My grandparents moved into Oakland in the year of 1971 right after their arrival from Mexico. At the moment, they were a small family of three, with my dad being their only child. They settled and bought a two story house located in East Oakland on 94th ave and International Blvd., which also came with apartment studios included in the backyard. Over time, my grandparents continued to reside in their first American home despite the growing violence in the neighborhood and eventually paid off their home completely. That house was like my second home; I grew up there.
Many people who live in Oakland share the same pride and attachment to living in the city as my grandparents and I have. But unfortunately, many also do not have the privilege of paying off their beloved homes and being able to remain a resident of the community. A growing phenomenon has entered the city over the years causing a disturbance in the community and displacement of its people. Where the once black panthers stood trying to create change, now stand auctioneers set up with a folding chair and a stack of documents. This phenomena, that I have been writing about for some time now, is called gentrification.
The dictionary definition of gentrification is “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” But what the dictionary does not define is the cause that overtime has led to the kicking out of low-income home owners and renters. Newcity.org explains that gentrification has been brought on by decades of investment and public policy choices and inextricably bound to histories of racism. What this means is that peoples ownership of their homes have not been secure over the years because of policies made up by officials and the discrimination tolerated by the leaders.
Gentrification has been taking place for a while now and has caused the demographics and population of the communities to shift. While mostly low-income African-American residents are being the ones forced out, middle-class whites are the ones snatching up the homes that have been repossessed. I can not help but have one question. Does the new population of wealthier residents actually benefit the community? After searching extensively to find articles related to this topic, I came across a couple that somewhat answered my question.
To go right into my question, does the new population of wealthier residents actually benefit the community? I wanted to clarify what I meant. While the incoming tech employees and entrepreneurs begin to inhabit the city, the food service workers and lower-income individuals start getting kicked out of their own communities, causing a dramatic change to the culture and public view of the city. My question addresses this change and asks whether or not gentrification has helped the present community meaning the one the has been around for various years.
According to PBS.org, there are two obvious effects created by gentrification, there is economic and there is physical. The economical effect is described as including rehabilitation, housing development, new shops and restaurants, and new higher wage jobs. The physical effect is described as including public improvements such as streets, parks, and infrastructure. Also, new residents not being shy to demand better district public aesthetics throughout their community. These effects are general analysis of all gentrification taking place throughout the country. While these effects do clean up the areas in which change is taking place, are they really helping out the community?
The parts of Oakland that have seen the most gentrification going on include Downtown, Lake Merritt, and West Oakland. Major tech companies such as Pandora and most recently Uber are prime examples of the economic changes Oakland is seeing. With these companies locating in the downtown area, new types of people are brought into the area. These people include individuals working for the actual companies themselves and then there are those who are starting up their own businesses in the area. These new residents create new jobs and input new money into the local economy, in a way they are benefiting the community by making these changes, but do they help the older residents? The jobs created by the start up shops and companies usually include employees of the newer wave of locals, not the older ones who have been living in the area for years if not all their lives. Economically speaking, yes gentrification has helped the area but not the inhabitants.
Now we must look at the the physical aspect of gentrification. If you visit, lets say Jack London Square, you’ve got a ton of restaurants that serve a wide variety of food, movie theaters, bowling allies, a beautiful dock where you can overlook the loading docks, and much more. But heading over to other parts of the city, such as East Oakland, you begin to see the abandoned houses, the liquor stores on every corner, the homeless taking shelter wherever they can, etc. How can such a huge gap of wealth and lifestyle exist in the same city? Yes, gentrification has made certain areas “cleaner” and safer, but its pushing those who cannot afford to live in the area anymore to take their poverty elsewhere.
Gentrification does not solve poverty; it simply displaces it. Now to address the second part of my question. Where do those that are displaced actually go? There is no complex answer or shocking result. Its simple, they go wherever they can to survive. I live in San Lorenzo which is about fifteen minutes away from Oakland and over the past year there has been an obvious change in our own demographics. All of my new neighbors are ex-residents of Oakland and more than half are African-American. There has also been an increase in the African American and Latino student body at my former high school which is the most local. These changes show that Oakland is not improving, it is simply becoming a whole new city and pushing out those who actually need the improvement.
Does the new population of wealthier residents actually benefit the community? From what is seen the answer isn’t a definite yes or no. The answer lies within the state of those originally in the area, and if they’re not well off in their own community then that’s telling oyu something about gentrification.