Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Welcome to NOPA: Marc Caswell

Marc Caswell probably has boring and dispirited days, but you'd never know it. He has the kind of kinetic energy and infectious enthusiasm that makes you order thick, intense Turkish coffee to keep up with him. That's what I did when we stopped at NOPA's newest restaurant, Jannah, on Fulton Street.

Marc moved to NOPA earlier this month, and he's thrilled to be here (with a few reservations).* He was drawn by the chance to live with friends in "a gorgeous and pretty-cheap- for- San Francisco house" on Masonic. Now that he's settled in a new home base, he continues to play bike polo two nights a week, and carve the rest of his time into "20% for progressive politics and 8o% for bikes."

Marc spent his boyhood in Hollywood, Florida, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. After he
earned a BA in Sociology of Religion from the University of Florida, he knocked on doors for the John Kerry presidential campaign and got involved with Working America, "a community affiliate of the AFL-CIO." He took a position with a Florida state legislator and focused on health care and education. But by June 2006, he was ready for a change.

Ask Marc why he moved to San Francisco, and you hear what so many of us have said, "Because it's San Francisco!" He visited here twice during college and was sold on the city as "a young, fun place." "We live here to be part of a city and a community," he added. He first worked with Urban Habitat, a social and environmental justice organization, to help with programming and media planning. He also became a member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC), an organization he admired for its community work and committment to a more livable city.

In September 2008, the SFBC hired Marc for "the perfect hybrid job," as Program Manager. "I get to be involved in legislative issues and advocacy, transportation and sustainability, community organizing and event planning." He describes this piled-on job description with a big grin like he can hardly wait to get back on the job.

What's the best part of working for the SFBC? "The people I meet; their dedication. And the appreciation so many members express for what I do. The job gives me the chance to make things better, to help build a better city."

Anything surprise him about the job? "We're an advocacy organization, but our relationship with the city is much more collaborative than I imagined. We're not in an adversary position very often, and when we are it's in the context of working together overall."

What's new with SFBC? "We've focused on streetscape improvements through helping develop the bike plan and then pushing to get new bike lanes approved. Now we can shift and diversify our efforts to improve bicycling education, bike safety, and building the base of new cyclists."

Many of today's cyclists are "Kamikaze bikers," according to Marc. "They're going to bike no matter what the conditions are." He's pumped about reaching beyond this core constituency and encouraging more people to start cycling. He notes, "So many people say 'I would cycle if' and then mention their wish for more and safer bike lanes, smoother pavement, and improvements like bike parking. SFBC topped the 10,000 member total last year. Marc says the goal now is to add another 1,000 by making biking better and safer in the city and then keep attracting more.

What does a dedicated cyclist like Marc miss about driving? "When I was driving, I often felt solitary, alienated, and unconnected to the community, but I loved listening to NPR while on the road." That drawback aside, Marc bikes to be outdoors, to stay healthy, and to hear the sounds of the city and feel a part of it. "It's like going to a soccer game or watching it on TV. Bicycling allows you to be part of the living, breathing city instead of passively watching it."

An advocate for a more livable NOPA. Marc is eager to be an active neighbor, working with NOPNA, pushing to get street improvements for a safer Masonic Avenue and bike lanes for McAllister. (Both projects were held back for more study and not approved in the recent group of bike improvements adopted by the Municipal Transportation Authority and the Board of Supervisors). And progressive politics in District 5? He'll be on it.

*Marc's only reservations about living in NOPA? The afternoon head winds, especially if he bikes home on McAllister from the SFBC office on Market Street. And he regrets he won't be able to vote in 2010 for a new supervisor in District 8, his old digs. (No slight to our own Ross Mirkarimi; he's in for 3+ more years). Marc's already got a favorite in the D8 race.

Say hello to Marc and ask him about progressive politics or anything to do with bicycling, better streets, and living in San Francisco. Just have a strong cup of coffee close by.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting that Marc grew up in Hollywood, FL. It seems that Hollywood-by-the-Sea's original planner and developer, Joseph Wesley Young, incorporated segregated bicycle paths into the city plan in the 1920s. I had previously thought that Rouse's post war Columbia, MD was the first to do this.