Driving through Mountain View last month, I was startled when a Google self-driving car whirred past me, its small battery humming as it glided along. Observing the futuristic vehicle, I couldn’t help but recognize the stark contrast between the Google car and the cozy, wooded neighborhood it was passing through.
Nestled in the heart of this area is Mariano Castro Elementary School. Although it is located fewer than three miles from Google headquarters, in an area where a one-bedroom apartment rents for more than $2,000 a month, Mariano Castro’s student body is comprised of culturally diverse, working-class families.
The contrast between Google’s ultramodern campus and this community couldn’t be more distinct. While perks for Google employees include fancy meals (such as squash-corn-pecan dumplings) and complimentary aerobics classes, almost two-thirds of Mariano Castro’s student body are in need of government assistance in the form of free and reduced-priced lunch. In addition, more than half of the children are English language learners.
Gentrification has made it even harder for such lower-income families to live in the places they call home. As a member of the national AmeriCorps VISTA program, I work with a local nonprofit, the Jewish Coalition for Literacy, and my work brings me into these underserved communities. JCL’s mission is to advance childhood literacy by marshaling community volunteers to serve as reading tutors, coaching parents on how to encourage reading at home and hosting children’s book drives. I see the real-world impact of the tech companies on their most vulnerable neighbors.
Because if we can build a car that drives itself to a $7 toast shop, we should be able to establish the equity necessary for our communities to thrive.
Growing up in the Bay Area, I thought I knew what gentrification looked like. I thought I understood the process of real estate prices rising, families leaving, and a trendy toast shop coming into a neighborhood and charging $7 for a slice of bread.
What I didn’t realize is how much this process damages early-childhood education.
As living expenses rise, forcing parents to spend as much as 80 percent of their income on rent, more and more children fall into desperate circumstances. In addition, their schools suffer from teacher shortages because education professionals can’t afford to live in the community.
We assume that the march of technology and affluence in the Bay Area is progress, but I’ve begun to have my doubts. In a region with the brightest minds, why is it we knowingly accept the suffering of our community’s children as a cost of innovation? And how can it truly be considered progressive when so many get left behind?
The self-driving car is a reminder of this loss of humanity, but also a symbol of hope. Because if we can build a car that drives itself to a $7 toast shop, we should be able to establish the equity necessary for our communities to thrive.