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Idea for a local documentary about public transit makes GOOD

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 25, 2013 - If things work out for Elizabeth Simons, she could be leaving the bitter St. Louis air soon for an all-expense paid week in LA.

The whole time, though, she’ll be thinking about our bus stops.

Simons, program manager with Live Well Ferguson, is one of 10 finalists in a project by the company GOOD and the Marriott Hotels and Resorts to spend a week in LA at GOOD headquarters. Voting has ended, and the company will announce the winner of the competition by Feb. 1. 

Like other groups using crowdsourcing and crowdfunding as ways to help communities, social entrepreneurs and individuals, the competition highlights a growing trend of people taking a DIY approach to making the places they live better places to live.

Unlike those other groups, however, this specific competition doesn’t come with cash. Ideas were presented, finalists chosen, and the top online vote-getter will get one week in LA to work on their idea with the people at GOOD. 

“In addition to supporting businesses financially, we want to support them with our own brain power and our own energy and our own resources,” says Jay Ku, head of partnerships at GOOD Worldwide LLC. The company "is an integrated media, thought leadership and community action platform" according to their own description, which works with people, businesses and NGOs.

Simons’ own idea has already come a long way from where she started. At a Pro Walk, Pro Bike conference she attended in California, attendees were challenged to come up with three ideas they could take back to impact their communities. 

Often, she felt, data were available about how many people walked and rode bikes, but there was no context, no real people. Simons wanted to find a way to capture the voices of cyclists and pedestrians. But how do you stop people in their tracks on their way to work, school, the store?

What if you waited until they got to the bus stop? she thought.

“And once you’re at a bus stop, you’ve got some time on your hands, so that’s an easy way to capture people and their stories.”

The idea got further help at session during the 2012 Livable St. Louis conference. In the end, “Waiting on a Bus” would create a documentary telling the stories of people at bus stops in St. Louis, what their travel patterns are, how they feel about their experiences on the bus, and what our stops say about our town. There is no documentary to see yet, but the GOOD assistance would make that closer to reality.

Other projects in the running for the week at GOOD include a patient education platform called Open Clinic; a project that would transform dormant spaces with art while waiting for them to be reused, and a clothing company that would donate half of its earnings to protecting beaches. 

GOOD is working with Marriott Hotels on this project, says GOOD's pr representative, helping connect companies who want to do good with people who have ideas about how.

And that’s a growing trend Ku is seeing, both from corporations and people. There’s a desire to do both good, he says, and well.

Not everyone wants to go into public service or the Peace Corps, and not everyone wants to manage a hedge fund. “The majority of us want to be somewhere in the middle,” he says. 

 

That place, for Simons, is in sharing the stories of the people around her and adding real faces to real numbers.

“By collecting stories, I’m hoping to give a more personal feel to the data,” she says.

It also gives a voice to people who ride the bus, and lately, that's an increasing number of people. According to a December story in the St. Louis Beacon, the American Public Transportation Association reported that the St. Louis region had the largest annual increase in bus ridership in the country.

Whether or not Simons wins, being a finalist has already provided exposure and connections for the future. A group of filmmakers in Nevada commented under her idea that they’d love to work with Simons on the project (they’re also in the top 10, so she’s waiting until the winner is announced to reach out to them.)

The documentary would also share the collected stories with people who work in transportation, people who support public transit and different kinds of travelers, Simons says. It would make the voices and concerns of those riders louder.

“The appearance of a city's bus stops speaks to its general attitude toward alternative transportation and the perception of its transit riders," she writes in the proposal. "‘Waiting on a Bus’ is our chance to set the story straight.”

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