Episode 87: This Top Down Approach of Leadership is Not Going to Work

TransLoc Marketing October 07, 2020 mobility leadership, Equity, podcast, the movement 0 Comments

Josh and L’erin discuss connections between Leadership Upside Down and recent news stories, including how advocacy groups engage with their communities, Denver’s reckoning with environmental racism, California going electric, and how we price our streets.

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Cohen: Josh Cohen
Jensen: L’erin Jensen

F: The freedom of movement to access jobs, education, and social activities is a fundamental human right, but that freedom is not distributed equitably, undermining our ability to create vibrant and sustainable communities for all. Welcome to The Movement where we talk with the leaders who are reshaping their communities with brave decisions, inspired advocacy, and a stubborn unwillingness to accept the status quo all in an effort to inspire the next generation of leaders. Here are your hosts Josh Cohen and L’erin Jensen.

Cohen: Welcome to The Movement podcast. This is Josh Cohen.

Jensen: And this is L’erin Jensen.

Cohen: We are going to try to do things a little bit different this week. We had to move some guests around. I had some HVAC work getting done on my house and thought that wasn’t going to be the most conducive thing to interview somebody with; so we’ve shifted our schedule around, and you’re going to benefit because L’erin and I are going to try something a little bit different this week. So you’re our Guinea pigs, so let us know what you think, and we’re excited to try it.

Jensen: Yeah, let’s just do a check-in. What’s been going on this week? What have you been thinking about? What’s been on your mind?

Cohen: Oh, man. You know, I think that the thing has been—I’m sure anybody who is a parent probably been dealing with what my family and I have been dealing with, which is remote learning. And my three kids are in Durham Public Schools, which has been remote this whole year. And so the school board this past week just announced that they were going to be going remote through the second quarter, which I guess is different than some school districts. I mean, some are starting to maybe—I think Charlotte and Raleigh are starting to move into in-person, but Durham is continuing remote through the second quarter. And then the thing that my wife and I, we’re really struggling with this week and kind of what’s been on my mind is that they’re encouraging parents to make a decision on whether you want to go in-person when the second semester comes around or to go fully remote.

And it’s interesting because I actually—you know, where my mind went was to some of the concepts in Leadership Upside Down that we talked about. So even though this isn’t a mobility issue, there was this connect that, I think, was pretty interesting; because what has occurred to me as I watched the school board meeting and as I’ve listened to the various communications from the school is it doesn’t strike me—and I may be wrong. I don’t have all the details, of course. It strikes me that there may be a different set of understandings, expectations, whatever, between teachers and the administration. And I think that’s really, really interesting because, you know, I mean, in the same way that you can’t operate a transit system unless you have operators of train vehicles and buses, you can’t have a school system if you don’t have teachers.

Jensen: So when you say that there’s different expectations between the teachers and the administrators, are you saying that you think—the teachers probably, I guess, in this case would be, like, the community members in Leadership Upside Down who don’t necessarily have a say in whether students are returning to class or not?

Cohen: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the question I have. Again, maybe they’re quite plugged in. I don’t know. I get the sense though just from my perusal of the various kind of media stuff that it seems to be less on the same side of the table and more on opposite sides of the table. And it just seems like, you know, in a situation like this, the closer you are to the problem, you know, like when you’re trying to solve a problem, or the closer you are to the way forward, again, being the teachers who are going to have to be a part of this process, it seems like they have to be a part of that decision-making process going forward about going in-person or not and really getting clear on what are the decision criteria to helping teachers feel comfortable going back in person if at all. Right? I mean—and again, I think, trying to come to consensus on that, I imagine, would be challenging—right—for those teachers.

Jensen: Yeah.

Cohen: Because I’m sure there’s a wide range of teachers and a wide range of what their needs are. And look; I feel for the school district. I mean, I think this is a thorny problem. I guess I just—again, reflecting back on Leadership Upside Down, I guess my thought would be the more that the teachers, the students maybe in some case, certainly the administrators are all talking openly about each of their needs and the best way to achieve as many of those as possible, I think, the better off we’re likely to be. I think, this kind of top-down approach of leadership is not going to work. Right?

You can’t be an administrator—and, again, I want to be clear; I’m not saying that the Durham system is doing this. Again, I’m kind of a little bit at a remove here, but I think it’s kind of the larger thing; is like the more that these school districts are saying, “Hey, we’re going to do this” without getting kind of really full buy-in from those critical, critical lynchpins like the teachers and the students and so forth, I think, it’s just going to be a mess. Right? You know, our family has been remote learning. We’re obviously quite lucky; we’ve got support, and we’ve got the tools on which to do this. My wife and I are both working at home, so we can make this work even though it’s challenging. But—man—this situation of, like, “How do we move forward?” it kind of crept outside of this transportation space, and I saw it applied in this other part of our life right now that is consuming quite a bit of our attention, which is remote learning and taking care of our kids. So anyways, that’s a long answer to what we’ve been thinking about this week. What’s been on your mind? What have you been thinking about?

Jensen: So, a few things, but I want to actually touch on Leadership Upside Down a little bit more because I had a conversation with John Tallmadge from Bike Durham, so thank you for that connection. And he was explaining to me kind of, like, the lifecycle of Bike Durham, where it started, how they got to where they are now. And I think it started as an advocacy group, but somewhere along the way they realized that they weren’t involving the people who needed this advocacy the most. They were kind of just, again, that top-down approach, experts coming in and saying, “Hey, this is what we think should happen,” instead of talking to the people who need those resources and asking them what they think they need and how it should happen, so it’s out there. Just wanted to throw in that little connection to that.

Cohen: Yeah, and I appreciate you bringing that up. I think that’s a great example, a real life example. And, again, there’s examples out there of organizations recognizing that this top-down approach is not going to be the way forward in order to achieve either the mobility outcomes we want or the education outcomes that we want.

Jensen: Right, right. So the other part that I was thinking about as you were talking about this remote learning is—yeah, so it may not be a transportation issue, but there’s certainly an equity issue in there just in that if we funded our school better, then you could actually get kids back in school without it being much of a problem. Instead of having 25 and 30 kids in a classroom, if we only had 15 you can properly social distance. But I guess we don’t care about our schools or our kids so—[LAUGHS]—this is where we’re at.

Cohen: Yeah. Well, I think this is definitely an issue that when you stop to think about it long enough you start to see all the different ways we communicate our priorities in how we fund them. And I think Joe Biden famously said, “Don’t tell me what you care about. Show me your budget, and I’ll see what you care about.”

Jensen: Right.

Cohen: And, I think, that’s a real obvious way to do it. It’s like—yeah—we say kids are important or we say first responders and so forth. We say they are, but if everyone who is a fireman or firewoman has to take a second job in order to pay their mortgage, then do we really care about that? You know? Like, I think there’s tons of those examples that, I think, are quite, quite telling.

Jensen: And I think—well, also I’m going back and forth here, but we’ll get to touch on Leadership Upside Down again a little bit later in the show when we talk about the Denver story. There’s also a component of that in there.

Cohen: Yeah. Well, let’s maybe intro our different news stories. You know, one of the things I thought might be interesting is, you know, there’s a couple news stories that came out over the course of the last couple days that just kind of caught our attention, and we thought we’d just kind of love to get your feedback on these. The Denver story, the title is “Denver Wants to Fix a Legacy of Environmental Racism.” It was in the New York Times on September 30th. And, you know, the subtext here is that Denver has passed a tax so that they can pay for some greenspace for the city, which, you know, is a great thing in concept. I think, what they’re finding out is that putting that into place is actually a lot harder than just passing the tax. It’s like, “How do we do that equitably?” And that’s kind of the thrust of that piece. So—yeah—I thought it was a fascinating, fascinating piece. What jumped out to you, about that piece to you?

Jensen: A few things. Back to, you know, the community members being leaders in their own lives, making decisions about their own lives, if you read the article you see that residents on the northern side of town, I believe, who are mostly Black and Latino, they don’t have a lot of trees. It’s like five degrees hotter over there than—

Cohen: Yeah, isn’t that crazy?

Jensen: It’s insane. And they don’t trust the local government because they’ve never included them in decision-making before. They’ve been powerless over their own lives. And so now they’re like, “Hey, we don’t really want these trees,” but the bigger issue and the reason why they don’t want it is because they’re worried about being displaced. They’re worried about gentrification, which, I think, is a real issue, I mean, something certainly to be worried about. Like here in Durham, look down—like, Durham is such a cool city now and you go through some of those old neighborhoods, Walltown, I think—is it Braggtown? Don’t quote me. But it’s clear, like, every other house is dilapidated and the others are, like, brand-new homes. And so I’m sure many of the residents are being pushed out to the outskirts of the city if not out of the city completely. So they don’t really get to benefit from the cool things happening and, like, the DPAC and American Tobacco Campus.

So, yeah, those were just some of the things that went through my mind. The other thing, again, the five degrees hotter and the freeway. There’s a history of highways going through, like, cutting right through Black and Brown neighborhoods, but it ties in very nicely. I don’t know if you read Austin Stanion—Austin is one of our solutions engineers here at TransLoc. He wrote a blog that went up yesterday, I believe, called “When Roads Are Racist,” so it tied in very nicely.

Cohen: Yeah, the roads are racist; we’ll link to that as well.

Jensen: Yeah, it’s a good one. And that’s about 710 freeway in Southern California and LA that cuts right through Black and Brown neighborhoods and is an environmental justice issue. So all of those things were going through my mind, and I think that I thought maybe one of the solutions on top of just asking the people who you’re making policies about—sidebar, this is why you cannot disenfranchise felons. But the other thought that I had about this was what if we could just, like—maybe when there’s this sort of beautification of city streets and whatnot, maybe the solution is to give some type of tax break or something to the longtime residents, saying, “Hey, you’re property taxes won’t increase at the same rate or at all,” so that they don’t displace.

Because one of the ways that gentrification works is that neighborhoods, they get fixed up; people build new houses; the streets look better, and so longtime residents who have lived there for a long time and maybe don’t have the same income, their property taxes increase, and now they can no longer afford to live in the home that they’ve lived in for 20 years. I wonder if that’s a solution.

Cohen: Yeah. No, definitely. And, I think, there are plenty of practical city solutions to address these. Again, it’s putting them into place, being mindful about doing it. You know, the quote that really jumped out to me in that article was by a local city official, the councilwoman who represents Downtown Denver and the northern Latino area where she lives. Her name is Candi CDebaca, I believe is how it’s pronounced, but the quote was, “Every opportunity that Denver has to earn or build trust with the community, they then squander it. I don’t think that we’re on the right path to greening the area,” end quote. And I just think that was a really powerful just kind of statement, because that, to me, encapsulated kind of the problem, is that they haven’t built the trust. And if you haven’t built the trust this is not going to work.

You know, this is obviously complicated by the fact that some of the people that put these processes in place are no longer there; sometimes these processes—and the article alludes to this as well, that it takes a long time to put some of these plans in place, like, to build a park and so forth. So there’s all kinds of complications here, but, I think, going into this with clear goals and values and equity focus, I think, will mediate some of these issues. So, yeah, fascinating article, New York Times, “Denver Wants to Fix a Legacy of Environmental Racism.” We’ll link to that. Ready for the next one?

Jensen: Let’s go.

Cohen: Oh, this is right up your alley. This is from NPR; “California Governor Signs Order Banning Sales of New Gasoline Cars by 2035.” So kind of the highlight here is that phasing out all gasoline-powered vehicles. Obviously, California is the world’s fifth biggest economy, so any decision they make is really going to have a huge impact kind of at the United States level and then globally. I’ve seen a lot of kind of back and forth about this, so I’m curious to get your perspective as a former California resident, but certainly Governor Gavin Newsom is articulating that this is a big step they can take to fight climate change. So, L’erin?

Jensen: Oh, gosh. First off, they just need a really good transit system, first and foremost. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but obviously that’s good. Electric-powered vehicles are way better for the environment than gas-powered vehicles, even if in the manufacturing process and the batteries aren’t the easiest to recycle but they can be. The most interesting thing about this article for me was, you know, I saw this on social media the other day, and so many people thought that it meant they had to get rid of their cars.

Cohen: Hmm.

Jensen: I don’t know what to say about that, other than I guess this is why we need to spend more money funding education. [LAUGHS]

Cohen: I guess, maybe it’s just a headline issue if people just see a headline and just think the worst. I don’t know.
Jensen: I mean, overall I think it’s a good idea. The one thing that I thought was really interesting in this article was that the Trump administration is fighting California on this. They’re trying to revoke their authority to mandate all-electric vehicles. So we’ll see how that works out. I have my opinions about that, but pretty sure that states have the right to mandate commerce in their own state, so.

Cohen: My dominant thought when I saw this was, “This is necessary but not sufficient.”

Jensen: Yeah.

Cohen: So, you know, I think, is this better than nothing? Yes. I mean, I’m a firm believer that we need government regulation to help us achieve the climate change. I’m a fundamental believer that we need government regulation to do that because the good person who says, “I’m just going to take transit because it’s good for the environment,” there’s just not enough of those people just by themselves. You have to have the government regulation, so I think this is great if there’s regulation to help move towards electric.

Again, this doesn’t solve some of the larger issues that you talked about with transit, and an even better situation would be to have more people taking public transit, walking, biking as they are able than just electric vehicles. But I’ll take it. I think it’s a step in the right direction, and hopefully everyone will know that if they have a 30-year-old vehicle, they can still drive it although probably the mileage and the impact on the environment is probably worse at that rate.

Jensen: It probably won’t pass California smog emissions test, so—

Cohen: Oh, that’s probably true.

Jensen: But if you go up to, like, the mountains—I lived in Big Bear for a year in Southern California. Why? I don’t know, but I did. But the regulations are different up there, like, because the air is thinner, so I think that your car can just be a lot smoggier.

Cohen: Yeah.

Jensen: The one other thought I had about the article was, “How quickly are they going to be able to put up charging stations all throughout the state though?” Like, that’s going to be just as important; are there going to be enough charging station to serve all of the cars? So.

Cohen: Oh, that’s interesting. And I don’t know who is going to fund that. Right?

Jensen: Mm-hmm.

Cohen: Is that going to be private industry, you know, like, the Tesla Supercharger network? Or is that going to be public or whatever? Very interesting. All right, last article. This was a Streetsblog article, and the headline was kind of an aggressive one. I thought the headline was wrong, so I had to, like, really dig into this to really make sure I understood it. “It Shouldn’t Cost 31X More to Take Transit Than Park.” I was like, “Wait a minute; 31 times?” I mean, I know there’s this delta here, but, like, 31 times seems odd. And so it says the average price of a monthly parking permit in cities is $2.25 compared to $70 for a transit pass. I’m like, “Well, $70 sounds about right. I can buy that. The $2.25, that does not sound right to me.” It’s like something is not right here. And so I really had to dig into this quite a bit. And so here was the details. All right? It says University of Northern Illinois professor Chris Goodman—so the nation’s 30 largest cities on the price cities charge for on-street parking permits.

Now, this is kind of a weird dynamic, and it’s not average; it’s actually median, which is actually important here. But it’s the median is $2.25. Most of the monthly parking passes are in residential neighborhoods. And so when you’re thinking of parking in the big cities, especially ones you don’t live in, you’re thinking of the Manhattans or the Downtown Los Angeles or the downtown Chicago Loop or whatever. This is mostly not those areas; this is kind of the parts of the city that are residential, more residential, and that’s how you can get parking permits that are a couple bucks a month on average or so. I mean, I think, San Francisco is like $12 a month or something like that. So once I kind of got my head around it, it’s like, “Okay, this is not just like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to park at a restaurant,’ and you pay $10 for three hours or something like that,” this is actually even worse.”

Jensen: [LAUGHS]

Cohen: Right? Because this is for a lot longer. Right?

Jensen: Yeah, yeah.

Cohen: This is for you to store your car in the public right-of-way for eight hours a day at night or whenever you’re not at—or, I guess, 16 hours a day when you’re not at work, if you drive to work, or maybe even longer. This is kind of really interesting. I mean, again, I knew this probably intuitively, but, again, going back to budgets and what we say is important, it just shows how we are prioritizing and what we’re budgeting around. If we actually made people pay the real cost of this, I mean, that would fill a lot of budget holes right there.

Jensen: Yeah. So I also thought that headline was weird and was confused almost the entire time reading the article where they got those costs from. So thank you for clarifying that, that that’s in residential neighborhoods because I was like, “Wow. That’s just incredibly freakin’ cheap.” I will say though that I’m a bit hesitant to agree with the author because the author argues that we should just get rid of free public parking, like people cannot store their private cars on public streets for free. But when I think of, like, New York City, like, some neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the Bronx and whatnot where people park on the streets because it costs like $400 or $500 a month to park your car in a lot, a lot of those are still poor residents. Like, they may have a car, but they’re not, like, particularly nice cars. They’re still living in housing projects and whatnot. And so what impact does it have on those people? That’s my concern.

Cohen: Yeah. Well, that’s a great point. And I think—yeah, and the author does not really dig into that very much. And that’s the fundamental thing that Dr. Destiny Thomas talked about either on this show or some other show that she’s been on that I’ve heard her on, but, you know, which is that we can’t start legislating out all these various ways of doing mobility until we give, until we kind of bring the equity pursuit into this because, you know, for some people that driving is the safest and only way they can get around.

Jensen: Mm-hmm.

Cohen: Right? And so if we’re not looking at this in that way, there may be some unintended consequences here that we haven’t considered. All that to say I don’t think any of these cities are being super mindful about this. I mean, I certainly don’t think they’re doing this for equity reasons. Right? I think they’re doing this for political reasons and because it’s a third-rail or they don’t want to touch it. There are ways to do both—right—address the equity concerns and also address the fact that you’re dramatically underpricing a shared good and that’s going to dramatically benefit those with means in general, you know, again, recognizing there’s going to be some times where examples like you mention. So, yeah; any other thoughts on that article?

Jensen: Eh? Yeah, that was about it. It is—$70 is expensive. Has it always been that much? I felt like when I rode the bus growing up it was like $30 a month. But then again that was probably, like, student prices. It should just be free.

Cohen: Yeah. I mean, it’s a lot. And, again, I know certainly in our area—TransLoc is actually really great because they provide free bus passes, which is great for our area; but if you’re paying for that directly, I mean, it adds up.

Jensen: [SIGHS]

Cohen: I mean, it’s definitely not cheap.

Jensen: So what’s up next? Let’s talk about guests we have coming up. We’ve got Amanda Eaken.

Cohen: So Amanda is the director of transportation and climate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. So you may recall we had Shelley Poticha on a couple months ago. Shelley works, I think, somewhat indirectly with Amanda. But, I think, Amanda—I really like Amanda’s kind of background because I think she’s got a really, really neat background because she is kind of doing this work with NRDC; it’s about transportation; it’s about climate change, so it’s kind of at a macro level, which I think is really cool. But then she’s also doing it at the micro level, because she’s also a board member for the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency. I think she’s currently the vice chair, and that means she is helping to set the policy and helping to hire the director, which is Jeffrey Tumlin who also appeared on the show. So I think Amanda is going to provide a really great kind of complimentary perspective both at the macro level dealing with transportation and climate change and also at the micro level. So really excited about that conversation with Amanda, which will be coming up next week.

And then the following week we’re going to have David Fields. And so David Fields is someone that I’ve known for a long, long time primarily because of some of TransLoc’s early work that we did on college campuses. And David used to be at Nelson/Nygaard, and we’ve—you know, again, I think I’ve said this before, that Nelson/Nygaard seems to be like the cradle of The Movement podcast where everybody kind of has a stop somewhere along the way. So David is a former principal there, but now he has started a new role, which I think is really fascinating. He’s the first and now the only Chief Transportation Planner for the City of Houston. And so I think that’s really, really cool because obviously Houston is kind of like the quintessential kind of example people talk about when they talk about zoning and some of the challenges associated with the sprawl that is the Houston metropolitan area. And so the fact that Houston has hired David and they have created this role, I think, will be really, really interesting to hear about his experience kind of creating this department from new.

So those are a couple of the guests coming up on The Movement podcast. What I will say is that, you know, I want to hear from you. If there’s any particular folks that you want to make sure that we’re talking to, certainly let us know. You can tweet at us. Is that right? Did I say that right, you tweet at us? DM us; I don’t know.

Jensen: I think tweet us, yeah.

Cohen: Tweet us; you can tweet us at @TransLoc or @CohenJP, C-O-H-E-N-J-P, or, L’erin, what’s yours?

Jensen: @LerinRai2, L-E-R-I-N-R-A-I-2.

Cohen: All right.

Jensen: I think one of these days I’m going to change my Twitter handle, but for now—[LAUGHS]

Cohen: Well, you probably should have done that before you just publicize. All right; fine; whatever.

Jensen: For now me and all my 14 followers will continue to use that. [LAUGHS]

Cohen: All right. The goal is to get L’erin past 20 followers for next week. Okay? Can you guys help us out there? All right. Well, thank you all for joining us today on this—I don’t know—special, new, fun, different episode of The Movement podcast. And we’ll see you next week with Amanda Eaken. Signing off, this is Josh.

Jensen: This is L’erin.

Cohen: See ya.

F: Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, head to Apple Podcasts and subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can find out more at TransLoc.com or follow Josh Cohen on Twitter at @CohenJP. Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.

[END RECORDING]

Download Leadership Upside Down today!

News articles mentioned:

Denver Wants to Fix a Legacy of Environmental Racism

California Governor Signs Order Banning Sales Of New Gasoline Cars By 2035

It Shouldn’t Cost 31x More To Take Transit Than Park

Tags: mobility leadership, Equity, podcast, the movement

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