Sunday, October 05, 2008

Reconnecting With Oakland.

Two weeks ago I was asked to come out and meet with CG and the interns that were helping him put together the latest Unicorn Mountain publication, to be titled Black Forest. I know I've mentioned this project before, but for those who don't remember- my work will be included in this collection of comics and quasi-comic art. I've been looking forward to this since early last year, when I learned that my offer of participation was accepted. It features stuff from some pretty heavy hitters in both the art-comix and pop surrealist worlds. The plan was to produce a number of mock-ups to shop around SPX (Small Press Expo) in Bethesda Maryland this weekend. It's an exciting time in this volume's development.

Anyway, there will be more details about the forthcoming book in the future. But the point is that I found myself at a little coffeeshop in Oakland, a neighborhood where I spent many years in classrooms getting various degrees. Amusingly enough, the very cafe we were gathered at was started years ago by an old friend of mine that I don't see very often anymore, along with his partner, whose ex-paramour I am currently close friends with. Her work is all over the joint. Right off the bat, I felt an odd disjunction between the days of my youth and my gradual approach toward "middle age". I was a little bit distracted as I was brought up-to-date with the progress of Black Forest.

After awhile we had covered everything that required my input, and I decided I'd take a walk around the "neighborhood" while CG finished the meeting. I walked down Forbes Avenue and saw the projection on the outside of the Carnegie Museum. It's a special component of the International, a wide survey of contemporary international art. It's held every few years, has a prestigious reputation, and I still haven't seen it. I guess I take it for granted, as it's up until January. I continued through a new "parklet" built by the University of Pittsburgh, that aims for an "old-timey feel" with benches, a big tented sitting area, quaint food stands hawking the usual junky fare, and a carousel.

I passed through a new student housing complex, encountering about thirty kids playing foursquare outside of an academic building. The type of construction that Pitt has been focused on seems to be designed in such a way so as to lend feelings of distance and insulation from the rest of the city. Instead of capitalizing on the unique urban and historical culture of Oakland, the University appears to be after some type of unfortunate homogenization, the likes of which has been plaguing city planning for decades now. Instead of rejoicing in the integrated urban setting, they are are trying to bring the suburbs to the inner city. While the business district used to be independent and idiosyncratic, there is no longer much that you can't find in a strip mall on any typical "miracle mile".

Still I have to admit enjoying my walk. South Oakland still retains much of the ambience it had when I first came to Pitt twenty years ago. It is certainly not as seedy or seemingly dangerous as back then, but much of the architecture has survived the recent gentrification of Central Oakland. The students milling about look more wholesome than we did, but I can't tell whether that's due to a generational or demographic shift. I can report feeling deep pangs of nostalgia for the place that still exists in my head. Whenever I passed the "O", the Towers, the Cathedral of Learning, Hemingway's, or a rental property that a friend once lived in, I was assaulted with a flood of memory and idealized sentiment. Somehow I never anticipated this experience when I was "young".

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Me V said...

merge,

let me just share my own experiences with you and say that I too, being in (the) Oakland (neighborhood of Pittsburgh) of the 90's and this one of today, many years later (and actually frequenting the java joint you mentioned at least 3 times/week..) have experienced the noticeable strangeness that occurs while walking around in a place that has fond memories for different reasons and places. I can only imagine what someone who lived/went to school there in the 60's and 70's thinks? their viewpoint that the university has gone to great lengths to homogenize (read: clean up, control the development of...) the business district would not be unfounded... Their aggressive real estate acquisition/development practices are well-known. Where are the independent businesses, indeed.
Personally, I mourn the plethora of those I used to frequent that have gone by the wayside: the beehive/pollinator, dave's music mine, the decade, tela ropa, upstage, attic, laga, avalon, jay's bookstall - to name but a few. It's amazing to think how many of these local businesses have been replaced by some national, ubiquitous thing in it's place. The utter lack of creativity in regard to it's evolution reflects an institution that is driven merely by finances... and yet, there are improvements.
Upgrades in the intersections with new cross-walk technologies make it a safer place for the pedestrian. 3 or 4 times the bike racks make it easier for the commuter. Green space where hundreds of cars used to be make it a little easier to relax somewhere. Finally, even though it replaces my beloved, dingy dancehall - students have a small grocery store.
So many changes, but that's probably what someone my age was saying when I originally walked the neighborhood...

11:25 PM  

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