Oakland named America’s “most exciting city” in Movoto top 10 list
on May 14, 2013
Oakland. Home of the Black Panthers. Of Gertrude Stein. Of notorious corners, multimillion-dollar drug empires. Hyphy music. Hella. And, more recently, of the upscale Blue Bottle Coffee.
Now according to an online real estate company called Movoto, Oakland is the most exciting city in America. Movoto regularly releases top 10 lists, among them “The 10 Most Redneck Cities in America” and “The 10 Nerdiest Cities in America.”
When it came to excitement, Oakland took the top slot, with Boston taking second, button-downed Washington, DC coming in at number 5, and New York City ranking number 6 on the company’s list. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised” that Oakland took the number one spot, said Movoto content editor David Cross.
“How did we decide this?” company staffers wrote on their blog. “Recently, we got to thinking about cities and what makes them exciting and interesting places to live. We compiled a list of criteria and set out to determine which U.S. cities have the most zest for life.”
The criteria that Cross and his team used have nothing to do with Oakland’s history or politics. Instead, the calculation is based on ten factors, among them music venues per square mile, population diversity and age, the number of big box stores (the fewer the better) and number of bars per square mile (the more the better). “When we think of an exciting place to live, we think about places where there is always something to do—whether it’s eating at new restaurants or jogging through a park. This sounds a lot like Oakland,” the Movoto staff concluded.
The formula that Movoto used to arrive at its top 10 list doesn’t take things like crime and distribution of city services into account. Cross said that all cities have “bad areas,” comparing dangerous parts of Oakland to San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood.
Lindsay Wright, the communications manager at Visit Oakland, Oakland’s tourism office, said she wasn’t surprised to see Oakland top the list. “I think people are finally starting to take note of all the things happening in Oakland. A lot of times we’ve been in the shadows and now people are coming here and seeing that Oakland is a great city,” she said. “I think Oakland is the place to be right now.”
“If I had to sum up Oakland in one word,” said Wright, “I’d say renaissance.”
“Oakland is one of your classic towns that’s been overlooked for 100 years or so,” said Chris Leinberger, senior fellow with the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Cities program, an influential think tank that studies social problems and solutions. “It was always the stepsister of San Francisco. It’s really now coming into its own.”
Cross said he hopes Oakland’s new title as most exciting city will change its reputation as a dangerous place. But could it be that Oakland’s reputation as a dicey city is what’s enticing newcomers and young people? About a year and a half ago, The New York Times placed Oakland at number 5 on its top 45 places to go in 2012. “New restaurants and bars beckon amid the grit” was the subheading the newspaper chose.
Perhaps it’s the grit that really matters, that draws people in—the sense of authenticity, real or not, that comes from living in or visiting a city with a complicated history. “A lot of people come to Oakland because they want to feel sort of the cool factor of it, without having to actually reconcile with some of the rough and tumble shit that makes it difficult,” said Lukas Brekke-Miesner, founder of Oakland’s 38thNotes blog, referring to the city’s high crime rate and troubled public schools.
And while Oakland’s bars, music venues, restaurants specializing in the latest food craze and the preponderance of fixed gear bikes are making Oakland an exciting venue for young people with disposable income, Leinberger pointed out that as in any transformation, there will be growing pains, and not all residents will benefit equally from the change. As trends shift away from suburban, car-centric living, “There’s a demand for walkable urban environments, which Adam Smith tells us will make [housing] prices spike,” he said. “That’s gentrification.”
There needs to be an affordable housing strategy to maintain income diversity in cities like Oakland, Leinberger said, “because if you don’t you’ll become an Upper East Side … and nobody wants that.”