“Isn’t Oakland dangerous?”
It’s a question those of us who live here have heard countless times with that particular tone you come to recognize. The first reaction is usually an eye-roll, at least internally. This question usually comes from people who haven’t been here or spent much time, who are basing their trepidation on a certain reputation or a glance at crime stats rather than experiencing the vibrant, beautiful, and complex city where we live.
But the way people are inclined to answer the question surfaces complex questions about the future of our city and many like it. You’ll often hear some version of “it’s not so bad, it’s only in certain neighborhoods,” or “a lot of neighborhoods are turning around.” Not only does this dismiss the real problems of violence and poverty in Oakland neighborhoods as somebody else’s problem. It’s a tacit acceptance of gentrification that has changed the face of the city and displaced many people of color from areas where they have grown up and built their lives.
It’s one of the most complicated issues we deal with as more money floods our cities. It often feels like stemming gentrification is like trying to hold back the tide. But a new report by grassroots organization Causa Justa :: Just Cause challenges the idea that gentrification is inevitable and offers solutions for “Development Not Displacement”:
The Causa Justa report emphasized that government and the public need to do more to keep low-income people in their homes so they can enjoy the benefits of gentrification without being displaced. Stricter rent control and antiforeclosure laws, more affordable housing and greater public input in planning decisions would help, the report said.
Olis Simmons, head of Youth Uprising, an East Oakland community center, said that villainizing newcomers is not the way to go. Development and investment should be welcome in poor neighborhoods. But residents should be able to benefit from the new jobs and other perks.
“It’s true, I’m beginning to see white people in (deep East Oakland). … The only reason it hasn’t happened sooner is because we have six shootings a day around here,” she said. “The question is not whether this change is good or bad. It’s how do we find a balance, and how do we start the conversation?”
I live in one of the neighborhoods that Causa Justa describes as being in the “late stages” of gentrification. As someone who benefits from being walking distance from everything from bike repairs to mac and cheese restaurants to vegan bakeries, it would be easy to go with the flow, especially when it seems like there’s no turning back. One of the most exciting things about the Causa Justa report is that it offers solutions based on talking to experts and displaced residents, and pushes back against the idea that we can’t both preserve the makeup of our neighborhoods and change them for the better.
This is a critical time to take these issues head on. As Causa Justa notes, one of the problems is that development is private sector-driven rather than based on public investment in our communities. This trend has taken a disturbing turn as wealthier neighborhoods have decided to take on the crime problem in Oakland by crowd-funding private security patrols. These efforts are grounded in panic and often move forward without a full reckoning with the possible consequences.
While the Bay Area has been a major focus of the gentrification debate with the influx of Google buses and tech dollars, these issues are relevant all around the country. We must listen to those who are being displaced and impacted by the rising prices and work together to implement community-driven development. I look forward to keeping up with Causa Justa’s work to implement these recommendations and joining in to support them.