January 24, 2007

I've been deep thinking (perhaps akin to Pauline Oliveros' Deep Listening) a lot recently about the concept of neighborhood. The current state of my neighborhood in East Oakland (itself something of a neighborhood in relation to the rest of Oakland) is complex. Where I live used to be the soveriegn city of Melrose, annexed by Oakland some time back. Melrose then became an Oakland neighborhood. Then real estate developers carved it up in the 30s & 40s giving neighborhoods like Maxwell Park a slice of Melrose to Melrose's dimishment. Then more recently, other neighborhoods have been delineated within the older boundaries, so that say Maxwell Park, which was carved out of Melrose, is now halved by a new neighborhood called Fairfax. The smaller neighborhood demarcations help to sell houses apparently.

The block I live on (57th Ave & Int'l Blvd.) was once Melrose, but is now considered a part of the Seminary neighborhood, which didn't exist on any Oakland map until very recently.

This doesn't seem to matter all that much, but it really does. Who decides which neighborhood you live in has political, social and economic consequences. Picardy, for example, is a single street that used to be in the Seminary-and-before-then-Melrose neighborhood. They have received a lot of attention for displaying Christmas lights (no joke), so the real estate folk have designated this a separate neighborhood. Are the neighborhood schools in Picardy any better for it? No, the Picardy children still attend the same schools located in the same places as before the new demarcation, going to the same schools they always did outside of Picardy. Do the cops come quicker? Doubtful, this is still East Oakland. The only advantage is a better listing on the housing market.

When I was growing up on the Eastside of Detroit*, I never thought of this since my friends & I thought of everything in terms of police precints--I lived in the 5th precint. If I met someone from outside of the Eastside, then I might have used the more generic term Eastside.

In my old Brooklyn neighborhood, there may have been a block or two of grey area between Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, but the idea that at some point real estate developers could come in and decide that Pratt Institute and the 3 surrounding blocks on all sides should now be called Pratt seems unthinkingable--no not unthinkable--but highly unlikely.

And yet this is happening in Oakland. Uptown? Does Oakland have a fixed idea of where Downtown is? Where does Downtown end?

I've been looking at scores of Oakland neighborhood maps, most commissioned by either Alemeda county or the city, and have been wondering who exactly is benefitting from this trend of hyper-defining the neighborhoods in East Oakland and other similar neighborhoods. The better, more relevant question to ask is who is losing from it?
*There's this one Journey song from the 80s, memory fails me at the moment (Don't Stop Believin', I googled), that mentions Southside Detroit. The Southside of Detroit would be exactly in the Detroit River connecting Lake St. Clair with Lake Erie.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the West is plastic; lived history buckles fast to realtor’s dreams, plus residents move on so quick: a generation is California’s answer to eternity. Your post reminded of my neighborhood outside L.A., built, like most of the surrounding developments, by a company called Lusk Homes. Lusk Homes planned false complexity into their neighborhoods, not blocks but meaningless curves and cul-de-sacs to intimate a personality, give the residents some street scheme to puzzle out to make them feel local. Real city getting sliced up into micro-neighborhoods (Picardy?!?) is sadder, but maybe along the same lines: “O, we just moved into those new lofts in Seminary, you know, by Maxwell Park near Picardy.” I want to say fuck it, but I think development may be the special ethos of the West and I try to understand it. Hope you’ll keep postin’.

Blogger Ferndale Denizen said...

Regarding the 313, don't forget it's quite divided, as well. We have Southwest, Mexican Town, Delray, Indian Village, English Village, Downtown, Midtown, Boston-Edison, Palmer Park, Palmer Woods, State Fair, Bricktown, Greektown, New Center, the made-up "FoxTown", "Tigertown",etc.
When I lived one block away from Indian Village, I had to make sure I distinguished my apartment address from that very lovely, stately neighborhood, lest I be considered rich (and crazy to live in Detroit). Of course, the city engulfs Hamtramck and Highland Park. The freeway killed Black Bottom and its jazz history. The new developments by the river and on Woodward are "gentrifying" the area as much as possible, but people still have to shop in the suburbs and drive past abandonned, burnt-out buildings on their way home. I imagine you idenify with Oakland thanks to your hometown.

Blogger Julie Choffel said...

I think my (near downtown) Oakland neighborhood is called Broadway Auto Row, at least that's the only name for it I've been told by others, and that one comes from the nearby street name, commercial zone, and is also the name of the nearest highway exit. But our street is closer to Adam's Point/Ivy Hill (still don't know the difference) than it is to Broadway. Interesting what a highway does (everything). Judging by street names, our neighborhood was once one and the same with the other side, by Piedmont Ave. Maybe ours never got a real name after the highway came in, since it was then the "leftovers" (just a few residentail streets) between major thoroughfares.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if you've seen the Oral History Project, on archive in Mills library, has great stuff on people who remember the construction of 580 under the heading "MacArthur Corridor Project" or something. I ended up doing a piece using transcripts from one of their interviews with a woman named Gwendolyn Jackson- how she saw all these phenomena like the advent of condos, the slicing through of neighborhoods that had been there since the first war boom, by the freeway construction.

I wonder also if the sheer youth of the city gives people some kind of license to keep "re-inventing" it. Like there's less inertia to overcome, given that there's less history.

Blogger Mr. Horton said...

Rodney: I like how the statement the West is plastic has more than one reading which may be apt.

Lynn: I still say I'm from the 5th precinct though. Or worse, break it down by mile road in relation to Gratiot (or other major through street). "Tigertown" pssshaw! If a Tigertown ever existed it was located directly on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. Ty Cobb would just spit.

Julie: Thanks for the comment. I think I know exactly where you're talking about and (if right) it does seem somewhat radomnly severed from the other side of the highway.

Dillon: Thanks for mentioning the Oakland Living History Program. It's headed by Nancy MacKay out of the Mills College library. You can look at & listen to the oral histories from here:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

all right, more blog jamming on Oakland neighborhoods:

Oakland trib article today on Dimond district, links to resident-created blog:

interesting mix of Oakland pride and HOA kind of activities.

thanks for the link to Living History project. The sound recordings were only accessible on cassette tapes in special collections last time I accessed them- time for more transcript mining!

Anonymous Anonymous said...



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