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Thread: Stumbling in Mountain View (AK)

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Stumbling in Mountain View (AK)

    Just recently started my first position in my field after getting a CD degree: new intern, specializing in the Mountain View neighborhood in Anchorage, in the OECD in the Mayor's office.
    Mountain View is Anchorage's most notorious (if, in some ways, exaggerated) "bad neighborhood", apparently caused primarily by excessive density - it was apparently a good neighborhood once with compact single family lots, then was rezoned multifamily during a housing boom, and today it's full of 4-plexes crowded together, with very low ownership rates, lots of absentee landlords, and no real opportunities to invest in the neighborhood for most people. It's bordered on two sides by a military base, and has a third edge defined by a freeway/primary arterial. It has a 'main street' of commercial development, but the street is currently designed as an arterial bypass, and not especially walkable or effective at drawing people into the stores.

    Lots of work being done there, but I still feel awfully intimidated by the whole thing. Been doing some work, but I need to meet other people around here.

    Could use some advice on good ways to get the pulse of an area for the first time, since I want to be working with the community's interests rather than just throwing ideas at them.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
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    Welcome, from the "Biggest city in Appalachia" (is that a good thing?). Sounds like you've got your work cut out for you. Hope our expertise :rolleyes: is of some help for you.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Budgie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JusticeZero
    Could use some advice on good ways to get the pulse of an area for the first time, since I want to be working with the community's interests rather than just throwing ideas at them.
    Dress down and hang out at the local watering hole. I used to hang out at a mexican restaurant in a deteriorating neighborhood in Texas to get a feel for what was going on. Talking to the clergy in Texas also was very helpful to start with. A community bitch session always helps just so long as you can turn the bitching into a problem solving dialogue.

    Good luck and welcome to the threads.

  4. #4

    Welcome

    You are definatly in the right place. These fine people have helped me in many ways and I am only an amature planner/zoning board member.

  5. #5

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    Welcome from California!

    Ah, the fourplex. Rarely a good housing type. Too small to be actively managed by on-sight managers (absent the rare owner occupant) or to offer on-site amenities. Small enough to be purchased as a "hobby" or an "investment" by the notorious Dentist from the nearest big city or rich neighborhood (sorry, dentists).

    Some of the things we have done:

    1. Form an interdepartmental team involving planning, building inspectors, police, fire, and County Health to focus on particular neighborhoods. Our Quality Neighborhood Team is assigned to work with tenants AND property owners to address neighborhood-wide problems.

    2. Tenant outreach. Hold parties for the neighborhood kiddies. Work with property owners to fund a tot lot or mini-park. Make sure the team includes a multilinguist-we needed Spanish for our outreach efforts.

    3. Try to find a more committed owner or even an outside party to work with. Consolidate ownership where possible-or at least consolidate management. We had problems with tenant screening. Troublemakers (shouters, drug dealers, gang members) simply moving from one apartment to another building on the street. Consolidated property management helps reduce this.

    4. Be ready to condemn and eliminate the most blighted properties-even if that means unsightly landbanking for a while. Sometimes, a decrepit 1965 four plex is not worth saving. (Unfortunately, property values even in the outermost suburbs of the Bay Area are skyrocketing, limiting our ability to engage in ownership consolidation (and removal).)

    Good Luck! There were a lot of good ideas above.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Welcome. I have absolutely no advice for you at the moment. Me brane no worky today. But I did want to say "hi".

  7. #7
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Welcome from the Florida panhandle.

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    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    welcome
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  9. #9
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Welcome from Chicagoland!!!!
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Welcome from SW Indiana.

    Simple questions / thoughts -
    Is there a neighborhood business / residential association ?
    Attend church socials -
    Have you done a walking tour ?
    Have you talked with the other city dept - Police, Fire, Code Enforcement, School, Library about their observations ?
    Create a monthly visiting City Hall.
    Oddball
    Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?
    Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here?
    Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
    From Kelly's Heroes (1970)


    Are you sure you're not hurt ?
    No. Just some parts wake up faster than others.
    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
    From Electric Horseman (1979)

  11. #11
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Keep in mind the power brokers in that neighborhood may not be obvious. You'll find out soon enough just through discussions with residents, owners and business people who the real people of influence are. Get to know them.

    And welcome, from central New York State.
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  12. #12
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    Hello from Iowa!
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  13. #13
    Member
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    Another Alaskan? We're on a roll. I think you're the third one in three months.

    Good luck with Mountain View. In my opinion, it needs all the help it can get.

    Welcome.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Census....

    Just take a look at all the 2000 census data you can at the American Fact Finder web site.......that should give you a good picture of the area.....

    Also: walk down the main street in orange speedo's in the middle of February with a bud light in your right hand and a cuban cigar in the left, while chewing tabacco at the same time and singing any song by Alabama.....if your still alive after 100 yards......wait a minute....wrong scenario.....

    :-0 Wear a tye died shirt with a big peace symbol on the front and walk down the streets with a sign that says "HYDROGEN IS THE AUTOMOTIVE FUTURE" and "STOP KILLING FISH, WHAT DID THEY EVER DO TO US".....if your still alive at 100 yards...., their is hope for the place...... :-0

    Yeah yeah I know it'll be dark out.....but sounds funny anyway.....

    Remember, humor is one of the things that makes this forum so great......
    Skilled Adoxographer

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Trail Nazi's avatar
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    Welcome from a much warmer state, Florida.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by JusticeZero
    Just recently started my first position in my field after getting a CD degree: new intern, specializing in the Mountain View neighborhood in
    Lots of work being done there, but I still feel awfully intimidated by the whole thing. Been doing some work, but I need to meet other people around here.

    Could use some advice on good ways to get the pulse of an area for the first time, since I want to be working with the community's interests rather than just throwing ideas at them.
    Welcome JusticeZero! We're looking foward to hearing your planning projects from up north Don't hessitate to ask for advice or just rant about the job.

    Be sure to srick around until you get your gallery posting privileges, when you get to 25 posts. Any questions regarding that, just send me a Private Message

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    Been asking where residents gather - there is no such place that anyone can think of, as the neighborhood prides itself on it's diversity but noone can think of anywhere diverse people gather. Right now, trying to get the community to figure out a redesign for their main street to make it less of an arterial and more of a commercial street, but resources are slim and the current traffic engineers in place reportedly don't have much experience or enthusiasm for plans that slow traffic down. (Us: "We need to widen the sidewalk, add street furniture, make the street safer to cross, and make it easier to get into the businesses and we need to do it all without acquiring another inch of right of way because the last highway project made them a non-conforming use and too close already. And if that shifts demand onto the main highway that they're supposed to be using but aren't - the one with that inexplicable bottleneck that you've presumably been looking for an excuse to fix anyways - that's OK." Them: "Now hold on, let's not get too stuck on some idea, if I can do it and still have the street be four lanes wide, with the new 3 foot snow storage shoulder requirement - would you go for it?" . o O (Sure, and if you can pull it off, i'd like to see you plan your next road project involving parting the Cook Inlet.. ) )
    The actual design issues i'm finding pretty darned interesting, actually, I can hardly wait until we can sit down with the traffic engineers to work out the details. The dynamics of reducing it's viability as an arterial bypass i'm not as clear on, but I can understand the businesses' frustration - the first meeting was in a small strip mall I drove past four times the other day trying to figure out how to stop at.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JusticeZero
    Been asking where residents gather - there is no such place that anyone can think of, as the neighborhood prides itself on it's diversity but noone can think of anywhere diverse people gather.
    I think that is "typical": if there is nothing to bridge the differences, diversity tends to be a barrier to effective interaction. Military communities are highly diverse but they all have the military in common and the military community is like a large "blood brotherhood" -- that bond runs deep enough to overcome race, color, national origin, etc.

    I have experience addressing diversity issues and was appointed as the Official Diversity whatever person in a pro bono professional position I held. Perhaps you and I should talk?

  19. #19
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    Welcome to Cyburbia! I really like Anchorage when I visited there a few years back. I only was able to spend three days there or so, but I really enjoyed the neighbourhoods and the people. Good luck with your efforts in Mountain View!

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    Perhaps you and I should talk?
    Sure. It was raised as a concern in a couple of meetings i've been to that the people involved in the community are mostly the same faces repeated, and aren't really as diverse as the population is. (By said people, mainly.) They want to do some sort of outreach to the ethnic groups in the area, but weren't certain exactly how.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Welcome from a former ALaska planner (Ketchikan), now of the Queen City of the Rockies.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JusticeZero
    Sure. It was raised as a concern in a couple of meetings i've been to that the people involved in the community are mostly the same faces repeated, and aren't really as diverse as the population is. (By said people, mainly.) They want to do some sort of outreach to the ethnic groups in the area, but weren't certain exactly how.
    I will leave it up to the moderators whether or not to split this out to a thread of its own.

    The first thing I would look for is something "everyone" has in common -- ANYTHING that most of the community would have in common. ZG mentioned in another thread that citizen participation goes up if you hold meetings at a school or similar in the neighborhood where you want folks to participate. If the neighborhood you are working with roughly correlates to a school district, that might be a great place to start. If not, look for something else that would be a potential common bond for the community as a whole. And get creative about trying to find ways to use that nexus as more than just a meeting place. For example: can you print up newsletters and get the school/church/whatever to pass them out?

    If there is absolutely nothing that the community as a whole has in common, then start looking for commonalities for large subsections and expect to have to do some real bridge-building to form all these sub-communities into one functional community. Even if there is something that touches 95% of folks there, it would probably be a good idea to do outreach to the subcommunities. Usually, even if everyone comes together for a meeting, you will have an overrepresentation of the views of a single sub-culture. In America, that single sub-culture can often be summed up as "white middle-class American male". (Not always, but very often.)

    I do not know your personal profile -- ethnicity etc -- so, at the risk of offending every last person in this forum, let's assume you are a white middle-class male, with a 9 to 5 professional job going into a highly ethnically diverse neighborhood where few people (or NO people) have 9 to 5 professional jobs. Every time you open your mouth, you are at risk of alienating the people you want to reach and also of shutting down important lines of communication. And this is strongly related to the fact noted above that even if everyone turns out, most voices will not really be "heard" -- and they know that and it will contribute to low turn out.

    For example, any time you make a "TGIF/working for the weekend" stereotypical complaint about your 9 to 5 professional job, every last person who is working 3 part time jobs and has no hope of ever having a 9 to 5 professional job will feel dehumanized, put down, reminded of their second-class status, resent that someone as privileged as you would dare to whine to them about your privileged job, etc. If they are polite, they will feel unable to speak of their experiences as a person working 3 part time jobs and you will have effectively made them "mute" on that topic, possibly "for all time" in your presence -- and on many other topics as well because they will judge you to be an insensitive boor (and rightly so, in my opinion). If they are not so polite, you may well provoke rather rude and hostile comments -- possibly any time you give them an opening, thence forth and "for all time" or until you figure out how to make amends when you have no freakin' clue what you did wrong.

    So, my main advice to you would be to practice what you may have heard from your grandma: God gave you two ears and one mouth so you could listen twice as much as you talk.

    And you might want to do some of the following things to improve your ability to really hear these people:

    A) It is a well-studied fact that in any society, the members of the dominant culture generally only know their own culture and members of the non-dominant cultures know both: their culture and the dominant culture. So, regardless of your ethnicity, but especially if you are white, expose yourself to some of the literature, art, and other humanities of the various cultures that you are trying to reach out to. Do so with an open mind and with the intent to refrain from judging them and, instead, understand their subjective reality -- their experience of life and the world. Realize that your experience of life and the world is one tiny microcosm and other cultures have different ways of viewing the world. If you succeed, this is likely to be an extremely personally enriching work experience for you.

    B) Please work very hard to let go of any feeling or thought that you might have that you are some superior being, kindly going in there to help The Little People. This is a good time to work on saintly aspirations of genuine humbleness because if you have any hope at all of reaching them, you must do so as one frail human being to another and not as someone who is "better" than them, taking pity on them. It is an act of disrespect to "take pity on them" and if you do not learn to deeply respect these people, you will not earn their respect and you will not ever be able to effectively communicate with them because whenever you open your mouth, no matter what words you use, they will hear "It's my way or the high way" and immediately clam up on any kind of meaningful feedback. (This is not meant as a slap at you -- most of us are prone to such errors and many attempts to help people are done from this "one up, one down" mentality, which sabotages the program before it has begun.)

    C) You might want to read (at least part of) "Riches for the Poor" by Earl Shorris and/or his earlier book (I can't remember the name of it -- maybe something like "American Blues"). He talks about doing a "confession" about his own, um, maybe time in prison or something to overcome his lack of credibility as a white middle-class male trying to reach out to poor ethnic folks, some of whom were in prison. Coincidentally, "Riches for the Poor" is about a humanities education (see A above). It might help you better understand part of why I suggest you get to know the art, literature, music, etc, of these different cultures.

    D) Learn 'reflective listening" skills if you don't already have them. In essence, you do not assume that you really understood what they meant and you repeat back to them what you think you heard but using your own words and in a way that gives them room to correct your misinterpretation. Also, when folks take offense at things you say, do not react back with being offended. Pretend that you are trying to communicate with people who are not speaking your language -- because they probably really aren't. Assume that you probably don't really understand what they mean much of the time, at first. And if you do have reflective listening skills, expect them to get a real workout and be honed to a fine edge -- no laziness allowed when trying to communicate with these folks.

    I probably could say a lot more on the topic but I tend to be dismissed as some oversensitive, ridiculous fruitcake in this forum when I talk about diversity issues and I also would need a good deal more information from you about who you are, what the cultures are that you expect to interact with, etc. etc etc. I would prefer that this become a dialogue/discussion rather than a lecture by me to you, so please feel free to jump in with both feet.

    Oh, and "The mind and heart of the negotiator" by Thompson is a research-based book -- to my knowledge, the only one of its kind -- and it would stand you in very good stead to pick up a copy. It is not easy to find. You probably have to special order it. It has sections which specifically address issues involved in negotiating with different cultures.
    Last edited by Michele Zone; 13 Oct 2004 at 6:06 PM.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    The first thing I would look for is something "everyone" has in common -- ANYTHING that most of the community would have in common.
    Been looking, will keep looking until I can find something. There's not all that much that I can immediately see though, on account of the transience of much of the population.
    ZG mentioned in another thread that citizen participation goes up if you hold meetings at a school or similar in the neighborhood where you want folks to participate.
    We've been holding all the meetings in the neighborhood, sometimes at the new diner, sometimes the museum, etc.
    can you print up newsletters and get the school/church/whatever to pass them out?
    They used to, but they had to do mailings (800+ people on the list) and the funds stopped them.
    I do not know your personal profile -- ethnicity etc --
    Alaska Native male, but because of some minor fluke of genetics, I "pass" entirely too easily (which is terribly frustrating in it's own ways.)

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JusticeZero
    Been looking, will keep looking until I can find something. There's not all that much that I can immediately see though, on account of the transience of much of the population.
    Transient populations still have places that are important to them and wandering populations often appear more 'disconnected' to outsiders than they really are. The book "Seeing like a state" by Scott has some interesting comments about the historical battle between transient/wandering cultures and settled cultures and the governments that want to force the wanderers to be more easily identified, counted, taxed, etc. It might be a worthwhile book to take a look at. "The Tipping Point" might also be useful.

    EDIT: And transient populations have other containers of culture -- other important nexus points -- that aren't as place-based. You have to know the "language" or "code words" -- the right nicknames or some other form of "insider information". If you can gain the trust of the right person, you can find out how to do that. "The Tipping Point" has some thoughts on "who" such people are -- the people that connect other people.

    We've been holding all the meetings in the neighborhood, sometimes at the new diner, sometimes the museum, etc.
    Yes but what is the community connection for the diner or museum? I suggested a school or church because that is typically a place that is important to the community and they have a personal attachment to it and investment in it -- their children and their souls matter to them, especially if they have little in the way of material wealth. If there are churches, it might be a good idea to go talk to some of the pastors. They may be a wealth of information and may serve as a nexus -- a point of entry into the community. Communities that lack much material wealth invest individuals with value in the way that wealthier cultures invest places and institutions with value and respect. A respected "community elder" of some type who believes you are really there to serve the community may open doors that otherwise would remain shut and even invisible.

    They used to, but they had to do mailings (800+ people on the list) and the funds stopped them.
    EDIT: If you haven't already, get that list and start contacting people on it. Call them or physically go see them, if at all possible. Ask them their opinion about what is preventing people from attending meetings. Have a list of "suggestions", like "would attendance be higher if it were at a different time?" But also allow for suggestions completely outside the box.

    As a military wife, I can tell you that the way the army gets the wives to go to important meetings is a) if she won't go, her husband has to but if she will go, he gets to leave work early to have time with the family and to take care of the kids while she is there and b) often holds meetings at kid-friendly environments and/or offers free daycare for the duration of the meeting. If there is an obstacle to getting people there, if you can find a way to remove that obstacle, you will have much higher attendance.

    Also, find out the exact costs involved in the failed attempt at mailing out information and find out what, if anything, the budget would support. If there is any money or other resources for printing but the postage is prohibitive, brain storm other means to get the information out there. If 800+ copies is too expensive to even print up, a cheap means to get the information out there is to find several places where you can post a copy of the info -- community bulletin boards, laundryrooms at apartment complexes, church bulletin boards, etc -- and only print up 10 or 20 copies or however many and post them publicly.

    In one school my oldest son attended where money was very tight but the quality of education very high, they did not send home announcements with every single child in the elementary school. Instead, they kept track of all the siblings and only sent home announcements with the oldest child from each family that was attending that school. If you can use the school to disseminate info, that might be a cost effective means to send out information to the community and start contacting more people who are not already involved (not on that list of names).

    Alaska Native male, but because of some minor fluke of genetics, I "pass" entirely too easily (which is terribly frustrating in it's own ways.)
    You can USE that fact. That is a valuable trait for what you are trying to do. I have to go right now. Let me get back to you on this -- I promise to edit or post again later tonight.

    EDIT: I am a very multicultural individual but I look and sound ever so white at first glance. My father is part Cherokee Indian but mostly of Irish descent and I have the pale complexion of my Irish anscestory, and never mind that my German mother is very olive skinned. My father is a Hoosier (from Indiana) but I was born and raised in Georgia. When I lived there, no one thought I was all that "Southern". I had to move to the Pacific Coast to get seen as "a Southerner", where my slight Southern accent (and weird habits like ordering grits in restaurants that do not serve them) stands out terribly. In the South, my Hoosier expressions stand out. I don't seem to really fit in anywhere and I am an "outsider" everywhere I go.

    However, it makes me a good bridge. I can relate to lots of different people and I have an "in" to the dominant white middle-class culture that I feel psychologically alienated from but I am not socially barred. The fact that you are an Alaska Native who can "pass" means you can Front for them -- you can be their representative without being automatically dismissed by The Man. You need to find a touchstone -- a means to subtly convey that you are one of them. I am thinking of the scene in "Erin Brockovitch" where she says "I hate lawyers. I just work for them." She sometimes offended her boss with her down-to-earth lawyer-bashing but she was the key making the whole thing work -- the lawyers offended the ordinary folks in that small town. She did not. That is your role: you are the bridge for them and you are not The Man, you just work for The Man -- and can Pass so The Man will listen to you when you speak on their behalf better than they are usually listened to when they speak on their own behalf.

    You might try writing down some of your personal experiences as someone who looks white but isn't. I imagine you have been privvy to a few offensive comments because they didn't realize you weren't really one of them. You have to be well-rehearsed enough with your own stories to be able to drop them in casual conversation without it appearing "staged" but a few well-placed comments that subtly broadcast loud and clear that you are an insider to those In The Know will open doors for you in a big way.
    Last edited by Michele Zone; 14 Oct 2004 at 12:39 AM.

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