Oakland sidewalk makers: A century in a graph


Since my survey of every Oakland street finished, my attention has turned to digesting the results. This histogram presents the number of different concrete workers who left their names on the sidewalks of Oakland during a given five-year period. The number reflects just the presence of their names, not the amount of sidewalks they built. The graph is based on about 90 percent of the city. We can’t take its significance very far, but it’s still interesting.

Beyond the bluntness of the conceptual tool, we have to keep in mind what the data misses. Many concrete workers did not date their work. Presumably most of the oldest marks have been paved over. Of course I’ve missed many of the most recent marks put in place after I’d passed by. No doubt some marks were obscured by fallen leaves, parked cars, poor lighting conditions etc. when I visited the street. My attention surely lapsed now and then. Contractors’ practices and city policies have changed. Dealing with that stuff is why historians go to college.

That said, the bones of the data are pretty clear. The Era of Artisanal Sidewalks spanned some momentous times: the post-1906 earthquake boom, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II and the Great Acceleration that followed, which is not in the textbooks yet but surely will be soon. I look forward to your thoughts.

I prepared this graph for a talk to the Oakland Heritage Alliance in January 2015. (The Alliance website lost its past in a redesign, so as the lady said there’s no there there.) The talk was fun; I could give a new version to your organization.

One Response to “Oakland sidewalk makers: A century in a graph”

  1. James Yuanxin Li Says:

    I’ve long enjoyed seeing the old names on sidewalks. However, I’ve assumed that recent sidewalk makers who put their names on sidewalks must be required to do so by a city. Anyone doing this voluntarily as a show of pride in workmanship is just putting out an invitation to be sued someday. My love of history is trumped by my being realistic as a lawyer.

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