people while travelling on 3 buses to get to work. His story felt unfair in many ways, and it instantly made me empathize with our respondents and realize how formative transportation/housing issues are for life satisfaction as well as the role of big technology companies in causing these inequities. I am still so grateful that our respondents trusted us with their stories.
Justin: Perhaps my greatest takeaway was talking to an employee at Trader Joe’s. He was describing how hard it is to live in such an expensive area, despite the fact that he had lived there his entire life. He said that this was no place to raise a family, which is a strong indicator of unsustainability if an area is not suitable for the next generation. The stocker at the store was an especially friendly and outspoken person, and I really sympathized with him in his situation. He said he was fortunate enough to live with his parents who had a house in East Palo Alto for a long time, but not all are so fortunate.
Homeownership has been a major element of the American Dream since the 1950s, and it is clear that people place a huge amount of value and pride in their homes. Thus, when people cannot own homes, it is not just a problem of shelter, but also identity, as people miss out on a core element of our societal identity. Though property owners may not have a negative duty to provide housing, it is important to allow a city to be open to all types of people. Long-term residents may not have a right per se to live in an area, but they do have a strong claim, and society should respect an individual’s roots and promote continuity of communities, as a place of living is more than just the shelter it provides.
Michelle: My biggest learning moment was while canvassing at Safeway. I approached a woman stocking the beauty aisle and describe our project. At first, she was reluctant to talk because she was wary of her manager’s watch. But she continued stocking the shelves and sneaking in conversation about her struggles with housing: how she had to sell her car to afford to live in her mobile home in East Palo Alto, how her kids are the first thing she thinks of when she makes these decisions. It showed me how important these issues are to these workers, and how willing people are to talk about things that matter to them. I’m so glad we’re able to give these people a voice through our report.
Sarah: My biggest learning moment happened during canvassing early on in the quarter. I had entered a hair salon on Santa Cruz avenue and was greeted by the cleaning staff, one of whom was working on cleaning up a pile of dust and hair that had accumulated by the door. Instead of the usual look of wariness that I expected to find after a couple interviews, she seemed excited to talk to me, and had many opinions and stories. One story has stuck with me. She described a day in her life-- namely her commute to and from work. She spoke of the struggles she faces in affording to ride public transportation as well as the time it takes for her commute because of the distances she has to cover to get to work every day. In order to get to work on time, she has to wake up at 5:30am to start a long slew of public transportation connections, leaving behind her husband ,children, and dog. To me, it was one of the more shocking things to hear; though I had seen the numbers and statistics, I had never connected a face and a family to them. In that interaction, I learned empathy at a much greater level, and I learned that behind each point of data, there is a life and a story and that these are all important ones to hear. I never expected to have such a profound experience and takeaway like that, but increasingly I see the value that community-based learning and work holds, and how it can completely change someone’s perspective in just a conversation. Going into the future, I will remind myself to seek empathy in my endeavors, and work to always try to find positive human connection behind the work that I do.
Katie: One big takeaway that I have from this project is that transportation and housing issues are inherently linked and when we think about redesigning spaces in the Bay Area, we have to think about the ways and modes these two are connected. When I was canvassing in Safeway, I talked to the night manager. He told me that he originally lived in Redwood City, but could no longer afford to live there anymore so now he is located in further into the East Bay where housing is cheaper, but his commute is much longer. This was the case for many workers that we talked to and exemplifies how low-income members of the Bay Area are disproportionately impacted by environmental justice issues on top of being pushed out due to gentrification. Another moment was when I was talking to a worker at a restaurant and he told me that he wanted to take public transportation, but there were many barriers in place that prevented him. For example, he lived in a different county than he worked in and the bus lines do not connect from county to county, so he would have to get off and pay the fair again in order to reach his destination. Our fragmented public transport system makes it difficult for people who rely on it to get to the places they work and live. Through this project, I was able to engage with communities members on topics that we had learned about in class. My biggest takeaway is how to incorporate empathy into civic engagement and how to think about survey design with the most vulnerable and marginalized mind.