i got a lot of really good feedback from the first post; thanks for all the support, questions and suggestions. one friend asked me if i'm *really* getting a degree for this. the answer: but of course. it's interesting, though, to think about scholarship and what it means to investigate. it got me thinking a lot about how "serious" work is often a euphimism for "totally inaccessable and marginally coherent." so my goal here is partially to shake up my/our about what education and knowledge-seeking is all about.
one particularly important problem this project has is a succinct goal or question. that's what this post is about.
as an undergraduate in my senior thesis seminar, i was taught a method called "logical positivism." in this way of thinking, one asks a "why" question (mine was "why does the US still practice capital punishment?), and then comes up with a number of hypotheses, culling them off until one finds the TRUE ANSWER. well, i dropped out of this seminar because, frankly, i wasn't buying the message, which seemed like social science turning circles to legitimate itself as science. clearly, there are lots of answers to a question like the above, and to credit one with being the MOST CORRECT makes for strong methods and weak scholarship. (in my opinion, anyways.)
when people ask me about this project, they are initally very excited to hear that i am walking such a distance in such an unusual place (the train tracks? really? is that safe?) but when it comes time to explain *why* i am at somewhat of a loss. and i think, once again, it's because there are a lot of reasons -- i don't have one true answer. so i'll list them, and i hope you, dear reader, are able to respond:
we take for granted that there are certain places on this planet that are for vehicles carrying stuff/people, and for all of our safety and convenience, we don't go to those places. they include highways and runways and railroad tracks, among others. i find that in any place designed for something *bigger* than a human to move through, walking around in it feels pretty wierd. (ever tried to walk to your local supermarket with it's big parking lot?) any place that humans have built that makes humans feel wierd is interesting to me. wierd, right? so by walking a great distance on a path built for a railcar i am INTERROGATING THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT. or in normal-speak, i'm checking out the wierd.
in the united states right now, there's a big move towards "regional governance." this means that cities or counties (or even states) get together, and make decisions on a scale different than the standard ones. this is interesting because it calls into question how/if governments make decisions.
example: in the sacramento area right now, there is a tremendous amount of development going on (read: housing and commercial building.) the boards of supervisors of six counties in the area have come up with a transportation and development plan they are calling a "blueprint." the problem is, it's really hard to hold any of these policy-makers accountable for their decisions because the normal mechanisms (ie. voting or going to the planning commission meetings) are out of reach. sometimes this is called "jumping scale," and it's important because it can either be really useful (like when a region cooperates on water resources) or really frustrating for citizens who don't have much say. also, a region doesn't have any particular limit to it's space or scope, and it can be defined by all sorts of things like political history and culture (the american south) or landform (the central valley of california) or...
... transportation. like the capital corridor line. this train links two powerful political areas generally considered pretty separate - the bay area and sacramento - and makes a "corridor" of the space in between. so what happens politically and economically to the communities in this big ol' hallway of a rail line? does that make it a "region"?
(for bay area people, another good example of this is BART, and what constitutes the "bay area." marin county, for example, voted down bart in the 1970s -- does that make it less a part of the bay area?)
3. historical landscape.
so there's this idea that people have that we build the stuff we want to build and that's how cities (and other built environments) happen. but really, there's often historical reasons that we build the stuff we want to build, like historical agricultural communities in river valleys (like l.a. for real.) and mercantile cities near natural harbors and so forth.
the train line that i ride to school every day is run by amtrak, which leases the rails from union pacific, which laid out the tracks close to 100 years ago. and i'd wager that if we were to build passenger rail lines in california today, they would not go through the same places they do now. but we're "stuck" with the rail as is, and so the lucky citizens of martinez, for instance, a small out-of-the-way east bay town, have an amtrak stop. huh. by the same token, there are four stops really close to one another on one end of the line (oakland/emeryville/berkeley/richmond) and the other four are really spread out.
i want to know what else has sprung up around the rails, or is still there just because it never moved. for this, i will be reading lots of history. any book reccomendations?
there's also an arts element to all of this. i mentioned in the last posting that i was going to contact community arts organizations along the tracks to participate. (i have sent out a bunch of messages, and folks have responded with great enthusiasm!) at the end of the year, i hope to mount art shows having to do with the rails with art by local artists and by davis students in all the communities along the tracks.
also partially because i study community arts. but furthermore, artists raise the question "how do we know what we know?"
academic scholarship certainly has its place, and i will be reading and writing a ton about historical landscapes and regions and such. but academe only has some language for this, and artists have other language. this plurality of voices is what i'm after. more on this another time.
5. what about the people?
we all know that there are people that live near the railroad tracks. i saw some of their dwellings yesterday:
to be honest, i'm not sure how to deal with this. i do not want to make art about them because i find their predicament interesting. it is not interesting; it is sucky and sad and frustrating. people are marginalized so they live in marginal places which are not safe, but where they will be mostly left alone. sometimes they get hurt -- i was on two different trains from davis to berkeley last year that hit and killed people who were wandering around on the tracks in the dark. it was totally strange and disconnected and sad.
i can't take on this problem; at the same time, i can't just ignore these people. i'm still thinking about this (very) sticky problem and not sure what to do.
so that's the project, for now. kind of meandering, but i'm still comfortable with that.
next up: walk #2 from emeryville to richmond.