Thursday, April 04, 2013

East Oakland?

Something I wrote for Oaklandwiki on East Oakland. I hate when people call things "East Oakland" Just Because They Can, or because they don't know any better. Link here, though it may be changed by the time you see it- the good and bad of a wiki!

East Oakland loosely describes a large part of the city of Oakland and includes a number of neighborhoods. "East Oakland" is often synonymous in public language both in- and outside of Oakland as "the ghetto." Our Oakland has a great piece mapping how the media delineated East Oakland over a series of articles.
Complicating the fact is that what is described as "East" Oakland is in fact South Oakland, as directionally, Oakland is much longer North-South than East-West. The widest part of the city is just south of the Bay Bridge, and cuts across straight through Oakland pretty much 1/3 of the way South of the city. 
Many people, perhaps the majority or residents and outsiders, think that anything East of Lake Merritt is East Oakland. This would mean that anything with "Avenue" in the street name or East followed by a number (i.e. East 22nd or East 14th (now called International Blvd)) is East Oakland. This is a huge, diverse swath of territory: literally from 1st avenue on the shore of Lake Merritt to past 109th Ave at San Leandro. Running over 100 blocks North-South (see above) and from the flats to the hills and encompassing the majority of 5 of 7 City Council districts, this hardly seems appropriate. Certain neighborhoods would certainly object if it were portrayed this starkly. Maybe East Oakland would only be described as City Council Districts 56 and 7, and the Southeast portions of Districts 2 and 4. This would eliminate the stigma of "East Oakland" from neighborhoods such as Crocker HighlandsMontclairGlenview and even Eastlake
The linguistic implications of calling something "East Oakland" are huge: many people will not travel to somewhere that is considered "East Oakland" because it's considered dangerous. One might argue that the surge in gentrification in places like Old OaklandUptownand Temescal could not have happened in "East Oakland" because the downtown and North Oakland names did not carry such a stigma. Sure, they were empty and people from Oakland know that West Oakland has it's own share of problems, but there's nothing like the gangster, lost-cause feeling of East Oakland. This, in turn, leads to a vicious cycle: dollars aren't spent in "East Oakland" so businesses stay away from East Oakland. People don't move to East Oakland because there are so many empty houses and so few services. "East Oakland" the geographic area spreads as "East Oakland" the cultural problem self-reinforces.