Hi there, my name is Nathan. I’m a communications intern here at Sustainable San Mateo County. I’ve been a long time San Mateo resident myself and am currently an undergraduate student studying philosophy and marketing. I’ve always wanted to work with an environmental advocacy organization. What particularly attracted me to SSMC is the successful fulfillment of the core long term mission of sustainability: to conserve and cultivate life for the next generation. I am of that incoming generation that is maturing into concerned and connected citizens and I am happy to join a non-profit setup by like-minded neighbors.
Since it’s inception in 1992, SSMC has been through many changes in terms of its projects, branding, and membership. Since I came onboard in October, I have been doing a review of the institutional history of SSMC. I wanted to know what it is exactly that I am inheriting from my elders.
The flagship enterprise of SSMC since its beginning has been the Indicators Report, a collection of data analyzed by and presented cleanly by a qualified statistician. There are trends laid out in these reports that look at many different aspects of the county. For example, there are quirky facts in past reports like library circulation stats and bird migration counts in the remnants of the marsh lands by the bay. And of course there are more classic indicators like poverty rates, pollution, and voter participation. The indicators presented change from year to year. The idea is that the facts don’t lie and provide a non-partisan vantage point from which to make informed decisions – especially for people working in local governments. So one function of SSMC is to generate awareness of the goings on around us that we cannot readily observe in our daily routines.
The other major project that SSMC organizes is in recognizing local businesses, government organizations, non-profits, and private citizens for their exemplary conduct with regards to the three “e” principles: Economy. Equity. Environment. I’ve interpreted this to mean that a sustainable worldview must have a holistic outlook with people intimately and consciously involved with the ecosystem around them. Our local ecology varies tremendously, from urban jungles to suburban forests and open spaces. Stewardship of these landscapes should be everybody’s responsibility. Awarding local groups that share in this vision acknowledges that we are in fact meeting some of the challenges before us. Encouraging these efforts is an exercise in thought leadership.
Looking forward, I have been evaluating how to best to present SSMC in social media, and other channels as well. One question I’ve had is: who is our audience and what is happening right now? Has this advocacy work been fruitful?
San Mateo County is unique in so many ways. And it’s changing. The landscape is constantly being tweaked, like for example, the the City of San Mateo has completed a publicly available report on a “Complete Streets” plan. I have been attending public forums at the San Mateo Library that explain the concept: to remake how we use our street space, from both a logistical and aesthetic standpoint. Bike lanes will go in, traffic lights repositioned or eliminated in favor of flow control signage and speed bumps, pedestrian sidewalks and crossings will be improved, gardens will be fostered, and rainwater drainage improved, amongst many other features. It will be exciting to see how this re-development unfolds and improves the local ecosystem.
The Complete Streets plan has been carefully and expertly assembled with the involvement of government officials, professional consultants, citizen focus groups, and public forums. There have also been prototype projects to gauge the reaction to the project and to inform the planning process. In addition to this impending project of reshaping how we use our streets, San Mateo County now has an official Office of Sustainability founded this year. This is what I find to be the most important aspect of this public commitment to sustainability and long term vision: a reinvigoration of civil society and collaboration with local government. That is also one of the main missions driving SSMC.