Session 8 – Storytelling + Public Utilities Commission
In the morning, we had a brief session about storytelling. I get excited about storytelling b/c I love writing and reading stories – although I don’t necessarily tell stories in a strictly oral fashion, I think stories characterize so much of the human experience – the nuanced details that shape a hero’s journey.
Felicia Lowe came to show us a VR project she created to document the Angel Island experience – the 360-degree, immersive experience that characterized a Chinese immigrant detainee on Angel Island. I wish we could have heard a little more about her storytelling process – how she fashions a narrative, how she employs tools and methods, how she brainstorms, how she works w/ a staff to create a product. Her Pacific Gateway clip makes me think a lot about the migrant detention camps that are currently under intense public scrutiny.
How are these migrants’ stories captured?
Will we look back at this time of detention camps and family separations in disgust and horror?
Where are the storytellers to capture those raw emotions?
In the afternoon, we visited the HQ for the SF Public Utilities Commission, which was extremely impressive. I don’t think I ever grasped the magnitude of the size of municipal governance – the public utilities authorities alone included 2,300 employees – a staggering number! I mean, a company w/ 2.3K employees, is already considered large – and just this number to staff a city’s utilities! The HQ building itself was ~14 stories high, and looked amazing inside – w/ floor-to-ceiling glass windows, large cubicles, renewable energy sources, a treatment plant for its own wastewater, an emergency operations command center. I have come to realize that it is not only tech companies that have livable, user-centric working spaces, but the culture of the SF Bay Area – on open space, on sunlight, on working spaces designed to improve productivity and morale.
Some things we covered:
- How the Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir provides most of the water for SF
- How the SF water authority sells its water to East Bay, Stanford
- How the 900k residential population surges to > 2M during the day and utilities supply must surge to accommodate that
- The workings of the in-house water treatment plant and the wetland blocks that soak in wastewater
- Environmental justice w/ the placement of the waste water plant in Bayview
Session 9 – The Atlantic Economic Opportunity Forum + Chinatown TRIP
In the morning, thanks to Erika’s heads-up, I got to listen to a couple of speakers at a forum named “Building Opportunity For All” hosted by the Atlantic and Shared Prosperity Partnership.
he first talk was about how tech changed everything:
- Molly, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business lecturer
She talked about how the power to change things really comes from policy-making, and she seemed to dismiss that engineers held a later-in-the-pipeline role of implementing the vision of a city or a product. From an urban planning perspective, what she says does make sense – that city government, think tanks, and community advocates need to set a vision for the city before free market forces sweep tech companies’ vision in. It’s refreshing change from the tech start-up culture that I have definitely immersed myself in at Stanford – engineering and the search for product-market fit came before urban and social policy fit. She talked about how regulators should work w/ investors to set frameworks for emerging and disruptive trends, and I see the potential for government and VCs, these economic catalysts, to collaborate on synthesizing a vision.
- Michael, McKinsey Partner
I thought that he had quite an interesting career starting up a tech company, becoming a municipal chief information officer, and then moving into consulting. What an interesting way to intersect at tech and policy – which definitely piques my interest.
Work + Tech = Opportunity?
Eloy Oakley, the Chancellor of California Community Colleges – I never thought about the importance of tangible credentialing. It had always been ingrained in me that higher education was about critical thinking – learning how to define a problem, how to break down a problem set into smaller pieces, how to work w/ a team to produce a project, how to set intermediate deadlines for a larger goal, and yet I’ve realized that I haven’t thought about credentialing – what does it mean to be a nurse or a teacher, an electrician or a plumber.
At noon, I got my first real dose of civic engagement and community brainstorming when I shadowed the Chinatown TRIP meeting. Around this round table, a squad of old-timer veterans who founded TRIP to advocate for transportation justice and a squad of young (not much older than me) Chinatown CDC planners talked for more than two hours about the various transportation justice issues facing Chinatown. They talked about multiple issues:
- The Bird scooter sharing, conversations w/ the company to limit drop zones, giving company reps tours so that the product better fits into the community
- Portsmouth square transportation intercept surveys
- Thanking the outgoing MTA director and seeking an audience w/ the incoming MTA director as well as providing input into that executive search
- High-speed rail and how consultants seek community input to check boxes rather than substantively factor in feedback
- 30 bus line: a mid-block bus stop, bulb-outs, and a debate on where the bus stop should be at
Yet, the most interesting interaction to capture was their engagement w/ the MTA Transit Public Relations Officer, Bonnie, who came to this meeting of TRIP to ask for feedback. She mentioned a proposed re-routing of a bus route, 12, that started in the Mission District and would wind its way thru FiDi before crossing the length of Chinatown. The proposed re-routing would include a couple more blocks in FiDi to accommodate more commuters and residents in newly built developments. And the opposition to this proposal was tremendous – and echoed previous rallying cries in the course textbook – b/c such an extension of the bus route would load up the bus w/ more residents and commuters, effectively rendering the bus full and unavailable to Chinatown riders during peak hours. These nuances of transportation justice amaze me – b/c I never could have understood these things, I would not be able to interpret how ridership could effectively privilege one community and deny another one. Although the meeting was never acrimonious, there was a sense of civic urgency and standing up to protect transportation rights – and I have not been such civically engaged in a while. I guess I have always heard of the door-to-door canvassing, the campaign rallies, the marches, even the protests and demonstrations outside, but this was a different type of engagement – directly working w/ the transportation authority and municipal government to provide input directly into a transportation proposal and do it on a person-to-person, conversational level. I was quite inspired b/c the conversation was both civil and informational, and I would hope that productive conversations like these lead to substantive transportation practices that truly serve the community.
Session 10 – SPUR
In the afternoon, we visited SPUR – San Francisco Planning and Urban Research, an urban planning, community organizing and advocacy group. I was quite impressed w/ the breadth of their work, just as I have been impressed by the sheer scope covered by Chinatown CDC as well:
- Offices in SF, Oakland, San Jose
- Various events hosting speakers
- Magazine about urban issues
And again, I was impressed w/ how comfortable and beautiful their working space was! It’s not just Google, Facebook, Uber, LinkedIn – it’s also the SF PUC, it’s also SPUR. They have these spacious working spaces that enable conversation, beautiful murals and exhibitions that tell the story of their work – right smack dab in the middle of the city.
I was also impressed w/ the two-dimensional quadrant that they constructed for the vision of where SF could go – along the dimensions of economic development and social inclusion. I have always tried to say that we should consider issues among multiple dimensions, but they painted multiple scenarios (quite literally, in these paintings that we were asked to observe and comment upon) and then plotted it along these axes. That was extremely helpful to me.