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Community engagement in California

April 30, 2009
Entering California from Oregon on I-5

Entering California from Oregon on I-5

I recently spent a few weeks in northern California, and while I was there encountered an example of an attempt at communicating the past that I thought deserved some note.

I’ve idly musing for a while now on how the historical activity on a development site can be communicated to the site’s future users (be they workers in an office, shoppers at a mall, or residents of an apartment block), so I was quite interested by what I saw at Bay Street, Emeryville. Bay Street is a mixed-purpose retail/ residential/ entertainment development, built close to the site of the Emeryville Shellmound, a massive midden deposit created over the course of 2,500 years, and which contained numerous inhumations. The shellmound, which was said to be up to 40 ft high,  was levelled in 1924 (information from this site). The modern Bay Street development features a number of nods to the Shellmound, from the more figurative -such as a 50ft high metal arch that is supposed to represent the shellmound , to the more literal, such as a display of replica artefacts from the excavations on the site outside the restrooms. It was nice to see an attempt to represent the past use of the site, and even better to see (from my point of view at least) the replica artefacts, which although less architecurally impressive than the other elements, at least present evidence of the past without any interpretative distortion. Outside the restroom was an inpired choice of location too, as I’m sure we’ve all spent some time waiting around outside in those usually bare corridors while somebody uses the facilities. I dream of a day when permanent exhibitions of the site history are part of the planning conditions in the UK (and the USA or anywhere else for that matter).

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ken Whittaker permalink
    November 2, 2009 12:44 pm


    A couple of examples of permanent archaeological displays at sites where there the material was discovered at the time of development:

    Cambridge Motorway Service Station on the A1(M)
    Clackett Lane Service Station on M25

    Doesn’t occur too often, but it has been tried where there is a high level of footfall. It might be interesting to know if the car travelling public has an appetite for this type of dis/attraction.


  2. matthewlaw permalink*
    November 4, 2009 6:22 pm

    Thanks very much Ken, I wasn’t aware of those, but I pass Clackett Lane sometimes, perhaps I’ll take a look next time.



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