You guys know this alley? It’s where 18th Street would be if there were an 18th Street right here, and it goes between Broadway and Telegraph. There’s an entrance here to the 19th Street BART Station. Despite its location, however, the alley does not get a whole lot of use.
Probably because it smells bad, it’s often filthy, and it is poorly lit at night. BART owns it.
When you come out on the Telegraph side, you are right across the street from the Fox Theater. You would think, then, that it would make sense for visitors taking BART to Fox shows to use this spot to enter and exit the BART station. Instead, they mostly use the exit at the corner of 19th and Broadway, right in front of the Hat Guys and where Oaksterdam University used to be before they had to go get bigger digs.
Since you can’t see the Fox Theater from that exit and there is no signage anywhere directing people, they often stand there asking each other which way the theater is. Then after the show everyone pours out of the theater and walks back to Broadway to go back on BART at 19th Street again.
17th Street Gateway
I suppose there’s nothing really wrong with the way this works right now, but it definitely doesn’t make for the world’s most enticing welcome to Oakland for visitors coming to check out this thriving Uptown arts and entertainment district they’ve all been hearing so much about.
Happily, the City is doing something about it! Using Redevelopment Funds, they’re going to brighten up the alley with landscaping and cool light art! From the staff report (PDF) about this, which came to Life Enrichment Committee two weeks ago:
The focus on redeveloping this particular site, in addition to its strategic location, arose from the concerns of local property owners regarding the cleanliness of the site, the need for BART patrons to feel safer, and lack of sufficient signage alerting pedestrians to the existence of this entrance to the station. Long-range planning efforts for the Uptown District have also consistently identified this location as a key opportunity site for public art.
Redevelopment Agency staff and City Public Art staff have developed a project to revitalize the site through a collaborative design team between the project landscape architect and a professional artist, with input from community and other stakeholders. The landscape architect/artist design team will collaborate on the transformation of the existing space into a memorable, distinctive arts-centered gateway for Oakland’s re-emerging Uptown arts and entertainment district. The artist selected for the project had to demonstrate experience working with a six or seven figure budget, experience working as part of a design team, experience working with integrated architectural design and experience in the creation of light-based/new-media art installations, with transit-related project experience a plus.
Skeptical? Yeah, I totally don’t blame you. I mean, we all remember the last time the City tried to get involved with art in the Uptown neighborhood.
This is no Champions for Humanity!
So you’re probably thinking that the Redevelopment Agency would want to do one of two things. Either slap a quick mural up on the wall and call it a day, or find some kind of hideous and terrifying sculpture to stick there that will frighten all the visitors back into the BART station. Or maybe just close off the BART station exit entirely and turn the alley into a parking lot. That’s three things, I guess. Anyway.
Happily, they are doing none of those things. They’re actually investing a substantial amount of money into ensuring that we’re able to have something genuinely nice right here that will really draw the attention of visitors and make a strong impression. The art component of the alley improvements is $600,000, which is close to half of the whole project budget.
I know what the tea party contingent is thinking right about now, and you can relax. This isn’t money that would otherwise be going to policing. In Oakland, when the Redevelopment Agency spends money in an area, 1.5% of the money they spend gets set aside to be used specifically on public art in the area. Since the City has invested a significant amount of money already in the Uptown neighborhood, there is a decent pot of funds sitting there already, waiting to be spent on art.
Anyway, so they put out an invitation for artists to apply listing all their requirements, and they got 148 applications, which were then reviewed by a selection panel and they picked this artist from Seattle, Dan Corson.
What will it look like?
Well, that part hasn’t been decided yet. But I have high hopes. At the Life Enrichment Committee meeting, they showed some examples of other light-based work the artist had done, and almost all of it looked really neat.
This one was my favorite, though. It’s in Ft. Lauderdale. The lights on the trees change color when you walk past them. And then there are also the tiles on the ground nearby that you can press which will initiate one of four different little light shows among the trees.
Anyway, we’re going to have to wait a little while to see what he’s going to do here. When the final proposal is ready, it will come back for review by the City and the Cultural Affairs Commission. A friend of mine went to a planning charrette about it a month or two ago, and they said that everyone there’s big idea for a cool thing to do with the alley was some kind of archway. Lame! But I trust that Dan Corson will come up with something a bit more creative than a stupid arch that says “Uptown” or something equally dumb.
Anyway, I’m glad that they’re doing something nice with the alley, and I look forward to seeing the proposal when it is ready. And if you want to watch the video of the meeting, well, there it is, above.