“There are a lot of urgent problems, and government needs to treat them as urgent, because that’s the only way we’ll solve them,” Ryan Russo, the director of Oakland’s Department of Transportation, said of the city’s Slow Streets program.
When it was announced, Oakland residents had been in lockdown for a month, and sidewalks and a popular downtown park were growing crowded.
Mr. Russo acknowledges that the city should have communicated more with the public early on. Since the program’s start, Oakland has been running an online survey of how residents use and view Slow Streets, with the results updated online. In a further bid for transparency, the city has published the demographics of respondents to the survey, alongside the demographics of the city.
As of last week, 67 percent of people who had taken the survey were white, versus 24 percent citywide. And 40 percent of the survey takers reported a household income of more than $150,000 a year, which is twice the actual share of Oakland residents who earn that much.
“It would be very easy for us to just say, ‘We did a survey and 75 percent of Oaklanders say they support Slow Streets,’” Mr. Russo said. “When you see the fact that it’s disproportionately folks who are higher-income who really enjoy it, and people who are white who are saying that, that’s a very important thing for government to be listening to.”
Those survey response rates echo research on public meetings about development, conducted by the political scientists Katherine Levine Einstein, David Glick and Maxwell Palmer. The people who show up for such meetings, thus shaping what kind of housing is built, tend to be older, whiter, higher-income and homeowners.
Those are the people with more time for public meetings, the flexibility to show up on a weeknight, and motivation to do so. They also wield the most power when they speak, with their homeowner’s concerns about property values at stake, or with their credentials as engineers, architects or lawyers who have read the zoning code.