Speculative Urban Interventions


Designed Erasure is a mapping and oral history project led by Brandi Summers, in collaboration with Maya Sapienza. The focus of this research project is to explore how race and racialization contribute to the various cycles of development, destruction, and redevelopment in West Oakland. The questions that animate this research are: what does it mean for Black people in Oakland to live through constant cycles of movement, containment, dispossession, and erasure? How can we imagine various forms of displacement and emplacement alongside the mechanisms that attempt to keep Black people in place?

For this project, we will use layered historical maps to document Oakland's planning history, and current policy on homelessness that has been generated by the city of Oakland. In particular, we examine containment, urban renewal infrastructure, architecture, austerity, and homelessness as racialized phenomena. While the project examines connections between urban renewal (as "Negro removal") and contemporary policy that constrains the mobility of the unsheltered and unhoused, we complement this analysis with oral history interviews with current and former Black West Oakland residents, archival photographs, and tax and homeownership records to reimagine a politics of Black placemaking (staying in place) as a way to designate a legible Black future in Oakland. Reclaiming Black West Oakland through a politics of staying in place does not involve simply taking up space, but specifically doing so in response to the systemic silencing and removal of Black people from the Black city and Black spaces. To reclaim space allows us to ask questions and offer narratives of what it means to stay in place, making legitimate claims to space and the meaning of space. Resisting displacement and dispossession is only one part of the story; “staying” opens up the possibility to imagine geographies that were never thought to be seen.

Funding support for Designed Erasure has been generously provided by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues (ISSI)


Terrae Cognitae is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary mapping and oral history project conducted by Katherine Chen and Henry DeMarco, and advised by Professor Summers. The project focuses on the designation of Berkeley’s unhoused encampments as neighborhoods. We contend that a proper designation as “neighborhoods” would help connect unhoused communities in Berkeley to basic resources that any other Berkeley neighborhood is entitled to (waste removal, clean water, sanitation, etc.) However, unhoused communities in Berkeley are afforded neither humanity in existing media narratives nor formal recognition as neighborhoods––the former contributes to the latter. Homeless encampments are derisively regarded as “terra incognita,” despite representing colloquially known neighborhoods that are populated by people with their own narratives, attachments to place, and cartographic knowledge. This project, therefore, seeks to combat the toxic and dehumanizing effects of treating these places as unknown and unmarked, which we will accomplish by working collaboratively with Berkeley’s encampment communities to produce robust and diverse cartographic representations of these spaces as neighborhoods.

Funding support for Terrae Cognitae has been generously provided by the Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize.

Berkeley Lab for Speculative Urbanisms
University of California, Berkeley