Image credit: Maya Sapienza
DESIGNED ERASURE: MAPPING INFRASTRUCTURE & BLACK URBAN LIFE
Designed Erasure is a mapping and oral history project developed in collaboration with UC Berkeley undergraduate student, Maya Sapienza. The focus of this research project is to explore how race and racialization contribute to the various cycles of development, destruction, and redevelopment in West Oakland. The questions that animate this research are: what does it mean for Black people in Oakland to live through constant cycles of movement, containment, dispossession, and erasure? How can we imagine various forms of displacement and emplacement alongside the mechanisms that attempt to keep Black people in place?
For this project, we will use layered historical maps to document Oakland's planning history, and current policy on homelessness that has been generated by the city of Oakland. In particular, we examine containment, urban renewal infrastructure, architecture, austerity, and homelessness as racialized phenomena. While the project examines connections between urban renewal (as "Negro removal") and contemporary policy that constrains the mobility of the unsheltered and unhoused, we complement this analysis with oral history interviews with current and former Black West Oakland residents, archival photographs, and tax and homeownership records to reimagine a politics of Black placemaking (staying in place) as a way to designate a legible Black future in Oakland. Reclaiming Black West Oakland through a politics of staying in place does not involve simply taking up space, but specifically doing so in response to the systemic silencing and removal of Black people from the Black city and Black spaces. To reclaim space allows us to ask questions and offer narratives of what it means to stay in place, making legitimate claims to space and the meaning of space. Resisting displacement and dispossession is only one part of the story; “staying” opens up the possibility to imagine geographies that were never thought to be seen.
We aim for the project to facilitate engaged scholarship on how narratives about West Oakland emerge and circulate, competing visions for the city’s future and how these evolve over time, and the urban imaginaries that have been forgotten or sidelined in favor of more entrenched interests. The contents of this research (maps, images, accompanying text) will be presented in digital form on an interactive and accessible website. We hope that the visual representation of the various processes of urbanization in Oakland will enable us to make visible the mechanisms undergirding urban inequities.
Funding support for Designed Erasure has been generously provided by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues (ISSI)