Oakland Cathedral

Another building I've been meaning to write about is the new Cathedral of Christ the Light on Lake Merritt, which opened three months ago now. Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic for the New Yorker, put it on his ten best for 2008, which also includes the previously mentioned California Academy of Sciences.

I haven't yet been inside, but I find the exterior form-making and detailing wonderful. Some concerns have been expressed about the street wall facing Lake Merritt, but those are overblown. Cities can well accommodate the occasional spare street wall, and they are allowable when attached to significant cultural buildings. And here I find the base a serene mediator between the richness of the tower above and the activity on the adjacent streets, sidewalks and lake below.

I do have concerns about the effects of this building on the small churches (and thus on the neighborhoods) surrounding the new Cathedral, as outlined in this interesting article in the East Bay Express two and half years ago.


Life Without Buildings

I couldn't imagine Life Without Buildings, fortunately Jimmy Stamp can (well, sort of). I met Jimmy last week at the CAMP panel discussion. During the day he works for exhibit host Mark Horton / Architecture. On the side he writes for the deliciously snarky Curbed SF, a real estate blog that occasionally turns its gaze across the Bay to Oakland. He also has his own blog, where he delivers "observations on the built environment, with a penchant for pop culture and postmoderism."

Though not specifically a place-based blog, the largest word in his tag cloud is San Francisco, so OSA readers should find something of local interest from time to time. Second is New Orleans, reflecting the home he left after Hurrican Katrina. I also learned from talking to him that he even has a little Milwaukee love.

I've checked out his blog from time to time for a while, and you can now find a link to it at right under Architecutre + Urbanism. A couple of my favorite local posts are one from a year ago on the closure of the Bay Bridge and another exploring the ruins of Sutro Baths. There is also his review of the My Bloody Valentine show at the San Francisco Design Center a couple months back, which makes me sorry to have missed it.

dKos and blogOaksphere

Last week A Better Oakland gave a little love to local bloggers. I thought I had a decent handle on most of the blogoaksphere, but in that post V Smoothe turned me onto at least a few I hadn't even known about and reminded me of several more I hadn't really checked. Again I ask, how does she do it?

Then, just hours later Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder of dailyKos, gave several different local bloggers a little love of his own. And yesterday, lo and behold, more love.

I've been a reader of dKos for years and apparently he lives just a block into Berkeley and thus identifies with some of the issues Oakland faces. With politics at the national level largely on track, it probably won't be long before he gives up the whole thing and starts a blog called the Lorin Local, the Newbury News, or the Harmon Holla, depending on where exactly he lives.


Ashby Station Meeting 03

Tuesday night is the third meeting on plans to modernize BART's Ashby Station. After the first meeting went so poorly, I told BART director Lynette Sweet that this was a small project and at most it should take a couple meetings and we seemed on track for half a dozen. You can find some of my thoughts on that first meeting here and here, but I was too depressed after the second meeting to even post my thoughts.

I am a huge fan of BART, and I think Sweet has is an engaged public advocate with good ideas, but I've lost a lot of respect for them in this process. Not only because of whom they choose to associate with, but also that there were numerous pleas months ago now to take steps to slow traffic on Adeline Street with the increased pedestrian traffic due to the construction of the Ed Roberts campus, and still nothing has been done.

I was expecting a documentary, but this process began as a drama, evolved into a comedy, and looks to become a farce. With Becks reminding me of the consequences that occur from a lack of pedestrian safety measures in our planning policies, one just hopes it doesn't end up a tragedy.


Archidose 273

Last month I visited the new California Academy of Sciences building in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The building was recently featured on Daily Dose of Architecture (general link at right) as Archidose 273.

I haven't yet found the time to write more about it. So this post is mostly a way to have that gorgeous image at the top of my blog for a day or two.


CAMP v. Kitsch

I honestly don't know enough about Gap founder Don Fisher's proposal, designed by Gluckman Mayner Architects, for the Contemporary Art Museum Presidio (CAMP) to comment with much intelligence on the merits of the proposed design or the seemingly ever-shifting site. But it is not for lack of dramatic coverage in local and national media. I'm certainly sympathetic to modern and contemporary buildings sited adjacent to traditional and historic ones, but CAMP's critics might be right in their claims that this proposal would overwhelm the historic main post, unnecessarily destroy an archeological site and some historic buildings, and be far from good public transport.

I do know Fisher's approach has been all wrong. He marched in, with the typical tone-deaf bluster of an executive accustomed to getting his way, site pre-selected and an architect's presentation-ready design in hand, and seemingly expected San Franciscans to say "thank you very much, Mr. Fisher, and may I get you a drink?"

And of course he has every right to do this. Fisher is set to exhibit an outstanding collection of contemporary art for the world to see and he is willing to pay for the building to house it. But not if he wants to actually see his museum built, especially in the Presidio.

A far better approach would have more closely resembled an interesting exhibit, CAMP: Reconsidered, that opened a few weeks ago and runs until December 23rd at gallery 3A. Mark Horton runs gallery 3A as a side project of his architectural studio. Located on South Park (think Colby Park, but with small workshops and a bistro) in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood, gallery 3A focuses on bridging the world of architects with that of the general public, a mission I obviously share.

Tonight at 7:00 is a panel discussion on the exhibit, in which ten local architects were asked to run wild with ideas for a museum in the Presidio. Gallery 3A is about a fifteen minute walk from BART's Montgomery Station and should make for an interesting evening for anyone who likes architecture, galleries or beautiful small urban spaces.


Oakland Exodus

The Oakland blogosphere is atwitter this week with discussion of the essay by Susan Gluss on why she moved from Oakland to Greenbrae, which I'd never heard of but is just south of San Rafael. Her words appear on page 2 of the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle's Insight section, opposite another column by Chip Johnson on page 3 detailing the impacts of crime in Oakland. The Insight section features a forboding cover photo with the words "Crime and Exodus | When a Lover of Oakland Can't Take it Anymore."

Whatever you think of her decision, it is hard not to sympathize with Gluss. In what seems like a matter of months (she doesn't quite say), her car was broken into twice, her home once, and her wallet stolen. But it is also hard not to notice how dumb she seems. Her wallet was taken out of her purse right in front of her at a local club. She apparently left her doors unlocked at home to allow a thief in without her knowing until she opened her (empty) jewelry box. Finally, her car was broken into after she left her purse inside in plain sight. A dweller of any urban area will tell you that these are all things you just don't do, whether you live in Cambridge, San Francisco, Oakland, or Kalamazoo. Or even Greenbrae.

But her worst offense is that she then goes on to equate these relatively minor, everyday urban cirmes with the stray bullet from an armed gas station robbery that hit a young boy practicing piano at a music studio across the street on Piedmont Avenue. She implies that it was this incident, as well as persuasion from "an eccentric old friend"(?) that finally prompted her move.

In a discussion on the open thread at A Better Oakland, Navigator begins by blaming the SF Chronicle for its anti-Oakland bias, Max Allstadt thinks the problem is the "it bleeds it leads" media mentality, while V Smoothe sympathizes with those who leave Oakland and sees these essays as admonishing the city to get its act together. I think all three of these views have merit, so I'd like to unpack them a bit. Overall, I think V Smoothe is right. The media focus on crime is on balance good for the city, by highlighting real problems it has. Crime in Oakland is higher than other places; it does us no good to look the other way or keep quiet about it.

But the points Max and Navigator make also have validity. The most interesting analysis of crime coverage in Oakland I've heard was a couple years ago by a spokesperson for Forest City Development discussing their Uptown project. She pointed out that when you hear about crime in Oakland, it happens in Oakland. Whereas when you here about crime in San Francisco, it is typically attributed to a specific neighborhood, usually Bayview-Hunter's Point or maybe the Tenderloin. Max makes a similar point in that the reputation of all of Oakland is bad, while those of us who live here know better - there are both good and bad places, but most fall somewhere inbetween.

I don't think this is so much a conspiracy as a function of distance, from which you always see less detail. It would be nice if the SF Chronicle and other news media reported crime in Oakland by neighborhood, but the reality is that a huge majority of people have no idea where Temescal or Dimond is, which is why at best you see Oakland organized into the three broad neighborhoods (which I hate) of North, East, and West. So Navigator is right to recognize the Bay Area media bias against Oakland, but wrong on its origins and thus, on solutions. The solution to this particular media bias is to practice and insist upon greater specificity, which is a good habit to be in anyways.

Certainly this is an uphill climb. I mentioned the cover of the Insight section, which featured the words "Crime and Exodus." Exodus, as commonly defined, involves a mass movement of people from an area. The whole Insight section references just two people, Susan Gluss and Marcus Alvarez, whom Chip Johnson mentions. Two people does not an exodus make. To argue the existence of an exodus from Oakland due to crime, in addition to the helpful but ultimately inadequate anecdotes, the SF Chronicle should offer statistics. Most major cities in the U.S. are holding or even slightly increasing their population, nearly everyone interested in cities knows this. And in approximately 75 seconds of research, I found out that according to the U.S. Census bureau, Oakland actually gained about 2,000 residents between the last official census in 2000 and its estimate for 2007 - hardly an exodus. This is what true lovers of Oakland are up against.

Which brings me to what I think is the best response I've seen to the Gluss essay. It was a letter to the editor that appeared in the SF Chronicle on Tuesday (you'll need to scroll down to the bottom to see it) written by Lori Fogarty, the director of the Oakland Museum of California. Fogarty points out that Gluss didn't seem to love Oakland enough to get involved and improve it, which "is required of citizens in any urban city." And that is the message we should take away from the media's frustratingly vague reporting of crime in Oakland. Big, diverse, vibrant cities like Oakland offer many things other places cannot, but they require something of their residents in return. As Fogarty encapsulates in the last line of her letter, Oakland is "a long way from Greenbrae, in more ways than the commute."


Temescal Library Reception

The Oakland Tribune reminds me that on Wednesday night the Temescal Branch of the Oakland Public Library will be hosting a free reception from 6:00 to 8:00 to celebrate it's 90th anniversary. The library was dedicated on 1918 December 10, and built with funds from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation, which supported the construction of over 2,500 libraries during the late 1800s and early 1900s, now known as "Carnegie Libraries".

At the reception will be a display showing the impact of the Carnegie Libraries nationwide and an exhibit highlighting the historical changes in Temescal over the last ninety years, as well as artistic workshops.

So if you are interested in libraries, would like to learn more about the history of Temescal, or just want to rub elbows with some of the heppest cats around - librarians, head on over to the intersection of Telegraph, Claremont, and 52nd on Wednesday night.


To the East...

Last night I had dinner at little Mexican place called El Huarache Azteca. My companions and I got there a little after the dinner rush, around 8:00 pm and I was amazed at the number of people out and about on International Boulevard. I get to neither that often, but to my eye Fruitvale rivals Chinatown for the most urban neighborhood in Oakland. Both always seem to have so many people on their sidewalks.

It reminded me of some recent comments on local blogs (one of which I can find and another I can't) regarding the lack of connections between many East Oakland neighborhoods and the rest of the City. I admit to knowing very little about these neighborhoods, especially those south and east of Frutivale and Redwood Heights.

So I consider this my project for the upcoming year, to spend more time in East Oakland neighborhoods (and learn their individual names), will you help? Comment or email me with your suggestions of places to go, things to do, and neighborhoods to check out.