You Tell Us: Oakland, gentrification, and the hunt for cool

When I was growing up in Oakland, I remember watching, year after year, the Rockridge shopping district becoming posh.  For example, I saw the Lucky supermarket transform into a Whole Foods, also known as “Whole Paycheck,” before my eyes.  Less than a mile away from Whole Paycheck is Shattuck Avenue, which gradually intersects with Telegraph Avenue in downtown.  The wedge formed between the two had been a thriving Black business district as recently as the 1970’s—a woman who was born in the 1940’s reminisced to me about the roller-skating rink in the area, a gathering-place for young people, at which she can’t remember a single fight.

These are, of course, bittersweet memories, memories of strictly policed segregation, but those days also had industrial jobs which paid well enough, sometimes, to raise entire families.  A recent pattern of Black flight, to new suburbs and back to the South, has coincided with the turning wind that brought whites back in droves to the cities.  But there is an inevitable delay in such turnover, and the wedge between Shattuck and Telegraph has not become gentrified as much as Berkeley, San Francisco, or key neighborhoods in North Oakland, whose rents are constantly rising.

Nowadays, south of Bushrod, aside from a couple of bars and hair salons, there is no social business between Shattuck and Telegraph any longer.  Further East, toward the hills, the small streets are clogged throughout the workday with pedestrians whose baguettes poke rudely from their burlap shopping bags, waiting to cross the road after caravans of young parents in environmentally friendly outdoors vehicles.  If one is trying to drive from Oakland to Berkeley, the College Avenue route may take an hour; if one has the eccentricity to drive between Shattuck and Telegraph, or further west, on bombed-out-looking Market Street, it only takes fifteen minutes because most people in the area can’t afford cars and most people who can afford cars are afraid to drive there, or came to the area so recently that they haven’t discovered that post-industrial space that separates the East Bay from San Francisco, easily avoided by freeway.

The question, now, is the question of integration, just as much as it was in the 1950’s and 60’s.  As the Oakland Post reported on January 7, 2011, a new Brown University report has shown that segregation has not necessarily declined in large American cities, despite “The growth of the Black middle class, the passage of time since fair housing legislation was enacted, and the evidence from surveys that white Americans are becoming more tolerant of Black neighbors,” in the words of the report’s author, John Logan.

Logan’s data is helpful in confirming a suspicion that many of us would like to put to rest, that perhaps since Dr. King’s time things have actually gotten worse in terms of social justice in America, due, in part, to growing economic inequalities and Reaganesque privatization schemes.  Critic and theorist Hortense Spillers has said, poignantly, that we cannot say the name of the American antagonism we face right now, either because we don’t know its name, or because we know its name all too well.

But I would suggest that Logan fails to grasp the entire problem when he uses the word “tolerance” to describe white perceptions of Blacks in America.  Non-Blacks, including but certainly not limited to whites, are investing in and repopulating the formerly-demonized “inner cities,” places like Oakland, places whose recent histories are not only colored, but defined, by their associations with Black culture and entrepreneurship.  From NBA star Bill Russell to the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, all the way to Tupac Shakur, Oakland has been a place crucial to the definition of Black culture in America, and Black culture, from its music to its styles to its various philosophies, has long been inseparable from American culture in general.  When you observe young white folks at a bar in downtown, you can see the traces of Black style in their clothing, their haircuts, their musical tastes, their sensibilities.  The irony is that these same people form an important cause for the Black exodus from the area, and not because Blacks are “intolerant” of them, but because the rents, as if by magic, are steadily rising.

If gentrification were simply a process by which the city is “cleaned up,” as it is so often described, why would so many people flock to that “inner city” which is in dire need of cleansing?  What are they running from?  To be exact, we not only need to ask why it is that the city of Oakland’s Black population is shrinking, but, just as crucially, why is it that so many non-Black people are coming to Oakland from other places?  Why the reversal?  We must ask this question not in the interest of restoring Oakland to a previous state, but in the interest of understanding how this cosmopolitan racial musical chairs phenomenon came about (most striking in the instance of a city like San Francisco, which has tried recently to give incentives to keep its few remaining Blacks in the city; Berkeley is another example of a city whose once-sizeable Black population has shrivelled as its property rates went up ).

Jerry Brown has spoken recently about restoring order to Oakland, about the supposedly dire need for more police officers (as opposed to more public schools, more public events, more things which give meaning to those who might commit crimes).  I would urge you to understand that increasing the policing of Oakland without addressing the dire need for public programs which benefit everyday people, not merely the condo-dwellers and Whole Paycheck customers, will only contribute further to the divisiveness and the segregated atmosphere of the city.

Shoshone Odess Johnson was born in Oakland and raised in the Temescal district.  He lived in the East Bay for 19 years.  At the moment, he’s researching the politics of the chromatic at Goldsmiths, University of London.  He shops locally and cooks daily.

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You Tell Us is Oakland North’s community Op-Ed page, featuring opinion pieces submitted by readers on Oakland-related topics. Have something to say? Send essays of 500-1,000 words to staff@oaklandnorth.net. We’d love to hear from you!

All essays reflect the opinions of their authors, and not of the Oakland North staff or the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Oakland North reserves the right to edit submissions for length, clarity and spelling/grammar. You Tell Us submissions must be written in civil and non-offensive language. We do not publish hate speech, libelous material, unsubstantiated allegations or rumors, or personal attacks on individuals or groups.

 

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68 Comments

  1. Neal

    The former Lucky in Rockridge is a Trader Joe’s, not a Whole Paycheck. Very different vibe.

    • Shoshone Johnson

      Thanks for the correction…my mistake. But then I would note that Trader Joe’s and Whole Paycheck have become increasingly similar over the years in their target markets, aesthetics, store locations and products offered. The main difference would be that Trader Joe’s appears to be cheaper.

      • marijane white

        Disagree on the aesthetics, I find the two stores very different. Whole Foods are cavernous places, Trader Joe’s tend to be tiny (if not downright cramped). As for the prices, heck, I find food at Trader Joe’s is often cheaper than at Safeway.

      • Monica Magana

        Hi Shoshone Odess Johnson, I am currently a UCB undergraduate researching this same topic, and i am wondering if i can interview you? Perhaps via instant messenger if your not comfortable meeting in person?

        -Monica

  2. cwm

    that was a very good essay and you pose vital questions, although do you have evidence that rents have increased in Oakland? If I understand correctly, rents have dropped in many major urban areas as a a result of the general downturn in the economy

    • Shoshone Johnson

      So far I haven’t found good empirical studies of rent rates, so that part was based on word of mouth and my own experience. Gentrification as a process happens by area, so I would say that definitely in the poorest of areas the rents have probably gone down or stayed the same, but simultaneously in places like Rockridge or Temescal the rents have definitely gone up over the last ten years, partly because of their proximity to Berkeley. The real estate values index does show a steady trend of declining home prices in Oakland over the last few years, but this may not necessarily reflect the trend in rents. Also it’s important to note that certain neighborhoods home values have gone up in the last couple of years, especially Montclair, which uses Hwy 13 as a kind of buffer.

      • cwm

        Thanks for the reply, Shohone. I really enjoyed your essay. I am fascinated by the cultural and economic dynamics of gentrification . . . . I think Oakland is in a particularly difficult situation: in order to provide social services, you must raise revenue; to raise revenue, you need people with money; to appeal to people with money, you need to control and dominate the poor (if not expel them altogether).

        It is a vicious circle and, to my knowledge, one that is basically impossible to escape if you accept the broader parameters of capitalist urbanization.

        Ps. For what it’s worth, I live in ghetto Oakland.

  3. Megan

    Do you have any advice for those of us who are new to the area and love our new home (I’ve lived in West Oakland for the past year), but don’t want to push people out? Where can my voice/money best go?

    • livegreen

      Donate to your local public school. If you live in a hills area, donate to them + another public school that is in the Flats or straddles income areas.

      Other great groups you can hook up w/online include:
      Girls, Inc.
      Brothers on the Rise
      Missey

      • Shoshone Johnson

        Those are all excellent ideas. Get to know your neighbors as much as you can. It feels much harder than it is to introduce yourself to people you see all the time. The hardest part, as someone who is part of gentrification, is to break down the internal barriers of fear and dismissal to actually talk to people.

        Your voice might be more valuable than your money here. But it’s really about cultivating relationships with people who live in the area (trust networks are also much more effective than any burglar alarm you could install). Find out what it’s been like for people growing up in Oakland. Listen to people you wouldn’t normally listen to, or music you wouldn’t normally like.

        And, like livegreen said, a lot of the problems start with the (utter lack of) education and opportunities in Oakland. You can volunteer at most schools and there are lots of mentoring programs run by organizations like Youth Uprising.

  4. Brian

    Here’s a question.

    When condos are built on what used to formerly be a few acres of street level parking in the heart of downtown, is that gentrification?

    Seems like a good thing, but curious what other folks think.

  5. outofoakland

    “not merely the condo-dwellers and Whole Paycheck customers, will only contribute further to the divisiveness and the segregated atmosphere of the city.”

    I’d say that calling new residents simply “the condo-dwellers and Whole Paycheck customers” goes to further the divide as much as than anything else, no?

    After a half-decade of living in West Oakland, I’ve discovered that racism is more rampant in the black community than anyone would like to admit… and, sadly, this piece does little to indicate otherwise.

    • Shoshone Johnson

      There are lots of new residents who neither dwell in condos nor shop at Whole Foods. But my point was that the divide has to do with the lack which was imposed on the city already, having to do with the withdrawal of industrial jobs that brought people there in the first place. How many opportunities are there for youth growing up, say, in Acorn projects?

      And when you say “racism,” do you mean that they hate white people?

      • outofoakland

        But you are the one who coined the phrase in the essay above, so it’s you who are drawing the lines between residents — not helping to blend or erase them…

        By “racism” I mean the drawing of negative conclusions about a person based on ethnicity or race… in the cases I witnessed, it manifested in the drawing of negative conclusions by black residents about non-black residents. Or, perhaps, the drawing of conclusions about folks who live in condos or shop at Whole Foods.

  6. livegreen

    I’d like to point out that Oakland rents in the Flats are not all that high, that the area is rampant with forclosures, that Oakland is decreasing it’s Police force, and that most of the top brass of OPD is either African American or Latino.

    Also, it has been well documented that much of the black flight is the black middle class following their white and asian brethren out of Oakland due to crime. On an entirely anecdotal basis I know three different AfAm families that finally got fed up w/Oakland, two of which after having a run-in with young men with weapons, decided it was time to get-outta Dodge.

    Not much different from some caucasian and asian counterparts who’ve moved to other, safer east bay cities or (for those who are younger and in search of similar urban experiences) Portland and Seattle.

    • livegreen

      I would add that many of the new caucasian residents are coming from San Francisco where they’re getting priced out of that market.

      The African American residents who came here in the 40s, 50s and 60s were along with or supplanted white residents and previous waves of immigration from Germany, Portugal, and of course before all of that, Mexican-Americans.

      There are always movements of population that often reflect current economics, as much as past economics &/or discrimination…

      • Shoshone Johnson

        I agree with you in the sense that economics and race are inseparable.

        The top brass of the police being Black + Latino– for you this means that the police have the interests of Blacks and Latinos in mind?

  7. temescal1

    I enjoyed the article, because I like reading about the history of my “new hometown” of 11 years. But some things don’t mesh. Which area are you speaking of … the Whole Foods on Telegraph/Ashby; or the Trader Joe’s on College? Cause the Trader Joe’s on College is “NOT” in a wedge with Shattuck, at least not in the sense that the rest of your article addresses. Also, in some of your comment replies, you seem to ascribe things to writers rather than asking them for clarifications (e.g., with OPD top brass being Black or Latino, why not say “what does that mean to you?” rather than saying “for you this means that the police have the interests of Blacks and Latinos in mind?” and in my opinion, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are not at all alike. Plus, “Whole Paycheck” is a really tired cliche. Anyway, these and other things cause me to put little value on this particular article. I came away thinking, I don’t know exactly where/what this is talking about. And I’d love to understand it…I think you have a lot to offer.

  8. qtn

    Sorry, does not resonate. This article is so off-base on many different points… is this author even living in Oakland? We need new perspectives and ways to analyze and understand what’s happening in the outlying areas of urban cities such as Oakland. Gentrification is losing relevance.

    • temescal1

      Author currently lives in London, but did live in East Bay for 19 years. No indication of when he left. He’s studying “the politics of the chromatic” which I guess is the politics of color and/or culture. Maybe he’ll provide more insight 🙂

      • Shoshone Johnson

        You’re right. The politics of the chromatic, the politics of tone. I last lived in Oakland in 2009, and I’ll probably be back soon.

  9. WinO

    Capitalizing Black and lowercasing white is straight-up racist, as the reverse would be considered racist unquestionably.

    As a white male raising a family in Oakland, I think I’ve done more than my share of lifting the community. We live on the slope (between the flats and the hills), and my kids go to public elementary school there. I volunteer at the school doing fundraising and other extra activities. The parent volunteers are almost universally white despite being less than 10% of the student population, we are all volunteers. The mix of races is awe inspiring and I see little if any racism there, quite the opposite in fact.

    Schools in the flats, there is pretty much no parental involvement and no money. In the hills they have more soft money than they know what to do with. Meditate on that.

    You appear to be a 19-20 year old who is against “the system” with a burgeoning persecution complex, so I can disregard your essay quite easily. If I cared at all, I would be offended.

    If you do nothing to improve the community, you really have no leg to stand on. Perhaps you should keep your racism to yourself and let the adults move society forward.

    • cwm

      WinO, it’s pretty easy to be mean when you’re on the internet—oh no, another internet tough guy!—but you haven’t actually made an argument. What part of Shoshone’s piece do you disagree with and why? Instead of just putting down Shoshone, why don’t you enlighten us?

      For my sake, I think Shoshone wrote a very valuable essay that touched on important issues. I differ on some points, but I liked very much as a whole.

      • WinO

        I did not like the tone, and found it racist. Shoshone has no interested in being enlightened by me, probably the reverse as well.

        Here is some racism for you though, something to ponder. What about a baguette is rude? Perhaps you know. Are you familiar with the phrase “Acting white”? Is it good or bad, and what does it mean?

        Racism is nasty, touchy, evil business. I think everyone is racist, we breathe it like the air, it’s everywhere, in popular media and here too. Bully for you if you can ignore it. I am aware of my racism and hate it, hate to see open displays of racism, and wish my kids never learn it, but they will.

        If you have the will to abandon the persecution complex, the ability to take responsibility for your decisions, realize that nobody ever made you do anything, that you chose to give up your power, that you chose to do someone else’s bidding, that you made every choice that brought you to where you are right now, you will be truly free and the world will be a very different place. At first a painful experience, owning up to decisions you would rather disown and blame on others. Afterward, you have your life back.

        You cannot make people take responsibility though, it does not work that way. The only people who change are people who want to change.

        Tough guy? No. Tough questions? Yes.

        One more question. Over 100 people have been murdered in Oakland year after year for over a decade. Who is more responsible, me or you, and why? This must be a tough question because no one wants to answer it, or even know why.

        • Shoshone Johnson

          It’s a great question, about the murder rate. And the responsibility involved. If you haven’t yet, you should look at the impressive work that the Tribune has done in connecting these crimes to photos of the dead: http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2011/03/30/oakland-homicide-map/

          Murder in post-industrial cities like Oakland is a place where White (I’ll capitalize it for you) and Black good intentions are leading to a hellish outcome. The central causes are gradual but nearly absolute withdrawal of industrial labor after World War II, combined with an enormous lack of funding for social services such as education. The other causes are more complex and I will write another article addressing your convictions.

          • WinO

            It was a terrible question, fruit of an oft-told racist accusation. And has nada to do with your article, which inspired some highly introspective discussion, so kudos to you, sir. I retract the comment about your age. It is a worthless attack mounted by the losing side. I retract the assertion that you have a persecution complex. If you have one it is less than mine. Your writing style is also pleasant.

  10. Jo

    I can’t believe this post. While Shoshone laments the growing absence of blacks and is downright resentful of unacknowledged black influence in pop culture, he is COMPLETELY indifferent to how blacks shape and define themselves to other races mostly by the crimes they commit in Oakland. Take for example, Jared Adams (the thug) and Christopher Rodriguez, the victim. Christopher Rodriguez (father Hispanic, mother black) was an 11 year old at Piedmont Piano taking lessons when a stray bullet fired by Jared Adams in a robbery across the street, hit him. He’s paralyzed today and in a wheelchair for life. THESE are the memories that percolate pop culture, Shoshane. If you want royalties because someone wears a “black haircut” or “black fashion,” then you’re barking up the wrong tree. As for basically calling all of Rockridge a land of “whites” and “baguettes” is utterly, utterly laughable. Rockridge is safe. Rockridge has community. And yes, Rockridge has some damn good bread. But it’s not indicative of gerrymandering. It’s one of the last examples of neighborhood vitality. And Shoshane, when something is successful, the price will ALWAYS go up.

  11. Jo

    Wino, I support your defense of yourself. You’re one of the voices of reason in a city as frightening, complicated, and vital as Oakland.

  12. Great discussion here. For the past year, we’ve been hosting discussion/reading/action groups called “Alternatives to Gentrification” in our West Oakland home and headquarters. I am a middle-aged white woman living in spiritual community with two other white people and three people of color, so we’re a hard household to classify, but as people with middle class connections (if not incomes right now!), we have to acknowledge we are part of the gentrifying force in West Oakland. The discussion groups are places for us and other newer residents of Oakland to talk about what that means, how we can offset the harm that is done, why the racial dynamics are the way they are in our neighborhoods, etc.

    My understanding of racism is that it goes beyond prejudice (beliefs about people based on skin color and other features) to include systems of power and privilege. Under that definition, it is possible for African Americans to be prejudiced, but not racist, since they almost never in this country have access to shaping the systems that distribute power and access. Resentment and prejudice seem to me reasonable responses to that reality.

    A great novel on the topic of gentrification is THEM, by Nathan McCall. We’ll be reading it together starting in January. For more info on our work around gentrification, see http://www.seminaryofthestreet.org/id35.html.

    Thanks, Shoshone, for the thought-provoking piece.

    • Luke

      I never understood the classifications of “racism” and “prejudice” like that. It seems contradictory to the very meaning of the word…
      Racism
      –noun
      1.a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
      2.a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
      3.hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

      I think we’d all be better off making sure we teach our children and ourselves to just simply not judge a person by their skin color. Period. We shouldn’t accept racism from anyone no matter there color. The long term implications of this seem much more beneficial to society..to me anyway. Especially considering how many mixed relationships and kids there are now. Another couple generations and people will probably care less considering how mixed up we’ll be.
      Also, I hope the fact we have a black/white president breaks down the prejudice in more people’s hearts and everyone can start living out there full positive potential.

  13. me

    Born and breaded in San Francisco. I started noticing half of my friends moving out of the city in the late 1990s. I eventually move too because of school. I always came back to visit my family and everytime I visited I noticed the change in population. I eventually came back to live in SF but couldn’t afford the Hayes Valley area (Thats idea place). I didn’t want to move to Hunters Point. So I moved to Hayward.
    I don’t mean to be pessimistic, Oakland (like SF) is bound to go through (or is going through) a gentrification.

  14. Jesse Furrow

    Hi, I am a young man of European descent, specifically Danish, but third generation so I don’t identify too much with it except around family and at holidays. So that makes me White, or, non-Black. The author asked : “Why is it that so many non-Black people are coming to Oakland from other places?” I moved to Oakland from SF two years ago because my wife got a job at a school in Oakland and we needed to save some money on rent (we have a condo in SF and our mortgage was getting hard to handle) and we wanted to avoid her having to commute. I knew almost nothing about Oakland at the time. We moved to the Laurel because it seemed quiet and affordable. Its nice here, the weather is amazing, and it feels more friendly and a bit slower here than in the city. Though I will admit, the higher frequency of nighttime gunshots here is a bit disconcerting and I do hear more stories about crime in my neighborhood now that i live in Oakland. Oakland does feel more integrated than SF. We seem to have many ethnicities in the Laurel. Admittedly though, I was not used to living amongst such a large population of people of dark color, presumably mostly of African American descent, Blacks, as some say. I grew up in Tucson, AZ with a large Mexican population so I felt more at home in the Mission of SF in some ways. But I do like it here better in the Laurel. All that said, its too bad to me that we have to separate people by color and culture but I understand that minority populations have not had it easy at the hands of Europeans and in order to talk about that and deal with it it is necessary to find ways to describe people. It is still sad to me though. It is sad too to me that the places we grocery shop, or the food we eat, or the clothing styles we choose can be used to identify us as a certain type of person, possibly a bad person, or a person responsible for ruining other people’s culture. Maybe now I know what it feels like since I have normally been part of a privileged majority. It makes me wonder, am I a gentrifier? Did I do something immoral or unethical when I moved to Oakland? I shop at Lucky’s, Farmer Joe’s on 35th, and Whole Foods (I love the 365 wheat bread) and I have been known to eat a bagguette now and then. I feel so lucky to have so many food options so close. i used to drive a Jeep. My wife (I am now divorced) and I used to like to go to Rockridge and Alameda to eat out and shop. Those places did seem clean and safe and kind of fun to go to because they were fancier than our own neighborhood. I think my wife especially liked to go Rockridge because she grew up with little means and liked feeling sort of posh sometimes. I am concerned that the author of the article is singling out a certain “type” of person as part of the blame for loss of Oakland’s culture. This singling out of a certain type – the condo-dwelling, Whole Foods shopping, baguette wielding, recreational vehicle driving, eco-friendly, child-bearing, Rockridge living, non-Black, to me, only serves to further divide us. If the author wants to understand why non-Blacks are moving here he should ask but consider trying to understand them before potentially alienating them.

  15. SJ, the other day i was talking to a real estate buddy about rents in West Oakland. He was telling me about how desperate the poverty has become down there and how people was crowding into apartments. His observation is that rents in multi unit buildings have gone up there to a large extend because of the Section 8 vouchers, not because of an influx of hipsters.

    I’ve lived in Temescal for over 30 years. Rents went up gradually for first 10 years, then zoomed up in the 80’s, then gradually went up. It hasn’t been something that just accellerated in the last ten years as blacks left North Oakland.

    Rents declined or stopped rising for a while during the real estate bubble when it was cheaper buying than renting. Now that many of the people who bought but shouldn’t have got screwed, the demand for rentals has gone up, plus a lot of people who might be able to buy want to wait/can’t qualify for loans etc.

    Luke, the education solution is not going to take the place of the departed industrial jobs that the writer mentions. Restaurants won’t. And i see no signs that green biz will either since the mfg side of that is much cheaper in China, and the installation side is dependent on real estate market.

    But what it could do is help people get the skills they need to get the heck out of here and move to cheaper areas where the jobs exist. That’s not what the writer wants to hear, but it’s hecka better than starving here with culture.

    J, can you give some more backup for you belief that “a big supporter of mixed income housing developments and neighborhoods, because the residents enter into a social contract with each other to take care of their place.”

    Is that your hope or have you seen that as the reality?

    Anyone here who lives in Uptown comment on that?

    • this morning while waiting for my dog to complete his morning activity near Oakland Tech I shamelessly eavedropped on a conversation between a 50’ish AA male and two late 40’s AA women who were attending a religious meeting at Tech. They appeared to be middle class.

      When one of the women asked after his kids, the guy said his daughter was doing well but his boys are “crazy”. “All i can do is pray”.
      The women amened to that.

      For all the blame that can be placed on history, worldwide and local economic forces, government decisions etc, when it comes down to it some of the worst damage to Oakland blacks seems to be almost an auto-immune disease.

      • Shoshone Johnson

        an autoimmune disease? so there is a disease, peculiar to black people, that is ruining Oakland? A bizarre argument…

  16. len raphael

    SAH, the most dangerous sections of Oakland are not gentrification hotspots. They are primarily very poor, with a majority of either latino or black. One the edges they have higher concentrations of poor or working class asians.

    Didn’t realize Bed Stuy finally hit gentrification. Spend many summers there at my grandparents on Breevort Pl.

    Has that part of Brooklyn avoided the stitches for snitches mentality that prevailed here until very recently? Don’t tell me that NYC cops of all colors don’t racial profile as a matter of defacto policy.

    Correct my impression that black residents of Brooklyn’s one time ghetto’s hate the racial profiling but love the relative security they’re enjoyed for the last decade or so after years of crime that wasn’t even as bad as Oakland’s. They wish they could get the security without the discrimination, but don’t see the solution as more anti-violence programs as many people of all color do in Oakland.

    • SAH

      Peace Len,

      Bed-Stuy is gentrifying in pockets, much like Oakland, so Breevort Place (still known for the Breevort Projects) hasn’t begun experiencing gentrification. It’s generally along Nostrand, Bedford, Myrtle, Fulton…a few cafes/bars/yoga studios also are popping up in the center of the Stuy (Which is still cheaper compared to the thoroughfares) like on Malcolm X.

      I think many old time black Bed-Stuy residents want police presence, although they believe law enforcement is not there to protect them in particular. In an interview, a woman that’s lived in the nabe for over 60 years, said “we should be glad that white people are here – they protect us.” It was her understanding that we now have something we’ve been needing for a long time…it just so happens that people feel they’re present to protect other interests (real-estate, new residents etc.)

      To your question…it seems that black residents of Bed-Stuy hate racial profiling (who doesn’t?) and do not feel any security by the increased police presence because the security doesn’t appear to have their best interest at heart. Furthermore, I think many residents remain resentful of why the police have now decided to protect the neighborhood, when it was previously left to languish.

      What are the successful anti-violence programs in Oakland?

      Here is a short piece I did on gentrification lead increased police presence..in the comments you can get a sense of how some residents feel.

      http://bed-stuy.patch.com/articles/bed-stuy-sees-greater-police-presence-as-demographic-shifts

      Cheers,

      SAH

  17. len raphael

    SAH, worthwhile piece you wrote. Left me hoping for it to be longer 🙂

    The discussion in Oakland invariably deteriorates into a more cops vs more social program arguement. Each side is absolutely convinced that if the funds that went to the other side were spent according to their priority, everyone here would be safer.

    Personally, I think more and better trained and managed cops are necessary but not sufficient. The anti-violence programs here are too often pork barrel projects selected by politicians without competitive bidding. The independent evaluations seem to consist of tabulating the answers to questionaires given program attendees asking them what they feel before and after going thru the program.

    About as useful asking school kids how effective their teachers are.

    I have no doubt that some programs exist that are extremely effective. But if they don’t channel money to the right people, they won’t get funded.

    On the other hand, millions have been paid to independent monitors of the OPD over the past ten years. Nothing to show for that either, except one of the monitors bought a house here knowing the job will last forever and pay very well.

  18. I’m not sure if this op-ed reflects a perspective I simply disagree with or am not a part of, and thus, choose to ignore but it seems nostalgic and disconnected. Full disclosure here, I’m white, well Jewish, so even worse in the eyes of many “community activists” in Oakland. I grew up in this city too, and not in Rockridge or Montclair, but in Bushrod and San Antonio. Public safety is a gigantic problem in Oakland and the city absolutely needs more police AND more schools, which because of its lack of tax base, along with many other reaons, cannot afford. Blacks are leaving the city, and left Berkeley for the same reason that all poor people leave cities: they do not get the education to raise their income and thus afford rent in safe neighborhoods. So what is the solution? I saw first hand that poor kids at even the public schools with good programs had less of a chance to make something of themselves and that pissed me off, so yes, we need more funding to enlarge those programs and hire better teachers. And I hate hipsters and Priuses and Whole Paychecks as much as the next guy but I’m tired of living in shitty neighborhoods with shitty people (of any color). doing nothing in the middle of the day and breaking into my car and fucking whores and leaving used condoms in front of my house. I think this is one of those problems that is more big picture, and blaming hipsters and yuppies is short sighted. Rather, I suggest: repeal prop 13, pray the economy recovers, and lobby for more progressive tax structure like Obama is proposing. Until then, throwing money and dangerous schools ain’t gonna do shit. We need more cops on the streets at the same time, engaging with the community they patrol, and they both take money, which unfortunately Oakland doesn’t have.

    • Shoshone Johnson

      I agree with you, generally speaking. My article was not intended to address all the issues, but gentrification certainly matters. And if cops did engage with their communities, more would be good, but they don’t where it matters…The most honest representations of them on television, like in The Wire, gloss over the overall culture of violence and paranoia that breeds among them.

      It’s not about praying for the economy, it’s about understanding why it’s failing so badly. How about our mass incarceration culture, or our enormous spending on “Homeland Security” and “Defense”?

      And I’m Jewish too (half), and we shouldn’t forget that until very recently we were the go-betweens to the black community…so some black folks are anti-Jewish because they’re anti-white…that happens.

  19. sam

    Born and raised in San Francisco. Left the city in the early 90’s for NYC. Now living in Oakland off Lake Merritt for the last 5 years.

    Oakland reminds me of New York in the mid 90’s when Gentrification was taking off but hadn’t totally transformed the city yet, it was an almost perfect balance, you had the hipsters, yuppies, natives, regular working class folk and lower income folk. It would have been heaven if it stayed that way and all the character hadn’t been wiped out. We all know what came next.

    Oakland is doomed, it’s only a matter of time before it will go the way of SF and NYC and the rest of America’s cities. There is absolutley nothing that can be done short of a very sharp increase in crime to stop the change.

    This is a concerted effort between the new residents, local governments, law enforcement and developers to totally remake America’s cities so that they are all interchangeable.

    Forever etched in my memory are the neighborhoods of New York when I got there in 93. Taking long walks through the Lower East Side, Uptown and parts of Brooklyn. The neighborhoods were alive with street life unlike anything I had ever witnessed in the Bay Area. The outdoor dominoe games in summer, the West Indian’s and Latin Caribbeans throwing street parties that would last all day and most of the night, people watching and socializing from your stoop, pick up Basketball and Stickball games that would last all day. Immediately one realized that there could be no other city like this on earth.

    All gone now, the new residents have completely remade these neighborhoods to there tastes, identical to their neighborhoods in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago etc.,.

    Anyone that says race doesn’t play a factor is kidding themselves. One race primarily has far more economic and social leverage than the other and is using that to efect the change they want.

    This is where Oakland is heading ( of course they will tell us it’s better than having crackheads and drug dealers in your hood ).

    It’s like the long trail of tears with all of us undesirables being pushed out further and further away from the cities we grew up in, until we are living in some cuturally empty place like Antioch or Hercules.

    This has become a huge source of anxiety for me and many I know.

    • Shoshone Johnson

      There goes the neighborhood, like you said. The most fragile thing in America is an integrated space.

  20. Sam, from the perspective of over 35 years living in the flats and 5 living at the top of panaromic way, i’d tell you to not to worry about getting priced out of your Oakland neighborhood anytime in the next 10 years. Been thru several rent and real estate price cycles, with the first 30 of them as a renter.

    Those cycles were very different from this one. At the end of each one, rents ended up substantially higher than before.

    Those were either California or US real estate booms and busts, with gas price increases thrown in that made suburbs less attractive.

    There are plenty of other things to worry about such as getting killed by mistake in a drive by, getting stabbed when you decide to keep your cell phone instead of handing it over, or a very bad job market for the indefinite future.

    As to your saying that of course its mostly better off whites that displaced/replaced culturally rich poor blacks here over the last twenty years, the numbers don’t support you on that.

    The proportion of whites has increases slightly here as the proportion of blacks plummeted, but it was latino and the asian population that zoomed up.

    I don’t have the income stats on the white population increase, but I would guess that it grew at both the high end and the low end.

    -len raphael, temescal

    • My point is that Oakland is not to SF what Bklyn is to Manhattan despite some parallels.

      Part of the difference is the sheer wealth of Manhattan, drives up Manhattan living costs so high, that very well off people move to Brooklyn. You get attorneys, media people and web site designers who make 200k to 400k/year in Park Slope and Church Ave, and tons of trust fund kids in Williamsburg and Greenpoint,

      The people driven to Oakland by SF prices are not in the same economic group.

      Some of those folks would move to the Oakland hills here, but more likely to Orinda or Lafayette. The grown up trust fund hippies buy brown shingles in Berkeley.

  21. The hipsters are coming!

    This afternoon I played at being an Oakland foodie and took my visiting 28 year old son and daughter in law to Sacred Wheel cheese shop on Shattuck and 50th. Outside the store were half a dozen tattoo’d hipsters male and female hanging out on a pleasant afternoon.

    We go in and buy some of their pricey but most excellent cheese and drive away in my late model pickup truck.

    My son chuckled as he described how the hipsters had stared at me like what’s up with this chubby 60 year old middle class bald guy going doing in their hood.

    This morning around 9am I was biking my pb aound Oakland Tech when i came across about a dozen very prosperous, well dressed and coiffed very white, late 60’s year old people standing in front of Tech talking to each other.

    They were so totally different from any people I had ever seen around Tech in the almost 40 years I’ve lived near Tech, including the years both my kids went to Tech, that I couldn’t stop myself from staring at them.

    All I could think was that they were on a AARP tour of the Bay Area and had gotten dropped off at the wrong address. Or maybe they’d stepped out of flying saucer.

    Then I remembered reading that the Oakland Tech Class of 1961 had donated approx 25k to restore Tech’s +90 year old Steinway grand piano, completed last week.

    I accosted one of the female Venusians and asked if they were those alumni? YES. I thanked them for their generosity and biked away.

    -len raphael, temescal

  22. Jenna

    This article is very prejudiced.

    My family has lived in Oakland for four generations, and the Bay Area for five. We’ve been engaged as citizens, and everyone attended/attends and supports Oakland public schools. We support organizations such as Family Support Services, and the County Food Bank. We volunteer, we shop local, we occasionally frequent yuppie shops and oh yea, we are “white”. (Actually an oversimplification). So I should feel bad we’re raising my “white” yuppie kids here now (on baguettes of course, lol).

    I am just imagining now what a similar article would have sounded like several generations ago as the neighborhoods changed – or even after the 1906 earthquake as people streamed over from SF. Sorry but cities change and grow and shift, and to bemoan one “ethnic” group coming or going is to be prejudiced.

    To see how prejudiced (against whites) this article really is, just transpose white for black in any of the sentences. It would be considered outrageous.

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