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

on July 26, 2011

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.


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 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.



  1. Neal on July 26, 2011 at 11:29 am

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

    • Shoshone Johnson on July 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm

      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 on July 26, 2011 at 2:52 pm

        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 on October 25, 2011 at 4:09 pm

        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?


  2. cwm on July 26, 2011 at 11:57 am

    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 on July 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm

      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 on July 26, 2011 at 12:37 pm

        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.

        • JC on July 26, 2011 at 1:14 pm

          I was going to say something similar regarding paying for social programs, CWM (without the “control and dominate” part). 🙂 I live in a fairly nice part of Oakland now, I own a large house, I grew up poor in Oakland and went to public schools here from K-12. I don’t see this as a reversal, it’s a shift. The Mission District used to be Irish, the Laney College area used to be Japanese, the town of Locke (by Sacramento) used to be entirely Chinese—people move, neighborhoods change, it’s the American story.

          • Luke on July 26, 2011 at 2:20 pm

            Great point JC. I think one of the most important things we can do is support excellent schools and on an individual level make sure education is of utmost importance throughout society.
            CVM – I don’t agree with your logic. I’ve seen it happen in a lot of the country where those who choose to follow a constructive path, no matter their color, are able to create a great life for themselves. We all must work together and create paths of creating a great place to live for everyone. Ultimately though we all have to be responsible for the choices we make.

          • Ryan Ari'el Simon on September 4, 2011 at 8:18 pm

            Completely agree. Ideally though, it’s voluntary, and people who choose to stay can because public services are good enough that their children can improve themselves.

  3. Megan on July 26, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    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 on July 26, 2011 at 2:22 pm

      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

      • Shoshone Johnson on July 26, 2011 at 3:03 pm

        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 on July 26, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    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. Luke on July 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Interesting seeing the perspective of someone who’s lived here a long time. I’m one of those “new” people who has moved here in the last 6 years and made Oakland home. I’ve also seen very similar gentrification happening when I lived in Chicago and NY. The main thing driving a lot of this is not only the jobs that bring in certain groups of people, but also the huge desire to forge a less distant and alienating suburban life many of us grew up in. It’s more about the ability to create spaces of communities and creative endeavors. It just so happens that the way our great-grandparents built things was often really great and conducive to this. I think the talk about race is rather odd considering it’s more about common interests that are binding most people I see. In fact I think the mix in Oakland is one of the best, if not the best, in the country. We should focus on building a place rather then destroying it and welcome any and all who are builders. At the same time I’m all for kicking out those who will destroy the drug dealers and killers around here. They SUCK.
    Also, rents are not “magical” at all. Where there’s demand there’s gonna be a rise in rates.
    Lastly, I think we all have to learn the inevitability of change. These neighborhoods in Oakland were Italian, German, European in general before they were black and they were native American before that. Things change and constantly.

    • outofoakland on July 26, 2011 at 2:17 pm

      “At the same time I’m all for kicking out those who will destroy the drug dealers and killers around here.”

      Sadly, in my experience, my neighbors fought for the dealers’ rights to stand on the street corner more than my right to sweep the sidewalk in front of my own home.

      While the hipster influx might actually appreciate a diverse mix, the resident black community — at least in West-Oakland — is quite resentful of anyone moving in who is non-black. It’s quite ironic, really.

      • Luke on July 26, 2011 at 2:22 pm

        Wow, that’s jacked up. This is why is so important to not make racial judgments, but character judgments.

    • cwm on July 26, 2011 at 2:21 pm

      I think those are good points, Luke. As I see it, the future of Oakland is very much up for grabs right now. There is no serious plan to restore the industrial base that once drove the city, so how will we generate revenue to support the schools and the police and the various city services? Hipster cultural activities (like Art Murmur) are one way. Or maybe it will become a suburb of San Francisco, like parts of Emeryville or West Oakland, from which commuters fly in and out, bypassing the few violent, desperate areas (like my neighborhood). I don’t know, but I am not very optimistic or at all impressed by Mayor Quan’s vision. In my view, the only real alternative is to fight to extract the city from the market economy. . . . I don’t know what that would look like exactly, but at least that would help protect us from the Tsunamis visited upon us by the global economy.

      • Luke on July 26, 2011 at 2:29 pm

        I think we are in a new economy and have to adapt. I also think it’s not about removing ourselves from the market economy (I don’t know how that’s even possible with the whole world in the market economy), it’s more about forging our own markets. For example, I think the new green tech and tech in general has a huge potential to create jobs and stable lives for people around here from the flats to the hills. There is demand and money for these kinda of services and everyone around here should be educating and learning as much as possible so they can be a part of it. That said, it might also change, so being prepared to adapt is also important. The main thing is to make sure we value and protect those that are helping build Oakland and not destroying it regardless of color.

    • Jesse Furrow on July 29, 2011 at 8:06 pm


      “It just so happens that the way our great-grandparents built things was often really great and conducive to this.”

      I like this quote and want to point out that for a while now there has been a huge resurgence in appreciation for older architecture in older neighborhoods. An especially popular type of house is the “Bungalow” from the 20’s. They are all over Oakland and Berkeley and I think homebuyers looking for these properties are willing to move into lower income neighborhoods to find them cheaper. Just guessing. With the money they save by finding one in a cheaper neighborhood they can then afford to fix them up. What happens then? I am not positive but I bet property values go up, neighbors find out their house is possibly in demand and worth more, they sell, and the process continues. Just hypothesizing here, I don’t know the numbers and I am not a real estate professional. But I know that their is a real market for “vintage” houses.

  6. outofoakland on July 26, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    “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 on July 26, 2011 at 3:12 pm

      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 on July 26, 2011 at 3:35 pm

        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.

  7. livegreen on July 26, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    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 on July 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm

      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 on July 26, 2011 at 3:14 pm

        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?

  8. temescal1 on July 26, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    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.

  9. qtn on July 26, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    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 on July 26, 2011 at 4:30 pm

      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 on July 26, 2011 at 10:34 pm

        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.

        • Jesse Furrow on July 29, 2011 at 7:23 pm

          What are the politics of tone?

  10. WinO on July 26, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    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 on July 26, 2011 at 7:05 pm

      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 on July 26, 2011 at 7:38 pm

        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 on July 26, 2011 at 10:31 pm

          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:

          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 on August 3, 2011 at 9:31 pm

            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.

  11. Jo on July 26, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    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.

  12. Jo on July 26, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    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.

  13. Jame on July 27, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    I am one of those Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s shopping newcomers — who is also black. It is actually pretty interesting, because when I tell people I live in Oakland they assume I must have grown up here (presumably in the hood). But actually I grew up in the white middle class burbs. My parents moved here, not for industrial jobs, but white collar technology jobs in the 70s.

    Unfortunately, we have this horrible association where if white people like something, it is good. If black people like something it isn’t. We also generally do a poor job of separating things that are mostly related to class and not race.

    The thing I love more about Oakland is that people generally intermingle. Most neighborhood shops are a reflection of their neighborhoods. And contrary to popular belief there are lots of educated middle class+ African-Americans all over town. As things have “declined” in the inner-cities and the haves have moved out of the city for the burbs, this leaves a large number of have-nots with limited resources to fund of the city services. I am 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. It is hard to find time and money to take care of things if you are struggling to make ends meet.

    @WinO: generally middle income parents are really involved in schools and PTA. Have you examined the income level of your fellow volunteers and the parents who aren’t volunteering?

    @Shoshane, I found this essay intriguing. Although I grew up in the Bay, I spent zero time in the east bay until about 15 years ago during college/adulthood. It is hard to find a balance between being welcoming of new residents and not feeling resentful because the new residents may bring welcome and unwelcome change. And also looking at how some changes that have been requested for years are suddenly fast-tracked because the new (and white) newcomers are requesting it. We have both a perception and communication problem, and in order for gentrification to be fair and successful, all sides need a clear understanding of of the vision, changes and what is at stake.

    • Shoshone Johnson on July 27, 2011 at 5:22 pm

      That’s an excellent point, Jame. We have so much work to do in terms of examining our visions of what’s at stake, in terms of political geography, city design, race, reparations, and class.

    • WinO on August 3, 2011 at 9:39 pm

      We don’t compare incomes, but I see your point. Counterpoint: Catholic schools in the flats are overrun on Sundays with various events, often clogging the street with participants.

      I would like to add that the volunteers at the school are multicultural, and my “universal” comment was inaccurate. It may be lopsided, but universal was wrong.

      Congratulations on your staff pick!

  14. Nichola Torbett on July 28, 2011 at 11:06 am

    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

    Thanks, Shoshone, for the thought-provoking piece.

    • Luke on July 28, 2011 at 2:39 pm

      I never understood the classifications of “racism” and “prejudice” like that. It seems contradictory to the very meaning of the word…
      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 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.

  15. me on July 28, 2011 at 11:10 am

    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.

  16. Jesse Furrow on July 29, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    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.

  17. pearlygray on July 31, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    I appreciated your article, and all the thoughtful responses it generated. Not to say that I agree with it all…

    First of all, some Rockridge history. Lucky’s on College Avenue was replaced by Albertson’s. When it closed down, Trader Joe’s took over that store. A low cost, unpretentious chain supermarket – Whole Foods it is not.
    You write of “pedestrians whose baguettes poke rudely from their burlap shopping bags, [and] young parents in environmentally friendly outdoors vehicles,” and you sound like a Fox News commentator, ranting about the latte-sipping liberal elite. Whoa! People who use recycled bags and low-emission vehicles are the enemy? Baguettes are a sign of urban decadence?

    It’s not clear to me what was the point of your article. That higher rents are pushing poor blacks out of Oakland? That makes sense – though you never supported that statement with anything but hunch and anecdote – but it doesn’t just affect blacks. The poor and working class of every race are being pushed out of Oakland, as they have also been pushed out of San Francisco. You also imply that young whites who embrace hip-hop culture, music and style are somehow causing the problem. By moving into over-priced artists’ lofts in West Oakland? As fewer people (of all races) can afford to buy houses, the demand for rental housing goes up, and prices along with it. Housing is about supply and demand, and as others have mentioned here, the same process happened to the Irish, the Chinese and the Germans in other neighborhoods.

    You ask “why is it that so many non-Black people are coming to Oakland from other places?” That’s easy. Because it’s more affordable than San Francisco or Berkeley, it has great tolerance for non-conventional lifestyles, it’s got many small ethnic groupings that can help their paisanos find entry-level jobs, and it is still – look around – one of the most diverse cities in the country. Did I mention great weather, an amazing music scene and easy access to those other two cities?

    There is no grand conspiracy here to push out African Americans. The fact is, most parents don’t want to raise their kids where violence and drug culture have become commonplace, and Hercules, Antioch and other affordable suburbs (at least before the housing bubble burst) have seen an influx of African Americans in the past fifteen years. I agree with your point that more policing, without addressing the criminal lack of resources for the poor, is not a solution. But adequate policing is necessity, or, as some neighborhoods have seen, the streets will be overrun by the drug dealers and gangs who give us some of the worst murder statistics in the country.

    Has segregation increased? It would be helpful to distinguish between legalized segregation, which is what Dr. King was fighting, and the de facto segregation of economic inequality, which he also addressed, but which is much harder to target with legislation. It would be interesting to find the data to answer your question, although defining the term “segregation” in a city like Oakland would be a study in itself.
    Thanks for your article, and all the questions that it raised.

  18. Leonard Raphael on August 6, 2011 at 12:07 am

    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?

    • Leonard Raphael on August 7, 2011 at 1:06 pm

      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 on August 16, 2011 at 7:57 pm

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

  19. Fred on August 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Industrial jobs aren’t coming back to the United States let alone Oakland. So get over that pipe dream. Infrastructure is important to improving Oakland. Especially schools and educational opportunities. BUT decades of feel good, wishful thinking, pie in the sky social programs have not “fixed” Oakland and never will. The change in Oakland will come from the people. Setting standards and creating higher expectations now lower. First things first crime, violence and the murder of Oakland’s minority youth must stop NOW! Nothing else matters if the immediate problem of drug and gang violence isn’t solved. Oakland is less than half the size of the largest city in the Bay Area (San Jose) and it has nearly 5 times the murder rate. This just shouldn’t be acceptable to the citizens of Oakland no matter what your background is.

  20. Tak on August 20, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    There’s a fascinating article, by UCB Law professor, Franklin E. Zimring in Scientific American about the important role increased policing has–over any other factor–that has helped to lower crime rates in the New York Metropolitan area in the last 20 years. One of the longest sustained declines of any city in the developed world.

    While I appreciate, Shoshone, how your article has sparked a discussion, and one that we truly need to have in this city, I do agree with a few of the other commentators that some of your arguments are based on overly facile generalizations.

    I increasingly feel that localized, pragmatic solutions that (try to) identify and address shared and common needs of various stakeholders is key. While addressing base problems in education and jobs are important, the fact is that crime is a cross-cutting issue that impacts all of us. Stemming crime, fostering a sense of security for all residents, may be one solution to stem the flight of middle-class residents of color from this city.

    Of course, we are not NYC and any solution has to take into account the unique character of our neighborhoods and history.

    From my own conversations with people in North Oakland, I perceive a lack of connection across different communities; a erosion in the sense of ‘neighborliness’ that has been a trend in the last 10 years, especially between the most recent migrants (it seems many of the newer homeowners are younger professionals, new families priced out of SF and Berkeley or other parts of the US; while the renters are mobile, less affluent, young, yet educated and rich in cultural capital; and immigrants from other parts of the world like Punjab etc.), and established ones (many tend to be Black, older and/or younger teens).

    Talking to life-long and older residents 15 + years, they all describe, are nostalgic for, a stronger sense of community and congeniality where neighbors knew the people on their block and worked together rather than blamed each other for the neighborhood’s ills. I think that Shoshone, in part, your piece reflects this as an Oakland native. Many of the would be stormtroopers of gentrification who I’ve spoken to, with their assault baguettes, are barely holding on; their homes are underwater, sapping their ability to be more involved in their communities.

    There’s much, much more to this: there’s also the role that churches do/do not play, the function of various neighborhood associations and the housing market here.

    One thing that I feel we could all take responsibility for is nurturing more resilient neighborhoods–not just our immediate and extended social networks–but our geographical one, our block, our streets.

    Amongst other things, we need to find a graceful way to absorb such ongoing social/demographic changes; perhaps by better understanding and honoring the legacy of our unique histories. As a way to maintain some sense of continuity, of place and shared identity.

    While not addressing the issue of affordable housing, jobs etc., we still need to forge common points of identification and acknowledgement of/across our differences.

    • Shoshone on August 23, 2011 at 6:29 pm

      Policing can have a factor in the reduction of crime. But I would persuade you, especially if I though you might actually do this, to talk to youth in Oakland about their experiences with the police. You will find that there is a very strong alliance against the police, an alliance against which Brown and many other politicians rage, because it thwarts police investigations as well as a notion of justice based on policing and punishment. But the problem with your argument, despite its transcendental spiritual insight, is that it implies that the only reason this alliance against the police, which youth call “not snitching,” would emerge is because of some kind of social disease from which they, and not the rest, suffer. And it is in that sense that you are failing to see the forest for the trees, despite your humanitarian concern for all people. No matter how much you may talk about those things, you’re not calling into question the fact that this year, for instance, the man who was recently made police chief of the Oakland schools shot an unarmed 20-year-old five times in a car on Skyline Blvd. You are serving as yet another arm of a rhetoric machine that runs from the police department to the conglomerating media, where the formerly-independent East Bay Express is now owned by the same company that owns the SF Weekly and the LA Weekly, while selling the same image of “alternativeness.” No, the baguette-carriers are not storm-troopers themselves. They don’t want to get their hands dirty, and neither do you. I’m telling you that they’ve never been clean.

      You are clearly very well versed in the language and thought of “sixties radicalism,” as I am. So I would urge you to revisit Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, George Jackson and James Baldwin. Or you could go back to Leonard Peltier, or a book of Andrea Smith’s. Their struggles and life’s works manage to take into account these communal specificities, these concerns for everyday connectedness and transcultural uniqueness of which you speak, while, at the same time, recognizing that there are antagonisms within the American experience with regard to the questions of race and class. By antagonisms I mean that they cannot be resolved without risking something, without questioning your own lifestyle. And amidst your very eloquent and well-meaning rhetoric, I don’t hear any real commitment to “forging common points of identification” or “acknowledgement of/across our differences,” because you don’t recognize that these processes could be difficult, uncertain, even, dare I say it, violent. See also: London in August 2011.

      • SAH on August 24, 2011 at 3:41 pm

        I appreciate this article Shoshone!This comment however speaks to last two comments on police presence.

        I’m an Oakland native and NY transplant. I’m a product of the public school system (Bulldogs!) yet a two time offender at an Ivy League. I write a gentrification column called Change for a Dollar, which looks closely at Bed-Stuy Brooklyn…a neighborhood a lot like Oakland. I’m a hybrid, a “translator” of sorts who brings a much-needed level of cultural competency to the discussion of gentrification. But because of this hybrid status, I’m stuck dead in the middle of some issues, like police presence.

        Increased police protection can decrease crime if used skillfully and with the entire community in mind. The problem with bringing more police to a gentrifying neighborhood is that it exacerbates the already adversarial relationship with police, which explains why they do not engage (read: no-snitch rule) the cops in the same manner as others. Residents feel like they’re there to protect the newcomers. And lets not even start with the way black/brown men have been and continue to be stopped and harassed at disproportionate rates or worst gunned down.

        I remember knowing about and discussing the Riders, a crooked group of police officers, in our Lets Get Free meetings back in the day. We tried to speak out to publication, but were silenced…dismissed…that’s why I became a journalist. But all these years later our communities are still fighting with the very ones that are meant to protect us. We know that achieving a successful community-policing program in inner-city neighborhoods is hard. But how do bridge the gap of division that resides between communities of color and the police? Can we ever bring the “us” and “them” to the same playing field?

        You mentioned the recent riots in London, but even that eruption…will it get us what we’re looking for or will we be further demonized?

  21. len raphael on August 27, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    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 on August 29, 2011 at 9:59 am

      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 the comments you can get a sense of how some residents feel.



  22. len raphael on August 30, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    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.

  23. Faville on September 4, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Why the reversal? Because San Francisco became too expensive. That’s why I moved here (after 20 years in San Francisco) and that’s why my East Bay friends have moved here too. It’s necessity, not choice. People will go where the affordable housing is. I understand the resentment from existing Oaklanders who see their neighborhood changing around them, but what are we supposed to do? We have to live somewhere too.

    • Shoshone Johnson on September 7, 2011 at 3:27 am

      Who is “we”? And why did San Francisco become too expensive? Why do the suburbs suck to grow up in?

  24. Ryan Ari'el Simon on September 4, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    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 on September 7, 2011 at 3:32 am

      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.

  25. sam on September 5, 2011 at 10:38 am

    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 on September 7, 2011 at 3:34 am

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

  26. Leonard Raphael on September 10, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    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

    • Leonard Raphael on September 10, 2011 at 10:49 pm

      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.

  27. erik jensen on September 13, 2011 at 11:39 am

    It is the housing shortage throughout the bay area that is displacing lower income households. It’s not a white/black issue. It’s a class issue, and from this we see that historically marginalized communities suffer greatest (whites displacing blacks, since whites on the whole can afford higher rents).

    One reason rockridge is elite is because the local residents mounted a systemic campaign to prevent any increase in housing density. One reason why Oakland is suffering gentrification is because San Francisco has priced out typical mid-upper class people and so folks now look to the east bay. This is just simple housing economics, but it is the underlying issue.

    It is time for Oakland, and all of the bay, to stop preventing dense housing and infill development from being built wherever it can–only when we balance supply and demand will lower income folks be able to actually live in proximity to the main cultural centers of our fantastic region.

  28. Leonard Raphael on September 14, 2011 at 1:23 am


    Along the entire stretch of Bway from DTO to HW 24 as well as much of DTO, thru several Oakland real estate booms and busts over the last 50 years there were NO height limits and modest density controls until a few months ago. Even now the height and density limits are far above current housing stock.

    But nothing is being built except for the subsidized housing at McArthur Bart.

    Overall, developers didnt develop high density housing there not because of zoning restriction but because Oakland wasn’t attractive enough to the kind of tennants and owners that land and building costs and risk return factors required.

    To put it bluntly: if Oakland had lower crime and better schools, developers could have built a hecka lot of high density infill. Not on College on upper Rockridge, Crocker Highlands, Montclair, etc. but plenty of other decent parts of town.

    The flip side of this is that making housing more affordable doesn’t provide the money that Oakland needs to provide adequate services for it’s existing citizens, let alone new poor and lower income residents.

    More residents, even middle income ones does not = a fiscally viable city. After the initial year of transfer taxes, the property and sales tax generated by residential occupants doesn’t provide enough to pay for the increased services they need.

    SF, NY, Chicago etc. are successful cities not because of residential density but because of high commercial tax paying job creating density.

    if you add more residents without fixing those underlying economic problems first, you will make what is now a low density dysfunctional city, merely a high density dysfunctional city.

    When you achieve that, you will also alienate the many middle and upper middle income types who moved here precisely because of the lower density even at relatively high price levels.

    Those residents happen to be the ones whose disposable income pays the wages of the other residents who live and work here.

    So unless you’re planning on vast increases in Federal and State aid to cities, I’d say fix the crime and the schools, make Oakland more attractive to new employers, not to more residents.

    -len raphael

  29. Leonard Raphael on September 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    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

  30. Jenna on October 25, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    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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  32. Shoshone telegraph | Momanimusic on April 3, 2012 at 8:46 am

    […] You Tell Us: Oakland, gentrification, and the hunt for cool – Oakland … […]

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Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to:

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