Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Albany Landfill

The Albany Landfill (June 2006), a short photo essay
I first visited the Albany landfill in July 2004. Someone who worked at the Long Haul Infoshop in Berkeley mentioned it as one of the most inspiring public spaces they had ever seen. We visited the area during the making of the documentary and ended up using some footage in the final version of the project.
Although when we first encountered the landfill we were under the impression that the magnificant pieces of art found throughout the space had been created by anonymous artists who found inspiration in the freedom allowed by the isolation of the area, we later found out that there was a larger history to the landfill that we did not know.
In fact, the land had first become occupied by homeless people who were pushed out of Emryville in the 1980s. Some of these people took to living here and building semi-permanent dwellings and other structures. Some of them were the ones that began constructing art out of the trash that was there. With time other artists came along and began constructing pieces. At some point (in the 90s) the homeless people who had been living on the Albany Bulb/Landfill were evicted, although some of the art remains intact. We were unable to include this information in the documentary because we did not find out this more detailed version of the history until we were in Syracuse, New York, during the tour. Don Mitchell, a cultural geographer at Syracuse University informed us of the hidden history of this place.

In the documentary, we feature the albany landfill at the end, as a way to contrast the possibilities and limitations of outdoor public spaces with indoor ones, like infoshops. On the one hand, in an outdoor public space like this, it seems that certain social groups are less likely to dominate the space. It can have a feeling of being more genuinely open. At the same time, it is subject to city control. But the thing about the landfill is that it seems so unrestricted. The art is not censored or painted over or taken down. At least not so far. We've been hearing for over a year that the landfill is in threat of being demolished for commercial development. We aren't sure where this stands right now. I'm glad that I got a chance to see it again, if nothing else.
me and stirling at the landfill (june 2006)

All of the following were taken june 2006:

Pictures from previous visits: (much of this artwork is no longer around)

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one of my favorite pieces, now gone. (summer 2004.)

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there were a few of these concrete slabs with stencils of well-known activists. The other one I remember is Malcom X. Notice that Goldman was given a mustache by a later visitor to the landfill. I am pretty sure that these are still around, and have been at least since 2004. (summer 2005)

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i don't think this is here anymore, but maybe i just didn't see it this time. (summer 2005)

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summer 2005.

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The famous "castle." It's been heavily graffitied over since I last saw it in March 2006. (july 2006)

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july 2006. There are several panels of these paintings by the same artist that line a path along the waterway. Some of them have been heavily altered by affects of weathering since I first saw them in 2004.

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another of my favorites. this was taken in summer 2004 and is no longer around.

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summer 2004. this huge gate with statues was made entirely out of some sort of foam material. it isn't around as far as i could tell.

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This is the center where everything opens out and there is a continually rotating array of trash sculpture. This was taken in july 2005.

Also, an entire documentary was made about the landfill. It's called Bums' Paradise. The website can be found here: I haven't seen it yet but am interested in doing so.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Farmers Thrown off Land at the South Central Farm

Well, it seems like the end of the fight for the Los Angeles South Central Urban Farm might be over soon.

Here is the latest from the Los Angeles Daily News:

The end for South Central Farm?

Not legal challenges, not folk singers' entreaties, not even a last-minute infusion of $10 million could save the South Central Farm.

Sheriff's deputies moved in before dawn Tuesday to evict the farmers from the 14-acre plot, a rare swath of green in the otherwise industrial belt between Alameda Street and Long Beach Avenue. Seeking to prolong the multiyear land dispute, protesters chained themselves to pipes inside.

Actress Daryl Hannah, environmental activist John Quigley and a few other demonstrators secured themselves above the fray in a walnut tree. Supporters poured in, chanting and waving signs, as county Sheriff's Department deputies and Los Angeles Police Department officers bearing clubs and shotguns surrounded protesters, making arrests.

"This is the end, my friend," said Tezozomoc, one of the farmers' representatives, quoting a line from Jim Morrison. "But we don't know yet. This is just another chapter."

A chapter in the struggle that dates back to the mid-1990s, one involving celebrities and community activists, political pressure and complex land deals. Developer Ralph Horowitz bought the site two decades ago, lost it to the city through eminent domain, then bought it back for the price the city paid him. In the interim, the sizable site became used by more than 350 families to farm peppers, cilantro, squash and indigenous herbs.

But after Horowitz regained the property with the intent to transform the rows of corn and cactus into a commercial project, the farmers sat on tenuous ground. They fired off 61 claims to block development, all rejected by the court, and requested a temporary restraining order, also turned down.

They enlisted the help of high-profile supporters such as Hannah, folk music icon Joan Baez, musician Ben Harper and his wife, actress Laura Dern.

And they relentlessly lobbied Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to use his clout to keep the site open. Through various sources, his office was able to wrangle $6 million in donations, well short of the $16.3 million Horowitz originally requested to sell the site.

Last week, the Annenberg Foundation announced a surprise offer of $10 million in cash and an agreement to finance the remaining $6 million.

But Horowitz, reportedly furious about being cast as the villain by farm supporters, rejected the offer and demanded the farmers removal. At 5 a.m. Tuesday, 65 helmeted deputies of the Sheriff's Department's Civil Management Unit moved in, with the LAPD and Los Angeles Fire Department assisting.

Authorities cut through the chain-link fence around the farm and extricated the demonstrators who'd locked themselves inside. Then came an earthmover to level off the ground for a fire engine. The truck pulled inside and extended its ladder, eventually plucking the remaining protesters from the tree shortly after noon.

The LAPD arrested 27 people on suspicion of failing to disperse, and sheriff's deputies arrested an additional 17, including Hannah, on suspicion of failing to obey a court order and obstructing a peace officer.

The scene was chaotic, but largely peaceful. There were demonstrators accusing the authorities of breaking apart the community. Then there were counterdemonstrators accusing the farmers of breaking apart the community. Then came the guitar players, then the drummers.

Armed with an ear-splitting whistle and a pot she banged with a rock, farmer Andrea Rodriguez angrily defended the site she's come to rely on.

"We want to go back to Mother Earth, get nutrition for our families," she said in Spanish. "We will struggle. We won't go. We are all together and we will not leave. We're just farmers, we don't have money, but we're still important."

Repeated attempts to reach Horowitz at his office were unsuccessful, though he told The Associated Press that he found the farmers to be ungrateful and wanted his land back. Though Dan Stormer, an attorney for the farmers, said they'll have one more day in court in July to try to claim ownership of the land, Horowitz has already said he will not sell to the farmers or their supporters.

A few hours after the evictions, Villaraigosa spoke with Horowitz on the telephone and reiterated his support for the Annenberg Foundation's $16 million offer.

But Horowitz said the property was worth even more money, Villaraigosa told reporters later. Horowitz also told the mayor he felt personally vilified by the farmers and wouldn't sell until he evicted every single person from the land.

"I told him that from my vantage point, this is a more than fair offer. This is an opportunity for us to have an urban garden in the city that wants to be the greenest big city in America," Villaraigosa said. "And he said, well, that was nice but he wasn't accepting."

While running for mayor, Villaraigosa pledged to help save the farm and, once in office, assigned Deputy Mayor Larry Frank to seek private donations to help the farmers buy the land from Horowitz.

But the price was a moving target, the mayor said, going from about an estimated $6 million to $10 million to $12 million to the final price tag of $16 million.

The mayor and allies had a hard time raising funds to buy the land because many potential donors felt the land wasn't worth the price.

"I understand a businessman's need to invest and make a profit. I also have a high respect for and will defend property rights," Villaraigosa said. "But I also believe that we are called upon by a sense of community and civic duty to do the just and right thing. I had hoped that the landowner would have heeded that call."

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Tour is Over... but the blog will live

Hello to all of our readers. Our tour is over. We had a great time traversing the country, looking at each region/city/neighborhood with questions of the politics of place at the forefront of our minds.

We saw the same patterns of gentrification/revitalization of urban areas everywhere that we went, being played out in slightly different ways depending on the place. We saw public housing being torn down to make room for supposedly "mixed income live/work spaces." (starting in the mid- 500,000s) We saw banners lining the downtowns "live! work! play!" We saw parts of the country that were more neglected and in states of decay than we had thought possible in this country and were shocked at how obviously race and class played into these scenarios. We saw how easily history and public memory can be erased when physical places are destroyed and replaced with something new.

We saw people talking about the importance of place everywhere we went. We saw clear regional differences that do still exist in this country, despite the image of homogeneity that some people might have. There is a clear division between east and west coast, between coast and no coast, between the urban east coasters and the rest of the country.

We saw grassroots urban food production and the attempt to make cities greener and more sustainable in every city. We saw temporary and (semi)permanent physical spaces that encouraged critical thought/discussion and the opportunity for non-commercial, non-city-sponsored activities to occur. We saw art taking back sidewalks, abandoned buildings, and corporate billboards. Everywhere we went, we met people who were actively engaged in critiquing the dominant society and working on projects to create compassion and sustainability now.

We screened the film almost 30 times and only had to cancel one screening, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, when no one showed up to Internationalist Books. Getting in the car wreck on our way back from Lawrence, Kansas put a big damper on the way that we ended the trip. I spent about 2 weeks in bed recovering from a concusion and with back pain. I feel pretty much better now, although not 100%.

We had talked about continuing the blog as a forum for us to put up our thoughts about place politics in our daily lives. I am in San Francisco for the summer and might have some things to say about being here. Courtney will be in Denver, teaching kids at a summer camp and hopefully she will chime in sometimes too. Also, we have plans to make a revised (and better quality, technically speaking) shorter version of the documentary to be broadcast on Freespeech TV. We will be working on that in August, so if you are interested in finding out more about this project please get in touch with us.

Thanks, Liz

Update: LA's South Central Urban Farm

This article about the South Central Urban Farm appeared in today's New York Times. To learn about the battle against eviction that is going on, or to donate money so that the land the farm is on can be saved, you can go to their website:
Also, some of the people who are camping out on the farm in order to stop the eviction have set up a blog documenting their efforts here:
Hollywood Stars Shine Down on Protest to Preserve an Urban Farm
Published: June 9, 2006
Daryl Hannah and John Quigley spoke from a walnut tree last month.
Children gawked. Grown-ups gawked. And several television camera crews gawked, their lenses pointed upward to capture her every move.
"Hi guys," Ms. Hannah called down cheerfully from a narrow plank wedged among the limbs.

Ms. Hannah, who has played an android, a mermaid and a 50-foot woman in the movies, was pulling a stunt, but not for the pictures. She was trying to save a farm, in this case the South Central Farm. Schools in Los Angeles are deteriorating. Gang warfare has increased in some areas. Many people can scarcely afford homes.

But for a certain set of celebrity environmental activists, it is the farm, and the threat of a developer's bulldozer clearing away the cactuses, corn, squash, medicinal herbs and other plantings of mostly Latino squatters on a nearly 14-acre verdant area surrounded by a patchwork of warehouses, that commands their intervention.

For the past few years the scene here, in an area the city now officially calls South Los Angeles, has played out as one of those intermittent urban dramas not quite at the forefront of the public (read: media) consciousness but not quite fading away either.

This time the celebrity-tinged vigil might pay off with a Hollywood ending. The Annenberg Foundation on Wednesday pledged an unspecified sum — the developer had asked for about $16 million — to the Trust for Public Land, a conservation group, to buy the land and preserve it.

"The monetary issue is now off the table," Dan Stormer, a lawyer for the farm, said Wednesday night after getting word, setting off cheers and song among the farmers.
Cut. Wrap.

Well, hold on. The developer who owns the land, Ralph Horowitz, has not sent word on whether he will accept the deal. He did not answer telephone messages on Thursday.

A cliffhanger.

Ms. Hannah said the cause has drawn so much star power because more is at stake than the fate of what organizers call "the largest urban farm in the country." The farm, she said, has come to symbolize a lost way of life, a joining of community against the urban tide.

"It represents possibility on so many different levels," she said, descending the tree to terra firma, where Joan Baez has strummed the guitar, Danny Glover has walked among the crops and Ed Begley Jr., Martin Sheen and others have taken their turns before the cameras.
"It's great for community," Ms. Hannah added, the howl and clanging of nearby trains breaking the idyllic air. "And one thing responsible for the breakdown of society is a lack of community."

It's also a bitter fight over real estate that shows even the bleakest stretches here are not spared. The farm emerged after the 1992 riots when the city, which had bought the land from a developer six years before, leased it to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and allowed the farmers, who organizers say now number some 350, to move in and grow crops.

Most are Mexican and Central American immigrants who raise the crops, divided into plots by mazelike fencing, for food. Some of them, the LA Weekly has reported, left for other community gardens over complaints of browbeating from the farm leadership, which the leadership has denied.

Josefina Medina has grown fava beans, flowers, nopales — a kind of cactus pear — and other plants for more than five years, hoping to instill in her children and grandchildren a sense of nature and the agrarian culture of her native Puebla, Mexico.

"Smog is at a very high level here and many children suffer from asthma," Ms. Medina said at a candlelight vigil at the farm. "This farm cleans the air while teaching our children about their roots, that our ancestors grew these kinds of plants."

In 2003, Mr. Horowitz, the original owner, exercised his right — after legal maneuvering with the city — to buy the land back. Since then, he has battled with the farmers and their lawyers to get them off the land. Local news accounts in the past year have quoted him as planning a warehouse there.

Things came to a peak in late May when an option for the Trust for Public Land to buy the property expired, with the group having raised only about half of the $16 million purchase price. That intensified hand-wringing among city officials, advocates for the farmers and representatives of nonprofit organizations, who reached out to Mr. Horowitz to negotiate further.

To put public pressure on preserving the farm, organizers enlisted celebrities, including Julia Butterfly Hill, an environmental activist known for sitting in a redwood for two years in the late 1990's to protest clear-cutting.

Ms. Hill climbed the walnut tree and set up camp and called a friend, Ms. Hannah, who pledged to stay on the farm, sometimes in the tree, sometimes in a tent, until its future was secure. Other recent visitors included Mimi Kennedy of the television series "Dharma & Greg" and Alicia Silverstone from the movie "Clueless." Leonardo DiCaprio sent a letter of support from a movie set in Africa.

"It's very exciting," Ms. Hannah said of the newest turn in the story, "but we are keeping our fingers crossed."