Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Albany Bulb - Why not establish an Urban Wilderness Area?

This rubble and rubbish filled landfill, projecting into San Francisco Bay, has benefited from benign neglect, it has a world class view and is now slated to become parkland. However, there are some complicating factors, the folk art, the resident homeless, and the risk factor perceived by city and park authorities.

I’ve been walking here intermittently for twenty some years. This blob of land maybe 200 meters by 400 meters is strewn with massive chunks of concrete; rebar sticking out of much of it. This is just the visible part. More is beneath the surface, and some partially exposed. You need to pay attention when walking. A stumble could lead to being impaled. Of course when this landfill is excavated further, all sorts of other more noxious things are encountered. For the usual urban park, the park district would bring in bulldozers and landscapers to make it all safe for visitors.

Complication 1 - the folk art, ranging from graffiti to works done by established artists. This art all shares a common base - created from materials on hand, which happen to be concrete with rebar sticking out, slabs on the ground, driftwood, found objects from the landfill such as bicycle wheels, etc. etc. etc.. I’ve done a short youtube video to give you a feel for it.

Complication 2 - the resident homeless, and in some cases, the resident homeless artists. In my time walking out there, there were always people living there, but relatively out of sight. The area could be freely strolled without the feeling of invading someone’s privacy. This has changed over the last several years, and the population has gone from my guess of no more than 10 or 12 to around 60. One can’t walk from shore to shore without intruding. Albany city authorities are in the process of finding the homeless other accommodations prior to turning the area over to the park district. Some of the homeless have a different point of view, and express these views quite strongly on blogs on the Albany Patch website. A video with a half dozen or so of the Bulb residents gives you their thoughts.

Complication 3 is the perceived risk. The park district wants to avoid lawsuits, so will sanitize the site to their level of desired safety. I haven’t seen any official statements on what will be done, but I have a vision of bulldozers and heavy equipment leveling out and burying most of the current folk art. Authorities in this area do not have a good history of preserving anonymous roadside art, the Emeryville mudflat sculptures being a good example.

My proposal is that an urban wilderness area be created - on a similar model to the National Wilderness Areas. i.e. Visitors enter at their own risk. If they stumble over a piece of concrete, it is no different than falling off a cliff in the backcountry. Emergency services will be provided if needed, but there is no thought of the park being responsible for there being a mountain to fall off of. No heavy equipment allowed except for emergencies, no powered devices outside of what an individual might carry on a backpacking trip. No gas or electric utilities.

I do propose that three permit controlled backpacking sites be established, each one with room for three or four tents, with two of those having a permit limit of two days. Those would be on view sites on the west end of the bulb. The third site would be an interior camp available for juried artists in residence for a maximum of 30 days unless the art jury adjusted the limit. An individual could only get one permit in 365 days unless waivered. There would be a central piped in water source, and a central toilet facility. Camping would be Leave No Trace - no trash pickup.

P.S. This post is primarily about the art preservation, but I have a suggestion on the homeless resettlement, and that is that the city of Albany provide a free campground somewhere so that the residents could at least have access to police and fire services, as well as access to water, toilets and showers. Even assisted housing costs money and is in short supply so this would be a humane alternative.