Oakland is Changing

In between reading the latest updates about the massive earthquake off of the coast of Northern Japan,  you may have also heard that the 2010 Census numbers are coming out.  And the numbers are definitely confirming some things about Oakland, that many of us have been noticing for a while — Oakland is changing.

In recent years, we watched condos go up in West Oakland and the Downtown Renaissance bring new restaurants and a lively night life back into Oakland. Yet, I can't help but ask- Who will live those condos... who will frequent those establishments... and most importantly, who owns all of it?

The Census numbers have definitely confirmed that the demographics of Oakland are shifting.  Once considered one of the nation's infamous "Chocolate Cities" with an African American population of 46% in 1980, numbers show that the population has decreased by 25%.

Oakland's population as a whole decreased by just over 2%.  African Americans make up just under 28% of Oakland's community, with Caucasians accounting for 25.9% and Latinos for 25.4%.  Numbers show that there is also a growing Asian population in addition to other ethnic groups.

So looking at all these numbers brings me back to my previous questions:  Who is living in these new apartment buildings? Who is going to the new bars, or better yet, who is working at them?  And who is making profit off of Oakland's growing downtown area?

Gentrification is an issue that we can not afford to sweep under the rug.  As families get foreclosed on, they look to Stockton, Antioch and Pittsburgh for less expensive housing and jobs. Meanwhile younger, wealthier families come in, and we must be able to discuss honestly what's at play.  During the 1950's and 1960's when "white flight" was going on, by default, communities of colors moved to urban centers for cheaper housing and more job opportunities.

In the midst of a declining economy and people coming to terms with the reality of climate change, it's convenient and even necessary for people to return to major cities for more localized living.  But the parking spots and living spaces are limited, so people are going to have to leave as others come in.  And quite frankly, most families can't afford the high cost of living in places like the Bay Area.  And whether it's families choosing to leave on their own, as gentrification does what it does slyly, or families facing the violent realities of foreclosures and having to fight wealthy and powerful banks to stay in their homes, I believe there is a better way.

This is not about the blame game.  This is not about pointing fingers at the new family moving in down the block.  What the Census numbers show us is that we need to start re-thinking how we shape our cities and the opportunities within them so that everyone can thrive. From the grandmother down the block who has owned her house for 20 years in West Oakland, to the recent UC Berkeley graduate moving into the North Oakland Temescal area, we must be critical and mindful of the economic policies that shape our city and affect our community members.

Neighbors need to start engaging with one another in way that allow us to creatively re-design the concept of city so that grandmothers can stay in their homes and we can also welcome young adults eager to contribute to shaping Oakland.  The world is changing.  Let's take advantage of all the factors at play to rebuild an Oakland that is healthy and vibrant.

The Soul of the City Campaign at the Ella Baker Center works to place the well-being of Oakland directly into the hands of the community.  We honor the important role that each person plays in creating a thriving city.  If you're interested in learning more about Soul of the City and ways that you can engage in building an Oakland for everyone, contact us.

"We are the ones we've been waiting for."