we walked from pinole to hercules -- a short walk, and rather interesting.
we started out at the tara hills shopping center which is a bit of a 1950s relic with a cool sign, but very little else open. orli wondered if a walmart had opened up nearby and chased out the local retail, but i think that it may just be that these things are designed to run out of steam and shut down.
i first had the chance to photograph the memorial i mentioned in an
earlier place, the one a man had built to his granddaughter who was
killed by the train. i think it's particularly beautiful in that he
built a place for people to come and hang out and spend time:
off we went towards the tracks, a mostly uneventful route by the bay, but with some well-worn paths where other people had wandered around before us. i think a lot about legally sanctioned versus informal path-making and how that guides the places we go.
i am not challenging *why* this is done -- clearly there is a question of public safety in keeping people away from active train tracks. but the fence functions mostly as a symbol -- people will walk where there is a worn path, or towards the things that make them curious.
one group of people that i was excited about seeing on this walk wasn't really around: the fishermen. due to 58,000 gallons of oil being spilled into the san francisco bay, these sorts of signs are up.
i find it interesting that the fish and game people posted these, especially because it is *never* really safe to eat the fish from the bay -- in fact, there is a whole research project at uc-davis right now just looking at that. still, the signs didn't stop everybody.
serious question: is the serious nature of intellectual labor diminished if i include the fun parts in my reports??
orli and i got to talking about what the bay shore would be like without train tracks, how the park could go all the way to the water. we talked about why the train is right up against the shore, and i speculated that it was because it was much easier to build it with supplies brought in by boat than by land at the time it was built. i need to get my hands on some good history soon.
which, as it turns out, is a water treatment plant with a grassy hill and some benches beside it. it's actually kind of amazing how a little street furniture can denote a place where people are supposed to hang out, and they do. unfortunately, i didn't take any photos of the hanging out, but it certainly was happening.
i suppose "yucky" is what we would call a "normative term" in academia. still, i do wonder if the attempted beautification of this spot is a response to people hanging out there anyways, or if there is a real ecological bent to it.
also, at this point the afternoon light was hitting everything and turning it delicious shades of gold. check out the attached photo album for a bunch of these "arty" pictures. [which, by the way, begs the question of how a "social science" photograph differs from "art" and what questions of taste come into this issue. for a really strong illustration of this question/issue, check out the work on human migration by sebastiao salgado.]
next we arrived at a place i had long been excited to see: hercules, ca. according to the hercules historical society website, "Hercules once had about 100 "company town" homes. Built in the late 1890's for California Powder Works Company workers, most of the homes in the "Village" were 1,600 square feet, with 6' 6" ceilings, some with basements." from what i understand from the bit of history i read, the town is one part historic buildings from the time of the company town, and the other part is a new development begun in the 1990s.
see how this looks like a "traditional" (more on that term later) american town with white picket fences and everything? attractive, no? but why are the trees so small?? oh, that's because it was built in the early 1990s, all of it.
new urbanism is a movement in urban design that suggests we go back to some older forms of city building in which retail and residential development are incorporated together, walkability is key, and cars/garages don't dominate the space. real emphasis is placed on environmental sustainability and limiting urban sprawl. while i totally agree with these principles, part of the reason that older towns feel the way they do is because they were built in bits and pieces. with the current economy of housing development, developers build huge tracts all at once, and it gives (as orli said) this "movie set" kind of vibe to the whole place. (case in point: john carey's "the truman show" was filmed in the first new urbanist town of seaside, florida.)
(you can imagine how delighted i was that this street was called "railroad.)
one of the big critiques launched at new urbanism is that it is, in fact, "new SUBurbanism" because these developments are just like any other in that you have to drive to go get anything you really might need. there is no supermarket, for instance, in hercules.
on the other hand, rumor has it that the town is trying to get an amtrak station. i wonder how that would change its points of access -- right now, you can pick up bart only in the nearer reaches of contra costa county, and martinez is the closest amtrak stop. would housing prices in hercules be affected if a train station arrives?? i also wonder if it would make the town greener. i find it interesting that they have left this lovely wetland alone on the access road:
orli pointed out that as farmer's markets gain in popularity, developers are advertising these big time. she thought i should research this aspect of hercules. i pointed out that researching even one farmer's market (as my friend and classmate christie mccullen is doing in davis) is a huge endeavor, worthy of a whole thesis.)
the point of writing that here is that i need, if anything, to PARE DOWN this project. i am lucky to have some really smart, kind and invested advisors who i spoke with about this at length recently. i am trying to focus in on one question or notion or theorists. any thoughts?? post 'em here.
*****oh, and a preview for a few weeks from now. there was a story on the front page of the sf chronicle today (sunday!) about the housing market crash in fairfield -- one of the places where the train stops. like a lot of the sacramento region, this ag town had a booming real estate market until very recently. i wonder if this had to do with train access (or highway access on the I-80 corridor.)