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Monthly Archives: 11/2014

Tokyo’s Flow: The Importance of Material in Historical Tokyo

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


November 20, 2014
The Tokyo Model: Lessons in Slum Non-Clearance from the World’s First “Megacity”
Jordan Sand (Japanese History and Culture, Georgetown University)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Professor Sand presented his research on the activities of a Tokyo slumlord at the turn of the 20th century.


by Yael Hadar

No phenomenon can be explained outside of its context. In his lecture, “Lessons in Slum Non- Clearance from the World’s First Megacity,” Professor Jordan Sand talks about the historical context in which Edo became Tokyo, the largest metropolitan area in the world.

Professor Sand addressed in his lecture two things that I found fascinating. One was the idea of fire as a force that shapes the city and its population. The other was the idea of materials and the flow of materials.

The buildings in Edo were destroyed by fire approximately once every 5 to 10 years. The temporality of place made investments in real estate not worthwhile. In this setting, Professor Sand brings the unique story of Osaki Tatsugoro, an illiterate builder who purchased peripheral land at the end of the 19th century and built a neighborhood called Nishimaru-cho that had approximately 300 housing units.

What I found most interesting about Osaki’s story is the lease agreement he had his tenants sign in which the tenants gave away their right to all the human waste they produced at the site so that Osaki could sell it as fertilizer. The lease agreement also states that when a tenant does not follow said agreement, Osaki is allowed to take out all the outside shutters and floor boards from the house to deter the tenant from staying.

This relates directly to a finding Professor Sand presented in the form of an image of what people from Edo took with them in the case of fire--their textiles, floor boards and movable doors.



Image courtesy of Jordan Sand


Both of those examples, Osaki’s lease and the image of what people chose to save from fire, can teach us the importance of movable materials in historical Tokyo. When everything can be destroyed quickly, things need to be moved quickly. This, Professor Sand says, can teach us about the importance of flow. When we come to look at a city like Tokyo we should consider looking at the movement of materials, the movement of “stuff,” rather than try to investigate the space, as it might be that those are still the things that are valued in a place like Tokyo.

Yael Hadar is a graduate student in the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning.


“Invoking” The Spirits of History: Tokyo’s Nishimaru-cho

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


November 20, 2014
The Tokyo Model: Lessons in Slum Non-Clearance from the World’s First “Megacity”
Jordan Sand (Japanese History and Culture, Georgetown University)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Professor Sand presented his research on the activities of a Tokyo slumlord at the turn of the 20th century.


by Jon Pitt

In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau writes, “There is no place that is not haunted by many different spirits hidden there in silence, spirits one can ‘invoke’ or not.” In his recent lecture on the history of the Nishimaru-cho neighborhood of Tokyo, Jordan Sand, Professor of Japanese History and Culture at Georgetown University, reminded us of the importance of history in our reading of cities. Current literature on the “megacity,” Sand argued, is disconnected from the history of cities, and the history of Tokyo offers relevant evidence of “megacity” trends, should one care to “invoke” its spirits.

In offering a detailed history of Nishimaru-cho, Sand presented a narrative of its development from the Meiji Period up until present day. Central to this narrative was the figure of Osaki Tatsugoro, an illiterate builder who purchased the peripheral land at the end of the 19th century, and built a neighborhood that the government would eventually designate as a “slum” in 1932. A historical marker stands in Nishimaru-cho today, but neglects to mention Osaki’s importance in the area’s creation. The neighborhood’s narrow roads, holdovers from Osaki’s planning, bear witness to his presence all the same.



Image courtesy of Jon Pitt


Osaki was able to dictate his life story, and its publication serves as historical evidence of his role in the creation of Nishimaru-cho. In invoking Osaki’s story, through Osaki’s own words, and repositioning his life into the larger history of Nishimaru-cho, Sand reminds us of the important potential history offers in informing our reading of urban space. Many read Tokyo as a “megacity” today, but the history of Nishimaru-cho points to a larger scale in which to read Tokyo as such. Nishimaru-cho is but one small neighborhood in a vast metropolis, and one wonders what similar investigations into other neighborhoods could yield. If indeed, to quote de Certeau once more, “the very definition of a place… is composed by (a) series of displacements and effects among the fragmented strata that form it,” our understanding of cities may require as much digging as reading.

Jon Pitt is a graduate student in the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department at UC Berkeley studying Japanese Literature.


The Subtle Details of Community and City

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.

November 13, 2014
From 1904 Dublin to the Megacity: Public Access in Ulysses and Katarina Schröter’s The Visitor
Catherine Flynn (English)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Flynn’s talk raised the question of urban knowing and related it to the literary and filmic representations of the city and megacity.


by Yasir Hameed

Professor Flynn’s talk last week discussed works by James Joyce (Ulysses) and Katarina Schröter (The Visitor), both of which are accumulative accounts of unexpected detail providing vivid, sometimes surprising imagery of “places.”

They are highly impressionistic pastiches on a journey through the language of the imagination. One could describe them as wonderful, unconventional and occasionally fantastic concoctions of psychological states, physical states, sensory states, transcendence, and more.


Of what did the duumvirate deliberate during their itinerary?

 

Music, literature, Ireland, Dublin, Paris, friendship, woman, prostitution, diet, the influence of gaslight or the light of arc and glowlamps on the growth of adjoining paraheliotropic trees, exposed corporation emergency dustbuckets, the Roman catholic church, ecclesiastical celibacy, the Irish nation, jesuit education, careers, the study of medicine, the past day, the maleficent influence of the presabbath, Stephen's collapse.

 

- James Joyce, Ulysses


Some of the details captured in such prose are normally lost in the visual language of maps, technical drawings and illustrations. They are also invisible in the empirical descriptions and accounts of places. And yet, they seemingly carry a lot of weight in informing the sense of a place. They describe each city (on varying scales) by focusing beyond the dominant characteristics of its geographical situation and tangible built environment, highlighting instead more subtle matters like social practices.


Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.

 

- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities


From my point of view as an architect and planner in training, such a skill is not only essential in windshield and walking surveys to understand specific aspects of a community or city, but also to demonstrate a future vision for the same. Although this form of description would require some development and adaptation, it would provide an insight into the aspirations of the proposed designs, something rarely “felt” in the master plans, policies and manifestos written in a mixture of academese and legalese.

Yasir Hameed is a candidate for the Master of City Planning degree at UC Berkeley.


Opportunities to Create an Inclusive Sense of Place

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


November 6, 2014
The Art of Change: Exploring Neighborhoods in Transition
Sue Mark (marksearch) and Anisha Gade (City and Regional Planning and Architecture)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Mark and Gade discussed their project, Communities’ Crossing, a creative placemaking effort along San Pablo Avenue.


by Yasir Hameed

During Sue Mark and Anisha Gade’s presentation, it was stated that it is not possible for planners to create a sense of a place. True, it is impossible for planners to create a sense of a place from physical plans. However, it is possible to create an opportunity for a sense of a place to arise by mobilizing people and knowledge. Unfortunately, the traditional interventionist view of many planners inhibits their abilities to be catalysts for this type of change.


”In the myth of creation, order arises from chaos.” – John Friedman [1]


This line was used to describe the birth of “modern” systemic planning from the writings of Henri de Saint-Simon. It was an ingenious vision that society, through the means of several diversely-learned individuals (not known as planners until then), would be able to take control of its own destiny. From this I make a huge leap, but only to engage one’s interest and generate commentary.


”The process of creation is still going on, and man too takes his share in it, in as much as he helps to bring order into at least a portion of the chaos. The Quran indicates the possibility of other creators than God.” (Quran, ch. 23. v. 14: ‘Blessed is God, the best of those who create.‛) - Iqbal [2]


The idea of changing a place to be better for everyone, to be inclusive and representative of a positive rationality, should not be restricted to the profession of planning. Greater representation of philosophers, artists, etc. in planning processes would ensure a more positive change in communities.



Image courtesy of Sue Mark


Yasir Hameed is a candidate for the Master of City Planning degree at UC Berkeley.

1. Friedman, John. Two centuries of planning (1987).Page 52

2. Iqbal, Muhommad. Secrets of the self: A philosophical poem (1944)


Exploring Neighborhood Boundaries and Transforming Community

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


November 6, 2014
The Art of Change: Exploring Neighborhoods in Transition
Sue Mark (marksearch) and Anisha Gade (City and Regional Planning and Architecture)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Mark and Gade discussed their project, Communities’ Crossing, a creative placemaking effort along San Pablo Avenue.


by Yuqing Nie

Last week, artist Sue Mark and urban planner/design researcher Anisha Gade gave a talk on their latest creative place-making effort in NOBE (North Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville). They shared their thoughts on how the cultural project can effectively engage local community groups and shape their sense of identity under the context of gentrification.

Their conversation reflected on the relationships between people and the city. Urban planners and social practice designers should take these dynamic relationships especially seriously. Their project preparation starts with simply walking the streets of Oakland in order to find the boundaries of its neighborhoods. Those boundaries are often blurry and the effort of drawing definite boundaries proved to be impossible, in that the flow of the people, landscape and history are not restricted by arbitrary boundaries. But the walking exercise was a crucial part of preparing for the project because it let Sue and Anisha become fully immersed in the city. Only in this way can a person get a true sense of the city and community identity.

Later in the lecture, Sue addressed the importance of setting and format when prompting community engagement. She had originally wanted to start a discussion about Oakland in the public library. However, she later found that a walking discussion in the streets was more appealing than leading a panel discussion in a crowded dark room. So, she moved the discussion outdoors and the event turned out to be a great success with 75 people showing up to engage in a meaningful discussion while actually experiencing the city’s presence.



Image courtesy of Gene Anderson


Although Sue and Anisha’s place-making project is primarily centered on the community, Sue acknowledged that “logic of the place will rule the work rather than the logic of the community.” But they believe that functional relationships between authority (government bodies), organizations and the community are crucial in the construction and success of the project even as they actively probe and prioritize the needs of the community. As a result, their community engagement works heavily towards promoting the wellbeing of the local people. By retrieving the personal stories and history of the community, their place-making project provides a cultural force to unify the local dwellers under the wave of gentrification. By organizing public discussion and thought-provoking activity, their project also serves an important role in transforming the community.

Yuqing Nie is a candidate for the MArch degree at UC Berkeley.


Living Archives: Filling Silences in History

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


November 6, 2014
The Art of Change: Exploring Neighborhoods in Transition
Sue Mark (marksearch) and Anisha Gade (City and Regional Planning and Architecture)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Mark and Gade discussed their project, Communities’ Crossing, a creative placemaking effort along San Pablo Avenue.


by Jaime Gómez

The tons of documents hidden in Archives with a capital “A” around the world and managed by public and private institutions are the foundations of western public history. They support the history taught in schools and shown in museums. They help to shape the idea of who we are: our collective identity. However, they have been selected to be archived for reasons that in many cases are not clear. Even more, they have been interpreted in different ways before they become public. In this process of selection and interpretation, many things are left behind, including “inconvenient silences” that could harm political and economic interests.

Sue Mark’s project, Communities’ Crossing, focuses on the area where Berkeley, Emeryville, and Oakland intersect. One of its objectives is to provide a place for the neighborhood´s living archives (with a lowercase “a”)–the type of information usually excluded from Archives with a capital “A.” Mark imagines a place where people´s memories are accessible to everyone. “Should it be a web page?” she wonders. No, I would say. This is the reason:

In an article called “The Heritage Crusade and Its Contradictions,” [1] UCL Professor David Lowenthal describes our world as a place where the accumulation of heritage (including documents and objects) is part of the excessive attention our western culture gives to material things. Instead, he calls for an emphasis on non-material heritage where “[w]e benefit our successors less by encumbering them with a bundle of canonical artifacts and structures than by handing down memories.” Thinking on Lowenthal´s words, I see a value in the living archives described by Sue Mark in her lecture, which Archives with a capital “A” don´t have: the uniquely direct way in which the information is transmitted. In fact, face-to-face informal communication—how living archives work—allows for the transmission of information in its very raw form. In this way, personal letters, oral accounts, and photo albums are not reduced to merely data through the processes of selection, classification, and socialization which usually take place in Archives with a capital “A.”



Image: Archives shaping man, by Andrzej Dudzinski


My call is for the creation of moments in which people can share their memories instead of places (be they real or virtual), for the preservation of the informal ways to transmit memory, and for the construction of a public history which is truly public and capable of replacing the silences in the history we have been taught with voices we have not heard yet.

Jaime Gómez is a first year PhD student in the Department of Architecture.

1. In Max Page y Randall Mason, eds., Giving preservation a history: histories of historic preservation in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2004).


The Albany Bulb and Ephemeral Layers of Territory

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


October 30, 2014
Nature, Culture, and Conflict at a Shoreline Landfill: The Albany Bulb
Susan Moffat (Global Urban Humanities Initiative)

Moffat presented on The Atlas of the Albany Bulb, her oral history and mapping project about a landfill on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, which has been the location of bitter battles between people holding different notions of the proper uses of public space, and of what a park should be.


by Scott Elder

The Albany Bulb is not on everyone’s mental map. As a Bay Area native, I had never heard of it before enrolling here at UC Berkeley where it has acquired a certain long-standing focus of attention being at the confluence of heated local politics and bay-side ecological, preservation, recreation priorities. Susan Moffat’s lecture on the Bulb begins with the statement: the Bay is young. This is true, though it predates our familiar European settlement patterns by several thousand years, yet those same settlement patterns effectively continue the process of creating the Bay.

The Bulb is made of “fill” which, as we explored, is a generic name for a wide array of potential conditions affecting formerly open water or marsh space. “Fill,” as an idea, can also explode into a tangle of legal intentions too, but the fact beneath all this is that the Bulb is comprised of different elements from disparate places; be they disassembled, scooped, broken, accumulated or dredged, they have formed this small peninsula in an accretionary process. As the Bulb was not here during the Bay’s infancy, nor here even one hundred years ago, and will likely not be here a century into the future due to predicted sea level rise, it can only be understood in section as a temporarily physical story of layers, mostly manmade. It seems acutely ironic, in this case, that the actual human element living upon and adding to these layerings are now being required to leave.

Two questions/comments posed by listeners at the end of the lecture stuck with me. To paraphrase:

  1. The Bulb and its former residents/occupants should not be thought of as obligated to create a place that is comfortable for absolutely everyone.
  2. The former residents/occupants slowly overtook the available space and paths on the Bulb; therefore, regulating the shared qualities of the place became a problem.

These two opposing stances illustrate the root of the schism leading to increased levels of control at the Bulb, and ultimately the conversion to official park space, purportedly the most democratic, all-serving possibility. But I would challenge that the traditional idea of democratic park (design and management) might be able to take on a different strategy if it refocused on this idea of ephemerality embodied in the land of the Bulb itself.



In Rubble: the Afterlife of Destruction, Gastón R. Gordillo examines a wide array of pileups from past forces of capital acting upon the Chaca region of Argentina. While taking care to decouple the idea of “rubble” from the cleansed idea of “ruin,” Gordillo illuminates a continuum of accumulation from crumbling churches to abandoned infrastructure to buried bones of past massacres to memories of native lifeways built into the identities of the Gaucho culture of the territory. It seems that if this sort of wide-angled view were taken of the Bulb, accepting of its multi-layered temporality, and this view could then expand the concept of “park,” then the comments above might cease to be opposing. The idea of “fill” could then become more culturally accurate, and the idea of “park” could be young once again, like the Bay itself, before folding in as yet another layer of this transitory and charged place.

Scott Elder is a PhD candidate in the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning.


Bay Area Landscapes and the Conflict Over Open Space

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


October 30, 2014
Nature, Culture, and Conflict at a Shoreline Landfill: The Albany Bulb
Susan Moffat (Global Urban Humanities Initiative)

Moffat presented on The Atlas of the Albany Bulb, her oral history and mapping project about a landfill on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, which has been the location of bitter battles between people holding different notions of the proper uses of public space, and of what a park should be.


by Alana MacWhorter

Susan Moffat, project director of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative at UC Berkeley, presented an overview of the politics and history of Albany Bulb this past week through her work, The Atlas of the Albany Bulb-- an oral history and mapping project of the Bulb and the community formed on the repurposed Bay fill landscape.


Source: Susan Moffat


The complex rhetoric framing the site’s interweaving cultural and natural landscapes sheds light on the deeply emotional conflict over open space management and the displacement of the Bulb’s temporary residents. In order to thoughtfully delve into the politics of the contested Albany Bulb, we must reflect on the impact of overarching competing Bay Area narratives by environmentalists, social justice activists and bohemians. All of these are juxtaposed to expose a lack of intersecting discourses addressing these landscape typologies embedded with conceptions of divergent cultural and ecological meaning. Therefore, our contemporary activists are without the necessary toolkits to address both the aesthetics of and access to “wilderness” within the region, as well as the politics of representation in such landscapes.

This spurs self-critique--are we a progressive region accepting of hybrid landscapes of “wilderness” and diverse groups of people, or are we only comfortable within our own homogeneous niches? Must we feel comfortable in every context and with all groups of people and types of environments? If that’s not necessary, must we still continue to intensify the stark binaries of such environments, or can we acknowledge and respect the proclaimed multicultural, ecologically diverse landscapes that comprise the Bay Area?

Alana MacWhorter is a graduate student at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design working toward a joint degree in Landscape Architecture and Urban Design.