The city as palimpsest

What can we learn from the reading of the built environment as a physical record?

Oakland is a study of the old, the new and of reinvention. Just think of the physical traces left by Sears, Woolworth’s and I Magnin and then turn your attention to the Cathedral of Christ the Light, places like the Paramount or Fox Theaters, or the vitality of Art Murmur as a monthly albeit temporary urban atmosphere.  

Differing visions between what could and can be has resulted in many artifacts in the urban landscape. To name only a few, consider the excavated city block for the as-yet-unrealized 601 City Center, the empty lot for the promised tower at 12th and Broadway, the Progressive Architecture winning yet unrealized dream of a downtown mall that provided the site for City Center as it exists today, the money and hope that has been invested into Jack London Square over the years.

From it’s namesake trees less visible today, to railroads, to jazz, natural and man-made disasters, the port and national and international commerce, urban renewal and public policy, the city has a rich past from which present decisions can be deliberately and thoughtfully made.

Does the discussion of Oakland’s present and future rest upon a shared destiny with San Francisco, analogy with other American cities, or gravitate towards more general socio-economic, political, design and planning notions needed to address an increasing and increasingly urban global population?

As an architect, I wonder what new stories and what old stories will dwell together within the ever fleeting moment? What will result from the continuous writing, re-writing, reading and re-reading of this city? What are the ‘opportunity sites’ within this urban terrain that will catalyze the future?