A craigslist ad is surfacing the Internet via Facebook about Oakland’s original residents being displaced by an influx of white-collar yuppies. I’m not an expert on gentrification, but I am aware of the wave of trendy establishments that are attracting newcomers. Of course, gentrification doesn’t only mean new gastropubs and shopping centers. It involves real estate, crime rates, education and other areas of public policy and city infrastructure. As an environmental science major interested in working as an urban/city planner, this issue felt close to home (literally).
After reading different articles on gentrification, I realized that there are both pros and cons to this process. As a resident of Oakland, I like seeing my city improve. Yes, I love my liquor stores and neighborhood parks. Yes, I love my favorite local Chinese restaurant down the block and my hairdresser who has been grooming me since I was 2 years old. It’s the memorable places and likeminded people who share a love for Oakland that remind me of how lucky I am to be apart of a diverse, cultured and prideful city. I respect the hardworking families who recognize privilege and youth who fight for social justice. Despite all of this, I still appreciate the efforts that Oakland is making to revitalize itself. I like the addition of better roads and refurbished buildings. Change is sometimes necessary for improvement.
Improvement can easily be placed in the wrong hands. It upsets me that many of Oakland’s original residents (those who have established all of its rich culture and history) are being driven out of their homes that have been around for generations. The blame shouldn’t be shifted toward the new residents; it should be targeted toward poor city government planning in collaboration with large corporations. Known as Hyper-gentrification, large corporations and investors take advantage of the opportunity to redevelop areas into luxurious metropolises and profit off of people who can afford a higher living. The shift in capital goes from the individual to the corporation.
Whether we like it or not, Oakland is going to be changing. Rather than fighting against a battle that is already being won, residents should be fighting for ways to keep up with this change. Minimum wages should correctly match the standard living wage. New jobs should be created because of the new developments. Money could be allocated to preserve affordable housing and reduce cultural displacement. More representation should be given to our communities. More regulations within the planning commission should be established. Larger government oversight and zoning to balance out the free market. We should support local businesses, be proactive in elections, understand our tenant rights (we can speak out against exploitative and illegal actions by our landlords) Etc. Etc.
Although, I didn’t cover much about gentrification, there are just too many economic, social and political factors that go into this complicated process that make it hard for me to make any wise or intellectual judgments.
How can urban revitalization take place without gentrification? How can we improve our cities without displacing its residents and culture? Write your thoughts in the comment section below.