Fillmore District PSIP
Fillmore Economic Development Project
The Fillmore district has seen a lot of history throughout the years. One of the biggest changes for the community was the redevelopment which took place in the 1960s. While the redevelopment project was to be a quick change and renovation of the neighborhood, it took longer than anyone had expected, and the community is still trying to bring back the efficiency and ambience of the neighborhood today. Many negative changes were brought on with the attempt at urban renewal, and many of the residents and merchants have seen first-hand what can happen when public policies are not implemented correctly. While many projects such as the CBD were formed to help the community come back to life and become the center of commerce and entertainment that has given the neighborhood the name of the “Heart and Soul of San Francisco”, the community still continues to struggle with many problems left from urban renewal. In an attempt to further help the community, we worked with the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) in an analysis of the neighborhood in order to facilitate fund allocation for the community’s most dire needs. Our professor Monika Hudson from the University of San Francisco provided the support we needed in order to effectively communicate with all the partners and community members throughout the project, while Andrea Baker and Amy Cohen from OEWD served as our bridge into the community and the merchants we would be working with. Throughout the summer, we attended community meetings, meetings with other outside consultants, and conducted merchant interviews of business owners on the Fillmore commercial corridor. Together with our partners from OEWD, we used the skills we learned in our undergraduate study at the University of San Francisco Mallow School of Business and Professional Studies to analyze some of the feedback we received from business owners and community members to allocate funds directly into the neighborhood in the best possible way.
A little bit about us
Together with many other partners from OEWD, AECOM, and the University of San Francisco, Robert Moaveni (who speaks in red below) and Karinna Iniguez (who speaks in green below) were two interns during the Fillmore Economic Development Project. Here is a little bit about us.
I am a senior at the University of San Francisco, expecting to graduate in December of 2010. While I completed my Undergraduate degree in Business Administration, I was able to learn a solid set of skills that will help me in any ventures that I may take on after graduation. During my college years, I worked at a number of restaurants and customer service related employment in metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, Boston, and San Francisco. However, it was not until this project that I truly entered a community different than my own and was taught to integrate into a community in order to effectively work with partners within the community to help the entire neighborhood.
I, like Karinna, am a senior expecting to graduate in December of 2010. I treated my education experience at the University of San Francisco like an assembly line, having each class predetermined and scheduled well in advance in order for me to complete my major in International Business and advanced certificate in Japanese not only on time, but early. My methodic and business oriented attitude was what made me enter this project with the mind set that it was yet another project to complete with set deadlines and no room for emotional investment. Building the relationships I did through this internship, however, revealed to me that not only is there room for ethics and morals within every business venture, but there is a need for such.
As a young business major at the University of San Francisco, I believed I possessed the necessary skills to work within a community and to apply some of the knowledge I have acquired in the classroom. However, once I started working on the Fillmore development project, I realized that it is a lot more difficult once you become involved with a community that is not your own. Coming into the project, I was not aware of the rich heritage and the dynamic that existed within the Fillmore district. Although the neighborhood is only a few blocks from our campus, I only saw it as an expensive entertainment district, and was only aware of a few businesses there such as Yoshis and The Fillmore. Truth be told, I was just looking for an alternative source of income while I was not enrolled in classes, but was excited to finally use some of my skills learned in the classroom. While I was excited to apply some of my organizational, computer, and business social skills to help the community, I quickly became concerned with the label I was given of “outside consultant” when we gathered with some of the community members for the first time. I then realized that I was an outsider, and in order to help come up with a development fund allocation decision, I would have to integrate into the community at a deeper level than a “consultant”. While some of our tasks seemed to be detached from the community, we soon realized they a way of becoming involved. Meetings with the community and other partners that I thought would be strictly observational became a conversation with stakeholders and community members about their needs and concerns with the development project and what their expectations and hopes were for the outcome. Interviews with merchants that my partner and I conducted were often turned into dialogue. What I thought would be dry, ten minute question and answer sessions soon became a way to meet new acquaintances all over the Fillmore, who could not wait to tell us a little bit about the neighborhood, their company, and how they have managed to succeed as a business.
Ever since my early childhood I’ve had an almost robotic way of going about any task I worked on: something needs to be completed, the parameters are established, and there is little to no room for deliberation on the subject. I pride myself in completing tasks set before me efficiently, quickly, and in compliance with what is expected. One can imagine the turmoil that ensued when I realized this particular project would not be as straightforward as simply completing a task. My assumptions that a community would be receptive to a city office helping them out were quickly dashed when I found myself in the middle of the schism between the Fillmore community and the Redevelopment office that had been ongoing since redevelopment first began several decades ago. I felt ill equipped when it came to this project because I knew that I needed years of knowledge of the area when I had, prior to this project, visited the Fillmore only a handful of times. Originally being from San Diego myself, I had no knowledge as to the community and culture of the Fillmore and its residents. Nonetheless, I started the tasks set before me and learned more and more of the community through my interactions with the merchants and my observations of residents while I was walking up and down the corridor. My first impressions of isolation from the community, being on the outside looking in, eventually turned into feelings of true passion and concern for the people I was building relationships with as I wanted to complete this project not just for the sake of completing it, but for the sake of those whom it concerned and affected.
One of our assignments during the internship was to conduct interviews with merchants throughout the Fillmore commercial corridor. Although I have learned to practice my networking skills in the classroom, and during our service learning requirement at USF, it was more difficult than I expected to convince the merchants on the Fillmore corridor to speak to someone they did not know. While many of them said they were just not available, or were just too busy to talk to us, there were a few that refused to participate, either because of a language barrier, because they did not understand what the interviews were for, or because of their distrust of urban renewal and public policy and its effects it has previously had on the Fillmore district. However, there were a lot of merchants that, once I explained who I was working with, and what the project was all about, were so eager to talk to me, that our interviews turned into a great dialogue and we were able to unmask some of the misconceptions of the Fillmore and the community perception of some of the public policies that have been taking place in the neighborhood. Some wanted us to know how much better the neighborhood has been since some of the urban renewal, such as the improvement of the plaza or the sidewalk cleanings, while others were concerned that there was not enough going on in the neighborhood, and wanted to see more community events. We were able to talk to a wide range of merchants, and learned that although their businesses may be close together, their perspectives on doing business in the Fillmore varied greatly from one company to another. I learned that any expectations that you may have about the perspective of another person should be left at the door, and I learned to walk into every shop with an open mind and a clear note pad, because everyone will share with you a different aspect of their neighborhood as seen through their eyes.
I have worked in the service industry for almost six years now and know how easy it is for customers to forget that the people behind the counters, desks, and bars are human too. I feel that this is one of the biggest lessons I have ever learned in the business world and it helped me tremendously when we needed to conduct the merchant interviews. One approach would have been to walk into each business on the Fillmore corridor without concern or consideration to the work the merchants are doing at the time and demand their time to conduct the survey. However, I didn’t particularly wanted to get ran out of town so every time I walked into a business I waited patiently until the owner had time to spare and was sure to introduce myself as politely as I could before even asking for their participation. I was lucky enough to have everyone I spoke with either take the time to sit with me or at least politely say that they couldn’t spare their time. While conducting the surveys, I found the patterns that emerged, and at the strength and rate they emerged, to be very interesting. One such pattern was the evidence of tight groups. Almost like the Capulets and Montagues, there were two groups of businesses on the Fillmore who fought each other for the larger customer base. Despite the differences between the businesses, the owners almost all had the same concerns. These included things like the dissatisfaction of the incomplete redevelopment work, the need for more foot traffic, and a need for a reason for people to come visit the Fillmore. Speaking with the business owners who have built their own businesses and/or have been in the neighborhood for years helped me build a dedication to the Fillmore that extended beyond this project.
As we attended the first community meeting, I expected less participation from us and from the community, and more of a lecture. I thought that Alex and Shayan, the members from AECOM, would have a presentation for the community, which they would present as unquestionable truth. Instead, I found that both our partners and the community were very open, and were all ready for a dialogue to shape the way some of the decisions would be made. Many community members praised the group for involving the community in this community change decision, while others had creative criticism for the group to use for future community meetings and projects. We also found ourselves engaging in conversations with many members of business and residential areas of the Fillmore, and exchanging ideas for a more efficient process, or ideas on how to increase community engagement and participation in processes like these. It was truly a different experience than the one I had imagined when we first walked into the meeting and saw the list of ideas for fund allocation, which the community then voted on through the use of dot stickers. The process was open and engaged, and at the end of the meeting, every member was asked to express their interest in any of the allocation ideas by placing their dot stickers next to that particular plan. People discussed their choices and their rejection of certain options amongst each other and with the outside partners, and together were able to participate in this process of community change.
The first encounter I had with the community was at the second of the expert walks that were an introduction for the members involved with the project to get an understanding of what is the Fillmore corridor. Community members were also invited to join in the walks and the following discussion. This is where I first realized the largest difficulty of the project. The schism between the community and the redevelopment office stems from the injustice that was done when redevelopment first began and since has never been fully completed. Promises were made to the community citizens that the city never kept and hence the residents were hesitant to trust what they viewed as yet another city project that would exclude them and take no real steps forward. The Office of Economic and Workforce Redevelopment, however, did want to get the opinions and input of the community residents so as to help the neighborhood become more economically viable. One of the biggest barriers to advancing this project was the lack of communication between the community and city office. Thankfully, things took a step in the right direction at the first community meeting held on Wednesday, June 30, 2010 when the data that had been collected and the findings from analysis of said data were presented. The dot system of voting felt almost childish to me personally but what I thought was the most important part of that meeting was the time that was set aside for community members to ask questions or make comments. Many insightful comments were said and important questions were asked. I’m looking forward to the next meeting on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 to see how much progress we will make.
While working in the classroom with my professors and peers, I learned a valuable set of skills that I was able to apply to our assigned task. During our internship, we were able to practice our computer skills, both through online networking, and offline organization through Word and Access documents. However, I also gained a great deal of experience in working with a neighborhood that I was not a part of. Skills in community integration, direct communications with the public, and community change processes will surely come in handy once I leave USF and step into a real world situation and job assignment. Additionally I was able to be incorporated into a rich neighborhood which I had little knowledge of in the past. I now realize that the neighborhood I dismissed as an expensive entertainment district is actually a rich neighborhood with a great history and a struggling commercial corridor. I had never noticed how many empty store fronts and struggling businesses were located there, and was not aware of what a connected residential community resided there. People who attended the community meetings were welcoming but uneasy about being studied yet again, and as the project continued, I realized what their apprehensions were attributed to. The Fillmore district has been told time and time again that the neighborhood is being “brought back to life”, and policies have come short of their expectations. While it was stressful to take on yet another project that promised the same thing, it was exciting to try a new community-involved approach to resolving some of the issues people have had in the area.
I had planned to major in International Business long before I graduated from high school because I believed, and still do, that business is what makes the world turn and flourish. The formal education I have gained thus far is a very important foundation in order to make me a contributing member of society. However, no matter how many books I may read or how high my grades may be, life’s most important lessons come from the experience of life itself. The interactions between the members of the Redevelopment office and the Fillmore residents made me realize that business is not always as simple as completing a project and making a profit. Business must be conducted under the guide lines of social justice in order to better the society in which the business transaction takes place.