Oakland’s Declining Diversity Makes National Headlines

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Photo by satanslaundromat

San Francisco’s diversity (or lack thereof) isn’t the only Bay Area population to make headlines. Yesterday NPR’s Morning Edition touched on the growing tension between “Old Oakland” and the newer, younger, whiter residents who are remaking its landscape.

The Morning Edition piece reminds us of Oakland’s rich history as a hub of West Coast black culture and the birthplace of the Black Panther Movement. By the 1980s, Oakland’s population was more than 50 percent black.

“Today, Oakland is one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the U.S. – it’s now 34 percent white, 28 percent black, 25 percent Latino and 17 percent Asian.”

But these days, it isn’t uncommon for Lake Merritt to resemble Golden Gate Park, with mustachioed hipsters cruising on their fixies or young hip couples toting their goods from the farmers’ market and holding a $5 cup of Bicycle Coffee. Forbes even recently named Uptown the ninth most hipster hood in the nation. 

While white creative class expatriates are moving to Oakland to start a family, avoid San Francisco rent, or just to have more garden space – they’re driving rent prices up throughout the city and forcing minority residents who represent Old Oakland eastward where remnants of the violent lifestyles that made Oakland notorious in the ’90s are still visible.

Where I live in East Oakland, the majority of the families are black or Latino. Crime and violence are weekly occurrences on my block – but the rent is actually affordable. Even here, however, in the seedy underparts of Oakland, I can see the signs of gentrification. There are fixies locked up outside my apartment, more young people are moving in (a lot of them UC Berkeley graduates) and on Saturdays nights I can sometimes make out some indie music amongst the mariachi.

I am interested to see what Oakland will become in the next decade. After all, I am not an Oakland native, so I have some part to play in the remake of the city. I’m hoping for a resolution where the city’s history can remain a big part of the new developments around town, and where the Old Oakland can benefit from the introduction of new cultural pastimes as well.

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