Monday, November 27, 2017

Yet another dilemma

A version of this post has been published on LinkedIn.

Two weeks ago, I went to an evening event at Thumbtack, a company that occupies space in the same building as Twitter’s headquarters on Central Market in downtown San Francisco. Since I arrived early, I walked through the upscale grocery store on the street level that includes multiple “highly personalized dining experiences.” More words from The Market’s website:

“We strive to create a shared, sensory food experience that connects you and the ones you love to our community by celebrating the best local purveyors and the real food they provide. We are investing in the health of the community.”

The place is impressive and most inviting, and I pondered when I might return as a customer.

All of this sits on the edge of the Tenderloin district, an area of San Francisco known as it’s sketchiest neighborhood: high in crime, it’s hub of homelessness, and a high concentration of SROs. (An SRO: “a house, apartment building, or residential hotel in which low-income or welfare tenants live in single rooms.”) I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Tenderloin and had walked through some of the neighborhood on a couple of occasions only a few days earlier on sidewalks filled with marginalized people. A month prior, I had walked on the nearby, equally notorious 6th Street going to and from another evening professional event that drew almost no one; the organizers were from out of town and were unaware of the nature of environment and its likely effect on attendance.

While many look down on and fear those who live on the street in the area, I do not. Indeed, I am in awe of how so many people can survive in such conditions. But such people have little hope of eating food of the quality offered at The Market. Perhaps most have little hope of eating food of any acceptable level of quality. Yet, they walk and live on the streets just outside The Market’s doors.

A few years ago when the building to house Twitter’s headquarters was under construction, I participated in a weekend design jam focused on “How to improve access to fresh and affordable foods for Central Market / Tenderloin residents.” This was part of a city-sponsored effort “to provide opportunities for government and citizens to work together by connecting civic challenges to community problem-solvers” and “built out of the belief that the best way to tackle challenges that affect the community is with the community.” I was delighted to participate.

As is common, participants were divided into small teams. My team included a current Tenderloin SRO resident, a current Tenderloin non-SRO resident, a guy who was homeless in NYC a couple years prior, and a business analyst. And the proposal we generated (complete with business plan) involved putting a grocery store on the street level of the Twitter building that would cater to both the building’s occupants (expected to be mostly people who would be well off and did not live in the neighborhood) and the Tenderloin residents — a store that additionally would provide services that would help both groups to meet each other and interact in meaningful ways.

Two weeks ago, I saw no evidence — and am otherwise unaware — that anything resembling what we proposed was adopted.

The event that I attended later that evening — a workshop on becoming an ally for diversity in the workplace — was terrific. Indeed, it gave me several ideas for what I might do to help stop ageism in the workplace (which is of particular importance to me), and the workshop leader later offered to work with me on such an effort.

Topping off the evening was a delicious meal, including an incredible beef bourguignon, healthy salads, and excellent wine. It was so good that I had seconds. Twas an excellent evening, and it was all free. 

But all the while, I was thinking of the many people living on the streets just downstairs in need of such an excellent evening — at least access to the edible components that I consumed at the event or salivated over at The Market (and supposedly invested in the health of the community) — more than me.

(The image is a photo I took that evening of a hallway on the street level of the Twitter headquarters building.)

I’ve written about marginalized communities (including the homeless) before. See, for example, “Reflections on gratitude,” “Why is it so easy to forget?”, and “The dilemma of empathy in design.”

And I’ve written about ageism: “My best work lies ahead of me.”

I also tweet lots about both (see @riander). LMK of ideas or opportunities to attend to either or other wicked problems (e.g., our broken healthcare system) of possible interest to me (see OE Strategy).