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Rue Mapp on Outdoor Afro and the Nature of Race

Posted on by Crister Brady
Filed under: Oakland

The stereotypical American explorer of wilderness is usually portrayed as a white male. The word “urban” is often a code word for “black.” Oakland native Rue Mapp stands stereotypes on their head. She grew up with a deep appreciation of nature developed over summers at her grandparents’ ranch in rural Lake County. She has become nationally recognized for her leadership in encouraging fellow African Americans to get outdoors. On September 13th, she came to speak to the course Cities and Bodies, taught by Global Urban Humanities Project Director Susan Moffat.

Crister Brady, a student in the class who is pursuing both and MD and a master’s degree in Public Health, describes the two-hour session:

Rue Mapp is founder of the Oakland-based national organization Outdoor Afro, “a network that celebrates and inspires African American connections and leadership in nature.” Mapp’s talk on “Black Bodies in Nature and Wilderness” illuminated our class readings and the week’s theme: “the Nature of Race.”

Rue Mapp rock climbs outside, smiling

 

Our readings addressed American conceptions of race, wilderness, and the freedom to move through public and natural space. We took a look at the Jim Crow-era Negro Motorist Green Book, which served as a guide to lodging and restaurants with practical and safe resources that  “assured protection for the Negro traveler.” Gillian White’s Atlantic article noted the “defensive and proactive mechanism” of the Green Book. We also read an interview with the renowned author James Baldwin that connected directly to Mapp’s work: “What one has to do as a black American is to take white history as written by whites and claim it all…”  

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in an essay written to his son from the book Between the World and Me, identified racism as a visceral experience for black bodies in contrast to “the dream” lived by much of white America, which enjoys access to safe public spaces under a veil of “American innocence” that accepts racism as “beyond the handiwork of men.” Similarly, William Cronon in Uncommon Ground explores the concept of an uninhabited wilderness as a human invention set aside initially for the wealthiest (white male) citizens as a form of “cultural imperialism.”

Mapp shared stories and photos from her youth in the outdoors, her high school days in Oakland, and her experience as a re-entry student juggling parenthood with the pursuit of a degree in art history at UC Berkeley. After graduation, she grew Outdoor Afro from modest beginnings as a blog into a national organization.

Rue Mapp speaks to the class, sitting around the table

 

Two aspects of Mapp’s story that affected me most as a medical and public health student were her focus on the healing communities through the power of being in nature as a group and her focus on families and caregivers. Given the recently documented and ongoing police violence towards black communities, Mapp and Outdoor Afro have organized “healing hikes” as a way to respond and return to the healing power of nature that has brought black communities together in the US for centuries.  

In a blog post after the first healing hike in 2014 following the death of Eric Garner during the course of his arrest in New York, Mapp wrote, “We recall how Harriet Tubman led our people with and through nature to help us find freedom. The March on Washington brought together thousands of all hues in a national park to demand civil rights.” I was struck both by the creativity of this approach towards violence, but also by the power of calling upon a community’s own history for strength. By stepping outside of the cities that hold violent memories and confrontations for many people of color, healing was able to occur.

Mapp pointed out that Outdoor Afro does not focus its programs only on young people of color, but specifically on families and caregivers as those who will have the most impact on consistently empowering others to be able to enjoy nature and find their place in it. This comprehensive approach seems to be unique in a non-profit environment that involves competing for funding that specifically targets certain slices of communities.

Finally, one of Mapp’s fans in the audience, author and publisher Malcolm Margolin, said that he feels Mapp embodies the concept of deep hanging out, because of how inclusive she is in her work with Outdoor Afro and the joy she brings with her. I felt that this defined Mapp’s story well.

In terms of my own medical and public health studies with people experiencing homelessness, Mapp’s approach to community engagement and empowerment reminded me of the importance of joy and shared experience. Just as Mapp has identified, I’ve seen that issues of representation in nature and other health-promoting environments are deeply intertwined with community health.  

I’m reminded of the interactions between people experiencing homeless along the river in Sacramento and the lycra-clad road bikers and runners on the river trails. The nature trails are viewed as paths towards home and refuge by some, and by others as public space to be enjoyed and admired for its lack of a human footprint. Could the interaction between these two groups form a common ground for health advocacy or are they too incompatible with the dominant views of nature to allow for inhabited public space?


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)


Happy New Year from Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta!

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Art+Village+City, Film, Oakland

Filmed and edited by Katie Bruhn and Annie Malcolm


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).


Road-Testing Psychogeography on Oakland’s International Boulevard

Posted on by Susan Moffat

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.  On September 4, 2014, Darin Jensen invited listeners to consider the narrative and spatial aspects of two experiential mapping projects he created with his students: Mission Possible: A Neighborhood Atlas about San Francisco's Mission District, and Intranational International Boulevard about Oakland. Jensen is staff cartographer and lecturer in the UC Berkeley Department of Geography.

His presentation is available here.
Video of the first portion of his presentation is available here.

By Scott Elder

While not explicitly framed as such, it’s great to see the possibilities of Psychogeography dusted off and road-tested in the Bay Area. Under the leadership of Darin Jensen, UC Berkeley’s Cartography and GIS Education Lab (CAGE) digs in to explore the complex intersections of the physical and observational worlds.  The resulting collection of mappings shows spontaneity and graphic savvy, but looking into the territories chosen for exploration provides us more questions than answers.



One project, already complete, zeros in on San Francisco’s complex Mission District CAGE Lab teams up with Mission Local, a district-based news site, to create a 22-map “Atlas” and illuminating a variety of slightly absurd but suggestive juxtapositions.  Each map tells a story through cartographic creativity, rather than text.  Mapped gourmet coffee prices vs. depleting Latino neighborhoods, cupcake bakeries vs. reported gang activities, households with children vs. house-pet infrastructure (shops, kennels, parks)…these all provide suggestions of the frictions at work in the district, and often by comparing retail trends to demographics.  An upcoming CAGE Lab project will focus similar scrutiny on a linear territory, Oakland’s International Boulevard, in advance of sweeping changes about to emerge from the planning pipeline.  In both SF and Oakland projects, the underlying “story” often flirts with themes of gentrification.  It’s important to note, though, that these map-based examinations are being requested and performed as gentrification-related dynamics swell, not plateau or recede.  This raises the question of whether the creation and distribution of these map/stories constitutes just an observation, or whether they in fact abate or propagate the territorial shiftings identified.

A question from the audience suggested that the factors chosen for mapping on International Boulevard seemed to lean towards the “institutional," rather than perhaps looking at more mobile and elusive district factors such as prostitution.  This insinuates that such mapping might have a bias toward the more fixed and permanent components of life.  The subtle possibilities of what this bias might catalyze, however subtly, is worth considering and, given the exploratory nature of CAGE Lab, fully open to question.

Another question from the audience raised the topic of mapping data derived from charge card usage or cell phone use/location.  This rich and emerging source might of course yield new avenues of cartographic creativity, especially relevant here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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


Maps as Stories: Manufacturing 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.  On September 4, 2014, Darin Jensen invited listeners to consider the narrative and spatial aspects of two experiential mapping projects he created with his students: Mission Possible: A Neighborhood Atlas about San Francisco's Mission District, and Intranational International Boulevard about Oakland. Jensen is staff cartographer and lecturer in the UC Berkeley Department of Geography.

His presentation is available here.
Video of the first portion of his presentation is available here.

By Yael Hadar

Maps have always fascinated me, and as a graduate student in the department of Landscape Architecture I find myself looking at maps all the time as a source of information. My perception of maps was that they are an objective tool that gives us accurate information. Sitting in Darin Jensen’s lecture inspired me to look at maps in a different way – as storytelling devices. Just the fact that most maps orient to the north is a conception that says something about the story a map is trying to convey.



Darin refers to maps as storytelling devices where the cartographer brings in his own emotion and personal experience. Maps convey a complicated story in a certain moment in time, and the reader of the map can enter that story wherever he chooses. So in that perspective, each person creates a different story from the map, depending on the things he noticed first and the things he put an emphasis on.

The project of Mission Possible that Darin and his students did, where they mapped different things in the Mission District in San Francisco, was very inspiring. The ideas that they had about what and how to map in order to tell a story of a neighborhood got me thinking about the information which surrounds us all the time--information that when put on a map can really manufacture the story of a place.

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