Transversing the Bay is a study of the San Francisco Bay Area that utilizes mass transit systems, advice
particularly the Bay Area Rapid Transit system and local ferries. By framing the movements of people and the spatial and affective domains created by these systems, side effects
our aim was the documentation and distillation of the emotional resonances and ephemeral qualities of place found in this region. There is a unique social ecology that revolves around each transit hub that informs the surrounding landscape, treatment
varying by the age of the line and the density of the location.

The photographs and sound that we captured were constrained by a one mile diameter within walking distance of the various transit hubs and reflect our particular experiences. It became obvious over the course of our study that the core/periphery relationship is a crucial one and our documentation is a reflection of movements from the furthest flung suburbs inward. In addition we found that the core urban centers are oversaturated by photography, by an almost blinding amount of representative documentation that can be found within seconds, so a prioritization of the over-looked peripheral spaces of everyday life become the primary focus of the photographs.

Mass transit in its most general form is a compression of time and space—riding it puts one in an interstitial zone between here and there. Regional transit systems span geographic distances to unify a diverse body of experiences and lifestyles, serving to urbanize the suburbs and suburbanize the metropolitan core. Our outside-in orientation provided surprising results, showcasing the variety of urban densities and scales that shift and transform as one moves throughout the Bay. Very few parallels can be drawn between these outer regions and the raucousness of Pier 39 or Powell Street. Pittsburg has huge open fields, rolling hills and coastline, dotted with heavy industry and new suburban developments. Compare this to Hayward where there is relatively high density right next to it main BART line but a half-empty downtown only a few blocks away with dozens of empty storefronts. Fremont has a Bollywood Movie theatre (Big Cinema) on one side of its transit hub and a lagoon on the other surrounded by gated communities. Lafayette with a hill dotted with white crosses for dead soldiers and just down the hill is a the Round-Up, an eighty-year old shack of a bar where during the day old locals have conversations ranging from gardening to pot legalization to ayurvedic medicine.

Ferries from Oakland to Sausalito provide another perspective on mass transit in the Bay Area. This method of movement used to be the prevalent form of transportation between Bay Area cities and the water level view of the Bay generates a very different picture of how the Bay Area moves and thinks. The San Francisco Bay Area is clearly influenced by its relationship to the water. Maritime activity used to be essential to the identity of the Bay. SOMA was home to sailors and dockworkers with short-stay hotels and bars that open at 6am. Every little port that dotted the edges of the Bay played its role in the maritime economy. Despite having a busy port in Oakland and cruise ships occasionally leaving from San Francisco, that water now plays less and less a part in what defines the Bay Area.

Just like any large metropolitan conglomerate there is a lot of diversity and capturing the diversity of people, objects, experiences, and environments is a daunting task and one fraught with difficult decisions and omissions. But what does all this mean for regional identity? The Bay area is many things to many people, its meaning is diffuse and indeterminate. The only way to get to the heart of the matter is to wade through specific instances, events, histories, and evidences of living that litter the ground of our existence.

Essential to a Bay Area identity is its proximity to nature. We say this with the understanding that nature is a highly coded sign constructed to describe elements of the landscape that are absent of the built environment. There remains an essential relationship between people in the Bay and how they relate to the landscape. For starters there is a lot of nature to go around. We are surrounded on all sides by Palm, Pine, and Eucalyptus, although it would be easy to forget if you never leave the flatlands of the inner East Bay. Within an hour in any direction one can be not only in a little strip of park or other reclaimed green space but in proper wilderness. The number of designated State, Regional, and National Parks built into and around the urbanized parts is one of the redeeming features of the Bay. And this relationship to nature is essential to our regional identity. From the crunchy tree-sitting eco-warriors to the weekend warriors in spandex trekking across the North Bay parks to the families enjoying a Sunday in Crissy Field, Tilden Park, Golden Gate Park, or the beach.

The Bay Area is full of contradictions. It is both a globally-connected region with diverse communities of immigrants from different backgrounds, yet it remains parochial and inward-looking. It has some of the wealthiest people in the United States and prides itself on being socially liberal, yet there is a high tolerance for glaring inequalities. It subverts and flattens the reality of different social classes, its endogenous development generally serving the interests at the top. San Francisco is derided by many for the perception that anything goes, people blinding accepting and embracing alternative lifestyles and subcultures embraced without fuss or critical thought. In many ways being part of a sub or counter-culture defines the mainstream in the Bay Area.

Another contradiction is the Bay Area’s relation to the military. From the Presidio and Fort Ross, to the vast military infrastructure of WWII with naval bases and shipyards in Alameda, Hunter’s Point, Richmond, Concord, and Mare Island, the military-industrial complex has exercised great influence over the region’s economy. Today most of these operations have been long abandoned, facilities turned over to developers or left to rot in place. However the emergence of Silicon Valley has its military connections, its tech pioneers often work on military projects including domestic surveillance for the “war on terror.” (see Trevor Paglen’s Torture Taxi) However, there is an equally long history of protests against war and the military industrial complex here in the Bay Area. For many, standing against militarism is a point of pride central to their identity, yet the military has been and remains a crucial part of the economy.

Perhaps the biggest and most understudied factor that is reshaping the Bay Area is the suburbanization of the urban core. San Francisco’s development priorities have essentially promoted a tourist infrastructure; through redeveloping certain neighborhoods to be palatable to suburbanites, encouraging gentrification, changing zoning laws to attract condo development, and luring starchitects to building signature buildings for tourists to flock and ogle. Without a transit infrastructure, city life becomes less accessible and thus mass transit is a fascinating lens through which one can refract the complex histories, joys, horrors, and experiences of a region and its people.