By: Zoë Muntaner
“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt
In his 2002 classic The Rise of the Creative Class, Carnegie Mellon professor Richard Florida argued that “creative class” professionals like tech engineers, held the key to revitalizing America’s cities. He encouraged government planners and citizens to cater to the tastes of these creative professionals by developing walkable urban neighborhoods well-served by transit and with ample amenities.
The result came with rents skyrocketing, pricing out many ordinary citizens. Sound familiar? Cities have become more segregated by income and economic class. Mixed-income neighborhoods have been on the decline, replaced by concentrated pockets of wealth and poverty. We are more segregated now than the end of the civil war. Can you hack that?
A hack is the use of a computer to gain unauthorized access to data in a system but don’t let the metaphor escape you. Hack the Beach is a series of micro-festivals celebrating and bringing together Santa Monica’s tech innovators with local civic leaders co-sponsored by the City of Santa Monica and the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. The organizations aim to explore the big issues facing our community and discuss ways that technology can transform Santa Monica. Technology has transformed Santa Monica indeed. In the lead-up to the second annual Hack The Beach event, they are searching for innovation, ideas and solutions to improve Santa Monica’s Wellbeing through technology.
Wellbeing is defined as the state of being comfortable, healthy and happy. A new paper by Yale University researchers published last Monday, reaffirmed there are vast overestimations in the progress toward racial economic equality, particularly amongst those who are thriving. The study’s results are especially stunning in the wake of census data released last week that showed that African Americans were the only racial group still making less than they did in 2000. Hispanics, are a whole other story. Take a look at the growing discontent of the Pico Neighborhood residents published in the local Lookout piece by Niki Cervantes.
This week’s The New York Times Technology section published a short documentary exploring digital colonialism: “How Facebook is Changing Your Internet”. Electronic colonialism theory explains how mass media is leading us to a new concept of empire. “It will not be one based on military power or land acquisition but one based on controlling the mind. It is a psychological or mental empire. It is an evolving global “Empire of the Mind.” But it’s not just Facebook, several large tech companies are shaping access to information and expression, influencing political and business environments in previously unseen ways. Who is building the algorithms?
City Manager Rick Cole spoke about “the opportunity for all of Santa Monica to be globally competitive, to have the highest quality of life and to achieve the goals of social justice and equity that we all share” at the 2016 State of the City Address. The following video illustrates a particularly troubling metaphor that stands in the way to the lofty remark. Got diversity? Easier said than done. Are YOU ready for your future?
“Who looks outside dreams. Who looks inside awakes” ~Carl Jung
Last year I sat with Brian Mac Mahon, sensei of Expert DOJO one of the partners of the event, to discuss Compassionate Santa Monica’s interest in the intersection of tech and corporate responsibility. The tech industry can and should generate widespread opportunity instead of inequality and displacement, but without the acknowledgment that such disparities exist, as echoed by the Yale study, how to correct such imbalances? That is one of the goals of Compassionate Santa Monica business sector. We aim to build a compassionate and inclusive business community.
Local leaders now have the opportunity to own up to intrinsic bias in policy making and development. The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Americans revealed that all income levels remain profoundly unaware of the economic inequality between their groups. The clueless misperceptions could negatively affect public policy as (if) we grow more diverse, researchers said, with politicians championing misguided legislation rooted in false impressions. Santa Monica is not immune to this problem.
“Perhaps, after all, America has never been discovered” ~Oscar Wilde
We have a fair share of equity issues, evidenced by last years’ school board Equity in Education presentation by Dr. Pedro Noguera, Fay Wells and Justin Palmer’s incidents with SMPD, at-large vs. district elections lawsuit, the renewed call for relocation of the Stanton Macdonald-Wright City Hall mural, criminalization of food street vendors, and compensation inequality. Councilwoman Sue Himmerlich revealed at our meeting to discuss street vendors, she took the intrinsic bias test and found she hold biases: “I am sure you have taken it as well, everybody has biases” Do you? Got Compassion?
I met with Mayor Ted Winterer on November 17, 2016, to present a Racial Relations Task Force aimed to deal with diversity issues created in part by the impact of tech on housing prices, the current presidential administration set of policies, parity representation at boards and commissions, and other issues. The Wellbeing office jumped to facilitate a forum on immigration on February synchronized with a government resolution embracing diversity. However, we still lack tangible solutions/policy to deal with the white elephant in the room, and the issues keep mounting. Resistant to own up their flaws leadership gets trapped in a bubble.
“But when Galileo invited Christian scholars to look through his telescope in order to see the new evidence, they flatly refused. They didn’t want to see any data that might count against the earth-centric view of the universe. It is difficult to think of a more revelatory episode of cognitive dissonance. They simply shut their eyes.”– Matthew Syed from Black Box Thinking
Is no secret the tech industry has a toxic diversity problem. In her TEDx talk, Dr. Ruha Benjamin challenges biases inherent to modern scientific research. Prominent civic leaders misperceive the impact of tech on the quality of life of a big demographic of the city. Stress is not a state of mind…it’s measurable and dangerous, and humans can’t seem to find their off switch.
When mammals escape from danger, their stress response settles and they return to a calm state. For human beings, our repeated exposure to everyday stressors such as traffic jams, long waits for the bus home and pushing crowds means that we live in a constant state of low-grade stress. I’d like to call them micro agression. It’s as if our off-switch for stress is out of order because our stress levels rise so easily. One of the reasons why lab bench science equity is key.
The Chair of the Santa Monica Social Services commission Shawn Landres, PhD stood in front of City Council last year to cite a study supporting financial segregation of residents in the new affordable housing project: The Arroyo. On inquiry, I found out the “study” was an isolated survey of one housing project in Berkley, CA with no scientific protocol. Ironically Landres criticized our polling system in a previous blog post as unscientific. His Wikipedia page calls him as a social entrepreneur, independent scholar, and local civic leader, known primarily for applied research related to faith-based social innovation and community development. Faith-based? The banner of the 4th of July parade Social Services Commission he chairs read: “Advancing inclusion, diversity, and wellbeing“. Lord have Mercy on us.
A truly wonderful aspect of secular or faith compassion is that it helps to lift us out of our own pressing concerns and connects us with a bigger picture. Compassion can help us as much as it enables us to benefit others. All this is explored in the new online course, How to Become a Compassionate Citizen which is open for registration now and begins on 27 September 2017. You can read more about the course here. If you wish to sign up you can register here.
“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
THERE ARE NO MOORS AT THE COAST
The origin of this phrase comes from a time where the Moors, inhabitants of North Africa, used to invade from the sea and sack coastal villages in Spain. The phrase means that there are no Moors at the coast, which generally meant that there are no problems coming our way. Turning the tables of diversity advocacy, when invited to speak to City Council in support of inclusion of Oaxacan food vendors for the upcoming COAST Open Street Festival, Landres, activist Irma Carranza, Project Manager Lisa Parson and Santa Monica Chief of Wellbeing Julie Rusk turned away and left the corner hall outside City Chambers. Got inclusion? Is rumored Landres is running for City Council in the 2018 election.
There will be no ethnic food street vendors inclusion at COAST, but All-string female Mariachi band Las Collbrí, Hip-hop dance group Antics, Samba Reggae, Afro-Brazilian Dance, DJ Anthony Valadez and music from progressive salsa orchestra Rambankete will provide entertainment. A good show. Beware, there will be pirates at COAST.
TRANSPARENCY: QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES?
Is a Latin phrase literally translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?” It is commonly used to refer to the problem of controlling the actions of people in positions of power. Building on the foundation of a simple level of transparency who won City Grows the inaugural Hack the Beach event, I asked Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs, Carl Hansen, to disclose the list of the judges for the event. Well, patience is a virtue.
Catherine Geanuracos, one of the co-founders of City Grows, went to college with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. City Grows do business process and open data for local governments, an industry ripe for transformation. “Transparency is a missing component of a lot of government technology, it is a duty and a responsibility, it is also practical,” she said in an interview. Adding “These processes are opaque in nature, transparency helps to build trust, establishing a culture of change”. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, after multiple emails I’m still waiting for Hansen or anyone from the Communications Office with answers to simple questions. City Grows was awarded an initial $5,000.00 contract to develop a transportation plan as part of the mobility strategy of the city. Currently, they are working with the Block Party permits of the Office of Civic Wellbeing. “Making things digital allows for more efficiency and gives access to better information. Our open data portal allows for internal and external transparency. Information can be very valuable, any government activity is” she concluded. Who will guard the pirates?
“The fullest measure of respect that we can show our country is activism – our courage to take a stand or a knee to fight injustice.” ~ Brené Brown
As Santa Monica celebrates the creative class, it must be mindful of a couple of things. One–appropriation is not collaboration, they can’t co-create by excluding the very community they aim to serve, two–not be so fascinated with the creative class that it neglects the working class that keeps the city going, and finally pay attention to digital colonialism. Data and algorithm transparency is key.
“He said his name was Columbus, I just said, “Good luck” ~Bob Dylan, 115 Dream
Florida praises “the clustering of knowledge assets, technology, firms, startups, universities, human capital, the talent that so many of us have seen as the motor for innovation, entrepreneurship, productivity and economic growth.” But that same congregation is also at the root of “deep divides in our society.”
“Problems can not be solved with the same mindset that created them” ~Albert Einstein
“Tech solves some problems and creates others,” Geanuracos said.
Take a deep look in the mirror. Ask hard questions. Explore how you can become a catalyst for a true compassionate city. Here is a hack for you: treat everyone with dignity, kindness, and respect. Inclusion is the real challenge of wellbeing.
Compassion is not a mindless detail.