Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Hipsters in Oakland

I worked in downtown Oakland, on Franklin St. near 19th, from mid-1990 through mid-1996. At the time, the best coffee in the neighborhood came from Cafe Pasqua on 20th and Aromas on Franklin. Pasqua eventually disappeared into the maw of Starbucks. Aromas is still there. In the 90s, the best you could do foodwise was Pho 84, on 17th. They're still there and still great; back then, I probably ate there once a week. Sure, there was Da Vinci's, still there and still offering cheese tortallini in Alfredo sauce for $9.95, and mediocre Chinese food. For a couple of years, there was a decent, not great, Indian buffet.

I wandered around the area a bit last night with my dog and my, how things are changing.

I found three fancy coffee shops in the blocks bounded by 17th, 19th, Franklin, and Harrison; two fancy bars (one in a space previously occupied by a run-down sandwich shop called Belly Roll Ben's), a whole-animal restaurant, a shop selling vintage clothes and music on vinyl, a nutrition and fitness consultancy, and a raw-food store called RAWR. Hawker Fare and Umami Burger are both a couple of blocks the other side of 19th.

These changes fall under the rubric of good/bad. Yes, it's nice to see downtown Oakland coming back. In the 90s, Emporium Capwell was on the downswing, the Fox Theater was crumbling, there was little housing and nowhere to shop or eat downtown, a number of buildings had been damaged in the '89 earthquake but never repaired or demolished, and the place was deserted after work. Now there are good places to eat, from Umami to Flora; vintage buildings have either been restored or replaced by new office towers (Pandora is in one of these); the parking lots on Telegraph across from the old Capwell building have been replaced by condos and rental apartments.

But people who've lived in Oakland for decades are being driven out by the increasingly impossible cost of housing and by gentrification; not nearly enough new housing is under development; there aren't enough jobs, still. Oakland is still a high-crime city. Gentrification is making improvements top down, but there just is not enough help for poorer citizens, the schools don't get nearly enough money (and take look at the blatantly racist and classist school districts: some straight across the wealthy, mostly-white hills, all others include the flatlands), the city is very, very poorly managed.

So, life in Oakland: a mixed bag.

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