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.