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Fruitvale Station

When I took public transit to a legal clinic near Fruitvale Station in hopes for help to contest an eviction notice my family and I had received this past January, I felt a growing sense of entering a new social topography that I didn’t often see–and not only because it was the first time I had experienced eviction or anticipated a legal confrontation with my landlord.  The oppositional landscape of the gentrifying city was immediate, but was most vividly concretized by seeing the altered transit map in the car I took to a legal aid office–where the name for the station I was headed was covered by a decal (in a glorious act of cartographic resistance) that renamed the station after Oscar Grant, who had been shot on its platform after taking part in New Years Eve celebration in 2009, by a white BART officer.  

The decal placed on the urban transit map  in the header to this post served to reorient the viewer to an urban landscape that had been changed by cycles of gentrification, many of which had propelled so many residents to the urban periphery in Oakland. Indeed, the city has created a new sense of the suburbanization of many neighborhoods erasing the presence of former inhabitants, it seems to engage the social geography of the city, and the guerilla-style renaming of the station served as more than a marker and a reminder of a past that resisted urban exclusion, or resisted the dynamics of urban change in a city where I suddenly noticed my own precareity on the way to my appointment with legal aid.

There was some comfort in the decal affixed to the wall of the car. It created a chasm in the landscape in that BART car, in some way echoing the huge urban rioting and unrest following the killing of a twenty-two year old in the city–rioting that recalled the uprisings in urban America after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Jr., when the army was called in to northwest Washington, DC to avert social catastrophe. The memory was still so hard to negotiate that only a decade after the event did BART’s Board of Directors name a road near the station after Oscar Grant, an alley between 33rd and 35th avenues, to mark that unnecessary death.  Rather selfishly, or out of fear, I was not thinking about the tragedy of his killing so much as the shifting landscape of Oakland and my relation to it.

The changes of rapid gentrification are beginning to be mapped by the Anti-Eviction Project, whose maps chart trace the residues of renters’ place in Oakland’s housing market.  The decal oriented me to the changing urban landscape of Oakland, and served as a reminder of the precareity of urban residents as cycles of gentrification forced many living near Fruitvale Station itself, to relocate, recording something like a residue of displacement, that echoed the adoption of a tree as the new urban icon, suggesting a suburbanization of much of urban space, known now for farmers markets and the “unseeing” of many of its earlier residents, and erased much of its urban past–and indeed erased their faces.

A sense of presence was announced with clear resistance in that sticker, commemorating the shooting of Grant, a young twenty-two year old whose shooting provoked a level of rioting and looting that was reminiscent of the rioting in America cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, catastrophic disruptions that led to the army to restore security, was, to be sure, a protest against racial inequality and overt racism of the BART officer.  But the sense of instability that it registered in the transit map arrested me as a new site of orientation on a rapidly disappearing past, and as it somehow became an anchor or point of stability that orient me in the changing urban space, increasingly fluid and unsure, where I’d received an eviction notice in 2018.

The effect of cycles of gentrification–if not its engines–are evident in maps of the unlawful detainers served in the city in the past decade, and instability of the urban landscape that this has created.  Visualizations of massive displacement of renters in the Bay Area chart escalating evictions in amped up real estate markets.  The result is  suggests of the changing nature of the commons or of public space over the past decade, as Oakland emerged as a prime site of private residence and rapacious landlords, and the city became something of a microcosm of the heightened pressures that the Bay Area experienced.  The contracting commons is hardly able to be captured in point data.  But a map of unlawful detainers issued across the city suggests  the nature of the earth change, a swarm of ladybugs or less prosaic leeches feeding on the city’s neighborhoods, and ingesting its vitality:  the arrival of predators that occasion such unlawful detainers suggest that the economy of home ownership nourish a form of master-slave relations.  For across neighborhoods of radically different income levels, the shifting populations that have filled housing markets are mirrored by an ethnically shifting neighborhood, and a lowering of economic diversity.    Even in the cordoned off area of North Oakland where I lived, the invasion of unlawful detainers had been felt not only from afar, but within what was a formerly African American neighborhood where home sales approached and far surpassed $1,200,000 for a two bedroom.

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ladybug crowd.png

The extraordinary density appeared to track the outbreak of an epidemic or urban virus, the embodiment of the affliction of the city by landlord evictions mapped from 2005-15 seeming to be spread in strikingly uniform manner from North Oakland, where I lived, to Fruitvale in an evil effervescence or infestation of increasing gentrification and displacement of long-term residents.

Alameda Evictions

Over the previous years, I had only watched largely through maps at how evictions had transformed much of the East Bay–an area already fractured with strong social divisions–and the Bay Area at large.  But the foreclosure landscape that had transformed the Bay Area was something I hadn’t seen at first hand, but had suddenly become disorienting after receiving a 60-day notice to vacate the premises of what was my family home for almost fifteen years.

Unlawful Detainer Notices Filed, 2005-15

The surprise news had left us facing a legal landscape little familiar, but increasingly ready to reach out to social services with which we’d had no familiarity, and to face a landscape of landlord evictions that has been the byproduct of rising property values across the East Bay.  And so the ride to the social services non-profits that are congregated around Fruitvale Station, a community that has long been of special resilience, seemed the only hope we had of legal redress.  And the remapping of that station–where I headed on public transit–by renaming the station in gesture to a decade-old event piercingly revealed the unstable ground of social justice in Oakland, and made me feel better than since we were first served notice.  The alternate embodiment of that map, created by a decal, seemed a powerful gesture of resistance as BART approached Fruitvale Station, and I reflexively looked from the map to the panel that hung above the BART platform a few times.

east bay

Although my dispute with my landlord was resolved, if quite contentiously, the sixty-day move-out notice concretized the economic pressures that have rewritten Oakland communities, and the deep disparities between landlords and renters–and the increasingly adversarial roles of landlords and predatory buyers of buildings in the face of the promise of greater rents– reminded one of the possibilities of legal contestation or assertion of renters’ rights for many in a city where I’d been tensely aware how rents had increased immensely and property revaluations was actively pressing populations on something of forced migration to far flung suburbia from Modesto to Visalia to Fresno to southern California.  Arriving at Fruitvale Station to avail myself of public services was entering, if temporarily, into the unknown landscape of the disenfranchised.

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Filed under Bay Area, counter-map, mapping BART, mapping place, Oakland

Mapping Open Waters: Bay or River?

The relation between land, sea, marsh, and landfill provided something of a dilemma of cartographical rendering in the Bay Area, mirroring the fluid relationship that has long existed between land and sea.  But if fluidity of the shoreline of the San Francisco Bay was less understood in terms of erosion, global warming, coastal flooding, and king tides back in the 1950s, the human fiction–and graphical statement–of the map of expanded bay fill provided a potent image to engage the shifting contours of land and sea.

The grassroots community activists reacted to it to protest plans for a radical narrowing of the Bay, whose success created the first inter-city compact for shoreline preservation with broad consequence for habitat conservation in the Bay Area–preserving tidal flats, coastal marshes, and wetlands that stand as a living model for conservationists, in close proximity to the city and coastal highway–as well as a legacy of the protection of open waters.

The subsequent designation of a large strip of coastal lands as a margin including Regional Protected Areas would later cover 1,833 acres of coastal lands and tidelands from the Bay Bridge to Richmond, along eight and a half miles of coast; the removal of all hazardous chemicals and garbage from 1998 restored the seasonal wetlands that were developing atop landfill in the seventy-two acre meadow, which was restored for $6 million over five years in a model to protect habitat and open space, as well as restoring a protective barrier of coastal wetlands that has long helped to protect the shoreline and bay. But the buy-in of 4,000 stakeholders in the multi-year project of habitat restoration and native habitat types however began from a protest map.

The complex bayshore that bridges four to five individual cities in the East Bay presents a complex picture of landscape and shoreline preservation and conservation, one whose sense of wonder and interest was in fact fought out in maps: if the mosaic of shoreline restoration, habitat preserves, parks, and greenspace that dot the coastline of San Francisco Bay between Oakland and Richmond offers a unique way of respecting open space on the margins of developed land, offering a landmark constraint for building out into the bay, the battle of visions for bay conservation were very much waged out through how mapping redefined the individual’s relation to local space and the world.

The story of coastal preservation that has often been cited as a model of a broad range of stakeholders began from a map. When the Save the Bay organization was formed by an improbably interested Berkeley patricians and Sierra Club members to prevent the waters from development and city housing that proposed building out into the bay in the post-war period. The military engineer John Reber drafted a plan that would reduce the bay dramatically, eliminating wetlands by adding landfill West Berkeley into the San Francisco Bay, in a monument of post-war engineering. The project of landscape modification bore all the hallmarks of modernity, and would have dramatically shrunk the bay’s open water, as much as open space, narrowing them by a massive fill to dramatically shrunken size, as well as the expansion of shipping lanes in Marin and Sausalito, that would have altered the Bay Area.

Proposed Barriers in San Francisco Bay (Reber Plan)

The triumphalism of the Army Engineers seemed almost to unite the U.S. Army bases in Alameda as a guideline to shape a modernistically sleek shoreline, punctuated by shipping corridors the open waters would accommodate. The expanded plan identified with Reber and the Department of Public works was announced quickly in the postwar era, as a massive project of infilling tidelands for a deepwater port, airports, and military bases by 1949, that would imagine an expansion of greater pierspace and nautical traffic in a Bay Area that seemed poise for financial growth as a hub of trade, as well as military outpost, expanding an “industrial site” in the smaller cities of Berkeley and Richmond, now equipping them with a airport terminals and a permanent Naval Base, and a Torpedo base in Hunter’s Point, expanding the military presence in northern California far beyond the military base in Alameda.

Reber Plane for a deepwater port, airports, and military bases (1949)[1580 x 1224]

Although the proposal for a contraction of the open waters was set as a landscape view, as if to naturalize it within the scenery, the 1949 proposal attracted heightened possibilities of greater infill that led to the reduction of the San Pablo Bay after its development of a massive landscape intervention for ten years that is rightly included among possible destructions of San Francisco by overdevelopment, even if it would have impacted the entire Bay. But the proposal for subdividing and radically reinventing the San Francisco Bay and bayshore as a basis for further development came to a rather sudden halt after over ten years of expansion, stopping in its tracks the promotion of a a modernistic streamlining of bayshore and bay waters as sites of economic development, as the plans were adopted to proposae an alternative model of conservation.

The questions about conservation that were posed at the local level on the East Bay mounted a staunch opposition, applying pressure as it coalesced through the compelling rendering of an alternative map, questioning the public commitment to a new level of landscape change and leading to a sense of reckoning about bay waters. The logic of remapping the plans of development, and the effectiveness with which a map that posited the problems and dangers development posed, however won buy-in from multiple stake-holders–now exceeding 4,000–of huge consequence.

1. What allowed the revisioning of the Bay’s open waters to be preserved? The Reber Plan would famously attract condemnation as an artificial reduction of the open waters to a shipping land, the power of the map in mobilizing resistance suggests an episode of cartographic creativity as much as public mobilization.

But the very possibility of local resistance to such rebuilding preservation of greenspace in Tilden Park had no doubt provided a stunning achievement for the Works Progress administration, allowing land procured from East Bay Municipal Water District to be converted into the East Bay Regional Parks, in one of the great New Deal projects of land conservation, leading to a decade of landscape transformation across 4,300 acres, the potential of converting lands by the precedent that invited residents to explore the local greenspace must have provided an encouragement to the preserving the bay. And the cartographic celebration of the conservation of lands and expansion of East Bay parks was able to provide a powerful, and indeed liberating way to contemplate and engage the material landscape.

The luxurious relief maps created by the Civil Conservation Corps who had administered the East Bay parks through 1942, since restored, invitingly celebrated pathways to explore and navigate the greenspace in plastic form–made during the 1930s–that preserved an image of a sense of rural versus urban space, back in the days when the hills were far more green.

While the relation between the shore and bay is hardly the focus of the relief map made in the early 1930s for the East Bay Regional Parks–perhaps as a working model to demonstrate the easy linkage of city to open space that the acquisition of lands from the Water District allowed–the careful shading of the bay waters in a gradation from deep blue to the shore provided a quite detailed sense of the sensitive of land and sea that the detailing of several creeks underscores. The aesthetic contemplation of landscape was a consideration of land and bay–or demanded one, offering a rendering of the complex of open space, lakes, creeks, and estuaries as a unified whole, and aesthetic unity, that the transformation of the bay to a shipping channel–or “river,” as polemic maps of the Save the Bay project would affirm. The old piers of Berkeley’s marina was not clearly landscaped, but the shore was defined by the tracks of the railroad, in the restored East Bay Parks relief map in a model of conservation and what land conservation might achieve, and indeed the possibility of securing land against over-development, a plan accentuated by the addition of rustic architecture and monuments in Tilden, Lake Temescal, Sibley, and Redwood Parks. The monument to conservation that had become part of the sense of place contrasted in their ethos with the stark shipping lands that would have altered not only the shoreline, but the bay waters as well.

The counter-map of the Bay waters was inspired by the subsequent brutality of adding infill in the Reber Plan.

Reber Plan: Proposed Barriers in San Francisco Bay (1959)

Designed with the apparent abandon of a crayon coloring book, in order to maximize the piers for arriving container ships in the postwar boom, the Reber Plan suggested a startlingly bold intervention in natural space to accommodate economic growth, crudely imposing economic infrastructure as if saddling it on the bay. For the Army Engineering Corps, the shallow East Bay coast, and large tidal lands, beckoned re-engineering provided a plan to envision the region in terms of “areas susceptible of reclamation” by the year 2020, back in 1957; years before the Bay Bridge, the bay’s low waters seemed ideal for a long-term plan of engineering a shipping corridor from Richmond to Oakland, domesticating the bayshore to maximize its economic utility and shipping locks would contracted San Francisco Bay, in a vision of development imagined in Washington, DC, with the endorsement of the US Chamber of Commerce.

For the project of land reclamation that the Army Corps of Engineers envisioned in the postwar era were a program to transform the settlement of the Bay Area in ways that extended pathways of marine communication by shipping industries as well as the U.S. navy in areas that were long predominantly marshland, imposing a dualistic opposition between “land” and “sea” in an area where the barriers between land and sea were blurred and fluid, and indeed on which local ecosytems were dependent: the eclipse of the regions of the Sacramento River’s expansive estuary were defined by marshland, tidal flats, wetlands, and in the East Bay shoreline, especially in Berkeley, seep or wet soil that the Plan did not register or accommodate, in its premium on economic expansion and strategic development. The coastal mapping projects that the United States Coastal Service had long engaged were put aside, and the stark land/sea duality proposed a limited way of seeing or imagining ‘development’ that seemed a logic of urban expansion that ran against the ways that the conservation ofEast Bay parks ha provided an important precedent to to manage, indeed taking it in different directions than the mapping of open space had set a powerful precedent by the 1940s–and a future that they would want to resist. If a full third of the bay had been diked off, infilled and built out that radically shrunk its open waters, Save The Bay was founded in 1961 to stop the acceleration of projected infill that would severely compromise the Bay, and has survived as an ecological monitor on infrastructure expansion and one-sided plans for development that would adversely affect the integrity of the Bay. The proposed reduction of wetlands and wetsoil along the Berkeley shore became a precedent for the ecological vulnerability of wetlands and bayshore to expansion, at a time when only a small fraction–but a tenth–of the Bay Area’s wetlands remained, and almost none of its shores were publicly accessible to residents, in the manner that the preservation of parks in the hillls provided such an important precedent that led directly to the 1965 foundation of The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) to restrict or limit future projects of adding infill to reduce its open waters.

The relative murkiness of the areas the Army Corps of Engineers projected as ripe for infill envisioned a narrowed body of water without coastal access, in sharp contrast to conservation of greenspace around the expanding city:

The vision of the massive constriction of wetlands, tidal marsh, intertidal plains, and shallow sea or seep soil marked 325 square miles a “potentially fillable bay” as if it was an area for potential economic expansion, as much as urban growth, developing the port city as a set of functional shipping channels, seeking to crystallize a notion of functionality that offered no space for conservation. While the infill would have doubled Berkeley in size, the dramatic disappearance of San Pablo Bay by a hundred miles, even if it wouldn’t have obviated need for the Richmond-San Rafael bridge, already opened in 1956, would have been a development project of San Francisco’s coast that expanded the considerable growth of San Francisco by landfill to the entire Bay Area.

The logic of development that the vision of the Army Corps of Engineers promoted publicly in 1961 Save the Bay crystallized around a cartographic revision of Reber’s map was, in a sense, a critical turning point, or crossroads–suggested by the etymology of the word “crisis”–in how the bay could be actively remapped in the face of development, more recently culminating in how San Francisco Estuary Institute has mapped past against present landscape to orient us to historical ecology of the man-made nature of the shoreline we have inherited.

If the bottom topography of the Bay had been dramatically altered by the flushing of sediment downstream rivers as the Sacramento, sending sludge into the Pacific Ocean, the arrival of sediment may have set a precedent for the proposed addition of infill that would permanent alter the San Francisco Bay’s changed seabed.

But the “green shoreline” of the East Bay suggested a unique biophilic resistance to the addition of landfill, preserving the sense of open waters with which this post began.

So radical was the scale of the transformation of the Bay that Reber drafted to provoke a catalyst for the collective buy-in for opposition at the start of the environmental movement. The counter-map became a rallying cry of the defense of the bay’s open water against development by the shipping industry that affirmed the defense of a privileged relation to place for Berkeley residents, shocked by the alienating nature of the expansion of the lines of old wooden docks that dotted much of Richmond and Oakland, the two largest harbors in the East Bay. The plan would have both promised economic development, and expanded housing, into the Bay, eliminating open waters by amalgamating harbors to a straight manmade shoreline that would have connected the San Rafael Bridge and Alameda Naval Station, imposing expanded shipping lanes over the bay waters, that, as its effects were mapped, were realized to radically threaten habitat. The remapping of the preservation of bayshore helped radically change the perception of the water from the land, that helped to create a place where, when one walks today, the city and San Francisco indeed recede across the tidal flats.

2. The plans for developing the coastline by the addition of bayfill that would create either a vibrant port for pacific shipping industry were stayed as a rallying cry to mobilize opinion around the planned bayfill that would contract the East Bay, erasing wetlands that would be landfilled, dike or leveed for development, as growth of the Bay Area in the postwar period had already brought the filling in of entrance of the Sacramento River and five other rivers to the unique wetlands complex of the Bay Area–a lost environment that has been contracted by urban expansion and the reshaping of the shoreline ecosystem of so much of the bay, from the south Bay to the north bay to the estuary complex that framers of the contracted image of the San Francisco Bay to shipping channels that Reber envisioned took for granted as an inevitable process of development–but which we are now far more liable to map in terms of loss.

The protest to “Save the Bay” was animated by a counter-map that animated resistance that asked residents what sort of bay they wanted to live beyond. The abstract map of a landfill project of 1961 came to concretize the costs of development, and served–perhaps for the very reason that it was not detailed–to generate a broad coalition of protest against the imagined expansion of housing and shipping development in the East Bay. The printed map delineated how much was at stake in proposed coastal transformation so persuasively it became a powerful logo and rallying cry for the Save the Bay project from a new alliance of environmental groups and other stakeholders: if the military engineer’s map documented the modernistic redesign of the natural shoreline, in ways that extended the compromised habitat loss in other areas of the Delta and estuary, the convincing contrast between two visions of the bay–“Bay or River?” the map’s legend directly framed the future of the San Francisco Bay–put breaks on the continued development of much of East and South Bay. The map helped pose a simple question that asking readers to consider themselves stakeholders in a bulwark against massive environmental change in suggesting the near-apocalyptic scale of added landfill in dark black. While the story has been often told, the vital role an engineering map played in pushing back against vested propertied and industrial interests is arresting.

It was begun by a realization prompted from seeing a map announcing the future re-engineering of the San Francisco Bay, reprinted in the Oakland Tribune, and contemplating the possible extent of changes that would reconfigure the shore of an area that drains up to 40% of the land of the entire state, that prompted the preservation of its open waters. The prospect of such a radical remapping of the region’s open water–more than its shores alone–invested the planning map drawn up by the Army Corps of Engineers triggered the attention among three women over tea, contemplating the reduction o the Bay–and the beauty of vistas from their windows–against the areas up for potential expansion, that encapsulated and condensed the areas the Army Corps identified as susceptible for landfill.

The simple two-tone graphic generated a broad awareness of the region at a significant time in urban development, and helped to brakes on the inertia behind the radical reengineering of the bay as a shipping lane. The Save San Francisco Bay project that was the contribution of three women tied to educational groups and educators at the local university by marriage mobilized public opinion around the preservation as the wife of the past University President, Kay Kerr, herself “very disturbed about the filing of the bay” assembled a group disturbed by how “ongoing filling of the edges of the bay for airports, harbors, subdivisions, freeways, industrial sites and garbage dumps,” threatened to transform its open waters to a biological desert. Aptly, she calling an assembled group of conservationists and neighbors to order a meeting in a home overlooking the bay by a map of a produced by the Army Corps of Engineers calling for adding landfill that would leave “little more than a ship channel down the middle,” as she put it.

Proposed 1959 “Reber Plan” for Barriers Expanding East Bay Piers as Shipping Corridor

The City of Berkeley eager to expand to provide more housing, sought to double in size by filling in 2,000 acres of the bay shallows. Indeed, as late as 1980, the City of Berkeley hoped to expand the bay waterfront into a shopping center, resulting in the public trust over tidelands of the East Bay that preserved them from bay fill almost two decades later, in a suit that one of the first legal advisors of the Save the Bay Association directed as amicus curiae, in City of Berkeley v. Superior Court (1980) 26 Cal.3d 515, continuing to defend the bay wetlands’ integry against a defined shoreline.

The ability to stop the projected bayfill set a precedent that altered the relation of citizen groups and ecologists to the preservation of coastal habitat and parkland. The power of the rhetorical contrast between two maps of the future framed a vision of the local environment and access to a coast in an effective manner that one can forget looking out over the living landscape of the Bayshore Trail, but that provides a powerful reminders of how maps mobilize consensus and embodied the wetlands and tidelands as a features we have only more recently detected in the Bay as a wetlands ecosystem, truly far from built space.

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March 4, 2013 · 11:02 am