We spent majority of our last week of the program to finalize on the environmental project. We were able to conduct workshop with youths on that Wednesday. Me, Tianlan, and Sam created a workshop for the middle school students on environmental topic. We divided the students into groups and let one representative from each group to write done the words that are related to the environment. We then asking trivia questions on environmental issues such as climate change and greenhouse gases, each group got 7 out of 10 questions correct, which was better than we expected. The overall result was great, the students from the workshop do have a fair knowledge on environment and health.
We had the opportunity to present our survey findings, suggestions, and new Chinatown sustainable development logo to CCDC faculties and other organizations. I also really enjoyed other teams projects' on Economic Development and Transportation. we then had amazing food at New Sun Hong Kong restaurant and spent one last time with the Urban Institute peers.
Week 6 was mainly on our project in Environmental Justice. We came up with survey, interview, workshop, flyers and logo as part of our final project. On Thursday We went to Portsmouth Square to conduct interviews. Despite the high turn down rate, we managed to get over 15 responds and recorded several videos.
We were able to obtain many information from our survey but it was very time consuming, so we decided to cut shorter our survey questions. Then we came up with image survey as to easier the interview process and easier for respondents to interpret the questions. We came up with 8 pictures which include Forest, Portsmouth Square, Oakland Bridge with the ocean view, Playground, grocery store at Stockton street, Ping Yuen apartment solar installation, Alleyway, and Broadway Street. We asked people whether those images are related to the environment they live in. From the result, we learned that residents recognized all the images we presented, and their perceptions on environment is the physical environment, such as food, cleanliness,education and safety. Based on the survey answers we decided to create a logo that resonate with the community.
Eric Y. Lu
After seven weeks of participation in Chinatown Urban Institute, I gained many invaluable experiences and met amazing people from my program, CCDC, and other organizations. Throughout the program, I gained more insight on Urban Planning and learned the importance of preserving the Chinatown community. Although I am still not fond with the lack of economic power and cleanliness in this community, my perception toward Chinatown started to change slowly throughout the program; I respect the culture, history, and the cheap food. I started to realize the political significance here for Chinese Americans, it’s a form of self-independence from gentrification and westernization. Historic preservation played such important role in not only fighting against gentrification, but also protecting the local community from displacement. Such preservation can save home values and tax revenues and therefore protecting the low-income population to sustain life within Chinatown. From Community Tenant association and other organizations, I could fell the strong sense of community in this seemly dying neighborhood. Out of my surprise, the residents here care about politics just as much as rest of us do, and many of them are registered to vote for their interests. There are many complex issues within this small community that need to be fixed, and it is clearly not just on clean street and poverty. Generational poverty, rapidly aging population, and store vacancies are some of the biggest issues that are happening in Chinatown.
I enjoyed the City Hall visit during the fourth week of the program. I was fortunate enough to meet the legislative aids for the broad of supervisors and listen to their initiatives on affordable housing and the day-to-day life at the office. I also spent some time listening to the public hearing for district one, it gave me a better understanding on the public hearing procedure. Many representatives from Union Square presented to support the District one initiatives.
Me, Sarah, Sam, Tianlan, and Shania joined the environmental justice group for our final project. With the previous lectures and readings and with Erika and Deland’s guidance, we apply what we learned into our survey questions. how to approach people more effectively to set up interview. From our interview we concluded that residents here putting lot of focus on food, health and education for their children. Their concerns are not on the environmental surroundings but mainly on the physical ones. From our survey we discovered that homelessness and crimes where been mentioned the most, especially relevant toward senior residents. With our presentation, I hope CCDC can putting more focus on sustainable development with the new motto we suggested.
There are several questions I would like to address in the end of the program. In terms of community planning, I would like to know more about CCDC’s future initiatives on health and education development. I am also interested to know if the organization will advocate for more trash bins in the populated areas such as Waverly and Stockton street, and ash trays, and more green space in the Alleyway. My opinions might be slightly different than CCDC’s objectives, but I think CCDC should be a medium for a healthy relationship between landlords and tenants in the community. I understand the organization’s focus is on SRO tenants and low-income family, but without a proper understanding between the property owner and the tenants, it is hard to push for more desirable affordable housing within the community. We understood the struggle which tenants been through, so what about the landowner? What are their opinions on such issues? I heard some of the landlords are only charging very minimum amount of rents for tenants in SROs, especially for seniors. I think instead of labeling landlords as the “bad guys”, we should also get perspectives from them and see what their concerns and suggestions about this community. For the safety of the community, would CCDC be able to throw pressure on government to send more police force for the public safety in Chinatown? There are many seniors living in the community, they could be easy target for criminals if without proper securities.
Chinatown Urban Institute pushed my interest in working in public sector even further. One important lesson my family has taught me is to give back to the people in need, when you have the knowledge and experience. This life lesson guided me to the direction of becoming an inspired lawyer. It is my goal to become a real estate and environmental lawyer and working in the public sector. I would like to devote myself in pubic interest and apply the knowledge and experience to support low-income family’s needs and small corporations on healthier, and more sustainable development. I also would like to apply the knowledge I learned from Urban Institute to protect and support those ignored and isolated groups.
Eric Y. Lu
During week 4, we had another site visit. I really enjoyed the City Hall Dome tour, where we had the opportunity to explore the top of the city hall building. I was fascinated with the complex structure of the building and the spectacular view on top of the dome. We also had the opportunity to meet 2 0f the legislative aids of the Board of supervisors and able to hear her initiatives on affordable housing and sustainable development for the Chinatown community. I did not know that city attorney has so much power in decision making.
On Thursday, Deland gave us a detail definition of Sustainability. Which correlated to all the topics we mentioned for preserving Chinatown: Historic preservation, economic development, transportation, environmental justice, all those are part of the definition of sustainability.
On Saturday, I attended the Food Festival at Waverly Street and the fair. I was amazed how many people engaged in the event. The whole Chinatown was fueled with energy and smile, and I was surprised that they stopped the whole road on Broadway street so people can enjoy the show and seat at the chairs on the street. The food was okay, but I did enjoy the atmosphere and having able to relax in such busy street. It made me wonder what if Broadway street is restricted only for passengers, then people can seat, relax, and socialize on the street, it could be beneficial for the business on that street.
Eric Y. Lu
The third week was shortened to only Tuesday. In the morning our instructor Deland provided us detailed introductions on Urban Planning. We got to learn some of the insight as urban planner and history and important figures in urban planning. Although I lived in New York, I did not have much knowledge on urban planning history there. Roy told us about the issues within Oakland Chinatown and he and his team’s methods on recording the everyday life of the park there.
In the afternoon, Deland gave each of us a tool-kit and letting us chose group of two to get some hands on experience from the lessons we learned during class. I was excited because it was our first time applying our knowledge in Urban Planning. It was an interesting observation following the instructions of the handbook, and thanks to this activity I discovered many things I left unnoticed, such as smells, noise, and people’s behaviors on the street. Although we had limited among of time to complete the tasks, but it was a very engaging activity and I am looking forward to do more related activities into my final project.
Eric Y. Lu
Before starting this program, my perception of Chinatown was nothing pleasant: Dirty, old-fashioned, crowded, and a slowly dying community. Growing up in Beijing, one of the most developed cities in China, it was painful to see how far behind Chinatown is. From the Urban Institute program, my understanding toward this neighborhood became better, and it made me realized the real issues that is happening in this aging neighborhood. Little did I know that many elderly and children are suffering from their living condition and unaffordability in SROs. I did not know how poor some residents living conditions are because I never had to go inside those old buildings.
On Tuesday morning, we had the privilege to have Whitney Jones, the China Town Community Development Center Director of Housing Development, to present us his work in affordable housing and gave us a brief introduction of the process of building affordable housing and challenges of building them. He then quizzed us on the subject to help us understand better on the matter. I greatly appreciated him explained it in detail and simplified such complex process to make someone like me who have no knowledge on such topic really easy to process. I was always questioning why there are not enough affordable and livable apartments in Chinatown, one of the reasons is zoning, there is a height limit for buildings therefore it’s difficult to create space for residents; another reason is that it is difficult to remove the current tenants and build a new build from scratch. I had very minimum knowledge on affordable housing, and thanks to Whitney's lecture, I gained knowledge on how the CCDC apartments were build, and what can be done to improve the living condition for the Chinatown community.
We also had Malcolm Collier as the guest speaker to address issues which I was never aware of, such as store vacancy. He presented us photography of Chinatown and addressed the vacancy issue within Chinatown: There are many empty retail stores. The vacancy rate increased in a rapid speed every year and can have a major negative effect on Chinatown's economic development. One of the biggest surprises was that San Francisco Chinatown has one of the densest populations with over 10,000 residents, despite the fact that is a relatively small area. I did not know that SROs are in high demand in Chinatown despite been small rooms.
During the second week, I learned the importance of community space for the local. I now know how important Portsmouth Square is to elderly in Chinatown; it is one of the only places which these residents can socialize and do activities together because of the lack of space in their residential area. It makes me appreciate even more on the effort CCDC put to help those residents. Ping Yuen apartment is a great example of better affordable living for the local Chinatown community. With solar power installation, the whole building is capable to save up more energy and release less greenhouse gases and slowly achieving the sustainable development of Chinatown. I was a little disappointed with the lack of green space during the Alleyway tour. I also noticed that there were lack of trash cans in both the alleyway and the main street, I think it is an issue which needs to be addressed.
Overall, I really enjoyed the second week of program. I particularly enjoyed the site visit and the scavenger hunt, both of those activities helped me to become more familiar in Chinatown. The questions I still have is how CCDC is dealing with zoning and how to communicate with local tenants regarding of the affordable housing development. I am looking forward to seeing how the organization dealing with these types of issues and solve my questions in the near future.
Eric Y. Lu
June 18th was the first day I attended Urban Institute. At first I did not know what to expect from this program. I quickly got alone with everyone from the program thanks to the activity during the class. Every participant's education and family background is different, which makes this program even more compelling.
Gordon Chin, the founder of CCDC, gave us a tour around Chinatown. Thanks to the tour I not only got to learn the history of Chinatown, but also experienced the strong sense of community here. Thanks to Gordon we were able to enjoy the stunning view of San Francisco on the Rooftop of the I Hotel. I am looking forward to what I can learn and see from this program.
Eric Y. Lu
Thank you to Chinatown Community Development Center and the Urban Institute (namely, Erika and Deland) for facilitating this summer experience. I loved the breadth w/ which we got to experience and see urban studies – from transportation justice to affordable / public housing to sustainability.
It makes me realize how different public service can be. Growing up in the Bay Area, as the son of software engineers, I was a bit disillusioned by private sector work and the prospect of working in the Bay Area – I was drawn, perhaps by the dreams of my father, to the prospects of public service – of working in government, of serving the people. Yet, my dreams manifested in such a different light – in enlisting in the military, in going far away from home for naval training, and for the next 6+ years – going wherever the Navy will call me. It is so different from municipal governance and community service at the grassroots level – embedding yourself into a community to fully know its alleyways (in acknowledge of the nooks and crannies of Chinatown), to canvass the streets to talk to citizens, to advocate for disadvantaged communities right here at home.
And somehow, going to the Navy fulfills it in a different way. I thought a lot of the movie Southside With You which recounted Barack Obama’s earliest community organizing days – and the disillusionment Michelle Robinson recounted in her corporate law work. In the Navy, we worked w/ people – trained them, disciplined them, held them accountable – which was so different from the vote canvassing, civic organizing, community engaging that characterizes public service at the community / municipal level.
So, I really appreciate Urban Institute for finally opening the lens into what public service back at home in the community looks like.
My first big surprise going through Urban Institute is that of a personal reckoning – that being Chinese-American truly is not as monolithic as Dougherty Valley High School / San Ramon. It was the first time that I really interacted with Chinese folks at a much lower socioeconomic stratum than the residents of San Ramon – folks who were monolingual (and that language not even being Mandarin), citizens who didn’t have much education, residents who experienced food insecurity and needed the food bank, and public housing tenants. Meeting Gordon Chin was the first time that I met a Chinese-American around my parents’ age – indeed, in San Ramon, I had hardly met a Chinese-American, born and raised in the States, above the age of 40. It made me wrestle w/ my Chinese-American identity – that Chinatown was not just a fun center of culture and dim sum, but historically a ghetto to protect and harbor Chinese immigrants in a hostile America.
My second surprise going through Urban Institute is that of a personal-societal, micro-macro conflict w/ which I try to understand socioeconomic inequity. As a Christian, I know that Jesus’s treasure were the sick, the poor, the widows, the children, the homeless – and I do spend some efforts to personally reach out to the ignored, the dismissed, the disadvantaged. Yet, the Academy instilled in me this sense of personal discipline, of holding people completely accountable to their decisions – I still remember when we had a military trial, and the presiding officer directly named the defendant’s fault as a “character flaw,” pinning responsibility on the defendant. Yet, I have taken Causal Inference in the Graduate School of Education, and I am continually shocked by how much a person’s background covariates (to include race, ethnicity, zip code of birth, parents’ usage of alcohol or drugs, generational incarceration or addiction) can predict a subject’s future outcomes. I understand that there are systemic reasons for generational poverty, crime, and inequity. Yet, I found myself struggling to understand how and what community programs can do to systematically solve problems of inequity. How can low-income programs be continually tied to mechanisms of socioeconomic mobility? How can reparations not only close the income gap but also start closing the wealth gap? In no way am I discounting programs to house the currently homeless, transportation / programs discounts to help low-income residents, but what can be systemically done to close such inequity?
I appreciated Urban Institute for bringing together so many different stakeholders – from those sitting in City Hall to those conversing w/ the homeless, from real estate developers scouting out public housing to residents service managers directly interacting w/ the residents, from transportation advocates to transportation planners, and of course, the Urban Institute fellows, this younger generation of college-aged folks who most likely will proceed into this pipeline of urban studies. From spending four years at the Academy to immersing myself for two years into the tech bubble at Stanford, I appreciated a change of pace in interacting with students and practitioners of tough and complex social policy and dynamics.
One last interesting take-away for me is to open up my eyes to what I could do in community service in the future. Even though I must return to the Navy for the next few years, I look forward to coming back to the San Francisco Bay Area – a place that is worth fighting for. It might be a role as a consultant or data analyst for transportation planning or housing research, it may be as an academic in urban studies or policy experimentation, it may be as a teacher or education administrator, it may be in law enforcement – but this place is home and I am proud to call the Bay Area a good place to live and home