As I approached the youth surveyor’s booth at MCM last Thursday, all six surveyors were engaged in conversation with a passer-by. They looked relaxed and in charge, fielding questions about where to use the bathroom even as they explained the results of their survey to curious market goers.
One of the surveyors, Daniel Mendoza, held out a fresh strawberry to me, asking if I’d like to vote for the permanent name of the anticipated plaza. When I asked him which name was winning, he laughed. “La Placita is ahead right now,” said Mendoza. “It’s cuter.”
It’s no surprise that the surveyors are comfortable––they live locally, are fluent in Spanish, and spent the last month distributing surveys at the market and throughout the Mission District. The 30-minute surveys addressed community opinions about the Bartlett plaza project, which the City plans to finish constructing in the spring of 2015. To prepare, the surveyors asked Mission locals about what kind of programming, art, and facilities they’d like to see at the plaza.
In four weeks, the surveyors turned out an impressive 199 surveys––only one survey away from their initial goal of 200. And the response from the community was strong; Susy Rojas, one of the surveyors, said that “generally people were actually friendly––they were pretty open about completing the survey.”
Sometimes, the friendly attitude went too far. “One guy liked taking the survey too much,” Rojas said, laughing. “It took us two hours to finish that one!”
Many people, said Rojas, “thought the plaza would create a lot more connections within the community. They were excited for more programming, especially for kids.” Others were interested in health related programs, Rojas said.
Programming was not the only interest of those surveyed; one aspect of the plaza that nearly everyone could agree on was the presence of public art. “The majority of the respondents wanted art,” said Rojas. “They wanted the paintings and art to represent diversity.”
In the Mission District, diversity is a touchy subject. The planned plaza, which is slated for construction on Bartlett Street, straddles two different populations within the Mission––the historic, Latin@ population, and the newer population of young adults and Caucasian families.
But Rojas said that she was surprised by how open the Latin@s she surveyed were about the project. “I expected a lot more close-minded responses,” said Rojas. “But seeing the majority (63.33 %) of survey participants be Latin@ made me think… the Mission isn’t inaccessible yet.” While many respondents noted that affordable housing was a problem that the Mission District was facing, the issue of increased housing costs didn’t overshadow a desire for community building. In fact, said Rojas, Latin@s she interviewed were particularly enthusiastic about how the plaza might create more opportunities for their children to learn and play. And she agreed that community programming was integral to healthy relationships within the neighborhood. “I would love to see more community connections,” she said. “I think that’s desperately needed. You never know what you can learn by leaving your house.”
“But seeing the majority (63.33 %) of survey participants be Latin@ made me think… the Mission isn’t inaccessible yet.”
For the surveyors, that sense of community existed with each other, as well. “I liked messing around with my coworkers,” said Rojas. “That was fun. I liked having competitions to see who could get the most surveys completed.” And administering so many surveys helped Rojas gain interpersonal skills as well. “I was initially apprehensive––I’m not so open to talking to strange people,” she said. “But in the end, it was pretty good. I learned to go at it.”
Rojas noted that the surveys also helped her connect with Mission Community Market. “You get to see a lot of different characters at the market,” said Rojas.
“It surprises me a little bit. In the market I’ve noticed a lot of Caucasians but was surprised to some cultural diversity as well.”
Rojas admitted that her perception of the market had changed after her experience. “I want more people to come out,” she said. “Some of my acquaintances told me I was working for the yuppies at the beginning of the summer. Now I know–– don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge this organization without coming to the market and learning.”
“Now I know–– don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge this organization without coming to the market and learning.”
The surveyors will be available to answer any questions about the plaza and their survey data this Sunday, August 24th, at their booth on Valencia St. between 21st-22nd Streets during Sunday Streets.