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Long-term residents reflect on losing their communities to rising rents and cultural whitewashing
MICHAL “MJ” JONES, ALTERNET
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.
When she returned one evening from what I thought was a routine dog walk around the neighborhood, my partner was nearly in tears. Perplexed and concerned, I probed for an answer.
She explained the sinking feeling of watching her hometown of Oakland, California, become unrecognizable: The urban farm and playground that recently popped up on Peralta Street had not a person of color in sight. Tent encampments with dozens of newly shelterless black people sprawled out beneath freeway overpasses. White neighbors shot quizzical or fearful looks as she passed. Walking the dog — a practice that once brought her joy and rejuvenation — now left her feeling deflated, angry and seemingly powerless. Her home, her community, had vanished. It had all been building up over the past few years, and in those moments as she walked, it became too much to take.
A news search of “gentrification” will land you with thousands of perspectives both for and against. Though the debate has emerged most vocally in the past several years, for residents born and raised in major cities, the ongoing loss of home is felt deeply.
“It is a feeling of powerlessness,” says Bie Aweh, who was raised in the Roxbury and Brighton neighborhoods of Boston. “You’re already vulnerable because of poverty, and it makes you feel like you have no power because capitalism talks the loudest.”
While many in support of urban renewal and development cite decreased crime rates and increased revenue as benefits, long-term residents from coast to coast echo concerns about the impact of gentrification on historically poor, predominantly of color neighborhoods.
Each of the people I spoke to were raised in historically black, poor communities now experiencing continued or more recent waves of gentrification. Noni Galloway, of Oakland, defines gentrification as, “when an environment or culture is taken over or redefined by another culture.”
On a surface level, the changes that come with gentrification are physical — new beer gardens, condominiums and bike lanes — and happen seemingly overnight. Many residents are left to grapple with what, where and whom to call “home.”
1. Shifts in demographics: ‘White people jogging was the first sign.’
When I first moved to Berkeley as a teenager in the early oughts, my peers had endless warnings for me about the neighboring city of Oakland. People living outside of Oakland, many of them white and/or middle to upper class, generalized it as “sketch,” “dangerous” and “crime-infested.”
The neighborhoods they cautioned me against visiting are now, over 10 years later, spaces where young professionals are flocking to, often describing them as “up-and-coming.”
When asked to reflect on the first signs of gentrification they saw in their cities, three of four interviewees specifically mentioned “white people jogging,” especially in areas they previously would not have set foot in. The influx of white and middle-class newcomers on its own is not the issue; rather the loss of culture and diversity that comes when a city’s long-term inhabitants can no longer afford to stay.
“We used to be a Mecca for black home ownership. Now illegalforeclosures.org reports that thousands of illegal foreclosures take place in Wayne County,” said Will, an activist from Detroit. “The discussion of so-called ‘improvement’ should not be separated from the misery being created for tens of thousands of Detroiters.”
Much of the conversation in support of gentrification is coded in a racist and classist belief system that blames the residents themselves for crime rates, rather than lawmakers, local politicians and complicit newcomers who are disinvested from solving the causes of poverty.
The increase of white and/or middle-class new residents to traditionally poor neighborhoods tends to follow or reflect changes in infrastructure, another highly discussed symptom of gentrification.
2. Shifts in infrastructure: ‘Government housing began to disappear.’
“Government housing began to disappear and the projects were being torn down,” said Crystal Lay, of Chicago. “People were being displaced to other areas and put in these quickly built homes.”
The shifts that happen to city landscapes undergoing gentrification are more than physical, they are symbolic of efforts to “improve” an area for incoming residents.
For those who have called these cities home since childhood, there are some strange contradictions: new bike lanes and rent-a-bike programs on streets riddled with potholes; sleek, market-rate apartments popping up beside historic Victorians; urban gardens and beautification in prior dumping grounds.
Oakland’s Noni Galloway summarizes the complex feelings that arise from witnessing these shifts overtime: “I have mixed emotions because … there were much-needed upgrades to the area that I feel didn’t happen until the gentrification started,” she said. “But it hurts to see my old neighborhood turn into the hot spot for someone else to enjoy.”
Another undeniable impact of the skyrocketing housing market is the increase in individuals without shelter, some of them former residents who have been recently evicted. In Oakland, homelessness increased by over 25%, and complaints went up by 600% between 2011 and 2016.
When developers are allowed to build housing starting at $3,000 a month in a neighborhood with a median family income of $35,000, what is being improved? Where can a family call home after their house becomes unrecognizable and unaffordable? What is the cost of gentrification? And who pays?
“Whites and the rich benefit the most,” said Crystal Lay. “I believe poor people and people of color lose. I think any mom-and-pop businesses also lose their customer base and those familiar faces.”
3. Shifts in safety measures: ‘Police make areas safer for suburbanites.’
“We saw blue lights go up in high-crime areas; it was like a sign for people to stay out of those areas. I feel like it was the early 2000s when they began,” said Lay.
Creating the perceived sense of safety associated with suburban areas, including policing, is part of what facilitates the process of demographic changes in major cities.
Sites such as Nextdoor and SeeClickFix encourage residents to report various issues, from car break-ins to graffiti, for resolution. These methods rely heavily on collaboration with law enforcement and public works officials, but also limit community members’ ability to resolve and express concerns together.
The desire to live in an environment that is free of violence, building decay and trash is obviously not unreasonable. I am certain that many long-term residents in urban areas have long wanted to see these changes. The issue is that local governments only invest in these changes when the demographics shift, and that the strategies of “safety” fit the new demographic as well.
The presence of law enforcement does not equal safety in many inner cities, but in urban environments undergoing gentrification, it is common to witness increased policing.
Not only does gentrification push residents out of their homes, it can make them feel unwelcome, or even feared, on their own streets. “
I’m going to have a shirt made,” my partner said, once again returning from walking the dogs, “that says, ‘I’m not a criminal, I’m just from here.’”
Although interview participants overall were not optimistic about the possibility of stopping gentrification, they did have words, advice and requests for new residents.
“Are you moving into the community with the intentions of contributing to the existing culture, by supporting our businesses, or are you coming to disrupt it?” asked Bie Aweh of Boston. “If the answer is disrupt, then please don’t move here.”
“Consider the history of the neighborhood; understand the relationships that are among the neighbors,” Oakland’s Galloway concluded.
This is the reason why Racism is alive and well!
Written by Jennifer Mayers
Your statement and all the others that uphold your racist mentality is the reason why this society is in the predicament is. Racism, homophobia, bigotry, prejudice HAVE NO PLACE IN THIS WORLD!
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By David DeBolt, firstname.lastname@example.org
OAKLAND — A controversial measure to establish a civilian police commission is headed to the November ballot after a flurry of last-minute changes and objections from reformers over who gets to pick the members.
The Oakland City Council’s unanimous vote Tuesday came with a sense of urgency as it was their final meeting before the Aug. 12 deadline to place the measure on the fall ballot.
Recent police scandals, including sexual misconduct involving several officers and the teenage daughter of a police dispatcher, and racist text message exchanges, have renewed calls for a more powerful commission.
Despite those stains on the department’s reputation, the powerful Oakland Police Officers’ Association pushed back and threatened to sue over changes to the police discipline process defined in the union’s current contract. That led to a private meeting of the City Council on Friday and further amendments to the proposed seven-member commission’s powers.
On the other side of the debate, reformers with the Coalition for Police Accountability unsuccessfully lobbied to take away three commission appointments given to Mayor Libby Schaaf. The remaining four will be appointed by a panel of residents who are picked by the mayor and council, causing worry that the panelists could be influenced by politicians.
“We hope it won’t stop people from voting for it,” Pamela Drake of the coalition said before Tuesday’s council meeting. “Every single person we talked to would ask us who is going to appoint the commissioners. It shouldn’t be political.”
In an unexpected move, council members Rebecca Kaplan and Desley Brooks attempted to strip Mayor Schaaf of her three appointments, but their motion failed to get council support.
Some of the 75 residents who addressed the council said Oakland has long needed civilian oversight of its police department. Since 1980, the city has had a Citizens’ Police Review Board, but critics have said it is understaffed and its recommendations are often ignored by city officials. The board would be disbanded and its executive director would become the interim director of the Oakland Police Review Agency, which will work alongside the commission.
If approved by voters, the new review agency and the commission would have more power than the CPRB.
The proposal by councilmen Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo allows the commission to fire a police chief for cause if five members agree to do so. The commission, which is expected to meet twice a month, will also have subpoena power over police records, but only the head of the review agency will have access to an officer’s personnel file. Other powers and duties include probing officer misconduct complaints and commenting on police policies related to First Amendment assemblies, use of force and profiling.
No past or present police officers would be allowed on the commission. Members must be at least 18 and Oakland residents.
Initially, the proposal called for the commission to take part in selecting an arbitrator, the person who hears a police officer’s appeal in discipline cases. But under pressure from the police union, references to changing the binding arbitration process were omitted. The union had argued it violated their current contract.
Critics have called for reforms to the process, citing reports from a court-appointed monitor who found police officers more often than not won jobs back or had their punishment reduced at arbitration.
Cat Brooks of Anti Police-Terror Project said the legislation is not groundbreaking.
“It’s the same tired thing they have in San Francisco that doesn’t work and continues to support police,” Brooks said.
Earlier Tuesday, police union President Sgt. Barry Donelan said the union was withdrawing its objection to the measure.
“The measure no longer has any impacts on our labor contracts and due process for the officers and privacy rights,” Donelan said. “All of that’s been removed.”
Gallo and Kalb said the city can revisit changes to the process of binding arbitration at a later date or during future negotiations with the police union. The pair expected additional revisions to strengthen the power of the commission.
“If we don’t agree on everything that’s part of the unpleasantness of democracy,” Kalb said. “This is and will be the only police commission that I know of in the country that has less than a majority” of its members being selected by a mayor.
“That’s a big deal,” he said.
David DeBolt covers Oakland. Contact him at 510-208-6453. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.
From October 8, 2016 to February 12, 2017, the Oakland Museum Of Califonia will display an exhibit in celebration of the Black Panther Party For Self Defense 50th Anniversary. For most Oakland natives this exhibit and era will bring back memories of an era in Oakland History.
For me, it reminds me of a time when Black Power and Black Pride held a place within the Oakland community. Where people came together for the uplifting of Black people and other people of color. For me it was a time when social programs were being created to support families within the community. For me it will remind me of a time when my father who dressed in Black Panther gear and made sure that the weekly publication of The Black Panther newspaper was always on his “man” stand.
I am proud to have grown up during this time in Oakland – the good, the bad, and the ugly. From receiving a oppressive hegemonic education within the Oakland Public School System, to the police brutality that plagued the Oakland streets, to the segregation, to the racism that continues today. I am glad that I had parents who introduced me to aspects of Black life that helped to shape and mold me to who I AM today!
“ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE.”
Cynthia D. Cornelius, TCXPI
MuseumCa.org: Social movement, political party, cultural influencer, government target, and Oakland-born—there are many ways to feel about the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, founded in October 1966. As the Black Panther Party celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, visit the exhibition All Power to the People for a contemporary view on the legacy of this visionary group, told from multiple perspectives. Rare historical artifacts, first person accounts, and new contemporary art show how the Party continues to inspire culture, activism, and community empowerment on local, national, and international levels.
Gain insights from former Black Panthers, artists, scholars, and community members about the Party—and how it continues to impact our lives and give meaning to the places around us. Examine a sweeping array of artifacts from OMCA’s collection and former Party members, along with never before seen photographs highlighting the everyday experiences and moments within the Party’s history. Uncover little-known aspects of this innovative group’s past in sections focusing on unheralded members of the movement such as women and rank and file, the Panthers’ revolutionary social programs, and how secret government programs led to the Party’s demise and influenced how it is remembered today. Throughout, consider why the Panthers remain controversial to some and inspirational to many, and how their political agenda continues to resonate with the social justice efforts today.
REAL ESTATE INC.
First look: Oakland project from Texas developer would add 225 units in Auto Row
Feb 19, 2016, 2:42pm PST Updated Feb 19, 2016, 2:50pm PST
INDUSTRIES & TAGS Commercial Real Estate, Residential Real Estate, Construction, East Bay
Roland Li, Reporter
San Francisco Business Times
The Hanover Company is moving forward with a new 225-unit residential building in Oakland’s hot Broadway-Valdez area, even as opponents continue to fight another project by the same developer across the street.
Oakland’s planning department will hold public hearings in the coming months on the Hanover Co.’s proposed seven-story project at 2400 Valdez St. The Houston, Texas-based developer also plans 23,000 square feet of retail, which is consistent with the city’s push for more shopping destinations in the area, which has historically been an Auto Row.
The project would replace a narrow parking lot that currently spans 24th to 27th streets. The site is just west of another large housing proposal on the same block by Holland Partner Group on what is currently an Acura dealership.
The developer didn’t immediately return requests for comment. TCA Architects is designing the project.
City planning staff stated in a report released this week that the project is a “well thought design concept” and released the project’s first renderings. But the staff had some design concerns regarding the project’s facade on 27th Street and recommended that the city planning’s Design Review Committee study the project further.
The Hanover Co. also received approval from the city’s planning commission in January for 256 units at 2630 Broadway, a site a block away from the proposal at 2400 Valdez St. But construction of the project would require demolition of the historic Biff’s coffee shop, which has been vacant for years and would require significant renovations. Local preservationists have filed an appeal against the approvals that will require the project to go to a vote by the city council, possibly in April.
Opponents argue that the Hanover Co. can save the historic building and build a taller tower that only occupies part of the parcel. “There is actually plenty of room for lots of housing on the property as well as great commercial space along Broadway and keeping Biff’s,” said Leal Charonnat, an architect and preservationist who is one of the opponents filing an appeal.
But the Hanover Co. has stated that repairing the historic building would be too expensive.
It’s the second time in the last month that opponents have filed appeals against newly approved projects. Last week, community groups and neighbors also appealed the approval of a 126-unit Oakland tower at 250 14th St. in part because they want the developer to pay for the replacement of a mural that would be blocked by construction of the project.
Roland Li covers real estate and economic development
By Kevin D Sawyer
San Quentin News Journalist
This week’s 50th Anniversary of the National Football League’s Super Bowl game pits the Carolina Panthers against the Denver Broncos. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party.
These two historical celebrations boast leading persons whose names are similar. Cam Newton is the leader and quarterback of the North Carolina Panthers. Huey Newton is the co-founder, along with Bobby Seale, of the Black Panther Party, which was founded in 1966 in Oakland, California.
Perhaps no one has taken notice of the symbolic meaning of these two events. Fifty years ago the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, led by Newton, was originally named and organized to “combat police violence in Negro neighborhoods.”
Meanwhile, today the same issues exist as we view the recent demonstrations and outrage over police killings and lawlessness.
As the world focuses on the 50th Super Bowl game, they will see the Carolina Panthers, led by Cam Newton, who is a prime candidate to be named as the league’s most valuable player for his offensive and bold skills, also boasts a strong defense.
How ironic. While Huey Newton is no longer with us, there is a symbolic reference to his bold legacy and the Black Panthers. It is the Carolina Panthers’ Black quarterback Cam Newton who bears some resemblance to Huey. He is also bold in his style of play.
For many, Black History has come full circle in the last 50 years, from the 1965 Watts riots to the 1992 uprising in Los Angeles after the verdict of the Rodney King police beating trial, to the Ferguson, Missouri police killing of Michael Brown.
Seemingly, from Newton to Newton, not much has changed.
Perhaps the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl will not do anything to remedy any of the wrongs of the past and present, but while sitting in a prison cell at San Quentin State Prison, the image of Cam Newton coming to the Bay Area with his Carolina Panthers will give me more of a reason to reflect on the symbolism this game represents.
Editor’s note: Post Publisher Paul Cobb has visited the San Quentin Newspaper staff and he sponsors their membership in the Society of Professional Journalists. Many of their writings have appeared in the Post News Group’s publications. Cobb spoke with the inmates about Black History, the Civil Rights movement and how he had attended elementary school with Mr. Newton and attended Black History classes with Newton and Seale at the Afro-American Association.
Kevin Sawyer, born in 1963, began focusing on writing 19 years ago while awaiting trial in jail. Some of his writings have been published.
Prior to incarceration, he worked 14 years for several telecommunications corporations. He has a B.A. Degree in Mass Communications from Cal State Hayward. He also has a diploma as a paralegal assistant from Blackstone Career Institute. He is a certified electrician through the National Center for Construction Education and Research and an accomplished guitar and piano player.