Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas by Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit’s book, Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, uses a series of maps to explore connections between history and geography that contextualize personal experiences in the city. Rather than mapping topography, climate or other typical data, topics such as race, food production, industry, and entertainment are mapped against each other.

One particular map explores the geographic relationship between “poison” and the “palate”; it maps major food producers in relation to large polluting factories. The bay area is home to some of America’s most responsible food producers and is the birthplace of the locavore movement, the edible schoolyard program, and Cesar Chavez’ 1960’s movement for agricultural workers’ rights. Conversely, today the Bay Area’s economy is largely supported by the tech industry. Production and design within these modern day “factories” produces toxic waste. In addition, the land is used for mercury mines, refineries, and the Bay itself is full of nuclear waste. The map points out this paradoxical connection between San Francisco’s “progressive” food systems and the toxic, polluted environment that is expected to support both agriculture and industry. In our project, the challenge will be to make fresh, safe food accessible without contributing to the existing pollution. This map brought to our attention the increasing need and importance of small scale food production and the danger of the pollution within the bay.

Another map looks at the connection between murders in 2008 and trees planted in 2009. Geographically, the map points out that most of the murders occurred in areas that didn’t receive much landscaping. Landscaping is generally an expensive task, one wonders does the map simply point out economic divisions within the city and their relationship to homicide or does the map imply that the landscape promotes a healthier culture? For our project we must look at how we can use the landscape to build community and how we can make quality open public space economically accessible to all communities.

Check out our forum to participate in a discussion on the geographic relations between food production, pollution, community health, and landscaping.

-Lauren

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