The Downtown Oakland Specific Plan Team had the pleasure of facilitating a series of interviews with Oaklanders about their visions for an equitable downtown Oakland.
What does Oakland mean to you?
Oakland is the place where I came of age. It’s where I grew up. It is my city of choice. It think that often we don’t think about the fact that we don’t really live where we choose to. We live where a school let us out, or where our parents take us. So Oakland is a place I chose to create the narrative of me.
What are your thoughts on what is going on in Downtown Oakland right now?
I find what’s going on in Downtown Oakland absolutely fascinating. In a way it’s a dream come true. There are a lot of people, myself included, who have chosen Oakland as a place of origin. Who have poured a lot of love and a lot of blood on these streets to make Oakland be a place that the world pays attention to. In many ways the time we have all been waiting for has come. Where Oakland is once again on the national mind and in many ways poised to teach lessons internationally.
However, I um… am concerned about if what’s happening downtown is an addition to what already exists in Oakland, or if it is intended to overwrite the Oakland that I chose to be my place of origin. So I’m very excited about the fact that there is a plan and that it’s open and that people can participate in it. And hopefully not just give ideas and say the thing that they feel, but actually be heard and so, there is a huge possibility for us who have been here for a really long time to become more deeply engrained in the fabric of Oakland, if we’re really heard
What is your vision of the future of downtown? And how could downtown better serve you?
If my imagination could just have its way. It would be a thriving and bustling space there would be finally remove barriers that have existed in the past to adjacent neighborhoods like the Lower Bottomz that it would be a place for all citizens would be welcome. That everyone would find a point of access and value in the availability of Oakland space, the ability to enter into civic dialogue and be civically engaged in downtown. I envision downtown being a world class downtown because Oakland is a world class city. I envision most of all, some of the traditionally un-included communities finally having a place in downtown, in particular the Lower Bottomz which are near and dear to my heart. Traditionally that’s the neighborhood that has been excluded from Downtown by physical barrier, by practice, and by written law. And so I would like to see them annexed to the area that they’re already in. Downtown Oakland is in West Oakland that the Lower Bottomz be annexed to it. And that there be a reflection of Oakland’s entire history reflected down there. And especially the opportunity of the Black Arts Movement District, I would think that would be a vehicle that could help to invoke a sort of equity for community that has been traditionally barred from the use of Downtown. So I think the potentially… it could be this wonderful, fully populated, fully thriving diverse heartbeat for this city.
When you think of “Equity in Oakland,” what comes to mind?
The first thing that comes to mind are communities that have been traditionally left out. That again, by geographical borders and policy, have been left out, not included, not welcome to the table. I think of marginalized communities in the deep east, who are at a different stage of gentrification. I think of people in the Lower Bottomz. I think of people who have been displaced in North Oakland and other parts of Oakland. And I wonder, if we really truly understand that equity and equality are not the same thing and that greater measures are going to have to happen for those groups to actually be included in this thriving metropolitan city that I envision. That it takes more than us just having equal access to what’s there. There needs to be some sort of restorative justice in the planning that brings us near and equal starting point that means there needs to be some redress. There needs to be some access made. There needs to be some tools that are made available and when I think about equity right now this moment in Oakland, for me, equity is summed up by another word… it’s disruption. In order for equity to happen in Oakland there has to be some sort of disruption in the frame for development in the downtown and throughout Oakland because as it’s framed it’s in… it … conversations of equity become moot if there is no longer a diverse population class and race wise in Oakland. And if the trajectory is not disrupted, then sheer numbers are going to outplace the communities that I’m truly concerned about. Those in redress. Those who are in need of an equitable lens to include them in a thriving Downtown Oakland.
What changes would you suggest to improve social, racial, and economic equity in downtown Oakland?
Giving community a real seat at the table. Truly listening to what people in community say. I think that it is disingenuous to collect information and to conduct studies and then to not act on the fruit of those studies. Or to incorporate some sort of strategy to really embody those suggestions. I think that community access to processes is a crucial thing in Oakland right now at this time. And I think that the inclusion of ways in looking at things, not just looking at things from top down, not just looking at things from a market rate perspective, but also looking at things from a grassroots perspective. Looking at things from the lens of those who have been marginalized and continue to be marginalized. I think that true community engagement… the type that the Equity Team is engaging in is super necessary to giving voice, gravitas, and access to voices that just aren’t heard here, that just are not heard. I think that the most crucial thing that could be done is simply truly hearing people. And I think the word intentional was really important. The reason I think disruptions are necessary is it’s because I find it really difficult to track where the intention in development now lies. Because if the intention is to have an inclusive Oakland, then we’ve got to give access to some people who currently don’t have it. And we not only access to hear them, access to strategies so they can truly be a part of the lifting and the planning process going forward. I think… I think that perhaps our city government having found the impetus to attract development should perhaps consider that first of all there is a point in which development perhaps is so rapid is it becomes unhealthy and is rather cancerous. And there ought to be an eye on how much development and at what rate is really necessary to bring in all of these voices. And to intentionally plan for traditional people who have been here to be able to stay for there to be a pathway. I think that there has to immediately has to be some sort of addressing of the lack of affordable housing. The fact that we’re going to lose the entire middle class of Oakland, aren’t those the people we want to keep? The people who went to school? Who worked for nonprofits? Who pay taxes and who’s up in their community? Don’t we want to keep those people? They’re about to be priced out. So I think immediately something must be done about affordable housing. And something has to be done about the number of people that are on the street. And in terms of thinking about how development needs to be paced. There needs to be an inventory of what available real estate and property currently exists so that we can see if we can positively turn those things to addressing affordable housing and addressing getting homeless people off the street. In a sense the most impacted population of development doesn’t get a voice. They’re not here being interviewed. They’re sleeping in tents, under freeway underpasses. Their voices are important too. They are the proof, the sign, and the symbol of what rapid development without intention is currently costing us. And for all I know, the solution for our problems is somewhere sleeping under an underpass right now. Inclusion, real inclusion, intentional development.