Hacker Lab CEO Gina Lujan toured Indianapolis with 90 other business and non-profit leaders last week to learn how the similar city tackles problems like Sacramento's: Housing, transit, tourism, economic development and gentrification.
Between meetings working on those same topics, Lujan spoke with Hacker Lab's Michael Mott on what the city's collaborative organizations are doing differently — and how Hacker Lab, Sacramento and the region should do better.
Lujan sits on the MetroChamber's board and helped organize free business mentorship via Hacker Lab-SBDC's partnership and other programs. Still, Lujan says, there's much work to do.
Hacker Lab: Indianapolis has moved forward by leaps and bounds over the past 10 years. What did you learn in how they do that?
Lujan: We spend a lot of time planning; not implementing. We’re always on a great study; by the time we organize ourselves, the rest of the world is onto its next thing.
We saw this with NextEconomy and we’re seeing this again with our region’s push for inclusivity — something grassroots leaders have been talking about for years. We need to stop seeking third-party validation for things that are obvious.
These epiphanies are not brilliant. The fact that inclusivity is a buzzword is frightening. It's something that should have always been here. Especially because we have had so many great community leaders fighting tirelessly for change for so long.
What I saw in Indianapolis was people getting things done; they included their neighbors and respected them. We're still telling people what they need to do. You cannot go grassroots from top-down and that’s what we’re trying to do here.
HL: What examples did you see there of people doing the right things?
Lujan: INHP: The Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership. They work with Indianapolis neighborhoods to help communities develop via community development organizations. They support neighborhoods financially with a plan and all work together to come up with a plan. That's what we need here.
They handle gentrification gracefully: They buy and invest in neighborhoods and also put aside money to help repair and restore homes for people who live there already. I’ve driven through so many places here and said, this place just needs some paint and grass. If your spirits are low and you see bright and shiny things come in without you, it's not going to uplift anybody. That kind of work helps build integrity and brings back a sense of pride; it helps give neighborhoods a sense they have a voice and aren’t forgotten; and it doesn’t undermine the true needs of a geographic neighborhood.
They also had a lot of emphasis on workforce development for youth; a lot of really good job-training programs. They focused on the health and wellbeing of the child and trying to uplift youth in marginalized neighborhoods. It went beyond a workforce path — they had a mind, body and spirit approach. Until you heal those issues and trauma in these neighborhoods you cannot move forward as a city.
When I walk through the neighborhoods I live in and don’t see old merchants in Oak Park; they’re coming in less and less since the retail price is too high — people who’ve been giving haircuts for decades — that’s bullshit. They can’t be pushed into the older, more decrepit buildings. We need to keep the old neighbors in there and give them something while inviting in young families and professionals. That helps with the energy of the neighborhoods.
We need to keep the spirit of Oak Park — It’s not North Oak Park, it’s Oak Park. The fact they had to change the name and give it something different is offensive.
HL: There is inequality over there, though. How do they handle that?
Lujan: By giving respect. When you put a negative connotation on people in poverty, it becomes, “They’re a problem.” People in poverty have a situation. It may not be a good one. But by calling it a problem, people create an air that they're a problem.
We need to work on these issues together. This September, two years ago I started collecting things to hand out to people who needed them. I asked what they need. We need to do the same and listen more.
HL: What can we do differently at Hacker Lab to meet these challenges?
Lujan: We will be having a Hacker Lab lunchtime, and potluck regularly.
I want us to be the example. We want to design a way for people to become a way, through our partnerships, to give opportunity to those who can’t afford it. So people can expand and better their lives. Utilizing our partnerships to bring people through our doors.
I would like to add humanity through a new docent program. We need to work out the specifics, but the goal is for people who want a community space, who will invest their time here, to make it their own and a place all feel welcome in.
HL: What are your goals for Hacker Lab 2019-20?
Be better. Be fucking better.
[At this point in the conversation, Lujan looked from her car and saw a distressed, homeless young man throwing his stuff in the street.]
"That could be my son," she said.
She gave him her card and some food.
"We need to do better," she said.
If you are interested in learning more about Hacker Lab's docent program, which will offer membership via a non-profit in exchange for supporting the community space, please contact [email protected]ackerlab.org.