A blog about the beautification and re-redevelopment of Oaktown from the viewpoint of a downtown resident, dark greenie, new urbanist fan and world traveler.

I also run a pedicab in central Oakland. It’s called “Back Seat.”

[As of 2010, it’s Backseat Driver.]


k150 [at] yahoo

8 responses to “About

  1. I’m all for turning a new corner but I suggest being really careful with your wording, approach and sensitivity to residents of the “Old Oaktown” who’ve been here for years. Any talk of Redevelopment, even “re-redevelopment” has bitter connotations for urban dwellers and people of color. As you envision a new city it’s very important to consult and not disrespect the old city.

    Just a thought from someone in the middle of this gentrification, new/old city debate.

  2. The time to redevelop cities is now.

    “The problem in America is not a lack of ideas. It is a tendency to equate any large-scale government construction project, no matter how thoughtful, with the most brutal urban renewal tactics of the 1950s.”

    I think the French did a good job of this in Morocco – they developed “new cities” next to, but separate from, the old cities. This preserved the character, charm and social fabric of the old cities.

    I don’t see that happening to the same extent in Oakland, but it is possible. In looking at places to rent or buy I’ve heard from property managers stories of 15 people living out of one apartment, selling drugs on the streets and causing havoc generally. If gentrification means cleaning that up and ending welfare subsidies, I am all for it.

    There will always be poor people in the world, the bible says so. I wish it weren’t so but it won’t change. I’d love to drop a billion dollars on west and east oakland and revitalize those communities, but I don’t think it’s possible.

    That would be unearned wealth (at least in this generation) and a handout and it wouldn’t do anything to help people’s self respect and self determination or teach them how to start going to school again or how to run businesses.

    If 1st generation immigrants from other parts of the world can make it here in Oakland (Ethiopians, Chinese, Mexicans, Pakistanis) why can’t the poor elements (read, mostly black) of Oakland make it? Why do ghettos – like rich areas – perpetuate themselves? I don’t have all the answers but I think few would be hard pressed to call for a return to the 1990s in “Old Oaktown.”

    And how far back should we go to respect the “Old” residents? I hear that blacks from the south moved into former Japantown throughout Oakland, due to Japanese being incarcerated in internment camps. What about the Italians who moved to Oakland after the 1906 earthquake in SF created a wave of survivors from Richmond to San Leandro? What about the Indians who lived here? Perhaps I’m being silly. I know what you mean – respect the current old-timers.

    It makes sense to reach out to our older communities when development will impact them. Many people in 1-story houses in Temescal/Rockridge have complained about 5-story condo and apartment buildings and gotten some compromises that way. That’s good. If old/existing residents don’t stand up for themselves, that’s too bad for them. Reach one, teach one means God helps those who help themselves. So if there is no opposition from a neighborhood, that would mean it is blighted and disorganized. If a neighborhood gets organized, then great. I don’t think we have to worry too much either way, just keep the incentives and structure in place to accommodate everyone’s needs.

    For instance, where I live now is a former urban wasteland: three blocks of surface parking lots. Now it’s a 5-story apartment complex with underground parking, bringing in new tax revenue for the city, new people, new ideas, new energy. It’s a place worth caring (more) about. Same with the newly renovated FOX Oakland.

    I agree that gentrification can have negatives. There are trade offs in everything. I’ve read about DC’s gentrification and how black families had strong ties to their southern kin and culture and “made it” working in DC. I’m proud of them. I wish the same could happen here. And then, eventually more white people moved back in, complaining about “noise” and putting up fences. Every group has their own tendencies. I see that Latinos and whites moving into West Oakland has changed its character. I’d argue that no ethnic group can claim a “forever” ownership of any physical space. That would be racist and unnatural. People come and go. Why not the same at a community level as an individual level?

    If it’s sad that a community falls apart, they can resurrect themselves in situ, or in another place, if there was really anything there. Life and urban civilization is all about cycles – the rise and fall of them. We all are born, grow, reproduce, then die and leave this world. Communities are the same.

    I think a bicycle and streetcar city would respect and honor both new and old residents in Oakland. I don’t think continued parking lot expansion, freeway building that divides communities, more crime and dilapidated buildings respect the old city. I think that’s a sign of the lack of attention, energy and care the nation has given its cities. (I don’t say you are supporting all these negatives, but I am pointing them out to you as what has been part of my experience living in Oakland and what “change” I want to see. And yes, there are some negatives IMO.)

    That’s why it’s really promising (so far) that Obama created a new Office of Urban Policy and is directing more federal funds to urban areas such as Oakland. I’d hate to see Oakland’s flavor leave – Easy Lounge, Church’s Chicken, Uhuru, the BPP, Black Muslim Bakery and old record shops and so on are the old flavor. Well, at least two of these we can do without.

    I’d like to preserve historic buildings and neighborhoods. But not parking lots, empty lots and broke down subdivisions. I hope we don’t become a disneyland for the rich, as SF is. I am certain it will happen eventually. Maybe.

    Oakland is really polarized between neighborhoods. I’m sure that an increase in richer residents (upper class) will threaten poorer residents (lower class) in Oakland. It’s just irritating to be around people who have way more than you, right? On the other hand, that creates opportunities. I see some obviously working class people starting up street businesses that service the upper class. Hotdog stands in front of music venues. Pedicabs. Nail salons. It is possible to bring yourself up with help and focus. I say this because I think you are representing a poorer demographic of Oakland which has had its day, but is not currently a business powerhouse. (Because if it were strong economically, they wouldn’t be in the process of being “gentrified” as you put it.)

    Yes, re-development done top-down by government and developers can be nasty. I’ve read the biography of Robert Moses and how he tore down whole neighborhoods in NYC just to build expressways and freeways.

    We’ve had the same here. I say it ruined Oakland in the same way. I’m not saying you support that part of Oakland (excessive highway buildout in our built environment) but I’m pointing out one of the things I’d like to see changed in Oakland. Removing some of these auto sewers would do much to improve life for “old oakland residents” – reduced asthma and other health problems from all the smog.

    Thank you for bringing up this topic, and I’ll see about doing a few posts about new/old and people’s expectations and experiences.

    When thousands of richer people move into a place, they will necessarily displace poorer people who are priced out. I don’t think there is anything new about this in the history of humankind. Recent example is SF: 17,000 households moved into SF last year who make over 150k per year; an equal number who make less than that moved out.

    A higher cost of living is like an invisible wall to keep poor people out. I don’t think it’s done on purpose. It just is. A natural ebb and flow of nature. And historically, cities were where wealth concentrated, so the 70s-00s era was an aberration in world history.

    Poorer Americans have enjoyed the use of central cities left behind by richer Americans. That is simply reversing now. Suburbs will be the new slums, and cities will be the new suburbs. And all of it will be nostalgic to someone, eventually.

    What do you think about all this?


  3. Wow. I think you just gave me a plannergasm.

  4. Hi there,

    We are a photographer and an oral historian based in Oakland CA. Our goal is to create an in-depth portrait of our unique communities. To do so, we have been taking 35mm photographs and audio recordings of people that we meet while walking around the city. With what we’ve collected we have created Projet En Vue. The simple mission of our project is to bring people together with different perspectives and life experiences, in order to create a greater narrative of the community as well as what it means to be human in the modern world. We currently showcase our photographs and the audio from the interviews on our website, projetenvue.org. In addition, we are planning a series of gallery shows featuring portraits as well as interactive audio installations and are self publishing a photo book & zine at a local print shop which uses sustainable and vegan materials.

    To help spread awareness of Projet En Vue we ask that you feature us on your site, becoming a part of this great local network of artists and community members. If you desire, we can also feature your press on our websites.

    Thank you for your time,

    Sati & Saskia
    Projet En Vue
    Oakland, CA

  5. what about east oakland??

    • What East O issues are you interested in?

      Thought I wrote about Eastmont Mall before but I could be wrong.

      It’s developing slowly over by Coliseum station. Champa Garden rocks in Near-west East Oakland, and the “Chinatown” over there is cheaper and there are more hipsters over there than in West Oakland.

      Youth Uprising has a nice slush no-bid funding deal with the city. They probably could be doing more with the money they have, but it’s something. EastO should benefit from BRT.

      OPD is the enemy over there, at least among people who haven’t had, “positive interactions” with the city’s police.

      Fruitvale has great food but EBX covers that well. It feels like a little Mexico or South Central to me at times.

      Anything else? 🙂 I’ll entertain any story ideas or contribs.

  6. You said: “If 1st generation immigrants from other parts of the world can make it here in Oakland (Ethiopians, Chinese, Mexicans, Pakistanis) why can’t the poor elements (read, mostly black) of Oakland make it? Why do ghettos – like rich areas – perpetuate themselves?”

    This is an entirely apples-to-oranges comparison, and the fact that you’re asking this question indicates that you have a lot to learn about the culture and history of both the African-American community, and of the (mostly post-1970s) immigrant communities you refer to.

    I come from one of those immigrant communities. We did not begin our history in this country as slaves. We were not brought here against our will – we came by choice. Our families were not systematically broken up over generations. We did not have to live under Jim Crow laws, redlining, segregration, and so many other forms of discrimination that only continued the dark history of America’s treatment of African-Americans.

    You may think this is all in the past, but it is most certainly not. Americans, especially white Americans, seem to have a hard time believing this, but the histories of our ancestors have a huge impact upon our lives today.

    I’ve given you just a start to understand the answer to your question. It’s up to you to do the reading and research to fully understand the reasons behind the answer.

    • g2-67008713bbd0a439e9e75a05cccf263e

      I agree that history isn’t there for more recent immigrants unless they’re from Congo, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, El Salvador, Vietnam… It’s really quite complicated and the more I look at it, the more I think said community needs extra help. A hand up, not a hand out – help in dignified ways. Like hack oakland mentorship, girls can code, and the like. Love.

      It’s up to the victims to stop feeling as though they are victims. To forgive those who have wronged them in general and specifically, so they can move forward. With a victim mentality, anyone would continue expecting more of the same, continuing to blame others, harbor justified though weighty resentment, instead of turning inward for support and resources. Of course every group, tribe and person has unique problems, challenges. These are all opportunities for self betterment and serving the world.

      It’s going to take all of us being compassionate, earnest and loving to contribute to solutions. Thank you for posting.

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