West Oakland Farms

Just wanted to pass along this article from a few days ago in the Wall Street Journal regarding urban farming in West Oakland. There was not much in the article I didn't already know, but it's nice to see some positive news about Oakland in a national publication.


All Aboard

Speaking of Amtrak, it appears the Democrats' VP candidate, Joe Biden, is a daily commuter and big supporter of our country's passenger rail system. Given rising gas prices and all the problems with the airline industry, it really makes sense for us to fund and promote passenger rail much more than we have the last few decades. Amtrak should be a sterling alternative to the airlines for trips under 500 miles, especially because, unlike most airports, trains take you directly into the center of the region.

I grew up in a small town about 20 miles north of Milwaukee, and I always say that, were I in Italy, I would have been able to take a train back home during college and my years in Milwaukee afterwards. And Italy is a much poorer country than the United States. When it comes to transport, we truly do live in a third world country.

As a bonus, better funding and promotion of passenger rail would help Oakland. San Francisco has no direct Amtrak service, it is only through shuttles from the East Bay that passengers can get there. So any increases in the service and performance of Amtrak would directly benefit Oakland, since for Amtrak, it is the center of the region.


Big Fun

For those who like their food a little faster, this is the last weekend of the California State Fair. It's no big gig, but it is big fun. In addition to the animals, there are interesting garden displays, information on various counties in California, and, of course, beer, wine and every type of fast food imaginable.

If you go, I highly recommend taking Amtrak. The Capitol Corridor route takes you up along the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays before heading into the Central Valley to downtown Sacramento. It is a great way to see the back side of cities such as Oakland, Emeryville, Berkeley and Richmond, as well as some beautiful vistas of the bays and the wide open spaces in the interior of California.

After you get to Sacramento, a short walk through the downtown leads you to the Sacramento Regional Transit blue line train, where there are free shuttles from the Arden/Del Paso station. The trip takes a little longer by rail, but is far more interesting.

Of if you'd just as soon stick around Oakland this weekend, there is always Art & Soul.



You've probably heard about the Slow Food Nation festival being held in San Francisco this weekend. But what you might not know about is the festival's design program, which has brought together many of the region's top architects to produce various pavillions. Unfortunately, there appears to be only one Oakland firm, envelope A+D, best known for the Mission restaurant Delfina and their winning scheme in the Octavia Boulevard competition for the San Francisco Prize a few years back.

The main complaint I have is that some of the firms are too established for this type of work. A small commission like this is the perfect opportunity for young firms to gain some work and experience, and it is too bad the likes of SMWM, BCV, and Roma Design Group are involved. And actually calling it a commission is incorrect, the architects and designers are working pro bono, which is perhaps why even the younger, smaller firms tapped are somewhat established; they are probably just using it as a marketing tool.

Still, it is hard to complain about good architecture, and all of the firms tapped are capable of producing it. It should be interesting to see. I am a bit concerned that many of the pavillions will be inaccessible, however, because it appears they have been sold out. I'll be checking into this tomorrow and let you know what I find out.

UPDATE: The taste pavillions have been sold out, and I was told there no access to those without tickets at any other times. Still, there is some work at the Civic Center that will be accessible the entire event. You can find a good run down of the architects and designers, and the focus and location of their work here.


Building Blog

Do you like architectural conjecture? Urban speculation? Landscape futures?

Then you'll love BLDGBLOG. Approaching the physical world with a scientist's inquisitiveness, an architect's understanding of the built environment, an explorer's intrepidation, and most importantly, a child's wonder, Geoff Manaugh covers archeology and anthropology, geography and geology, theology and pathology, architecture and engineering, and landscape and urbanism, revealing the odd and the everyday with a creative, fresh perspective.

Manaugh relocated to San Francisco about a year ago to become a senior editor at Dwell magazine. How he finds time to do that and long, thoroughly researched posts almost daily, I may never know. But I see something cool or learn something interesting nearly everytime I have a look, which is often.


Care and Repair

It seems that Chip Johnson reads V Smoothe; we know the reverse is true. And while I agree with the general thrust of their arguments, it is important to note the research on the relationship between crime and economics is inconclusive, perhaps leaning slightly toward some sort of relationship, though of course it depends on how and what you measure.

Now it's true that Dellums words in this situation were, at best, tone deaf:

"The desperation of these crimes speaks to the broader issue of where we are in terms of this economy. When people become this desperate, they take desperate acts and we have to do everything we can to get to the root causes of crime and violence."

But it's not as if Johnson's source in the article, Frank Zimring, a professor at UC-Berkeley, smacks him down:

"I would be enormously doubtful if that were the case. Robbery is a dreadful way of making money and suggests things that are clearly not cyclical to employment opportunities."

Robbery is a dreadful way of making money, if you are a professor at UC-Berkeley. If, on the other hand, you have few job skills and are surrounded by lots of disorder, well, maybe not so much. Sure the pay is low and the working conditions are difficult, but the hours are pretty good.

And while Zimring cites national crime statistics as not corresponding to the economy, we aren't talking about national crime, we are talking about crime in Oakland. Frankly, I don't care about crime in Kalamazoo. I would think a professor at UC-Berkeley could get his hands on some crime data from Oakland and compare it to economic data in Oakland.

To me, intuitively, it makes sense that crime increases during a recession. Zimring also says, "robbery makes no economic sense, but there is an emotional and recreational reward of dominating people. It's about power." And while the later is likely true, the former is simply silly.

The proper way to think about this, I think, is that right now, in Oakland, the costs of robbery are low relative to the benefits - there are not enough police and the likelihood of getting caught and punished is small, and in addition to getting cash and other fabulous prizes, you get the respect of your peers and the sympathy of the mayor.

This calculus must be changed. But the problem, as I see it and have said before, is that Dellums simply doesn't get cities. He thinks the same sorts of policies that might work at a state and national level will work at the level of a city, and he is wrong. Cities are not just governmental units that are smaller than counties, states, and nations, they are distinctly different. Cities are, much more so than even counties, physical objects, and as such they require care and repair. And because of the way we've organized metropolitan governance in our country, they are also in direct competition with nearby cities. And so, for example, many of the benefits of any jobs created in Oakland would accrue to nearby cities like Alameda, Berkeley, or San Leandro.

Now some of the ways you care for and repair a city is by keeping your streets and parks clean, your infrastructure in good working condition, and by having responsible adults like the police (and, though they freak me out too, the Guardian Angels) around regularly.

And thus you change the calculus. The costs of crime increase, and if you have a mayor that understands that cities are physical objects in addition to collections of people, and demands people treat the city with respect, the benefits will decrease. Behavior once considered acceptable will become less so.

Now mostly this will push the problem into another city. But unfortunately, that is the best a mayor can do. If I could change the way our metro governments are set up I would - heck I'd prefer something closer to city-states, or more precisely, region-states. Certainly I'd like there to be less income inequality, more education and skills training, and more affordable housing options. And I think government can and should play a role in all these goals, and it is currently failing us big time. But if you want to address them go to Sacramento or Washington. Cities need the attitude of an artisan and the embodied knowledge of a craftsman. Cities such as Oakland, need care and repair.

Celebrity and Anonymity

This is interesting. I wonder how many folks around here know that the Beijing National Stadium, better known as the Bird's Nest, was designed by the same architects as the de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

I admit to having a somewhat conflicted view on the topic. On the one hand, it would be good to acknowledge architects more (the better to praise or skewer them), but it also contributes to the celebrity culture in general, and the individual as hero ethic that permeates architecture. And while there is definitely something to starchitecture, I wonder how much of it is the reverberation of the echo chamber that architects often find themselves in.

The reality is that architecture is built by many people, from design architects to drafters, as well as engineers, government officials, and builders. But still, it is architects who develop the artistic vision. My compromise is that the name of the firm be used, such that, for the Bird's Nest Jacque Herzog & Pierre de Meuron get credited using the name of their firm, Herzog & de Meuron Architekten. Whereas, for Cathedral of Christ the Light on Lake Merritt (opening in about a month), the design would be credited to SOM, rather than Craig Hartman (looking there like a character in Mad Men), who is a design partner, and often credited individually for designs from their San Francisco office.

Thus, anonymity is the price you pay for working for a large, three-letter firm, or choosing an obsure, arty name for your own.


Walk Oakland

On Friday, Brooklyn Avenue posted about the public staircases and pedestrian walkways in Oakland. I second the recomendation, at the bottom, of the Walk Oakland! map. When I moved to Oakland nearly three years ago now, I stopped in at Bibliomania on Telegraph & 18th, and walked out with my very own free copy of Walk Oakland!, courtesy of owner Jean Van Fleet.

For those interested, I highly recommend the tour put on by the Oakland Heritage Alliance called "Oakland Walkway and Streetcar Heritage" led by Jason Patton, who created the Walk Oakland! map. From downtown, you take an AC transit bus along an old streetcar route up to the Glenview neighborhood. You then take public staircases, sidewalks, and walkways through Trestle Glen and down to Grand Lake, where the tour ends. I went two years ago, and it is scheduled this year for Saturday, September 28.

In fact, I recommend all the walking tours put on each summer by OHA, now in their 28th year. I've been on 4 now and all were wonderful. A couple of weeks ago, I learned about Eichlers in Oakland from Michael Crowe, and last summer I toured Temescal with Ray Rainieri and Philbrick's Boatworks with owner Russ Donovon (coming up this Saturday). There are still 10 tours left this year, so have a look, and get walking.

Finally, consider joining OHA. Membership starts at only $20-$40, and gets you a newsletter and discounts on events and tours, in addition to supporting the preservation of Oakland's heritage.


Fair Ball

Crimson was right a few weeks ago regarding the taxpayer financing of sports stadiums, but I've got to take issue with a couple of points made. Stadiums don't "require massive parking lots" and the "challenge of dealing with 60,000 sports fans in one place at a time" is something that dense urban environments deal with particularly well, especially if they are designed to do so. For more on that topic, I point you to a slim volume called City Baseball Magic by Chicago architect Phillip Bess. It's a quick read, but fans of places like Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Camden Yards, and Pacific Park (my term, I can't keep track of the name changes) as well as those who simply love cities, will really enjoy it. A shorter article on the topic by Bess appears here.

Unlike Crimson, I happen to think Jerry Brown's lack of support for a downtown A's ballpark was one of the biggest mistakes he made as Hizzoner. But the return of Robert Bobb has me a bit more optimistic than V Smoothe, but only a bit. After all, Bobb is here to fix our city finances, not keep the A's in town. But maybe because Dellums is so inept as mayor AND quite simply doesn't get cities, Bobb can reposition himself atop the Oakland power structure. Though the basic problem is that Lew Wolff doesn't want a ballpark, he wants a real estate development. And after the Forest City Uptown boondogle (hurts my eyes just thinking about it), there just aren't many sites in downtown Oakland for a large real estate development. Nor would you want it.

The benefit of having a ballpark downtown is in the spillover effects to the surrounding area. But this requires numerous property owners, with, you know, like markets and competition and stuff. Give one entity control of the whole thing and you get Fruitvale Village, Bay Street, or... well, Uptown.

I still love the triangle-shaped site at 27th & Broadway proposed by Marine Layer a while back. The site is just a little too small, which of course makes it perfect, and it is close to BART, but not too close. If only Wolff wanted to be a baseball team owner with a cool urban stadium, rather than a crummy suburban real estate developer.

UPDATE: Marine Layer found the images of the proposal for 27th & Broadway, so retry that link above.


This is the last weekend to check out Birth of the Cool at the Oakland Museum of California. Fans of mid-century modernism will recognize many of the objects and photographs, but it is well worth a visit to see the more obscure furniture and images of the period, as well as abstract paintings and graphic design.
If you go, plan on extra time to wander around the museum, truly one of Oakland's architectural treausures. Designed by Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo, it features tiered rooftop terraces holding gardens, pools, and sculpture. It doesn't get the attention it deserves, in part because it is an experiential building rather than an iconic one that wows you from the street. But it anticipated current trends such as green roofs and buildings-as-landscape by decades. In fact, Kevin Roche won architecture's top honor, the Pritzker Prize in 1982.
The OMCA is in the process of a renovation and expansion by local architect Mark Cavagnero and has been trying attract the hip kids of late, by staying open during Art Murmur and bringing on new staff. The changes seem headed in the right direction. But now their website could use some work, though their transformation/capital campaign page looks promising.


Colby Park

Tucked between Telegraph and Claremont Avenues on 61st Street is one of my favorite places in Oakland - Colby Park. Here 61st Street opens up for half a block to a provide an oblong shaped court with grass, trees, and shrubs. Colby Park is remarkably small - looking at a satellite view, you barely realize it is there. Its presence, however, is far larger than the space it inhabits. Having grown up on a 1950's version of a court park (in a neighborhood full of them), I can attest to how big an impact a small park such as this can make. It becomes a neighborhood gathering place, especially for kids. But it also serves as a place to get away from the house. The grove of trees at the eastern edge of Colby Park provide just enough privacy to be able to while away an hour with a nap or a good book.

Apparently, there has been some dispute of late regarding communal toys left in the park. I have some thoughts, but I'll keep them to myself for now, and just encourage you to walk by, if you find yourself in the neighborhood.