downtown oakland
Downtown Oakland circa 1910

Revealing the Invisible Downtown

October 14, 2011

This Sunday, an Oakland Museum docent and the marksearch artist team will lead a bicycle tour of downtown Oakland’s historic “Square” parks. After three years and countless stories, it is the last event of a community art project called 10,000 Steps: Walking the Invisible City, an exploration of the role of Oakland’s first public parks in today’s downtown.

In the summer of 2008, the husband-and-wife marksearch team, Sue Mark and Bruce Douglas, began encouraging stewardship and community appreciation of the parks, which all have very 19th Century names: Jefferson, Lafayette, Madison and Lincoln. The parks are in Old Oakland and Chinatown, very old neighborhoods with commercial centers. Both saw significant new housing built in the last decade or so, and Old Oakland in particular has visibly transformed since Jerry Brown’s 10k Plan began. Referencing both the 10k Plan and the number of steps the Surgeon General recommends for a healthy lifestyle, the 10,000 Steps project is about placemaking, community, and public space.

Reviving Oakland’s first public parks

In cooperation with neighborhood groups, marksearch drew attention to the parks, helped renovate and improve them, and encouraged long-term park stewardship among neighbors. The artists, who specialize in place-based art revolving around walking and biking, researched the cultural and social history of Oakland’s first parks to imbue their legacy on the countless new and old residents in the center of our city. The project’s own legacy is a self-guided walking tour of brass markers in commercial districts pointing the way toward the parks, and a video of contemporary history and impressions of the park.

You can experience the project at Sunday’s bicycle tour leaving from the Oakland Museum at 10am. A cellphone-based self-guided tour is available until the end of the month. The video of the parks’ neighbors (including yours truly) isn’t available online but I will let you know if there are future opportunities to see it. You may also be interested in marksearch’s prior project, in which they pedaled around town in a tandem bicycle and asked the question, where is East Oakland?