I heart Oaktown
What's a bleeding heart optimist to do? Our city makes the news (daily this week) and rarely good. Out city attorney is calling something "murder" that, may or may not have been, which then means that the BART police committed the first murder in our city for 2009. Not a good sign. Someone asked me today what I love Oakland, there's no mayor at the helm and the board has been taking on water for some time. I'm not necessarily disagreeing AND I have to say I heart Oaktown for so much. I'm a pragmatist, humanist, follower of Jesus committed to living in an urban setting, raising my children to do better than survive in 21st century multicultural urbanity - I want them to thrive. We have problems: no good transportation, bad parking, lack of money, lack of unanimity, schools... Yet I love it here. There's so much potential. There's so much mess. As I type that I have to admit that's what I believe about the entire human condition: mess and potential, and that a higher power is creating, redeeming and pulling the potential from the mess towards prophetic promise! So how can I commit to that as a life ethos and world-view and not commit to it in terms of where I live. There's a great perspective that appeared on NPR yesterday by [read] [listen]. So I have to add my two cents. The past days, while the BART saga repercussions echo through our city and around the world of CNN I've heard an onslaught of comments on the Dimond Yahoo Group complaining about the parking of fire trucks in front of the Peet's Coffee there. Supposedly the truck is too big for the side street (Benati if you're in the know) and impedes or troubles some caffeine-dependent folks (like myself) who need to get to Peet's. I respect the need for clear streets, yet I have to say how greatful I am that we have a working, effecient and effective fire department in Oakland. That's something to be proud about. I say let them park wherever they want for all they do to support us. What got lost in the discussion too was the fact that 24 months ago there was no Peet's and that the place which now contains espresso machines pumping out liquid black gold all day long was an empty storefront. Part of our problem in Oakland (and I'm preaching to myself too) is that we forget what it used to be like. When you get use to the mess and chaos that's all potential for creative change, it's easy to forget where we've been and lose sight of where we've agreed we want to go and what is actually good. I work in a place like that. There's so much-still-to-do that I rarely (if ever) see clearly what we have accomplished. It takes someone outside of my system to reflect, remark and open my eyes! That's what the artist collaborative Oaklandish is all about!
So here's my list short-list of what I love and see happening in Oakland:
Granted these reflect my gender, cultural background, socio-economic and family status and worldview (we can never escape our contexts)
I see amazing community happening around places of business and centers of education that gather diverse Oaklandites into communities of interaction, participation and collaboration. Peet's Coffee (in the Dimond w/ the fire-fighters), Peter Pan Cooperative Preschool in Maxwell Park, Sequoia, Glenview and Kaiser Schools, neighborhood imporvement associations and online community groups.
I see dynamics of creative and how-to potential gathered in coffee shops from Peet's to World Grounds (Laurel) to the new Starbucks off Broadway in Uptown, in restaurants and lines for food from Bakesale Betty's, to Le Cheval at lunchtime, to A Cote at night.
There are great places for families in Oakland - both new and old, improved and improving : Chabot Space and Science Center, the revitalized Oakland Zoo, Fairyland, Robert's Park, Park Avenue Terrace Park (aka Jordan Park), MOCHA, and Pump It Up!
There are places in which people come together, experience urbanity together and shape Oakland through their relationships and participation: the YMCA downtown, everyone walking around Lake Merrrit, participants in the Farmer's Markets Friday:Downtown, Saturday: at the Lake and Sunday: Jack London. I see it happening on the terrace of Whole Foods downtown on a Sunny day, at the pool in Robert's park in the summer, along Telegraph while folks wait for tables at Dona Tomas and Pizzaiolo.
The strength of Oakland is its people! That's why the avoidable death of Oscar Grant is so tragic and shaking the foundations of our city and civic community. It's what we forget when we can't find a place to park, or run over a pothole, or struggle to be able to bike to a decent grocery store. What we love about Oakland is the people.