Gentrification and its Discontents

(New Development in East Lorin Neighborhood of Oakland | Author Image)

A recent essay at Oakland North by Jessica Nowlan has me amazed at how confused most people are about what gentrification actually is. Even commenter Len Raphael, who understands urban economics better than most, thinks we should 'force the burbs and surrounding cities to build their share of affordable housing.' Nothing of the sort is needed, Oakland simply needs to allow abundant housing, though this may (and should, that's where people want to live!) shade Mr. Raphael's heirloom tomatoes in Temescal.

Gentrification is the result of the restricting of housing supply (and commercial spaces) such that prices rise in the face of increased demand, as people (re)discover weather, restaurants, bungalows, easy commutes, etc. Because gentrification encompasses some increases in supply (but not enough), many people wrongly assume new development causes it. But gentrification actually occurs when supply is not allowed to increase as much as demand, raising prices. The primary solution is to increase the supply of housing (and commercial spaces) enough to capture fully the increased demand. If we did so, prices would stabilize, marginal businesses would be able to exist alongside thriving ones, and struggling folks would be able to live amongst prosperous ones, albeit in smaller, lower-quality dwellings.

I am sorry Ms. Knowlan was pushed out of San Francisco, and now feels threatened in Oakland, but this must be understood as a public policy decision (and failure!) sought by incumbent landowners to limit the supply of habitable urban space (through zoning and height restrictions, parking minimums, etc.), thereby pushing up prices to their benefit but to the detriment of the rest of us. Ms. Knowlan seems to blame developers, however they are actually helping ameliorate the problem, not exacerbate it. We should be doing more to support and make easier their good work, in which denser development is good for the environment, good for the economy, and good for people throughout the country (and world!) who would like to move to Oakland but can't afford it.


Stirring the Ballpark

(Victory Court | New A's Ballpark)

At this point it is hard to say if any of it is true, but we now have owner Lew Wolff denying the Oakland A's are for sale in the Oakland Tribune, stemming from a piece by Mattier & Ross in yesterday's SF Chronicle. New A's Ballpark has a rundown on some ins and outs beyond me. Regardless, I like the pressure this puts on Lew Wolff, and on baseball commissioner Bud Selig to make a decision regarding territorial rights. And after Mr. Wolff seemed to call Mr. Selig a liar in public by claiming that territorial rights don't exist, the very thing Mr. Selig has been spending the last 3 years deciding, I am hopeful of this perhaps resolving in Oakland's favor. Hearing in the Oakland Tribune piece that Mayor Jean Quan is putting Victory Court (pictured above) back on the table, by far the best of the current A's ballpark options, is icing on the cake.


Blogroll Update

A year ago today one of my favorite Oakland blogs, City Homestead, requested input on updating its blogroll - unfortunately that was the last we have heard. In honor and in hopes of a return, I have updated the OSA blogroll. Let me know if there are any local favorites I missed and should add.


Coliseum Dream

(Darryl Bush | San Francisco Chronicle)

Last night, according to the SF Chronicle (nowhere to be found in the Oakland Tribune?) the Oakland City Council approved $3.5 million to develop plans for the area surrounding the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum and Arena. I have a few quick thoughts. Why was part of the planning contract awarded to Forest City, the developer of the just so-so Uptown development? And why hire a developer to do the planning at all? So far there seems to be little mention of housing, which is unfortunate given the vast tract of land and the general shortage of housing in Oakland and the larger Bay Area. Finally, this makes the BART airport connector all the more unfortunate, given that it both won't make stops throughout the eventual development and isn't a well integrated part of the existing BART system.


A Call to Blogs

There was lots of interest in this week's East Bay Express, including an article on Concord's plan for a former military base, a lament on the whithering of the Oakblogosphere, and an excellent letter by blogger Ruth Miller, imploring us (rightly) in the death of redevelopment not to use Emeryville as a model for the Broadway Auto Row redevelopment, something I've been arguing for years.


Park(ing) Day 2011

Tomorrow is Park(ing) Day 2011. Oakland Living has a great writeup of the places and activities happening in Oakland. Be sure to check out the video by the Greenbelt Alliance at the end.

I only add that Park(ing) Day was founded in 2005 (image above) by ReBar, "an interdisciplinary studio working at the intersection of art, design and ecology." They have been kind enough to give it to the world.

Unfortunately, I have been on leave from the studio I work with for a number of months now, but it doesn't seem that the Coffee Container, which I hoped would debut tomorrow, has become a reality.


Architecture + The City 2011

It is already a quarter over, but this month in San Francisco is the Architecture and the City festival, complete with film series, exhibitions, and lectures. Opening tonight at SwissNex is Switzerland's contribution to the 2010 Venice Bienalle, Teaching Architecture: 3 Positions Made in Switzerland. Next Thursday is a half-day symposium at SPUR on The Bay Area's Modern Landscape Legacy. The following week includes Oakland-based architects envelope A+D in a conversation about Flexible Urbanism, the film Revolutionary Wake: Unfinished Spaces about the creation of Cuba's National Art Schools by three young architects following Castro's takeover in 1961, and a panel on the under construction Transbay Transit Center entitled Grand Central of the West.