08 September 2006

Don't You Come Improving OUR Neighbourhood

Those of you who've been reading me for a while will know I haven't got much use for either hipsters or the city of Oakland, and yet here's a story that leaves me more kindly disposed toward both. After a fashion.

"Hipster Invasion," proclaims the East Bay Express article, which then goes on to view with alarm the incursion of artsy types into the wasteland that is downtown Oakland. Okay, not just alarm; there's also a little hope expressed that the new wave of galleries and related enterprises will spark the revival of a long-blighted area.

But as usual with this kind of story, the author can't stop himself fretting about whether it's morally acceptable for young whites to move into an area that has been (according to him) "predominantly black since 1850." Most likely this is a typo; surely he meant to say 1950, but regardless, it's a dumb, racist argument, and I'm sick of it. If there's something wrong with whites moving into "historically black" neighbourhoods, how on earth can you fault anyone for trying to stop blacks moving into historically white neighbourhoods?

And this "historically" bit is a crock, too; neighbourhoods are organic, living things which by their nature change over time. It's a pretty safe bet that any "black" neighbourhood was at one time occupied by members of another race, and almost as safe that it will be again at some time in the future. What would you put forth as an alternative: that blacks should always stay in the same places, and that no other races should be allowed to move in? I think they already tried that one in South Africa, and the world was rightly horrified.

Anyway, face it: altogether too much of Oakland is in fact a miserable, dangerous, crime-ridden shithole. If any ambitious or creative young people - yes, even if they're the dreaded hipsters - are willing to invest their time and energy into making the streets habitable and enjoyable again, any sensible Oaklander should be out there welcoming them. Yes, when the artists move in, there is risk that the neighbourhood might get better, and that rents will go up, and those who thrive only in slums might have to move on, but what's your alternative? Leave it a slum forever? Is there anyplace on earth as screwy as the Bay Area? I'm really beginning to doubt it.


jb. said...

As my pal Bartek, an urban studies grad student, put it, "Most arguments against gentrification assume that cities must remain museums forever. But stagnant cities are dead cities and that doesn't do anyone any good." Or something to that effect. I certainly understand the impulse behind those who oppose gentrification-- I agree that it galls me to see rents going up and the people who've always called the neighbourhood home being forced out so cultureless swine can turn their houses into condos, etc etc etc. But isn't there some kind of halfway point, wherein we could find a means to protect those who can't afford to put up a fight against the sideways-haircuts-and-volkswagens brigade while still allowing neighbourhoods to develop, change, and, ideally, offer better things to the people who live there (community centres, after school programmes, etc)?

Maybe that's some pollyanna shit, but it seems to me that with a bit of effort it wouldn't be so hard to go beyond both leaving neighbourhoods (and the people who live there) to rot, or turning them all into Celebration Florida.

kendra said...

i forgot how poor the writing is in the east bay express. the author was just so heavy handed with the emotion and cliches...

i also love how half of it was "poor esteban sabar", who really seems like some sort of development creep. i know that's his right, but who the hell wants to own an art gallery to sell to oprah? that's not my goal in life, sadly.

as for the art murmur kids vs. the people of lower bottoms- don't they know you can't reason with hipsters? these "kids" don't really pay attention to things, like the effect they have on the neighbourhood or how insensitive they may be, because they can't see beyond their kind. i've been to art murmur (on accident), and it was just ok. not great, but ok. way too many stupid drunk hipsters for my liking, so i went back to the stork club to play pinball.