In recent weeks, I have really gotten into watching TED videos – while TED has been around for years now, only recently have I begun to understand why it is so popular. For me it’s the inspiring ideas, and also the exposure to social justice work that you might not hear about in the mainstream press.
So when I had a chance to go to a local event featuring local speakers, I couldn’t resist and it did not disappoint. The first two speakers, in fact, embodied discussions that we have been having here on the Vanguard for the last week and beyond. Pastor Bill Habicht talked about innovation and Maria Contreras Tebbutt talked about breaking the car habit.
Bill Habicht told the story of when he first came to Davis and was in charge of social justice programs at the Davis Community Church, he ran into Lawson – who many people know in this community and who sells the “Spare Changer” downtown. In 2005, Lawson was homeless and Pastor Bill asked him what he saw as the biggest problem facing Davis, and without hesitation Lawson said, “Shelter.”
He said that there were 120 homeless people at the time in Davis and only two beds. Pastor Bill said he could bring this back to the committee and we can discuss it, “But I gotta be honest, I don’t think we have the resources to build a shelter.” He said, “One of Lawson’s favorite phrases, ‘don’t give me excuses. Dream big and do it.’”
Pastor Bill said he brought in a group from the public and they “did dream big.” When they did, “the naysayers started to show up and we heard, there’s no money to do something like this. Where are you going to put it? The zoning won’t allow it and you are going to receive serious protests from the NIMBY’s.”
“Alas,” he said. “A year later, the Interfaith Rotating Shelter opened.” Seven years later, the Shelter has 1400 volunteers, numerous community groups, “and it only operates on a budget of $7000 per year.”
This is a great lesson for Davis, because, as I argued yesterday, we have this mindset of, instead of envisioning the possibilities, we find reasons why new things will fail. Yesterday, I put up the idea of a carless Nishi and the idea of food sharing.
But had Bill Habicht listened to the naysayers, we would not have the highly successful Interfaith Rotating Shelter that has made a huge impact on people’s lives.
The rest of his talk dovetails on community discussions of innovation.
“What made (the Shelter) successful?” he asked. “I think it has to do with adopting a mindset of innovation.”
Innovation, he explained, “is about building processes and structures to overcome the greatest challenges of our day. It involves risk. It involves creativity. And it involves movement.”
Pastor Bill then talked about how we build an innovation ecosystem in Davis. He argued that we need to stop doing strategic plans of action because we live in a fast paced society and by the time we have created the strategic plan, our target has “moved from here to here.” He said that an innovation mindset involves getting rid of the map and having the compass.
He said we need to take the “Biggie-small principal” which is the lesson he learned from Lawson – “dream big, start small.” “You have to dream and you have to start, you cannot wait until everything is perfect,” he added.
Pastor Bill talked about a new venture – Jumpstart Davis. “This venture really isn’t owned by anyone,” he said. It is a “place where everyone can gather together to figure out things to create this kind of ‘mesh network.’”
He also talked about the importance of co-working space such as the newly-opened POLLINATE Davis. “Co-working spaces are really critical to city innovation because it provides an open space for people of all sectors to come together.”
Pastor Bill argued the biggest challenge for cities and organizations “is changing the mantra from avoid failure at all costs to fail fast, fail often, fail forward.” He argued that this was the biggest challenge because from a young age we have been taught that failing means lack of success. “The reality is that failure is the only way that we learn,” he said.
Pastor Bill cited research called the “Marshmallow Study” which studies failure in terms of attempting to build the tallest marshmallow structure without it falling. Who did poorest? “Recent business school graduates. And the reason for this is because they adopt a mindset of ‘don’t fail.’”
Who performs the best? “Kindergartners. They’re all about having fun and they don’t really care if they fail. They just start working and they see what works and what doesn’t.”
He closed with the idea that “this town can be a leader in innovation” with the brilliant minds at the university and the students attending.”
One of my biggest struggles this week is pushing the city council, the community and the developers to “think big” on Nishi. People seem to be struggling with the concept that you could create a development which is right next to both UC Davis and the Davis Downtown, where you are within walking distance from Whole Foods, and biking distance from Safeway and the Co-op, without cars.
So it was great to hear local resident Maria Contreras Tebbutt talk about her journey to going carless. When she grew up in Davis, she rode her bike to school with the other kids. “Those numbers are plummeting recently,” she said. “Fewer and fewer kids ride to school, mostly because people are afraid.”
She talked about growing up in Davis, biking down Road 102 to Woodland, biking under the Richards underpass and the freedom that biking gave her. But then she moved to Sacramento, got a car and so by the time she moved back to Davis as an adult with her husband, they had his and her cars.
“I had a bike too,” she said. “But mostly I used it for entertainment, recreation, or getting a workout. But I never thought of it as transportation.”
Ms. Tebbutt talked about commuting and the anxiety and stress it caused her. “I was craving freedom and a simpler life,” she said. She then read a book called Divorcing My Car, and said, “It spoke to me and changed the way I thought about my relationship to my car.”
“I was married to my car. I was basically enslaved to my car and I needed a little more freedom,” she said.
She said she decided to take one of the easier roads to breaking the habit because “it had become an addiction in my life.” She batched her errands during the week to earn herself “a totally car free day at the end of the week.”
But she was still commuting to work and so she did more research and found a word that struck her – “telecommuting.” Computers at the time were new to her and “it never dawned on me to use the computer instead of actually physically going somewhere to do my work.” She moved her office, “instead of going to Sacramento, we stayed at home which worked well since I had a young child at home.”
She described a picture in the local paper on the front page, “Robb Davis’ family. The article said that they had committed to being car free, all four of them,” she said.
That was it. She said she was “blown away and totally intrigued.” She bought a cover for her car, put the car in the driveway and with that gray cover it essentially disappeared.” She added, “I put that place of honor to my bicycle in the garage.”
Ms. Tebbutt added, “I attached everything to the bike that I might possibly need to make it more enjoyable, pleasant and comfortable.”
Eventually it became such a hassle to take the cover off the car that “I finally decided to give it away. I divorced my car.” She got a trailer to take her five-year-old to school “like a little princess.” By the time her daughter was in fourth grade, she was able to bike on her own.
Her daughter is 23 now and never got a driver’s license. She graduated from a university in San Francisco and she is still car free. “I’m pretty sure that cost-savings alone paid her tuition,” she said.
It was fascinating to listen to her story of how she became car free, because it occurred at a time we were having these discussions on the Vanguard. I get that all of people believe that going car free is a choice, but why not have a neighborhood that accommodates that choice?
For me, listening to these talks reinforced my thinking from this past week – our need to think big and think outside of the box and find ways to make things happen – even if we end up failing, as long as our failure does not set us back but rather push us forward.
—David M. Greenwald reporting