Monday, October 1, 2007

Street Magic

I am not so certain about the angle of the Street Science piece, even though they acknowledge the unavoidable bias of mapping. There is a condition in West Oakland that is very similar to the condition described in Williamsburg, and it is interesting to compare the two. The community in the case of West Oakland did not produce maps in their effort, but it is a similar matter of ‘people on the street’ versus the state apparatus, as well as a question of the factual data and how it is presented.

One of the issues was the construction of the Cypress Freeway and the contaminants on the property that was going to be disturbed in order to construct this new leg (after the previous freeway collapsed in the 1989 Loma-Prieta quake). There were high levels of vinyl chloride in the soil that would be released into the air. The community may have raised awareness and caused CalTrans to provide soil calming measures (if not to the community’s complete satisfaction).

Further, there were several additional matters, including the construction of a ‘poison park’ on contaminated soil, and the continued operation of a toxic substances incinerator and a yeast factory. The community was successful in shutting down both, after claiming that the emissions were linked to cancer and asthma levels. I cannot say that the links were ever substantiated. It is interesting to note that some of the same individuals that worked to have the facilities shut down for both atmospheric and ground contamination were the same individuals working to allow new residential construction on the same property. They were invested (in several ways) in the success of these projects.

Currently, there is further controversy is over the trucking facilities that exist in the area, which are mixed in with residential facilities, and whether these can be relocated to the former army base, which is currently planned to house a new ‘auto row’ which was only recently moved to Broadway in Oakland. In addition, the existence of warehouse and manufacturing space is a point of contention in the area, as most of it sits vacant. Many developers want to see this converted to residential zoning, citing that the disuse is evidence of obsolescence, and some local advocates pushing to maintain the zoning as an industrial preserve that might provide jobs in the future. These advocates believe that the developers will not allow new businesses in for purposes of land speculation. Finally there are the residents, caught somewhere in the middle, not wanting the pollution but in favor of (long term, unionized) employment.

In this case there are the same players one often expects to find in opposition, the community, developers, the city, and other state interests, primarily related to infrastructure. But once again the oppositions and overlap are not always so clear cut. Although we have agreed it is not possible, a somewhat neutral mapping that diagrams these interests and relationships would be of interest. The conspiracy maps of Mark Lombardi come to mind.

Also, newspaper clippings on West Oakland toxic matters:

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