Month: June 2015

City Harmonious

During my family’s first trip to Denmark two years ago, we fell in love with pastries, furniture design, simplicity in lifestyle, attention to detail, and the endless summer nights. Three weeks ago we returned to Copenhagen with the same excitement for familiar things and new adventures. Copenhagen is a city you can explore alone, with family or friends. Whether you walk the streets or bike the specially designed bike routes, the city will slowly unfold its fairytale charm.   After living in California for more than 15 years and spending a good amount of time stuck in traffic, Denmark seems like heaven.  Cities belong to pedestrians and cyclists, not cars. Children are equal members of society. The city planners in Denmark have dedicated a vast amount of parks and playgrounds for their youngest citizens. Designated areas for kid’s play in every courtyard helps visiting little ones like mine enjoy their stay, as well. I found Danish children not at all spoiled by all this official attention. They seemed polite, well behaved and overall adorable! Copenhagen …

Jazz, Art and Design from Harmony

David Allen was a kid at Havenscourt Middle School in East Oakland when his art teacher spotted the architect in him.  With his teacher’s encouragement he applied to a dedicated high school architecture program at Skyline High. When the superintendent asked him why she should approve his application, he answered, “I don’t want to miss any opportunities.” She signed without hesitation. He went on to earn a state prize for his work there. Fast forward. David Allen is at The Flightdeck, a performance space in downtown Oakland, speaking to a crowd about the Museum of Jazz and Art he aims to build in his hometown. With a vision of raising “awareness, importance and the preservation” of jazz, the museum will also be a space to nurture and spot the next generation of homegrown creative talent. Allen is the featured speaker at CreativeMornings Oakland, a free monthly talk where people gather over coffee and breakfast treats to hear talks on creativity. CreativeMornings take place in 117 cities around the world, and each CreativeMornings city presents on …

hunger food loaves and fishes contra costa

Much More than a Hot Meal

“In feeding the hungry, there’s a need for more than just a meal.” David Gerson retired as a Silicon Valley lawyer, knowing he wanted to work next on the social safety net.  As the executive director of Loaves and Fishes of Contra Costa, he is struck daily by the state of the two worlds he occupies. He moves between the affluence of Lafayette where he lives with his family, and the day-to-day interactions he has with people in need. DG: What’s been most dramatic, has been the change in wealth distribution. It’s hard to rationalize. How can all this success exist alongside seniors who are struggling to make ends meet? Those over 55 face a a myriad of challenges. There’s no future for them in this economy. One third of our clients are homeless. The rest are just getting by. With the housing crunch, they are left to pay market rent, then other bills. Food is one thing they can’t go without.  We’re the only agency from the central to eastern part of the county …

student food cooperative coop coFED

Nourishing Community

I met with Farzana Serang, the executive director of CoFED, at their offices in Oakland’s Impact HUB.  Our conversation covered cooperative business models, CoFED’s national reach and ditch digging. FS:I never saw myself as a “coop” person. I grew up in a house with all my aunts and uncles, and we lived cooperatively. We all pitched in, the house was co-owned. Later when I was working, I felt really removed. I was talking about “Change” that had to happen at a high level (policy) and was disconnected from what was happening on the ground level. So, I took time off and traveled to Argentina and was there during this huge coop movement. I worked in Cordoba in the first women’s collective construction company that was going to build the first women-owned textile business, and they were also going to have housing there. I spent three months with them, drinking lots of mate and they asked what are you, this Indian woman, doing helping with coops in Argentina? I had never been a part of building …

app technology Swyft Urban Engine

Easing Transit Agony

In this week’s earlier post on transit and commute pain, I didn’t mention Uber or Lyft. Many people are writing and fighting about them. Instead, I want to pick up a different thread, the transit app. How are tools, conceived in the Bay Area, helping us through the dreaded commute or the long, slow schlep to a fun event across town and across the Bay itself? Fast and Cheap, Swyft Swyft is a free app for BART and Muni users that instantly measures travel times and costs across major transit options, selecting the fastest and cheapest way to reach your destination (interface graphic above, Swyft). The app takes into account urban transit as multi-modal, where people move across the map through a combination of “public transportation, rideshare, carshare, bikeshare, skootershare, walking” and envisions a future where all kinds of modes fold into its model. The idea is that the user community will generate data to pinpoint what’s working, what’s not and how to do better. Their twitter @SwyftApp also updates the latest changes in transit …

bus transportation

Trains, Pains and Bay Area Automobiles

Get around, I get around. The song’s been in my head since seeing Love and Mercy, the Brian Wilson story. I get around by train, bus, ferry, by car. Over the years my commute pattern has spanned the map. First, it was an easy walk + Emery Go Round. Then, I had another easy one: AC Transit, alternating with bike. Things got complicated when I had to cross the Bay from Oakland to Fort Mason and, then, to the Presidio. That commute was not only long, it was expensive, relative to what I earned. Now, thanks to the flexibility of my work, I have no commute. But I’m also far away from convenient public transport, the kind that doesn’t add hours to my day. I think of how transit options have changed and for whom around the Bay Area. Lack of reliable, affordable transport keeps the income inequality gap gaping and adds to our climate woes. A few weeks ago, we posted a mega list on what to do with kids this summer, and each …

bay localize climate change bay area

Climate Change, the Bay and Resilience

Bay Localize is celebrating ten years of growing community resilience to climate and economic instability. From learning about its mission to its impact in one decade, I recognized Bay Localize goes big. I met with Co-founder and Senior Strategist Kirsten Schwind for an informal talk about the group’s roots and its future.  This is the first of two parts. A Vision: (Schwind) We were looking at the big picture – what we need to confront climate change. Part of it is to bring our economies back home. Also, as climate change hits, we need to be able to withstand more and more natural disasters with strong communities that can take care of themselves. We began with a white paper on how to re-localize the Bay Area, and a number of cities signed on to the principles of that paper. Departments in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland all signed on. The Tools: We were both thought leaders in imagining what we need in economies and in our societies, but we were also going to have hands-on …

john muir land trust conservation

Land Conservation Playbook

A few weeks ago, driving back to the Bay from Sacramento, I took in the passing hills and wetlands and thought…things could be worse.  Years ago, as developers began tearing into the land and building shopping outlets and tract housing on I-80, I doubted any patch of land would survive. Despite the build-up, though, some areas are more beautiful than ever, thanks to land trusts surrounding that stretch of highway. This conservation thing doesn’t just happen. Savvy groups protect land and its resources, including water, through persistent fundraising and advocacy. John Muir Land Trust, formerly Muir Heritage Land Trust recently unveiled its Saving Contra Costa campaign to raise $25 million. “We have already protected over 2,000 acres of prime Contra Costa open space that would have otherwise been developed. With this campaign, we aim to more than double that number,” said Linus Eukel, Executive Director of JMLT. The campaign began with efforts to acquire a 44-acre property called West Hills Farm, immediately adjacent to the Mount Wanda section of the John Muir National Historic Site …

Emotions Are Louder Than Words

I’ve been a big fan of Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan, principal dancers with San Francisco Ballet. At the beginning of every ballet season, I’m anxious to catch a performance with the couple in the leading roles, especially when the performance is a love story. The SF Ballet features phenomenal dancers, but it’s Vanessa and Davit’s one-of-a-kind connection on stage that takes the experience to another level. Seeing the couple perform Romeo and Juliet a few years ago (coincidentally, the same day he proposed to her on stage after the performance) was a life changing experience for me, and I believe for a lot of people in the audience. They told the beautiful story of two lovers without saying a word, but with their bodies connecting and emotions flowing. The audience felt a part of their passion, sadness, joy.  Their vulnerability had truly filled the theater. If you’re curious to learn a bit more about the life of a professional dancer and to hear them speak, view this super video by Mode.com about Vanessa Zahorian. (Photo …

BayMo reads book review

BayMo Books: God’s Hotel

My friend Tanesia in Albuquerque just sent me birthday wishes. I miss her. Years ago, we became friends commuting between our MFA program at San Francisco State and our homes in Oakland. Among this eclectic crew of students, we relearned the value of human connection – each of us for her own reasons. Any night of the week, we were in some corner of the Bay, attending readings or concerts at cafes, bars and apartments. Most of the time we haunted the foggy corners of the Sunset. We often passed Laguna Honda Hospital. It was just a place. A hacienda for the mentally ill, we thought. One of the last asylums, we writers imagined. Not true, I discovered after reading God’s Hotel, by Victoria Sweet. Laguna Honda began as an almshouse, a hospital for San Francisco’s indigent population, the last of its kind. Indigent, almshouse, these are words from centuries past. As Sweet describes her journey as a physician at Laguna Honda, she is also chronicling the journey of a hospital and of medicine from …