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Category Archives: Reimagining the Urban

Louise Pubols: Layered Landscapes

Posted on by Alex Craghead
Filed under: Reimagining the Urban,

Reimagining the Urban participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Louise Pubols, Senior Curator of History at the Oakland Museum of California. It was originally posted in the Arts Research Center of UC Berkeley blog ARC Muses.

How will the baylands be used?  And who will use them?

These two questions lie at the heart of the environmental history of the San Francisco Bay, and current debates over its uncertain future.  A richly productive estuary, San Francisco is also densely urban. Its landscape is the joint creation of people and nature, locked in a relationship neither can escape from. And if you were to pick one spot around the bay’s shoreline to illustrate just how contentious this relationship has been over time, you’d be hard pressed to find a more richly layered one than the wet and squishy ground underneath this wooden dragon.

This bit of renegade art once stood among many such pieces in a marshy crescent called the Emeryville Mudflats, where Temescal Creek empties into the bay.  Long before weary travelers sighted it on their approach to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, long before the first Europeans finally found the opening to the bay, Ohlone people managed and shaped this landscape.  They harvested and ate from the natural world, feasting on shellfish and waterfowl, making tules into watercraft and homes, and crafting shell regalia and reed baskets for ceremony and trade.  One of their major villages was found just inland, and dominating the shoreline by the creek were a complex of shellmounds.  The largest of these stood 300 feet long and 60 feet high at its peak, both a place where the remains of meals were deposited, and a burial site of the village’s ancestors.  When Spaniards first arrived, the village and burial mounds had been abandoned, and, not knowing this was a cultural feature, they called it “Temescal Hill.”

In the 1870s, Americans used the land for a private park, complete with shooting range, racetrack, beer gardens, picnic grounds, and a dance hall built on the leveled top of the mound.  At the same time, and into the twentieth century, citizens of Emeryville used the flow of the creek and the bay’s tides to advantage, building a series of slaughterhouses along the shoreline here, dumping sewage, and later siting factories making iron, paints, and pesticides. Railways and freeways separated residents from access to the shoreline. In the 1920s, the mound itself was razed to create more room for industry. These new uses edged out eating and harvesting as the primary human use of the tidal margin.

But in the latter half of the 20th century, a new awareness of the environment came slowly to the fore.  In the 1950s, the East Bay Municipal Utility District built a sewage treatment plant just south of the crescent, mitigating the classic stench the area had become infamous for. But the land, still ringed by industry and freeways, was still a bit more “backyard” than “front yard”—a private, unregulated place for working, dumping, and burying unwanted junk. Into this sort-of private, sort-of no-man’s land, artists and art students from the local area snuck in the 1960s and 1970s, erecting sculptures from driftwood timbers and junkpile boards, painting and embellishing with flattened beer cans and bits of metal.

Inspired by the environmental movement, the state began to turn attention to the mudflats and marshlands in the 1980s, and asserted that the art was damaging the ecosystem and wildlife of the crescent.  Caltrans officials started removing the sculptures, and the East Bay Regional Park District acquired the property and begin to clean up the industrial contamination. At the same time, the city of Emeryville began to replace the heavy industries with retail, housing, and hotels.

This bit of tideland is now part of the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, stretching from the Bay Bridge to Richmond, and recently named in honor of Save the Bay co-founder Sylvia McLaughlin. Every day, people walk, bicycle, and birdwatch here.  But you will not find anyone fishing, digging clams, buring the dead, slaughtering cattle, shooting target practice, dumping sewage, cleaning paint vats, or making art. People pass through, they admire the view, but they do not stay.

Historian Matthew Booker has recently observed,

“Of all the remarkable changes in San Francisco Bay’s shoreline over the past two hundred years, none is more dramatic than its abandonment as a place of work….Ecologists and environmentalists who want to restore the bay—people genuinely concerned for the heritage of future generations—should remember that among the greatest losses in the past century has been human knowledge of the tidal edge, knowledge gained through working in those places.  … That fading sense of connection is a radical change, even more radical than the past century and a half of chemical poisoning, filling, draining, and diverting rivers. The greatest danger for the human relationship to San Francisco Bay is to ignore it. Removing people and their work from the tidal margin would be a terrible loss.” (Down by the Bay, p.189)

The Dragon is gone. Who is the shoreline for now? How will it be used? Who gets to decide?


Shannon Jackson: Public

Posted on by Alex Craghead
Filed under: Reimagining the Urban,

Reimagining the Urban participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Shannon Jackson, Director of the Arts Research Center.  It was originally posted in the Arts Research Center of UC Berkeley blog ARC Muses. In cross-disciplinary gatherings at ARC, we have found it worth going over territory that we all think we know, to review the staples, the bread and butter of our fields, in order to expose blindspots and to jostle ourselves into new perspectives on the heretofore obvious. But should I really…


Teresa Caldeira: Street Art

Posted on by Alex Craghead
Filed under: Reimagining the Urban,

Reimagining the Urban participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Teresa Caldeira, Professor of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley.  It was originally posted in the Arts Research Center of UC Berkeley blog ARC Muses. “Street art” is the umbrella expression to refer to several forms of intervention that use the streets as their domain.  It covers not only visual productions such as graffiti and tagging, but also performances like skateboarding, parkour, and break dance.  The literature on street art is…


Margaret Crawford: Everyday Urbanism

Posted on by Alex Craghead
Filed under: Reimagining the Urban,

Reimagining the Urban participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Margaret Crawford, Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley.  It was originally posted in the Arts Research Center of UC Berkeley blog ARC Muses. In the early 1990s, I started working with scholars, urban designers, photographers, and writers on a project exploring everyday urban life in Los Angeles.  In 1999, we published Everyday Urbanism as a guide to investigating the “as-found” character of the city. We identified everyday urban space as a rich…


Linda Haverty Rugg: Environmental Humanities

Posted on by Alex Craghead
Filed under: Reimagining the Urban,

Reimagining the Urban participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Linda Haverty Rugg, Chair of the Scandinavian Department at UC Berkeley. It was originally posted in the Arts Research Center of UC Berkeley blog ARC Muses. (Cribbed from the co-authored Background Report, The Emergence of the Environmental Humanities, Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research/MISTRA, Stockholm, 2013, co-authors David Nye (Chair), Robert Emmett, James Fleming, and Linda Haverty Rugg) During the last decade a new field has emerged that increasingly is referred to as the…


Ava Roy: Temporality

Posted on by Alex Craghead
Filed under: Reimagining the Urban,

Reimagining the Urban participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Ava Roy, Founding Artistic Director of We Players. It was originally posted in the Arts Research Center of UC Berkeley blog ARC Muses. In my experience, one of the most unique and profound joys of working site-specifically is developing an intimate relationship with the elemental forces of the environment. While striving to build a coherent world and intricate structure (and to clearly tell the story of the play), within the sweeping scale of…


Rebecca Novick: Site-specific

Posted on by Alex Craghead
Filed under: Reimagining the Urban,

Reimagining the Urban participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Rebecca Novick, Director of the Triangle Lab.  It was originally posted in the Arts Research Center of UC Berkeley blog ARC Muses. That’s Not My BART Stop: One of the Triangle Lab projects we’re producing right now is called Love Balm for My Spirit Child.  It’s a series of performances sharing testimony from mothers who have lost children to violence.  We’re calling this series “site-specific” because they’re performed on the spots where each…


Irene Chien: Urban for Black

Posted on by Alex Craghead
Filed under: Reimagining the Urban,

Reimagining the Urban participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Irene Chien, PhD candidate in the Department of Film & Media and the Berkeley Center for New Media at UC Berkeley. It was originally posted in the Arts Research Center of UC Berkeley blog ARC Muses. In mainstream US media, “urban” is a pervasive euphemism for black, a way to register but not directly point at African-American culture within the post-racial political paradigm of colorblindness. “Urban music,” “urban fiction,” “urban comedy,” and “urban…


Susan Moffat: Restoration

Posted on by Alex Craghead
Filed under: Reimagining the Urban,

Reimagining the Urban participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Susan Moffat, Project Director for the Global Urban Humanities Initiative.  It was originally posted in the Arts Research Center of UC Berkeley blog ARC Muses. In the Bay Area and beyond, ambitious creek and wetland restoration projects aim to return landscapes to an earlier, more “natural” condition. The scientists designing the projects know that it is impossible to restore a landscape to a pre-human condition when the entire watershed has…


Susan Schweik: Editing the City

Posted on by Alex Craghead
Filed under: Reimagining the Urban,

Reimagining the Urban participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Susan Schweik, Professor of English and Associate Dean of Arts and Humanities at UC Berkeley. It was originally posted in the Arts Research Center of UC Berkeley blog ARC Muses. Recently New York City’s official adoption of a new disability accessibility icon has gotten a lot of press: a dynamic figure in a wheelchair zooming through blue space, in sharp contrast to the familiar poky, static handicapped parking-lot sign. (See, for instance, http://boingboing.net/2013/05/25/new-york-city-adopts-new-inter.html.)…