The work of Global Urban Humanities (GUH) research studios often continues well after the end of the semester. In Spring 2018, GUH graduate students explored the US-Mexico borderlands with Professor of Architecture Ronald Rael and Assistant Professor of Art Practice Stephanie Syjuco. One of the students in the class, Cheyenne Concepcion, continued her research as a 2019 Monument Lab National Fellow. Monument Lab is an independent public art and history studio based in Philadelphia. Its co-founder Paul Farber spoke at the Global Urban Humanities symposium Techniques of Memory in April 2019. She describes her project here:
Territorial boundaries and borders are not passive, they are productive. My explorations and experiences at the border began in 2014 when I began working on cross-border environmental issues for Alter Terra, a bi-national environmental nonprofit. And for the past year, I have been exploring the spatial productivity of borders by compiling a physical and digital archive of materials from and about the US-Mexico border. In April 2019, supported by a fellowship from the urban art and history organization Monument Lab, I presented The Borderlands Archive as an interactive installation for the first time at Wurster Hall to exhibit research I conducted in the last year.
The Borderlands Archive traces connection across territorial divide by collecting photographs, artifacts, artworks, histories, data and publications about the borderlands. It is a research project, an experiment in representation and an artistic gesture towards a collective knowledge about a contested space between two countries, the US and Mexico. This ongoing project traces a non-linear history across an ancestral landscape and explores ideas about place, territory, and border as urbanism in a bi-national context.
The work employs the archive as a tool for capturing moving relationships in this complex built and natural environment, and invites others to contribute to the narrative. The objective of this research is to trump existing notions about fixed borders by reconceptualizing borders as a vast space in constant flux: the borderlands. Conceptualizing borders in this way prioritizes the spatiality of borders, which, for a designer like me, is a profoundly important means for understanding the complex productivity of borders and further defining edge conditions.
The ideas behind this project were explored in GUH’s Borderwall Urbanism course taught by Stephanie Syjuco and Ron Rael. It then became my Master’s thesis and luckily, with the help of Monument Lab, I get to bring this research project to life outside the walls of Wurster Hall.
My fellowship with Monument Lab was the first of its kind for the organization. Supported by the Slought Foundation, my fellowship began in January 2019 and lasts for the entirety of 2019. I joined ten other recipients representing eight different projects from around the country. Some are artists, some are organizers and all of us are interested in how monuments re-organize the spaces and minds they encounter. It’s been an honor to be recognized among these fellows who do amazing work in their communities.
Monument Lab is an independent public art and history studio based in Philadelphia. Founded by Paul Farber and Ken Lum, Monument Lab works with artists, students, activists, municipal agencies, and cultural institutions on exploratory approaches to public engagement and collective memory. The fellowship has offered me guidance from an experienced and supportive team that helps us on our individual goals. The Borderlands Archive Project is a new project, and I used the fellowship to begin building the digital and physical infrastructure of the archive. I created a web catalogue and formatted the physical archive as an exhibition--and sought advice and support from Monument Lab along the way. After a year’s worth of research, I presented this project for the first time in April as an exhibition and continue to build the virtual archive online. The immediate next step for this project is to reach a wider audience because the beauty in this work is built on peoples’ stories in the form of artifacts. This November, the Borderlands Archive will be part of a group show at the Museum of Capitalism in New York City. None of this would be possible without the support and exposure from Monument Lab, GUH’s Borderwall Urbanism course and the mentors who have guided and challenged my thinking.
Video of the Borderlands Archive installation in Wurster Hall lobby. Credit: Cheyenne Concepcion and the Borderlands Archive.
About the contributor: Cheyenne Concepcion is an artist and recent graduate of UC Berkeley’s Master in Landscape Architecture program. Her work addresses the politics of space and spans image-making, temporary installations, site-design, cartography and writing.
Sourabh Harihar received his MA in Global Studies at Berkeley and holds degrees in civil and ocean engineering from TU Delft (Holland) and the Indian Institute of Technology. In his previous years as a management consultant and a Young India Fellow, he has engaged with projects relating to smart city planning and urban informality in Indian cities. In Spring 2019, he completed the GUH Graduate Certificate as he strongly believes that an urban humanities perspective is extremely critical and valuable to understanding urban development, particularly in the Global South. He was also one of the graduate students who participated in the 2019 GUH Graduate Interdisiplinary Research Studio on Lagos, Nigeria and writes about the trip to the African mega-city.
“If there were aliens, they certainly wouldn’t come to Nigeria. Or maybe they would.” -a character in Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon
Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria, is not just a city; it is a persona. In fact, it is many personas. From the security of the gated colonies of Lekki to the precarity of the dwellings in Sogunro, many traits manifest across its monumental expanse. As a group of students representing a gamut of departments at Cal, we were introduced to the cultural heritage and the socio-political realities of Lagos in a series of seminars leading up to the visit, helmed by Prof. Ivy Mills from Art History and Prof. Charisma Acey from City and Regional Planning. Yet, for many of us, being physically present in this megapolis was no less than surreal.
The trip kickstarted with an enthralling welcome at the Nike Art Gallery, which hosts a spectacular collection of some of Nigeria’s finest art and sculpture. What followed was ten days of visits to various artistic and social-political organizations as well as the opportunity to meet with some of the most outstanding people of the city, each of whom revealed to us the indomitable spirit of a Lagosian.
As a city with a Yoruba past and present, Lagos remains deeply influenced by Yoruba culture and philosophy. Besides obeisance to the orishas (deities from Yoruba mythology), concepts such as the ogun, one’s personal alignment with nature, and aje, the power of manifestation continue to inform the city’s complex identity by intertwining belief with the city’s material reality. It is perhaps why we heard artist-performer Wura-Natasha Ogunji be candid about the deep relationship between the spiritual and material world that her city shares, whilst leaving us with the thought “if we knew the world through our spines instead of our hands…” I was reminded again of the power of manifestation only a few days later when we visited the Kalakuta Museum, commemorating the life of iconic multi-instrumentalist composer Fela Kuti, whose own work, through the activism and politics of his musical oeuvre, has been testament to the revolutionary power of art. His memory would return as we listened to the artist-activist Jelili Atiku, a contemporary sculptor and performer, speak of “art as being produced not for the sake of aesthetics; but to increase the consciousness of the people.” I am writing this blog at a poignant moment as I receive news that Jelili has been detained by Lagos Police for “provoking the community”, among other charges. Despite the odds, he keeps inspiring through his grounded respect for indigenous tradition, which he does not see as separate from a deep commitment to social and environmental justice.
Issues of social and environmental justice certainly plague Lagos as they do the world. Hence, besides a visit to the Alimosho local government where we got a glimpse of the governance architecture at the district-level, we spent a couple of days learning from leaders and volunteers at Justice and Empowerment Initiative (JEI), a non-profit organization that works to empower poor and marginalized communities to drive in-situ changes in their neighbourhood. Witnessing Otodo-Gbame, a site of eviction that has displaced over 15,000 people from their waterfront communities, was one of the most deeply stirring experiences for many. JEI generously allowed us to shadow their volunteers as they carried out the task of ‘enumeration’ in these displaced communities, a practice of labelling houses and businesses that it hopes will build data to prove the existence of often undocumented communities. This, in turn, is expected to help in leading resistance against future displacement so that they can overcome a concern that one of their own volunteers voiced, “We can’t fully invest in our communities because we’re not sure we’ll be here in the future”.
We also met students of planning at the University of Lagos (UniLag, in local parlance) inculcated with what Prof. Taibat Lawanson calls "planning WITH the people and not FOR the people," as we heard founders at Kids Beach Garden, an organization committed to sustainable beaches, pledging that “Lagos will not be a mess.” Yet, from a massive corporate makeover of its substantial shoreline as a result of the Eko Atlantic project to reckless law-making such as the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) that threatens to criminalize the poor under the garb of protecting the environment, challenges keep mounting on this maximum city. What is reassuring is that, while challenges persist, there are Lagosians at work everywhere trying to mitigate them.
To us, the experience of Lagos was so extraordinary that, as we navigated the bizarre tapestry that is this mega-city, every thread has been woven into our mental fabric and every knot inextricably linked to our lives. Engaging with a city where ethnic differences replace racial divisions, Lagos instilled a renewed understanding of identity. While we ogled at the city through an air-conditioned bus, Lagos invoked questions of positionality and privilege. And yet, the very set-up of the touring bus has made all of us have conversations we would never have had otherwise, absorbing the city at once through our own little window and all together thinking that we are all, hopefully, not aliens to the city anymore.
If you missed the diverse and engaging presentations at this year's Techniques of Memory symposium, fear not! Rhetoric PhD student Linda Kinstler writes below a reflective summary about the symposium. Linda Kinstler was also a member of the Techniques of Memory symposium planning committee.
Memory is on the move. All around the world, artists, activists, architects, and scholars are re-evaluating approaches to memory and its physical manifestations. In New Orleans, ephemeral monuments to the city’s forgotten heroes and triumphs are going up where markers of Confederate power recently came toppling down; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an artists’ collective is helping indigenous people reclaim long-buried memories of colonial domination; and along the U.S.-Mexico border, over 500 boundary monuments languish in various states of decay, marking the evolution of fortification and militarization on contested land.
These are just some of the projects discussed last month at the Techniques of Memory Symposium, a global gathering of practitioners and academics working on memorialization, memory, and power in the past and present. Organized by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative, the symposium took an interdisciplinary approach to reassessing the role of memory and monuments in the contemporary world, both locally, in the Bay Area and its environs, and globally, in cities like New York, Montgomery, São Paulo, and Dresden, as well as in contested landscapes and environments on several continents.
Over the course of two days, panelists selected from over 340 submissions shared their approaches to thinking about erasure, mobility, recovery, empathy, and temporality as they relate to memory and memorialization. The symposium consisted of four panels, respectively titled Landscape, Iconoclasm, Medium, and Power. Each examined the evolving role of memory across time and space, and considered questions like, how should contemporary monuments balance contestation and continuity, empathy and abstraction? At a moment when monuments are being protested, removed, and re-evaluated all over the world, what new possibilities for monument-making might be discovered? What makes a counter-monument? How do monuments create, reflect, and produce community?
A series of six keynote addresses evaluated how techniques of memory operate upon urban landscapes and historical objects. Several explicitly dealt with the unsettling legacy of segregation and racial violence in the American landscape: Austin Allen, a practicing landscape architect and retired Associate Professor at Louisiana State University, excavated the dark history of racism and death at Buckeye Lake, a former amusement park near Millerstown, Ohio. “Codes of memory are more complicated than collective memory,” he said. “Codes have to be decoded, you have to do the work.” Jason Berry, an investigative reporter based in New Orleans, traced how the city’s jazz funerals operate as “caravans of memory,” “vectors between continuity and change.” Architectural historian Irene Cheng addressed the delicate balance between fighting and feeling in American memorial culture, reflecting upon the varied approaches to representation and reckoning at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama.
The meaning of monuments and counter-monuments changes along with the societies they address. Several keynote speakers considered how memorial objects and spaces are reinterpreted and rebuilt, and how these acts of recovery might alter their intended audiences. Lauren Kroiz, Associate Professor in the History of Art Department at Berkeley, discussed the contested history of Adelaide Johnson’s suffrage statue, which currently sits in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda and is laden with questions of historical idealization and obfuscation, marginalization and exclusion. The Dutch visual artist Hans van Houwelingen reflected on the limitations of counter-monuments and shared how his installations re-imagine how they operate. “Commemoration is a culture, which means that collective memory is something that can be organized,” he said. Marita Sturken, Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU, took attendees on a virtual tour of New York’s Freedom Tower and the National 9/11 Memorial, considering how the site’s reconstruction mingles commercial, public space with the work of memory and mourning.
At a historical moment when monuments have re-emerged as objects of public contestation and discussion, Techniques of Memory generated new possibilities for re-envisioning memorial cultures. Perhaps, by embracing the ephemerality and occasional irrationality of memory, the work of memorialization might be reclaimed as a collective, public, and collaborative act.
Congratulations to Architecture PhD Candidate and GUH Student Valentina Rozas-Krause for receiving the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship for 2019-2020. The fellowship is awarded to 65 doctoral candidates annually and supports one year of research and writing to help advanced graduate students in the humanities and social sciences in their last year of PhD dissertation writing.
Rozas-Krause will be using her fellowship to complete her dissertation titled Architecture and the Cult of Apology. Read the abstract below to learn more about her research:
In 2004, when Argentina’s president apologized for the state’s crimes committed during the last military dictatorship (1976-83), he also inaugurated a new memorial. Fixing his words in stone, he expropriated a 42-acre lot from the Navy to transform it into a ‘memory campus.’ Memorials like this one embody more than memory: they are built as symbols of remorse or reparation. This dissertation traces this emerging phenomenon by examining the ‘cult of apology’ through its global manifestation in memorials. The ‘cult of apology’ offers a critical lens to analyze how in the last decades these two previously separate phenomena—the boom of memorials and the rise of apologies—have become intertwined. Examining five representative case studies in Berlin, Buenos Aires, and San Francisco, the dissertation builds an empirical and theoretical understanding on multiple aspects of apology and memorialization, the actors involved in it, the material forms that it takes, and the diverse effects that it produces.
UCB STUDENTS AND FACULTY CAN NOW CHECK OUT THIS JOURNAL FROM OSKICAT.
2018 Populism, Art, and the City students, Jeff Garnand, Tania Osorio Harp, Xander Lenc and Connie Zheng, published their papers in the September 2018 issue of the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies. These articles are an extension of their final projects for the Spring 2018 GUH Core Seminar Course co-taught by Jason Luger (City and Regional Planning) and Angela Marino (Theater, Dance & Performance Studies), who co-wrote an introductory article for the issue about the course as interdisciplinary pedagogy for our time. Read the abstract and contributor bios below to get an overview of this special issue! If you would like to find the published issue, you can do so here.
Abstract and Introduction from Jason Luger's and Angela Marino's "Populism, art and the city: An interdisciplinary pedagogy for our time"
Populism on the far left and the far right is reshaping the contemporary city and the urban condition. In this special short-form section, we put forward populism, art and the city as a linked theoretical and methodological framework through the UC Berkeley Global Urban Humanities Initiative. Our conversations brought together new research in urban studies, art, architecture, public policy, and performance studies into what many people described as a decidedly populist age. Following a short introduction, we share a collection of four papers from such conversations that offer ‘focus sites’ from San Francisco to Palm Springs, Hong Kong to Mexico City, with a diverse set of theoretical proposals that branch from our discussions and shared readings in art, populism, and the city.
About the contributors
Jeff Garnand is a PhD student in the Department of City and Regional Planning studying the spatial aspects of techniques of poverty management and the punitive and more ambivalent approaches of state and private actors toward homelessness and the unhoused community in US cities. He earned a Masters of City Planning from UC Berkeley in 2016, and has a background in activism around homelessness and policing.
Xander Lenc is a graduate student pursuing a PhD in Geography, a DE in Science and Technology Studies, and a certificate in the Global Urban Humanities. Their dissertation work asks how labor and disease in California prisons interface with the state's racial landscape. In a parallel project with the Global Urban Humanities Initiative, they draw on queer theory to understand how time and indigeneity are articulated in the deserts of the American Southwest. They are also working on a project on race and the cultural uses of Bigfoot in Northern California. In their spare time, they work with the editorial team of the graduate humanities and social sciences journal Qui Parle and push for housing affordability on the board of the Berkeley Student Cooperative. They are a Graduate Student Fellow with the National Science Foundation and an incoming 2020 Graduate Fellow with the Global Urban Humanities Initiative.
Tania Osorio Harp is a graduate student pursuing a MS in Architecture at UC Berkeley where her research and practice focuses on the appropriation of spaces with a special emphasis on the history of Mexico City. In 2012, she co-founded the architectural office APRDELESP as an ongoing research initiative on space and its appropriation processes which functioned through ELHC, a network of subspaces—experimental, physical and/or digital 1:1 models that ran as independent economic systems within the urban framework and worked as public infrastructure for the office.
Connie Zheng is an artist and writer currently pursuing her MFA in Art Practice at UC Berkeley. She uses the dialogue between text, drawing, painting and time-based media as a conduit through which to consider the environment of the media and the media of the environment, and these investigations tend to center on the visual culture around environmental crisis and economies of waste and creative reuse. She received her BA in Economics and English from Brown University and worked as a researcher before beginning graduate school.
Having emigrated from Egypt to the United States in November of 2005, Menat Allah El Attma is now a third-year undergraduate student studying English Literature at UC Berkeley and a GUH Undergraduate Certificate student. She is a writer, self-taught visual artist, and Muslim woman who is personally invested in a myriad of art forms. To her, art is necessary to meaningfully study history, architecture, religion, science, language, ourselves and each other. The more she practices with these accessible instruments - the pen, brush and camera - the more she understands that the art is in the telling of the story as much as the story itself. This semester, Menat is teaching an English DeCal course called Peoples & Places: Memory of Cityscapes.
A new day begins with a warm citrus tint cast above the city. I can see it clearly with all its lurid delights through the BART windows. Commuting accounts for eighty-minutes of my every day and is a routine I have grown to appreciate. Sometimes, especially early mornings, the commute is quiet and soothing while other times, the shared air becomes intimate and there are just not enough handles for all who are standing. So, you latch onto the shoulder of the co-passenger in front of you, and they onto yours, thus an unanticipated friendship takes chance.
As the train glides through the urban landscape, this movement allows me to see cities not as mapped abstract structures but as facilitators of engagement. When someone boards from a station, I ponder where they have been; and once they leave at another, where they are going.
Cities are stories, and these stories belong to people. Naturally, I believe we all understand this phenomenon to a degree considering the dense population of urban spaces across the globe today. How people interact with and become participants of a space fascinated me, but I did not arrange these pieces together knowingly until I discovered the Global Urban Humanities (GUH) program. For this academic initiative to come into full actuality and afford students the opportunity to explore such topics in an interdisciplinary manner, it implies all knowledge forms are valuable when evaluating and critiquing urban life. When this type of merit is pronounced boldly, as is done with GUH, it also recognizes the potential of each epistemology in understanding what a city is and means.
Returning to Egypt during the Summer of 2018, following a 13-year hiatus, I brought my camera to photograph the wonders of its cities and dwellers, its broad structures and fading colors. Often, while there, I asked myself what would happen if the people altogether realized the service their narratives contribute to the city – what new literatures, designs, (re)constructions can be achieved. Near the end, as I was transferring and compiling photos I had taken, everything became clearer.
When I sought to understand the meanings people lend to their conditions and experiences in the city, my photographs furnished themselves as evidence, like novels and poems do. This point became an inspiration to the course I teach now, interrogating how memory is (re)produced while merging the visual with the written.
Noam Shoked is a 2018-2019 Princeton-Mellon Fellow and was a student in the first GUH traveling course on Los Angeles called No Cruising: Mobile Identities and Urban Life. At Cal, Noam completed his PhD dissertation, which traced the ways in which the design of West Bank settlements became a site of both collaboration and confrontation between architects, settlers, and government officials. At Princeton, Noam will revise his dissertation into a book manuscript and lay the foundations for his next research project on the encounter between modernism urbanism and Bedouin communities in the Middle East.
How were you invovled with the Global Urban Humanities Initiative (GUH)?
I participated in the No Cruising: Mobile Identities and Urban Life in Los Angeles studio, co-taught by Margaret Crawford and Anne Walsh. I also helped putting together a book that documented the projects that grew out of that studio. Later, I took part in the GUH’s Student Advisory Board, and attended many lectures and events hosted by the GUH.
What compelled you to join GUH?
I heard a presentation about the LA studio Margaret Crawford gave a few months before the beginning of the semester. Having taken architecture studios in the past, I was intrigued by her idea of a multi-disciplinary studio. It seemed like a great opportunity to do research rather than read other people’s research, and, along the way, to get constant feedback on my work. Admittedly, I was also excited about the opportunity to get to know LA, a city I knew mainly from films.
How did your GUH experience contribute to your current research or career?
The GUH studio allowed me to experiment with ethnographic research methods I later applied in my dissertation research on West Bank settlements. In addition, I have incorporated some of Margaret and Anne’s pedagogical techniques in my own teaching. I encouraged my students at the CCA to embark on short-term ethnographic projects in San Francisco, and now I am developing a humanities studio I intend to teach next year in Israel. Finally, I was able to publish my studio project in Boom’s special issue on urban humanities. I imagine it was helpful on the academic job market.
What is your most memorable GUH experience?
On one of our studio’s field trips, I interviewed an undocumented immigrant who happened to use his bicycle to move around the city and collect recyclable material. At one point, I figured he was homeless, but he refused to see himself as such because he owned some property—a bike and a cart—and had his own squatting spot. His self-perception made me rethink my understanding of what it means to be homeless, and, equally important, it made me change my research assumptions concerning the role of biking in the city.
What is your favorite global city you have traveled to and why?
I now live in Princeton and I take great pleasure in making weekly visits to New York, where I used to live before moving to Berkeley. That being said, as a scholar, I am more intrigued by much smaller places, like West Bank settlements and Bedouin towns in the Negev desert. Although they probably don’t qualify as cities, they are a matter of international concern and interest. I think that there is a lot to learn about the design and evolution of such places.
Neutralizing Poverty: Governing Homelessness in San Francisco
Lecture by Chris Herring for Fall 2018 Colloquium The City and its People.
Fall 2018 GUH Colloquium student Mikayla Domingo wrote the following reflection on the November 13th lecture given by Chris Herring, PhD Candidate in Sociology.
The pervasiveness of the homeless population in San Francisco has gained attention at the international level following the UN’s recent declaration of it being a human rights violation (Graff, 2018). Chris Herring, PhD Candidate in Sociology at UC Berkeley, focuses his lecture around the topic of how criminalizing the homeless essentially perpetuates poverty, while also illuminating the relationship between gentrification, homelessness, and policing. Many grow fixated on the booming economic prosperity of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, regarding the tech industry producing global conglomerates such as Apple, Intel, and Google (just to name a few). However, the glow surrounding this industry renders many unaware of the adverse effects that come with a global city. Homelessness is an unintended byproduct of a globalized city. Herring argues that gentrification results from an influx of new residents who tend to be more educated and financially affluent, resulting in a skyrocketing cost of living and exponential growth of the homeless population.
A global city can be defined as “an urban center that enjoys significant competitive advantages and that serves as a hub within a globalized economic system.” (Charnock, 2013) Global cities, such as San Francisco, often involve gentrification, a main focal point of Herring’s lecture. To further explore the impacts of gentrification on the increasing homeless population, Herring raises the question of whether policing of the homeless results from gentrification or citizen demand. In short, it results from both. Upon providing statistics data, Herring explains that the “increased criminalization of the homeless are driven by homeless complaints, resulting from gentrification, new development, and change in demographics of higher educated and wealthier individuals,” which can be attributed to the tech boom. This is a form of aggressive patrol, or rather “anti-homeless laws as a class strategy promulgated by elites and capital interests, aimed at exclusion and incapacitation.” Gentrified areas have increased individuals’ or organizations’ demand for removing the homeless from the streets in front of their buildings or businesses. Subsequently, police officers and sanitation crews play a role in the criminalization of the homeless, whereupon simply being homeless could result in citations for “quality-of-life” violations, such as obstruction or trespassing. Essentially, the condition of being homeless has been deemed a disruption to the public, and has thereby been criminalized. The most common callers to the Department of Public Works to report the presence of a homeless person were made by San Francisco’s residents, resulting in an “indistinguishable wedding between sanitation and police” leading to sanitation crews guiding policing of homeless. However, neither the police nor sanitation crews see their role as criminalizing homelessness. Moreover, gentrification creates citizen demand to uphold the new version of the global city by increasing policing efforts to rid of the homeless. To residents, the unhoused taking shelter on the street impedes with the vision that the new city attempts to put forward, further resulting in the punitive measures taken against the homeless.
As gentrification and residents demand are demonstrated to cause criminalization of the homeless, it is additionally important to consider how these policing efforts impact the homeless. Herring draws from a multi-sided ethnography of community-based studies focused primarily on citation and move-along orders. For instance, as Herring demonstrates in one study consisting of 351 participants who experienced homelessness in San Francisco in the past year, 70% of respondents were forced to move from a public space, yet 91% still remained within the public space; in other words, they merely moved down the street to another neighborhood, or simply walked around. This demonstrates that move-along orders are not only inefficient in providing a solution to homelessness, but that it merely continues the criminalization. Additionally, the practice of move-along orders continues the psychological suffering of the unhoused with the central consequence surrounding the concern of having their property destroyed by the city. Herring provides a jarring statistic stating that 41% of the unhoused reported their personal property destroyed by the city, resulting in the loss of medicine for HIV, family mementos, and often everything they formerly owned. Treating poverty as a criminal or medical condition allows for such pervasive penalties, or policing interactions that fall short of arrest.
However, there are suggestions for improvement surrounding policy implications for dealing with the unhoused. Alternatives to arrests are not enough for ending practices that criminalize the homeless; Herring argues that the critique of criminalization should be embedded with a critique of inadequate welfare in policy dealing with homelessness at the legal, legislative, and bureaucratic levels. As a political science major who focuses on the operations of public policy within American politics, the implications surrounding Herring’s lecture are essential to understanding how and why solutions must be implemented at the legal, legislative, and bureaucratic level. At the legal level, understanding that the conditions of homelessness ultimately violate the 8th amendment are grounds for a lawsuit that could set precedence in changing the way that homelessness is perceived as well as approaching solutions. However, reform at the bureaucratic level would seemingly evoke the most systemic change by extending the opportunity to enact solutions beyond the roles of politicians and policymakers, and into the hands of outside agencies that aren't incentivized by gaining votes for re-election, or by financial incentives.
Graff, Amy. “United Nations Report: SF Homeless Problem Is 'Violation of Human Rights'.” San Francisco Chronicle, 5 Nov. 2018. Accessed at www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/rapporteur-United-Nations-San-Francisco-homeless-13351509.php.
Mukherjee, Rahul. “San Francisco’s Bilenial Homeless Count.” San Francisco Chronicle, 28 Jun. 2016. Accessed at https://projects.sfchronicle.com/sf-homeless/numbers/
Charnock, Greig. “Global City.” Britannica Encyclopedia. 30 May, 2013. Accessed at https://www.britannica.com/topic/global-city
Note: all other quoted text are from lecturer Chris Herring on November 13, 2018 at the Fall 2018 Global Urban Humanities Colloquium.
About the writer: Connie Zheng is an artist and writer currently pursuing her MFA in Art Practice at UC Berkeley. She uses the dialogue between text, drawing, painting and time-based media as a conduit through which to consider the environment of the media and the media of the environment, and these investigations tend to center on the visual culture around environmental crisis and economies of waste and creative reuse. She received her BA in Economics and English from Brown University and worked as a researcher before beginning graduate school. Here, she writes about her current practice and research on cardboard is influenced by the GUH course, Populism, Art and the City.
We are surrounded by cardboard everywhere in the Bay Area: in our recycling bins, on our doorsteps, and scattered on the street. We use cardboard to protect and transport the items that often make up our domestic interiors, whether we are moving between homes or awaiting a shipment that traces its origins overseas. We also see cardboard being repurposed and given new life and context, often by our unhoused neighbors, as signage, shelter and insulation.
This material, so evocative of consumption, movement, and creative reuse, became the subject for a speculative research paper that I began while taking the GUH seminar Populism, Art and the City, with Drs. Angela Marino and Jason Luger. I’m grateful that this paper will be published in the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies this upcoming winter, and that the research I did for this piece has informed other writing, video and installation projects that I have been working on this fall.
The idea of a home space in relation to cardboard struck me one Sunday afternoon in January of this year, when I was walking through the ground floor of the HSBC headquarters of Hong Kong. There, I saw nearly a hundred Filipina and Indonesian women gathered in space. They were Filipina and Indonesian domestic workers assembled in one of many informal gathering sites that bloom and are then disassembled over the course of one day. Sunday was the day they could claim as their sole day off from what would otherwise be a 24/7 workweek in the home of their local or expatriate employers, and I assumed that the ephemerality of this gathering made cardboard a useful material to support its manifestation. When I first encountered one of these gatherings, or assemblies, I found myself struck by an affective response that I later attributed to the sight of cardboard being used to demarcate a new informal space directly on top of an existing codified space.
Initially I wondered if the women were homeless, since I am accustomed to the image of the homeless in the Bay Area sitting or sleeping on flattened cardboard. Closer observation negated this possibility. In both cases, however, the cardboard being used as insulation or shelter appeared to be of unknown provenance, occasionally bearing logos that suggested they migrated from a residence or commercial business. Through conversations with Professors Marino and Luger, and my brilliant classmates in the Art, Populism and the City seminar, I realized that the ubiquitous, utilitarian, endlessly repurposable material of cardboard could possess not only a particular symbolic force that is linked to class inequality and consumption, but that it may also contain the ability to cross spatial delineations and produce a new kind of public space. This inquiry led me to the following research question: how does cardboard circulate between public and private spaces, both physically and ontologically, and what is produced in the moment when it crosses from one semiotic space into another?
I began the project by tracing the movement of cardboard through a trans-Pacific circuitry of trade: I made calls to and visited the Port of Oakland, the Berkeley Recycling Center, the Creative Packaging factory in Hayward, and the International Paper sheet feeder factory in Gilroy. I used walking, sketching, photography, video, and speculative writing as methodologies, in addition to more “traditional” methods of research. The multidisciplinary approach that our instructors encouraged the class to take were crucial for the formulation of this paper and its evolution into more visually-oriented works as part of my artistic practice. In fact, much of the research that I did for this paper regarding the circulation of waste commodities made its way into an oil painting, an installation that I am currently building, a visual essay that was just published on SFMOMA’s Open Space platform (“Familiar Strangers, Strange Familiars”), and the footage that I shot when visiting the Berkeley Recycling Center for this paper found its way into a video piece, Notes on Fluorescence, which showed in the Trace Evidence exhibition sponsored by GUH earlier this year.
Neutralizing Poverty: Governing Homelessness in San Francisco
Lecture by Chris Herring for Fall 2018 Colloquium The City and its People.
Fall 2018 GUH Colloquium student Edmundo Fitzgerald wrote the following reflection on the November 13th lecture given by Chris Herring, PhD Candidate in Sociology.
Chris Herring’s work looks at how cities attempt to mitigate homelessness. His presentation shared the results of his research as a PHD Candidate at UC Berkeley. He first showed us a brief history of cities incorporating anti-homeless legislation, the legacy of which being that 50% of all cities have at least one anti-homeless ordinance while some have as many as nine. It has been speculated that this is a type of class warfare but Mr. Herring postulates that the inhumane treatment of homeless people reflects the decline of a social democratic welfare state and the rise of the use of a penal state to try to mitigate the problem. Mr. Herring’s presentation is a reflection on his substantial field work, which includes twenty-three ride-alongs with SFPD, eleven community police meetings, eight city hall hearings, more than one hundred police on homeless person observations, and more than one hundred coalition outreaches with homeless people.
I asked Mr. Herring if he felt that there was a mutually beneficial relationship between homeless people and the city institutions that mitigate it-to which he immediately said no. But he mentioned that some literature was published on the “Homeless industrial complex”. When I researched that the first result was a Huffington Post article published in 2016 by Carey Fuller a former homeless advocate in Seattle. In it, she chastised the then mayor for not having adequate services to accommodate homeless people. Another article in the Washington Post by Daniel Stid in 2012 provides a compelling argument toward the existence of the “social services industrial complex”. In it he states, “the dirty little secret of the social sector is that once government money starts flowing, the nonprofits that have advocated for it and/or who are benefitting from it have a vested interest in keeping it going, even as evidence shows weak or no positive effects.”
Seattle is like San Francisco in some demographics. It too has had a tech boom, which means a steady crop of salaried, college educated millennials will continue to arrive to compete for a finite amount of housing. Young, smiling faces with satchels full of cash and career mobility have brought out the worst in San Franciscan landlords, using legal apparatuses such as the Ellis Act to evict tenants and develop their property. The most important difference between San Francisco and Seattle is the climate. While ending up homeless in San Francisco can be uncomfortable, being homeless in Seattle can be deadly. It would be interesting to see if homelessness is regarded more seriously in colder climates, using Mr. Herring’smmings scale of welfare state against therapeutic penal populism. Are cities addressing the homeless problem with outreach, substance abuse treatment, and mental health services? Or are they kicking the can down the block by having law enforcement and public works employees criminalize the homeless by writing citations that they can’t pay or forcefully throwing away their few worldly possessions?
The passing of Proposition C in San Francisco might represent a concept of the Homeless Industrial complex. While San Francisco has been lax in combating Ellis Act evictions, ravenous property developers have flooded the market with luxury lofts; many of which stay vacant. The tech sector cannot be blamed for homelessness, nor should we blame the hordes of educated young people flocking to the Bay Area. The generators of so much revenue are themselves creating a new bureaucracy with the extra 1% tax levied upon them as written in Prop C—all of which to combat a problem that was exacerbated by San Francisco property owners. This large sum of money has to go somewhere, and will most likely be a boon to many city contractors as they build navigation centers, clinics, and public bathrooms. Proposition C is a neoliberal solution to a neoliberal problem.
Of the great amount of revenue for city contractors that San Francisco’s homeless population are about to generate, how much of it will actually benefit them? This will be the important metric moving forward with regards to San Francisco, Seattle, or any city in the world. If two years down road, the homeless population of San Francisco significantly drops, I too could declare that homelessness and the state are not entwined.