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Art+Village+City: On Video as a Method and What Constitutes a “Site”

Posted on by Genise Choy

Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta is one of two interdisciplinary courses being sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative in Spring 2015. Students in this research studio are utilizing a variety of research methods from interviews to video documentation to explore the ongoing evolution of relationships between urban and rural spaces and people, and the emerging role of the arts in China’s Pearl River Delta.

The research studio paired up in teams and produced 7 short videos depicting a “Chinese” site. These sites were the Pacific East Mall in El Cerrito, Oakland’s Chinatown, San Francisco’s Chinatown, and two dollar-stores in the Mission and West Oakland. The films produced were markedly different in style, pace, content, and scope, prompting the class to reflect upon the elasticity of a site’s users, boundaries, activities, objects, everyday life, and emotional qualities.
— Winnie Wong

“During our editing process we felt like we did not have enough to work with yet, at the same time, this made the process relatively quick. Others talked about the difficulties they faced with too much film and the decisions they had to make cutting things out. For me the question remains whether a short film is more powerful in its ability to catch the attention of the viewer or if the long film is better in its ability to capture more. However, this also raises the question – do you necessarily need length to capture everything that you want to depict and to give an initial sense of what a place is like?”
— Katie Bruhn (Southeast Asian Studies)

“The most difficult aspect to this video project was not the process of making the video but the actual selection of a “Chinese place.” Although Brittany and I decided on the Asian Library in Oakland, what we ultimately captured was a much larger space than the singular place we selected; this included the festival outside of the library as well as some of the content filmed within the library itself. The American slang book that we picked up is one example of how a singular artifact has the potential to reveal histories, stereotypes, and cultures that occupy a much larger space than the Chinese aisle in the Oakland Asian Library.”
— Trude Renwick (Architecture)

“Video as a means of documentation, collection, communication and representation is really powerful. You can only capture so much and what you capture is subject to circumstance, but the format of the project is something that people are familiar with and can easily consume, even if the content of the video is difficult to decipher….It can also be highly manipulated to achieve certain effects. Like photography, even though it captures real images (not likenesses or interpretations like drawing, painting, etc.), the hand of the artist/producer can still be felt. I think that was made clear from the differences we saw in the Xiuxian/Story and Valentina/Ettore videos, which were filmed in the same place at the same time but felt so different and as a result had completely different effects on the viewer.”
— Genise Choy (City Planning)

“I wanted the film to reflect our impressions of walking through this so-called Chinese space without any overt purpose - though I think it is evident that we were searching for one. Belatedly, we realized that we had stumbled upon a character in the tunnel, a woman pulling a rollie suitcase in a “Where’s Waldo” sweater, but we lost track of her due to our red herring, the BART excavation. We were also unclear about our intent in documenting this space. How does one document a site, both with or without asserting one’s own narrative?…This opens up a range of approaches to “documenting” a site - do you treat the (possibly boring, banal) place as the object of your film, or do you use it as a setting to foreground an action, event or narrative which you either find or create? I suppose in a way, in our film, our own searching eye, through the vehicle of the camera, became the event of the film.”
— Susan Eberhard (Art History)

“I decided to document an 'all American' dollar store. Most of the low-consumer objects in this store were made in factories in the Pearl River Delta. It’s fascinating to note that both the producers of these objects and their consumers are usually struggling in the socio-economic apparatus. There’s a global market that profits from these transactions….Looking through the material and editing was the hard part. The research and image recording reads superficially and feels like the potential introduction for a larger/denser narrative….There’s a lot of material to sculpt from these sites. I’m immensely interested in the metaphor of the artificial flowers as a skeleton to expand upon the tension between the object/ its producer/site of production and its consumer…”
— Jose Figueroa (Art Practice)

What were we looking for? did not get asked or answered at any point in the process of shooting, editing or critiquing the work. Had the question been posed, what might have gone differently? Would we have “found” more or less? What would more or less look like in this process?”
— Annie Malcolm (Anthropology)

“Honestly, the Oakland Chinatown leaves me with a better impression than the Pacific East Mall, probably because it is more dynamic, more vibrant. In contrast, the Pacific East Mall gives me a feeling of stagnancy and dullness. I told Story that I think of the Pacific East Mall like a museum, storing the old-dated material, sentiment, and lifestyle of the 1980s. I kept thinking about the different spatial forms of these two sites, open and enclosed. Does spatial quality have emotions?”
— Xiuxian Zhan (Landscape Architecture)

“Having just struggled with editing and giving our raw footage some semblance of an order or meaning, I was hyper aware of all the wonderful things other people thought of to do (or did intuitively) with their films. Playing with splitting the screen to juxtapose or compare objects or experiences was very effective and visually interesting. I also liked the feeling that walking a loop gave, with familiar landmarks giving a spatial sense that is otherwise hard to capture in an edited film. A loop can be imbued with a ritualistic quality by making a connection to some theme or historical reference. In general, playing with references and questioning the underlying meaning of the everyday seems to have much potential. Lingering on objects, and especially architectural spaces and details, forces people to see things that they might otherwise miss. Similarly, footage of “back of house” activities has much to offer the audience, as it exposes a world otherwise not seen. Editing can be used to give the audience a sense (through pacing or music) that represents an idea of how a place is or should be.”
— Story Wiggins (Landscape Architecture)

“We had the advantage of being able to compare our video with Xiuxian’s and Story’s work who filmed the same space. It was striking how filmed under the same circumstances and even with similar scenes, both videos had very different takes on the space they were portraying. While our video had an emphasis on the empty spaces we perceived, compared to the density we were expecting, Xiuxian’s and Story’s video had a much more social narrative that was constructed upon the interviews Xiuxian was able to perform in Cantonese. These interviews opened up the space of the Mall, and it seemed a much more lived space than in our approach.”
— Valentina Rozas-Krause (Architecture)


Art+Village+City: Video Presentations

Posted on by Genise Choy

Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta is one of two interdisciplinary courses being sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative in Spring 2015. Students in this research studio are utilizing a variety of research methods from interviews to video documentation to explore the ongoing evolution of relationships between urban and rural spaces and people, and the emerging role of the arts in China’s Pearl River Delta.

Students paired up to create videos of places related to China and the Chinese diaspora throughout the Bay Area. Here is José Figueroa's watercolor documentation of the in-class presentations!

We'll be posting one of the videos soon, just in time for the New Year!


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.


Redirecting the Relationship Between Tech and Innovation

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 16, 2014
Creative Class Civil Wars: Displacement and the Arts in the Bay Area
Shannon Steen (Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Steen presented research from her project “Creative Class Civil Wars,” which explores the ways our concepts of creativity are shifting to exclude those in the arts.


by Robyn Perry

"The notion that diversity in an early team is important or good is completely wrong. You should try to make the early team as non-diverse as possible.”
– Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal

“I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter.”
– Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook

Shannon Steen’s recent talk, Creative Class Civil Wars: Displacement and the Arts in the Bay Area, situated the broad question of how US cities are changing economically in a discussion that touched upon my own studies of technology and culture at the School of Information. Steen used Richard Florida’s notion of the “rising creative class” as the focal point of an examination of the state of art and artists, and the shrinking support of the infrastructure that sustains their work and enlivens our American cities.

Florida propounds the rising creative class as the solution to struggling cities, perhaps the most recent in a line of silver bullet strategies for urban renewal, as a commenter aptly pointed out in the discussion following Steen’s talk. Though the “creative class” sounds like artists of all stripes, Florida’s analysis leans away from the (struggling) thespian, painter, poet or muralist, and towards the oft-lauded tech worker. Many cities have created favorable conditions to usher in this tech worker, his company, and his future startup. Some of the I School curriculum is designed to funnel more workers, albeit thoughtful and informed ones, directly into Florida's creative class. In effect, Florida drops the actual artist from said creative class. What he offers instead is an ode to the tech workers, the “productive” creative class that brings innovation, “disruption,” and infallible youth.

Particularly interesting was Steen’s guidance through the history of creativity as a notion in Western culture, and its move from the exclusive domain of God to that of the Renaissance artist, the elitism of artist as distinct from artisan in the 19th Century, to the scientific study and intentional propagation of creativity in children in the modern era, which saw the beginning of the removal of the artist from her authoritative position on creativity. Steen’s talk brought into relief the fact that the current notion of creativity, like many other commodities in US culture, is something we think we can manufacture on demand, and something that we can grow, as if in a Petri dish, if only we arrange the right conditions for it. Many use the existence and bustling churn of Silicon Valley to evidence the fact that indeed, creativity is being pumped out by the hundreds of startups and apps and interfaces.


From an April Fool’s Day action by activist group Heart of the City and artist/interventionist Leslie Dreyer of Google bus action fame. Activists blocked buses and announced that a new service, GMuni, would be offering free transit for all.


However, this is all taking place at the risk of the heart and soul of our cities, and artists themselves. As “old-fashioned” creatives like playwrights, poets, writers, potters, sculptors, and their ilk are forced to resort to Indiegogo and other crowd-sourced funding strategies for one-off projects, their ability to thrive and produce art in the city withers. Meanwhile, the tech companies that are operating in the physical world are raising skepticism that this kind of “innovation” is at all good for San Francisco. On the contrary, it has spawned (some) companies that are capitalizing on public goods, sometimes with unabashed greed and opportunism. After Steen’s talk, I wondered how the burgeoning tech worker community might put some of their high incomes towards strengthening the arts in our cities. Although I’m skeptical that the problem would be solved by the very forces that have caused it, it would be interesting to challenge the Valley to produce a startup that makes the crowd-sourced funding of arts infrastructure extremely easy, fun, and hip.

Steen’s talk drove home the fact that there’s a direct interplay between the elements that make San Francisco and its surrounding cities the place to be, and those that forewarn its decline. Those of us at the I School have the responsibility to double-down on our efforts to be thoughtful and discerning in our contributions to innovative technologies, and tread lightly in a city that was made cool long before we came on the scene. Given a recent article by Carlos Bueno in Quartz from which the quotes at the top of this post were drawn, the tech worker culture of Silicon Valley has tended towards insularity and in-crowd behaviors. I can’t think of a better antidote to such insular clique-ishness than a thriving and protected arts culture in the Bay Area.

Robyn Perry is a candidate for the Master of Information and Management Systems degree at the UC Berkeley School of Information.


From Bricks to Bus Stops: Protesting San Francisco’s Second Tech Boom

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 16, 2014
Creative Class Civil Wars: Displacement and the Arts in the Bay Area
Shannon Steen (Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Steen presented research from her project “Creative Class Civil Wars,” which explores the ways our concepts of creativity are shifting to exclude those in the arts.


by Will Payne

Shannon Steen’s presentation about the shifting role the term “creative” has had over the years provided a fascinating glimpse at the power of words to define and redefine populations, and their respective perceived value to the city and its rulers. Specifically, she carefully demonstrated how Richard Florida’s famous invocation of the “creative class” of liberated and affluent workers in his eponymous 1991 book has been used carelessly by planners, politicians, and journalists to describe a multitude of people, often highly fragmented by more traditional class and identity categories. Specifically, the difference in lifestyle and worldview between a poet and a programmer can be a much bigger wedge than the common educational background the two may share, or the fact that both rely on crafting “new forms” (a fairly durable definition of creativity) on relatively flexible work schedules to support themselves.

Recently, the most vivid skirmish in the creative civil war has been related to an astronomical rise in the cost of living in the Bay Area, particularly in San Francisco, along with the fastest rise in income inequality in the country. One question comes to mind as I read about the latest unbelievable price statistics, or the rise of Ellis Act evictions, or the people struggling to get by on fixed incomes: haven’t we been here before? Some of the stories could have been copied and pasted from 1998, swapping Pets.com and Webvan for Uber and Airbnb. Not having lived through the first boom, one of the most striking differences I’ve seen through accounts of the earlier boom and bust is the earlier focus on radical action against property, exemplified by the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project of the late 1990s. See the posters below for an example of the kind of tactics they advocated, and their extremely specific target businesses (3/4 of the businesses are still around, although Circadia is just a regular Starbucks now, around the corner from KQED’s main office).


Posters from the 1990s Mission Yuppie Eradication Project


Image credit: FoundSF


While the group seems to have been a fairly small, violent segment of a broader movement criticizing Web 1.0 excess in a city full of exclusive parties and double-parked SUVs, I haven't seen anything this radical emerge in reaction to today’s crisis. Maybe the fleet of private buses ferrying commuters down to Silicon Valley is too massive a target, too perfect a metaphor for today's two-tiered economy, creating a handful of gold-plated jobs and a sea of intermittent gigs. Perhaps the most vocal critics of the yuppiefication of San Francisco made their way to greener pastures during the first boom, and what we’re left with is only a shadow of the activist Left who used to call the city home. Maybe the Bay Area’s much-vaunted food culture has been internalized to the point where rock star chefs feel more like creative class allies than mere gentrifiers. Maybe the impact of a decade and a half of slow-boil warfare and economic anxiety has limited the capacity of radical activists and allies to strike out too strongly at today's Crockers and Huntingtons, or the symbols of their wealth and status littering the city. Or maybe the creatives today on both sides of the civil war are just content to wage their battles with words, symbols, and social choreography (sometimes literally, in the case of some of the Google Bus protests), instead of the blunter instruments of bygone days.

Disclaimer: This post is a speculation on the history of anti-gentrification activism in San Francisco, not an endorsement of any particular method of protest, especially violent ones. If you feel the need for physical protest against urban space, may I suggest yarn? If you’re fighting eviction or want to help people who are, considering joining and supporting the San Francisco Tenants Union.

Will Payne is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Geography at UC Berkeley.


Black Cloud: A Case Study on Data and Empowerment

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.


September 25, 2014
Sensing San Leandro: Capturing Cityscapes Through Sensors
Greg Niemeyer (Art Practice) and Ron Rael (Architecture and Art Practice)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Niemeyer and Rael discussed how using sensors to collect data allow “reality-based” decisions about places to be made, using projects that they and their students have undertaken in San Leandro as examples.


by Will Payne

Professors Niemeyer and Rael are engaged in a project in collaboration with the City of San Leandro that aims to bring low-cost sensors into the urban setting, collecting data about city life and making it publicly accessible. As a participant in this class myself, I have been able to grapple with many of the issues this project raises around surveillance, monitoring, data collection, and urban citizenship. Niemeyer and Rael are pushing for an approach to data collection and interpretation that involves the community, is open and transparent, and creates the possibility for real change.

One thing that Professor Niemeyer didn’t mention in his talk that in a way served as a key prototype for the San Leandro project is his “Black Cloud Citizen Science League” project in Los Angeles in 2008 (see graphic below).


Photo credit: The Vigorous North


In this project, students in South Central LA were given mysterious devices that they carried around their neighborhoods and reacted with lights, only later figuring out what they were measuring: volatile organic compound (VOC) pollutants in the air. In a surprising twist (reported on by Planetizen in greater depth), the most polluted places the students found were their own classrooms, because of the harsh chemicals the cleaning staff used to remove marker graffiti, and the lack of suitable ventilation in the rooms, some of which lacked windows at all.

The outcome of the Black Cloud project was a greater environmental awareness on the part of the students, and demands for better ventilation of classrooms, which the LA Unified School District has addressed. Not every story will have such a fairy-tale ending, but this demonstration of possibility and empowerment in data is what drives the San Leandro project to come up with new ways to collect, represent, and mobilize urban data. Whatever comes of this new experiment, the project is a valuable case study of the kind of work that can be done at the intersection of technology, design, and civic engagement, and the challenges that face such collaboration.

Will Payne is a graduate student in the Geography Department at UC Berkeley.