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SFNext: Searching for solutions to city’s intractable problems

SAN FRANCISCO — Recently, about 200 San Franciscans gathered to try a bold experiment. The goal: to come up with some fresh ideas that may lead to fixing some deeply rooted San Francisco challenges: homelessness, housing affordability and public safety.

The event was the brainchild of the San Francisco Chronicle’s special project called SFNext, which aims to find solutions to these historic problems bedeviling the city. The project commissioned one of the largest public opinion surveys done in decades. The survey revealed how residents are frustrated, angry and sad at the worsening situation in San Francisco.

SFNext Meeting at the Exploratorium
SFNext gathering at the Exploratorium


At the gathering, citizens listened and questioned experts.

The sessions included Hospitality House’s Joe Wilson who spoke about homelessness, and why a radical shift in thinking is critical to even try to solve the problem. In addition, guests heard a discussion about public safety and race in the Asian-American experience which involved Sarah Wan from the Community Youth Center of San Francisco and youth counselor Eddy Zheng, There was also an eye-opening discussion about modular housing with union leaders Jay Bradshaw and John Doherty who don’t see eye-to-eye on the issue.

 As the large group of guests listened, a smaller group had already broken away to join special brainstorming sessions. These breakaway sessions were held in private and away from the cameras to allow for frank discussion among particpants.

The sessions were taught and guided by volunteers who are experts in an innovative technique known as “design thinking.” These sessions produced several fresh approaches to these old problems. The breakaway design thinkers then presented their ideas to the main group of guests. These ideas dealt with homelessness, housing affordability and crime.

After the presentations, the entire room broke up into smaller groups to provide feedback, and the event ended with the Chronicle’s editor-in-chief Emilio Garcia-Ruiz and the SFNext project director Jonathan Krim talking about the next steps.

At the end of the day, the guests told KPIX they were glad that they spent time doing this experiment and found some of the proposals fascinating and important, They felt it was proof that ordinary citizens can take matters into their own hands and come up with some innovative strategies to help break the gridlock.

The question remains: will those in charge listen?

KPIX and the San Francisco Chronicle would like to hear what you think of this special report and if this strategy might work in your city or town. Please email the SFNext at sfnext@sfchronicle.com

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