Gentrification looms over EPA

Post by Tate Rider

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This week we focused on identifying a user and point of view (POV) for our design challenge. While we have done a number of interviews with EPA residents–ranging from taco shop managers to non-profit leaders to Stanford students—nailing down a specific user was actually more difficult than we had anticipated.

First, given that we are one of the two groups focused on the sliver of land on the westside of EPA, our way of thinking about EPA is a bit different. The westside is small and densely packed. There are few services for locals — as far as we could tell, there is a taco shop, a 7-11, and a couple of laundromats. And towering over the area is a (literally) gleaming glass Four Seasons hotel, which generates a significant amount of tax revenue for the city but also is an ever-present reminder of the gap in wealth between EPA and the rest of Silicon Valley. Furthermore, the vast majority of the people who live on the westside are renters, which creates a different dynamic: the transient nature of EPA is exacerbated and there is great uncertainty over the future since redevelopment of the area seems to be the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

Second, on the redevelopment front, we heard a wide range of views. I spoke with several Stanford students who currently live on the westside of EPA and a frequent refrain was, “Yeah, it’s only a matter of time before things get better around here.” Or, “I’m really surprised it still is as affordable as it is, but eventually the housing craziness of the Bay Area will reach here.” On the other hand, we heard concern over the uncertainty from current residents (“white people” are moving in and pushing out current residents) and from non-profit leaders. There is reason to believe that the Stanford students might be right about that inevitable gentrification and that the current residents may have real reasons to be concerned about what will happen next. A huge real estate investor recently purchased nearly all of the rental units on the westside; and even though there is a temporary agreement that the developer will maintain the property for working-class renters, there are a swirl of rumors about the longer-term plans for developing more luxurious accommodations for Silicon Valley workers seeking the next neighborhood.

With this as our context, we have been narrowing down our user and POV. A couple of ideas we find most interesting is to focus on disempowered tenants to make sure those tenants (many of whom are poor and don’t speak English well) have a voice during discussions about the future of the area. Separately, we are looking how we might be able to leverage the efforts of current non-profits in the area and help build capacity within them, especially around succession planning. These are two very different ideas, but we feel comfortable that they both would address the needs of the community on the westside of EPA. By the end of this week we should have our user and POV nailed down, and then the next part of our design journey will begin!

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