During my field research trip in Downtown Oakland, California, I gained enormous knowledge about the social, political and economical features of this part of the city. Oakland, California was established in mid 19th century but its deep and rich history dates much further than its 155 years of existence. The city is situated on the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay. It has several attractive scenes in the world for example, the Oakland Bay, Crystal Bay, splendid Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate bridges. The landscape of Oakland is a blend of diverse and exciting architecture; two lakes; a lively waterfront; and more open space and parks per capita compared to other cities located within the Bay area (Royalty Universe 1).
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Historically, the economy of Downtown Oakland was heavily dependent on industries. The Southern Pacific Railroads (SPR) was among the first large employers to relocate into Oakland. SPR held sway over Oakland’s harbour for several years since the construction of the railroad culminated in Oakland’s port. Moreover, since its inception, Oakland has been a famous manufacturing center. It not only manufactures cars but also make food products.
Additionally, Downtown Oakland is a center of Bay Area government. The area has numerous local agencies. Undoubtedly, Downtown Oakland is one of the main economic powers in the region (Royalty Universe 11).
Downtown, Oakland is made up of a network of communities. It has a rich real estate, characterised by out-of-date neighbourhood districts that are suitable for people who want relocate to this area. Moreover, the Old Oakland offers attractive sites and building for prospective residents. Old Oakland is sandwiched between Broadway and Clay, from 7th to 10th Streets. It comprises of old Victorian structures that date back to 19th century but which are elegantly restored. Individuals who aspire to live in Old Oakland will find plenty of new restaurants, galleries and house shops. In addition this area has the Friday Farmer Market-that dates back to mid 19th century but with a cautiously refurbished main street- that has vibrant spas, shops and cafés.
These buildings have a Victorian setting that stirs up the Railroad era (Royalty Universe 4). The Chinatown is also part of Downtown Oakland. It’s a cultural and commercial district that mirrors the diverse Asian community in Oakland. The Chinatown Street Fest draws over 90,000 tourists every year since the Oakland Asian Cultural Center is among the largest Pan-Asian cultural centers in the US. Majority of Asian have relocated to Chinatown due to its cultural roots. In addition, this area has attractive stores where visitors can buy live seafood, fresh produce, curative herbs and other various items ranging from chopsticks to chinaware (Royalty Universe 6).
Jack London Square is also a part of Downtown Oakland. It has a real estate and neighborhood that offer guest rooms, shopping malls, restaurants and first-class jazz. In addition, visitors to this place can have much fun raising a mug at Heinhold’s First and Last Chance Saloon. The eastern part of Jack London Square has a warehouse area where visitors and residents can find fresh produce market, hotels, coffeehouses, business and residential buildings (Royalty Universe 7).
The Rockridge is a real estate that merges the complexity of the city with a calm urban environment. Rockridge is a two-mile stretch, from Berkeley to Oakland. It has several districts that offer visitors and residents attractive services. For example, College Avenue is full of bars, cafes, antiques, gourmet foods, rare foods and clothing. The Market Hall has wine shops, bakery, fresh produce stalls, flowers and live seafood.
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Rockridge is thus the most ideal location for commercial activities. Moreover, it has recreational facilities such as Thelma Art Gallery where children are allowed to play and run freely as they explore the Rockridge Kids, a fashionable toy store (Royalty Universe 9). Thus, for those people who plan to tour or relocate to this pleasant area, they will surely find a large number of real estate to select from.
Downtown Oakland has plenty of libraries and recreational facilities. Although majority of individuals who relocate to Oakland are interested in the real estate, they also stand to benefit from education facilities available in the city. For example, Downtown Oakland has several schools that offer education services to children and students. These include: California College of Arts and Crafts; Hayward; California State University; Holy Names University; Vista College; Merit College; and Laney College, among others (Royalty Universe 12).
The Lafayette Square is a recreational facility located near Downtown Oakland. It has been developed to suit the needs of its diverse users- from unemployed and destitute people who have visited the park since the Great Depression to inhabitants of newly constructed buildings (Bressi 11).
Features of Lafayette Square that facilitates participation of marginalized groups
Lafayette Square was founded in early 20th century when it was set aside as one of the five blocks to be used as parks. However, the park was plagued by several problems a decade ago. These included: poor sanitary conditions; maintenance problems; and drug abuse. During this period, the police attempted to evict by force its homeless user. The social service groups complained and convinced the city managers to initiate a redesign that entailed public safety officials, business organizations, social groups, and park regulars (Bressi 11).
I learned that Lafayette Square is currently used for a number of purposes. It is a community meeting place, green space and civic square. It is made up of a sublime lawn, hillock and picnic area; restroom, playground, and a performance spot; barbeque areas, horseshoe pits and game tables. Plans are also underway to include a modest facility for social services activities. The Lafayette Square’s design also makes use of the original plan and functions of the park. Since its completion, people from diverse cultures are allowed entry to the park on the condition that they do not displace the transient community. A number of groups are also practising stewardship: several transients have been hired to help maintain the park while residents living near the park have formed a community group to help organize events (Bressi 11).
The interplay between new and old Downtown Oakland
One of the striking features that captured my attention is the interplay between the old and new features of Downtown Oakland, where the rich, bright past is merged with urbanity. Lafayette Square’s elegant layout emerges as a gloomy vision of past and future. Old and new layers merge playfully. For instance, a low seating wall arcs stylishly around two mature iconic palm trees. The landscape of the park is designed to attract people from diverse groups.
Rather than creating a standard environment that captures different needs of its visitors, the landscape acknowledges human diversity by providing an intricate assortment of characteristics merged in time and place. A visitor is thus able to experience a sense of social harmony in the park that arises from daily activities that take place here without any form of constraint or inhibition. In addition, the park is designed to foster appreciation of marginalized cultures. For example, people from all walks o life converge at the park to read, talk, play or hang out, thereby developing new rituals, for example horseshoe, which is currently played on a rectangular dirt field, created in honour of African American culture (Bressi 12).
The social and political contests in Downtown Oakland
The socio-political contests in Downtown Oakland can be seen from two different approaches. The first approach considers the socio-political environment during the financial crisis. During this period, Downtown Oakland reported the highest number of homicide cases in the last decade. The escalating housing rents and prices have led to many people becoming destitute and homeless. I also learnt that the city has high levels of unemployment and poor infrastructure.
Also Downtown Oakland is viewed by a lot of people as one of hostility and incompetence. The second approach considers the manhattanization of Downtown Oakland where the real estate boom has produced a fury of building projects majority of property owners have witnessed the value of their properties rise generating financial gains (Tutashinda 32).
The political landscape is also experiencing a revival. The city has gone through a resurgence of electoral call-up not witnessed since the mayoral election of Lionel Wilson three decades ago. This is exemplified by the recent victory of Sandre Swanso, a State Assemblyman and the energetic, but futile campaign of Aimee Allison, a Green candidate who vied for a seat in city council (Tutashinda 33). Thus, the positive changes in the social and political structures of the city are signs of better prospects for residents of Downtown Oakland.
Bressi, Todd W. “Place Design: Lafayette Square.” 2001. Web.
Royalty Universe. “Moving to Oakland California.” World Consulting Group. 2011. Web.
Tutashinda, Kamau. “The Grassroots Political Phi;osophy of Ella Baker: Oakland, California Applicability”. Journal of Pan African Studies. 3.9 (2010): 25-42.