During my Spring semester, I joined an engineering ethics class that analyzed social and environmental justice in the field of engineering. The class brought me many opportunities, including an opportunity to work with a community organization on relevant projects. I decided to work with The Watershed Project on their community outreach project. We were a team of five young UC Berkeley students, excited to enact change. The project was a community outreach project based in El Sobrante. We were seeking to understand their knowledge of green infrastructure and their hopes for future investments in green infrastructure within El Sobrante, specifically on San Pablo Dam Road.
In the first couple weeks of our assignment, our team and Jeanine Strickland from The Watershed Project engaged in a open house in the El Sobrante community. We were shocked by the small number of people who attended, considering the pages of past surveys we have read wanting a greener El Sobrante. We stumbled through our initial initiative because there was no clear direction at first due to our inconcise and limited community outreach. We finally concluded to target the development of rain gardens and bioswales and to improve pedestrian walkability with traffic control.
As a team we generated two initiatives, one for green infrastructure and another for traffic control. The initiative for green infrastructure was called the El Sobrante Revitalization Project, a beautification project focused on environmental sustainability and aesthetics to transform downtown El Sobrante into a more inviting community hub by slowly increasing the power of the community and small businesses. In this project we aimed to understand a business owner’s perspective on supporting urban greening on private land. This project combines the efforts of three community organizations: The Watershed Project, SPAWNERS, and C4AGES. With their help, we believed we could create a support foundation for any business owner willing to invest in urban greening. Based on a 2012 survey done by C4AGES, our team created a survey targeting business owners to develop a relationship by gauging business needs and their concerns for green infrastructure. We contacted over 30 business along San Pablo Dam Road trying to understand their interest in sustainable investments. Through our relationship with the other community organizations, a couple of businesses reached out to us with interest. At that premature state, we had to leave the project to different hands as our term came to a close. We learned the difficulty of outreach and activism, especially in the very early stages of a project.
Our second initiative, the safer streets initiative, focused on producing pedestrian safe roads along the El Sobrante road through the use of bike lanes. The community survey was designed to give a voice to El Sobrante residents in order to ensure that community needs and interests are being served through the implementation of safer streets. Additionally, supplementary graphics and an informational flyer were created to aid residents in making more informed choices. We have yet to see widespread use of the survey as the demographics of the survey takers were not reflective of the diversity of El Sobrante.
While our project overall established little ground, we were excited to have been part of this experience. I learned a lot about community outreach and how difficult it is to persuade a population towards environmental sustainability. In the end, we learned an important lesson, keep pushing!