Monday, April 20, 2009

Can Oakland Change?
Or is it merely a transition home on the bigger-n-better path?

Oaktown has been in the news much recently, with questions about safety, community concerns, neighborhood empowerment, the attraction and retention of small business, the imploding municipal budget and emerging massive budget shortfall. I participated in Earth Day efforts this past Saturday (there were tons of them across the city) at Redwood Heights Recreation Center. My daughter was in a ballet class there, so while she danced I yanked weeds, raked and chopped. In talking with the registration person, I was struck again by how quickly the conversation turned to Oakland, the future, the concern that property values will go down [this is high or low on the list depending upon the district context of Oakland...high, very high in Redwood Heights], and the invisiblity of younger-ish people (30s-40s). As I worked I was struck. There were a few of those people (including myself). Many came with kids and didn't actually do much as they were suprevising their kids and then trying to do work (not a critique, just a reflection on reality).

So I found myself wondering: Where are the young families, whether housing refugees that fled SF for cheap(er) homes in Oakland in the past 10 years or Berkeley transplants that moved to the south because they couldn't afford the dream of being in Berkeley post Cal. Is Oakland merely a "settling city" - you can't afford elsewhere so you slum it in Oakland until you can move, or have to move because of schooling issues, or you get out out of fear? The Earth Day Reg guy had been so worried about attracting younger people to the neighborhood. Yet I find in my contacts in the part of Oakland that's my context that the 30s-40s people are generally absent. They like it when Peet's or La Farine open, but in general they don't participate in the community organizing groups that bring such change about. Usually it's a majority of die-hard Oaklanders in their 50s-80s making that change happen. I'm pointing the finger, and can, because I'm one of those 30s. I do show up and participate. I also complain about how busy I am with work, kids, schools, and everything. Yet we all say that, so in the end it's not really a legit excuse. It's just an excuse.

I think things won't really change until the young families, Bobo's, Creative Classes, whatever you want to call them - begin to invest time, sweat and energy (not just tax money) in the city. It's what it takes to turn public schools around: parents committed to their kids and the kids of the city, working at the PTA, making it happen, or starting it - not just paying tuition for a private school. The problems and context of Oakland are complex, much more than I'm making them out to be. Yet you do have to wonder where are the 30s-40s, besides out in Uptown on the weekends, and in the parks?

I left the Earth Day event and went to the Farmer's Market at the Lake. Guess who was there?


Fight Blight said...

Thank you. Changing Oakland will take lots of energy and time from everyone. Sometimes I get so frustrated with the lack of participation in Neighborhood Watch, Crime Prevention Councils, Earth Day Events, public meetings etc. etc. etc. And yet, people wonder why doesn't Oakland change. The expectation that someone else will do it is unfortunate.

Nate Millheim said...

I visited our local Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council as soon as we moved into East Oakland. I couldn't figure out why people seemed so excited to see me. It took me a while to realize how much younger I was than most people there. I have been impressed with many of the Oaktown veterans in their 50's and 60's, who've lived here for 10 or 20 or 30 years. I'm wondering if the torch is ever passed or better yet if more collaboration is possible. I'm hoping people in their 20's, 30's, 40's take more pride in living in Oakland, even in the flatlands.

matt said...

i wonder if the falling houses prices will help oakland keep some of these younger families who bought homes and had hoped to sell their homes in a couple of years to move to 'nicer' neighboorhoods, they are now stuck in their homes. maybe the economic downturn will encourage the kind of community participation that you are grieving?

Monte said...

Maybe the root of our problem is ENTITLEMENT. We think we're entitled to have what we want, to have someone else do it for us, to have it handed to us, even to be entitled to not have to get involved. Not sure how you articulate a policy to address that.