urbanter

Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Monthly Archives: May 2013

A Shout-out to the KQED Workplace Community and the KQED Staff!

This is the eighth part of a series of posts from Stefan Norgaard, Stanford University Urban Studies major completing his Internship Capstone sequence interning for NPR’s Forum program at KQED, the San Francisco station.

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 (Above:  The KQED Office in San Francisco)

            It’s week 9 of my 10 week internship here at National Public Radio (NPR-KQED), and the realization hit me about just how fleeting and ephemeral my experience has been. I have loved every day of my weekly work at NPR, but there are only 10 weeks in a Stanford quarter, and the time has gone by all too quickly.  Hosting scholars, activists, and celebrities, I get to meet people like former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos and entertainment star John Leguizamo.  This last week, Paul Farmer (author of Mountains Beyond Mountains) came on KQED to discuss his new book, and I felt privileged and honored to work for a radio station that hosts such incredible guests.  This prompted me to take this time to give everyone a sense of the “culture” of KQED and introduce you to the people who make Forum possible. 

            KQED is located on Bryant and Mariposa Streets, in an area known as “SoMissPo” because it is at the intersection of SoMa, Protreo Hill, and the Mission District, in the heart of San Francisco.  The first floor of the building is security and also has a large parking garage.  The second floor is where the magic happens:  public radio and public television are broadcast from these halls.  The third floor is dedicated to fundraising, administration, and internal operations, a side of KQED and public radio that I have not seen much of, but which constitutes a large and important portion of daily operations at the studio.  On the second floor, the public radio offices are all open, so staff members can converse and work together.  The Forum offices border “The California Report” Offices, and shows like “Pacific Time” have nearby office spaces.  In the morning, I walk past KQED’s Joshua Johnson, who reads news headlines, and I hear him practice the very lines that he will recite just minutes later.  The studios themselves—as there are many—are located in sound-proof rooms bordering the open offices.  I bring the show guests to the “Green Room” – where I have them sign the wall and have them wait until show time – which also borders the offices.  The open office environment allows for jokes, news-events, and conversation to occur throughout all branches of KQED, and fosters a great workplace culture. 

            At Forum, I work under the senior producer, Dave, and other producers named Iris and Sasha.  The producers work behind the scenes, but they really are the lifeblood of Forum.  For example, Dave books guests and decides show topics, and is the final responsible party when it comes to show decisions.  The producer always decides which calls are taken and which emails are read on the air.  The hosts rotate for me, because Michael Krasny does not work on Fridays.  Sometimes Rick or Paulie or Mark host, and all of the KQED hosts I have met have a similar quality:  they possess such a wide breadth of extensive knowledge that they can ask good, engaging questions and converse at a high level with our guests about most any topic.  This requires hosts to be renaissance-men and renaissance-women, and they are highly respected by our show guests.  Finally, there are staff members like Allie and others who do sound engineering work, social media and web components, or other logistical aspects to make the show run smoothly.  Most of the people working in this position are younger than the hosts, and most that I have met carry a positive energy and excitement that embodies KQED. 

            Overall, I am so saddened to be leaving KQED in a short 2 Fridays (after I feel I have just arrived!) in large part because I will be leaving this amazing community.  The KQED Forum staff took me in from Day 1, and I have loved getting to know everyone in the office more closely.  Their support and wisdom has been invaluable for me, and it has been what has made my internship so special! 

(NOTE:  Names have been changed for anonymity)

 

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(Above:  KQED Host Michael Krasny does not work on Fridays).  

Bustling KQED as Scandals Break

            As I was driving to work Friday morning, I knew it would be a busy day.  The Obama administration had been rocked by three different scandals, and all news sources continued to release updates.  The first scandal involved a continued series of criticism for the way the White House handled the 2012 Bengazi attack.  The Obama Administration has since announced a programmatic effort to step up security at embassies around the world, but at the time was facing severe criticism for a lack of response and for misinforming the public.  The second controversy centered around the Department of Justice and the subpoena of work and telephone records for at least 20 reporters at the Associated Press.  The final, and perhaps most controversial scandal facing the Obama Administration, centered around IRS Director Steven Miller.  Miller and the IRS were accused of bias in auditing and targeting conservative groups claiming nonprofit status, by searching for words like “tea party” and “republicans” in their names.  As I was driving to work I heard President Obama announce the resignation of Miller and knew that a day of busy news was in store. 

            This was my first time at KQED when news was breaking so rapidly.  I walked into the office and immediately noticed TVs on, tuned to CNN, all over the place.  Radios were dispatching new information and reports  were running around the offices of “The California Report.”  The Forum 9:00 AM show had been changed to be a commentary on the Obama scandals, and so experts from both sides of the aisle weighed in on the potential damage to the administration.  In the 9:00 AM hour of the show, our show guests, surprisingly, took very reasoned and moderate positions on the issues,  even though they ranged from Joan Walsh, the editor for salon.com (a liberal magazine and website) to Byron York, the chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner and author of the book “The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy.”  I had been expecting our guests, of such different political beliefs, to argue over the details of the Obama scandals but all of them uniformly criticized the administration.  Though the guests did differ slightly in what the scandals would mean for the administration – and what the political ramifications would be – the unity and civil discourse came as quite a surprise to me.  Callers and comments came in from around the Bay Area, and a civil dialogue ensued. 

            In the 10:00 AM hour, Forum hosted Paul Theroux, an author who has traveled extensively, particularly in Africa.  Having travelled to Ghana (and planning travel to Cape Town, South Africa) myself, I greatly enjoyed talking to Mr. Theroux about his travels and perspectives on the African continent.   As a reader of Theroux, I have always been impressed with his authorial style, amazing narrative technique and sense of local color.  I found the show with Theroux to convey a very different element, however.  Rather than center on anecdotes and narrative stories, as he does in his books, Theroux talked more broadly about macro concepts facing the African continent, like poverty in Angola and food aid and poverty.  Once again, Theroux insightfully questioned our fascination with foreign aid in Africa mentioning “there’s a lot of work to be done right here in the [Mississippi] delta, you know.” 

Ma’ayan Dembo: Bayview- Hunters Point

This is the sixth post in a series chronicling Ma’ayan Dembo’s internship with the San Francisco Bike Coalition, for the Internship Capstone of the Urban Studies major at Stanford University.

Biking in an urban environment can be pleasant and enjoyable—getting much needed outdoor exercise can otherwise prove itself difficult in the concrete jungle. Beyond weaving through streets and passing jammed traffic freely, the blood-circulating physical activity generated through biking releases endorphins and relaxes individuals. In San Francisco especially, sometimes urban biking can present itself as a sweaty, panting ordeal. Truly, the hills of San Francisco present challenges for maneuverability and access. Indeed, bikers can generally handle inclines of less than 6%, but hard-core enthusiasts live for moments of pedaling up 13% grade hills. For avoiding awkward bike-pushing at steep grades, through-routes are often the only solution.

 

The Wiggle, for example, is the least hilly (ranging from a slight 3%-6% grade level) route to get from Golden Gate Park to Market Street. Built in the late 1990’s, this bike route zig zags through Fell, Scott, Haight, Pierce, Waller, Steiner, and Duboce, making way for many silly mnemonic devices. Featuring cycle tracks, bike sharrows, and appropriately signed wayfinding, the Wiggle is a San Francisco institution that sees hundreds of bikers on a daily basis for commuting and city exploring.

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In a project coinciding with the redevelopment of Hunters Point- Bayview, I designed a bike lane proposal for the area. Before I even began the initial research, I first delved into the street grade levels. Using a database from the San Francisco Public Works department, I created a map depicting suitable cycling streets, and streets to be avoided. After coloring in all of the lines, I decided to go for a site visit and explore the area for myself. Needless to say, the map was incredibly helpful for avoiding situations of bike-pushing rather than bike riding. One of my initial observations was the lack of fellow cyclists. I waved to many others riding along Illinois Street, but as soon as I crossed Islias Creek, it seemed the multi-use lanes along 3rd street, Palou Avenue, and Keith St were entirely empty.

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How does one encourage biking in an area otherwise disconnected to such a mode of transportation? One method (albeit forceful and ineffective) is to install bike lanes in the hopes that people with use and flock to them. Incredibly inefficient and shortsighted, I am pleased to say this is not the Bicycle Coalition’s approach. Instead, they first implement outreach programs (such as Sunday Streets), teaching people how to ride bicycles, repair bicycles, and make bicycles a means of both transport and economic mobility. Only after residents are effectively exposed to bicycles in these methods, they will have a fuller understanding of their power and enjoy bicycle lanes in their community.

Urban Redevelopment with the Golden State Warriors at KQED Forum

This is the sixth part of a series of posts from Stefan Norgaard, Stanford University Urban Studies major completing his Internship Capstone sequence interning for NPR’s Forum program at KQED, the San Francisco station.

I could feel the animosity and intensity as soon as I entered the lobby to meet our guests for this week’s KQED Forum show.  Art Agnos (former mayor of San Francisco and environmental activist) and Rick Welts (President and COO of the Golden State Warriors) shook hands and greeted each other cordially, but their passionate disagreement was felt.  At issue was whether the Golden State Warriors franchise should move from their present site in Oakland to a new stadium on San Francisco’s embarcadero.  Welts, seeking greater prominence for his franchise, hopes to build a state of the art stadium over the water right next to the Bay Bridge.  The plan would allow easy access from both BART and CalTrain for Bay Area residents, and would help to revitalize the Embarcadero piers even further.  Agnos is staunchly opposed to the project.  Along with Randy Shandobil of the “San Francisco Watershed Alliance”, Agnos highlighted that the project should not be built in the Embarcadero location.   Environmentally, pouring concrete into the Bay is not preferred by the coalition, and the group also thinks that the location does not lend itself well to transit and access. 

 

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Photos, above:  Mayor Art Agnos and Mr. Rick Welts.  

Photos, below:  Design plans and renderings for the proposed new Warriors arena on San Francisco’s Embarcadero.   

 

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            My Urban Studies analysis had kicked in as soon as I met the show guests.  Urban redevelopment projects can be greatly beneficial to an area, but there are so many complicated factors whenever it comes to a public-private construction plan like a new stadium.  For one, what about the new transit burden for BART and MUNI that will occur (especially when baseball and basketball games occur simultaneously, like right now)?  What about the Oracle arena and the loyal fans in Oakland?  Questions of zoning, land use, and bureaucracy crossed my mind throughout the morning as we aired the show. 

 

            Over the course of the hour, I fielded emails, comments, and other perspectives from Bay Area residents.  Many of the KQED callers were residents of Oakland, astounded that the Warriors wanted to move to San Francisco.  Callers noted that the Warriors had enjoyed nightly sell-out crowds in Oakland, even when they were a losing team.  Now that the Warriors win games, a caller noted, the owner wants to move to a wealthier crowd of fair-weather fans in San Francisco.  Moreover, tweets and Facebook posts from listeners mentioned that the Oakland Oracle arena still functions as a fine stadium.  “This hurts,” said Keith, a resident of Oakland, in an email that I sent to the control room. 

 

            But in the studio, it seemed that the question of whether the Warriors would move from Oakland to San Francisco had been determined.  And this point, the only question was where the flashy new stadium would be built.  I enjoyed interacting with Mayor Agnos and Mr. Welts over the course of the morning, and learned a quite a bit about the urban planning process.  With such bureaucracy and heated divisions, it can be hard to get just about anything done these days when it comes to land use planning and urban development.  But in the bickering process, it is often easy to forget about the hundreds and thousands of citizens trying to express their voice.  I am confident that a new Warriors stadium will be built, and that, to Mr. Welts plan, it will be innovative and remarkable.  I just hope the fans think so too. 

 

Week 6 at KQED Forum: Suicide, Depression, and Bay Area Gardening

This is the fifth part of a series of posts from Stefan Norgaard, Stanford University Urban Studies major completing his Internship Capstone sequence interning for NPR’s Forum program at KQED, the San Francisco station.

 

This week, KQED Forum hosted two shows, one on suicide and depression and another on Bay Area gardening.  The first show came in response to new numbers form the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finding that suicide has now surpassed car accidents for the leading cause of death among the Baby Boomer generation.  In the show, the host and guests discussed why suicide rates are so high, particularly among this specific Baby Boomer demographic.  The guests floated reasons of economic insecurity and difficult uncertainties on retirement that have created difficult social and family situations.

Manning emails, web comments, phone calls, tweets, and other Forum call-ins, I was shocked to hear the public response.  Dozens upon dozens of listeners recounted sad tales of loved ones and family members committing suicide, for what seemed like preventable reasons.  Others used the opportunity to call or email into the show as a cry for help.  I encountered 2-3 listeners who were “planning their exit” already and were “ready to leave.”  We received emails and calls from around the nation, as far as Dayton, OH.  Other callers expressed dis-satisfaction at America’s social safety net and the slow death of the American Middle Class, something built around the Baby Boomer generation.  The show was opening up a serious complex topic—suicide and depression—and allowing people from around the country to have a chance and weigh into the discussion.

One of the commenters mentioned that as a former journalist she had traditionally been asked not to discuss suicide, as the mention of suicide tends to create more of a trend for future suicide.  This point was debated heavily on the show.  Show guests insisted that, no, in fact, discussing suicide in a frank and open way, and giving individuals ways to call and reach out for help is a good way of preventing suicide, and that the conversation does not in fact encourage suicide.

One of the show guests was Eve Meyer, the executive director of San Francisco Suicide Prevention.  Ms. Meyer could talk to everyone, make anyone feel better, and brought an intense amount of joy with her as she went about the studio.  I myself felt the burdens of a stressful week lifted immediately as I talked with Ms. Meyer about the complexities of suicide in the Bay Area.  Ms. Meyer and I discussed the many stigmas surrounding suicide present on both the Stanford campus and in the Bay Area more generally.  Instead of having frank conversations about suicide and depression, like we did last Friday on the radio, we brush such issues under the table, hoping to avoid tales of mental health, particularly for certain demographic groups.

As I learned from the many listeners expressing concern over suicide, this issue is more widespread than I had ever imagined.  And from what I have been told from show guests like Eve Meyer, suicide is indeed preventable.  Seeking out help and support is a crucial first step.  Below, I have enclosed the San Francisco Suicide Prevention 24-hour hotline, which accepts calls and gives solutions for all ages of individuals.

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Amy Tomasso: Urban Youth

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I was talking to my RA, a senior, about his plans for next year.  He’s lucky—he got a job back in March working for a start-up in Menlo Park.  “That’s awesome!” I thought, until he started to go into details about the struggles of trying to find an apartment in San Francisco, his locale of choice.  Most importantly, there’s cost to consider, but throw in vicinity to BART and CalTrain, roommate compatibility, and neighborhood stereotypes, and the resulting process seems veritably impossible.     

Of course, the age-old house-hunting battle is nothing new, especially for college graduates growing up and out.  It is just different now: more people searching, fewer options to be had, and everything complicated by the digital age in which transactions can be last-minute, tours virtual, and real estate agents unnecessary.  Yet there is something else complicating the situation.  There is a certain social capital and prestige behind where one chooses to live.  My RA doesn’t just want to live in the city; he wants to live in the Mission District because, well, it’s a really cool place. 

Last year, CNBC published the “Top 10 U.S. Cities for Young People.”  I wasn’t surprised to see San Francisco gracing the top of the list at number two, but some other results made me do a double take.  Austin, Texas, took the grand prize at number one and New York City was only seven.  Having visited Austin at Christmas, I can attest to the city’s vibrancy and teeming young population, especially at night along the famed 6th Street.  Yet maybe since I’m from Connecticut, it seemed to me that all my friends’ dreams were to move to New York after college.  Interestingly enough, the survey considers the whole New York City Metropolitan Region, including the burgeoning outer boroughs of Brooklyn and White Plains.   

The Brookings Institute confirms this urban youth migration with a report that in 2010-2011, the U.S.’s largest cities experienced more growth than their conglomerated suburbs.  Definitely great news for urbanists, but if such a trend continues, big questions will be raised for the affordability of city life for young adults just starting their careers.  My RA is no exception; his experience is shared by countless recent graduates.  Will it continue unmitigated or will a compromise be found between desirability and viability of urban life?

 

Ma’ayan Dembo: Bicycle Parking

This is the fifth post in a series chronicling Ma’ayan Dembo’s internship with the San Francisco Bike Coalition, for the Internship Capstone of the Urban Studies major at Stanford University.

One of my major projects this week at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition was to create guidelines for developers regarding bike parking, bike programs, and incentives for biking. Many developers approach the SFBC for approval of their project before submitting to the Mayor in order to improve their development proposal. The SFBC wanted to have a firm set of written requirements and suggestions for developers in order to streamline the process. Recently, San Francisco also passed a measure requiring developers to create bicycle-parking facilities accommodating one bicycle for every two dwellings, furthering the need for developer guidelines and recommendations from an organization that specializes in bicycles.

By looking online and also contacting developers, I created some guidelines of best practices for bicycle parking. The basic requirements were security, ease of use, and efficient space usage. Upon completing this work, I began to look at bike racks in a different light. For example, bicycle parking at the Bike Coalition is all vertical parking along walls—one rolls your bike up the wall and hangs the front wheel off of a mounted hook. This parking style is suitable for the space, since the Coalition is an indoor facility that one can only enter with permission. Moreover, if somebody tried to steal a bicycle, they would immediately be noticed since people are inside the building at all times within view of the bikes.

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With this newfound information regarding best practices, poor bicycle parking infrastructure at Stanford University sticks out at me like a sore thumb. First and foremost, many times the University chooses bike racks that are simply ineffective. For maximum security, one should easily be able to lock their frame and front wheel to the bicycle rack with a U-Lock. However, many times this is simply impossible depending on the shape of the rack and the build of the bike. While the best racks (U-racks and campus racks) are plentiful on this campus, they are not ubiquitous. The below bicycle rack stuck out especially to me—found in the bicycle parking structure of the Oak Creek Apartments, off campus housing that Stanford University owns and manages. While these apartments have security personnel and video monitoring, stealing entire bicycles or parts is incredibly easy here even with a basic understanding of bicycle mechanics. Moreover, this rack is incredibly inefficient since bicyclists can only park in every other loop since handlebars jut out farther than the space in between each spot. Either the racks themselves need to be modified, or they should be replaced with more secure and well designed bike racks.

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Ma’ayan Dembo: Polk Complete Streets Project Open House

This is the fourth post in a series chronicling Ma’ayan Dembo’s internship with the San Francisco Bike Coalition, for the Internship Capstone of the Urban Studies major at Stanford University.

On Saturday April 27th, I attended the first of two Polk Street Open House meetings sponsored by the SFMTA in an attempt to receive input on their Lower Polk Street and Middle/ Upper Polk Street plans. After a Town Hall meeting concluding with heated debate on both sides, I expected the open house to be tense. I was expecting the open house to be an attempt to mediate dialogue between the two contentious sides. I was expecting uproar—nay, a riot (not really).

 

Upon entering the church lobby where the event was held, I was presently surprised by the soft chatter, calm discussions, and even occasional giggle. Sure, there were shirts and buttons to “Save Polk Street”, and a surprising amount of people still wearing their helmets indoors, but the scene was much tamer than I expected. The SFMTA hung poster of their traffic study, goals for the redesigned Polk Street, and revised designs around the room with ample space for everybody to leave their own comments. Pens were also provided.

 

I studied all of the materials in deep length, trying to image myself as a business owner, driver, cyclist, and pedestrian in each situation. Through my own experiences traversing San Francisco, I debated readability, ease of use, safety, and comfort when looking at each design. One major flaw (in my humble opinion) with some SFMTA plans is their ease of use and readability—many times when driving, walking, or biking, it is difficult to understand what the signage means for the user. On one of the designs, someone circled the quintessential green bike sharrow sign and wrote next to it “how many drivers know what this sign means and what rights it provides?” An astute observation indeed!

 

Overall, I thought the revisions the SFMTA made incorporated many complaints that neighborhood associations and communities had. Some plans removed little to no parking, or only removed parking along one side of the street. Other plans satisfied bikers, by adding a separated bike lane along Polk Street in both directions. However, there still was no plan that pedestrians, bikers, and business owners were happy about. On each proposed rendering, there were both positive and negative comments—obviously you cannot satisfy everyone but nonetheless there was not a single plan that seemed to be lauded by all parties involved. A lesson in urban planning: you can’t (and won’t) please everyone). But how do you decide which groups to side with?

KQED Hosts John Leguizamo, Stefan Norgaard KQED Day 4

This is the fourth part of a series of posts from Stefan Norgaard, Stanford University Urban Studies major completing his Internship Capstone sequence interning for NPR’s Forum program at KQED, the San Francisco station.

 

            Imagine seeing a celebrity out of his element.  Last Friday, KQED hosted actor and comedian John Leguizamo, and I experienced just that.  Leguizamo was on tour for his new one-man show, “Ghetto Klown,” which was visiting San Francisco at the Orpheum Theater.  Leguizamo, originally from Queens, New York, has certainly had a full life.  He has acted in everything from the Die Hard movies to the Ice Age Series, and his Latino-variety show career in television is quite extensive as well. 

            When I brought Mr. Leguizamo into the studio, it was all jokes, right from the beginning.  When I asked Mr. Leguizamo if he wanted to sign the wall of the Green Room, a KQED tradition, he joked that he knew a director once who would simply take notes on the walls of his home.  His nervousness seemed surprising for a man who presents on stage in front of thousands of people daily.  But the subject of the radio show soon revealed that the “Forum” show topic was no comedy show.  Rather, Friday host Dave Iverson wanted to ask Leguizamo serious questions about his childhood and about the struggles of being a Latino actor in Hollywood: 

 

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Leguizamo has surely come far.  He has had numerous family problems (at one point or another, both of his parents have tried to sue him, for example) and has nonetheless stayed resilient and hilarious.  A key to Leguizamo’s success is his humor, and his ability to joke in serious situations.  Host Dave Iverson put everything on the table, from Leguizamo’s fractured relationship with his father to his many girlfriends and wives.  Leguizamo, in a moment of gravity, noted that perhaps “my family was one of the prices I had to pay for [my fame].”  Iverson asked personal questions to Leguizamo, but all questions were geared at understanding the following question:  how did a Latino immigrant boy growing up in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens make it? 

 

As the show continued, I worked on emails and comments rolling in from around the country.  One comment, from a young boy growing up in East San Jose, noted that Leguizamo was his inspiration and his only hope was to be like him.  Other comments echoed that sentiment.  How many people, I began to wonder, feel like our American society has forgotten them?  Leguizamo’s rise to fame was not easy, and he himself has paid high prices for the fame.  How many more Leguizamos, all equally funny, are there out there?

            Leguizamo is far more than just a comedian, an actor, and a man with deep personal stories.  He is an inspiration.  Those phone calls, comments, emails, tweets from fans around the nation underscore that Leguizamo is a symbol for Latino actors, comedians, writers, and performers.  The stories of Leguizamo are hilarious, in large part because they tap into a part of the American experience that is so familiar to all of us.  The immigrant experience is painful, saddening, hilarious, and uplifting, all in different ways.  Leguiamo can be a symbol to all that the barriers facing Latinos in Hollywood can indeed be overcome. 

 

Relevant Clips of Leguizamo’s work can be found below:  

Leguizamo on his father:  

Leguizamo featured on Sesame Street: