[before i start, i must confess that i had my camera on a strange setting that caused all of the photos to come out blue-ish. it makes for a dreamy effect in the first few pics, and then you get to wondering why they are all so blue. i'm learning.]
so on october 18th, adrian and i set out from richmond towards martinez. we got as far as tara hills/pinole, which is a good reminder that this always takes longer than i expect. this turned out to be my most favorite walk so far -- we got to be on the bay shore for quite a bit of it, and there was a lot more "blank" space that was being used for different reasons that piqued my curiosity.
ooooh... another note before i begin. i've been thinking a lot about blogging, and how it's this really cool form because, as academics, we don't publish things that haven't been fully reviewed, but we also don't put our field notes into a coherent, readable form for anyone else. for this project, at least, this is a fantastic hybrid form in which i can share what i'm thinking in rea(ish) time, but not be overly concerned with the specificity of methods or theoretical implications. i can be uncertain about ideas here, research can be incomplete, and i can speculate loosely; still, i have an audience to give me that little 'push' for the writing to make some sort of sense. additionally, i can play with the problem of accessibility that plagues academic writing, explaining ideas and getting feedback from people who don't spend all day doing this sort of thing.
so adrian came with me again. i got to richmond late, which i felt bad about, but it was ok because there was a big celebration for the opening of the intermodal station connecting bart, amtrak, ac transit (and maybe others?) there was music, and plenty of snacks for adrian while he waited:
the station itself isn't that big, but it is surrounded by lots of sheltered outdoor space. not sure if this will be useful or not, especially because that space doesn't have much place to sit. perhaps it was built entirely for events like the opening (which, although absurd, is not entirely unlikely):
this woman is the mayor of richmond, which is a poor community, suffering (i think) from economic depression due largely to the loss of manufacturing jobs that used to exist here, mostly in shipbuilding and oil. she (and others) spoke a lot about how this intermodal station is the beginning of a greener richmond, a town ripe for economic development where green businesses can be sited. this poster says a similar thing:
i wonder about "green" as an economic development strategy. i particularly wonder if it's any different than conventional economic development strategies in which towns or cities make a really inviting environment for business (often in the form of tax subsidies or land grants.) there is nothing inherently wrong or bad about this method, but the businesses themselves are mostly *not* beholden to their communities, and can pick up and leave when they get a better deal.
such a thing happened in my hometown (ann arbor) when pfizer pharmaceuticals expanded their campus in the late 1990s (causing ripple effects such as the university of michigan building a huge new biotech facility) and then cutting hundreds of jobs in the last few years. and this is not an unusual story in the united states, as municipal tax bases lessen (esp. after proposition 13 in california) and cities compete with one another to give big business a better deal.
but i digress. the intermodal station may well be a new start for richmond and i wish it the best. (although i'm not sure if the new amtrak seating area even connects directly to the rail.)
that said, the fact that bart and amtrak run side by side here causes a bit of a fortress effect between the two halves of town, where folks can't really cross for long stretches. we have a similar effect in my neighborhood in oakland, where a freeway blocks off my neighborhood (north oakland/temescal) from the beginnings of west oakland. i wonder to what extent this built boundary allowed my neighborhood to gentrify, leaving the other out. i wonder if similar effects exist in richmond.
at some point, richmond blends into the town of san pablo, and the community seems more latino. (that could also be just the bit i was walking -- it's hard to draw conclusions by just walking through once.) the signs were in spanish, though, which is a good clue about the neighborhood:
this sign is an ad for home loans.
this is an ad for hiring ice cream vendors.
this is a message board on the outside wall of a butcher shop. in community development, we see this as a sign of a thriving informal sector.
in richmond/san pablo, there are also trailer parks. i hadn't really throught about people living in these in the bay area, but it is not surprising that they do (along with millions of other americans):
or that it was a way for people living on the tracks to get in or out of town. we also found this sign hanging on a pole beside a pile of mattresses and other trash:
this is really sad, and there's a lot of it beside the tracks. this person could have been killed by all sorts of things -- drugs, violence or the train -- but this seems like a sorry place to be memorialized.
then we walked for a long time through san pablo on what must have been an old county road: long and straight and endless with some neighborhoods to our east, and the bay and rail to the west. then we ran into this sign:
why are they auctioning off homes in a new (and rather attractive) development for a pittance of what houses usually go for in the bay area? serendipitously, there was an article on this very development that day in the sf chronicle. the short version is that developer pulte homes (also responsible for the west oakland development by wood street station) built the houses and can't move 'em quickly enough due to the housing crunch, so they're going for auction in a housing "fire sale." in a perfectly planned world, these houses would be sold to folks that work in the industrial park across the street:
over some sort of beautifully designed pedestrian bridge.
but in real life, people who work in the industrial park probably can't afford to buy these homes, or don't want to live in such a neighborhood. (and my bridge is imaginary.)
and then we get to the most intriguing part of the whole day. just on the south side of the industrial park is this tiny pocket neighborhood. it is bordered by boxy industrial buildings on one side:
which have clearly caused some problems for the neigbors:
the neighborhood is separated by a sort of no-man's land including the (well-worn) trail we walked on, the train tracks, and further out, the bay. people use this space as evidenced by a little backyard bridge:
and a cactus garden:
these are the sorts of spaces that fascinate me! let's call this "vernacular adaptation" -- more on that later.
next we arrived at the pinole regional park, where we had to jump this fence:
a beautiful, grassy stretch of shoreline that i had only seen from the train. it had a few dog walkers (this being a tuesday morning) and a field trip. i would like to bring all of my friends for a picnic here:
the park is on a little peninsula which, it could be argued, was cut off from the rest of town by the railroad, and therefore was "produced" by it. this is pure speculation.
[also, beside the park is a "detention center." (not a prison, but not a jail either?) adrian and i had a disagreement over whether we should photograph it. he pointed out foucault's argument (and this is why adrian is rad) that punishment used to be a spectacle, and in modern society it is clandestine, allowing for all sorts of abuses to take place. i argued that they used to just kill people, or torture them publicly, which i also find distasteful. in the end, i relented that the detention center was, in fact, part of the landscape i am exploring so i should have documented it. but by then we had walked too far to go back and take a picture, so there is none. sorry about that.]
adrian pointed out that it might be more accurate to say that black powder helped to *blow* up much of california and the west.
it is important, however, that this machine is here because it reminds us that this was an early industrial manufacturing site, in which the product (black powder) would be transported by rail to its destination. i want to find out more.
across the bay was this oil refinery
which is really important to an idea of this project, which is that the industrial age is not *over* -- it hasn't "gone away" because we live in the information age. our oil still gets refined somewhere, our cars built, our pots and pans manufactured. the world has certainly changed with the rise of the information economy, but one has not replaced the other. i am not the first person to say this, but i don't have a source for this line of thinking at the moment. and this (as well as the obvious rail) is a really good example.
this makes me think about the discourse of transformation of industrial forms? we are building more coal fired power plants in the u.s., talking about building high speed rail in california, trying to bring up "green collar" manufacuturing jobs in the bay area. all of these are neck-deep in industry, but the language (and form) is tempered by the information age. definitely more on this later.
ok, so this is the last part (of a long post!) we crossed from the bay shore back up to the railroad, and walked until we got to a place where there were some people fishing. (i haven't figured out if i can photograph/post people on this thing without irb approval, so they're not here.) eating fish from the bay is a bad idea, as they are full of mercury and pesticides and other poison, but people do it all the time. they also might fish just for fun. in any case, somebody built this little bridge for folks to get to the beach from the rail:
the last thing i saw, i also didn't photograph, (for the reasons listed above.) it was a really beautiful site, a set of brick circular steps on the ground for folks to sit with a big freestanding metal firepit on it. at the top was a tall cross. the man sitting there told me his buddy had built it in memory of his granddaughter who had been killed by the train. i found it really powerful that instead of just an altar (like we see on roadsides), this man had claimed the space even more, turning it into somewhere he could really memorialize his granddaughter, and that other people could enjoy, too.
again, vernacular adaptation of the space. would the authorities remove such a thing if they found it in the name of public safety? probably. but the thing is that the authorities don't *come* here. so folks are left alone to build things like this. which were caused by the unsafe environment of the trains. i don't mean to academify this man's loss, just to point some things out.