Writers often dream up worlds that are very similar to our own but have fundamental differences that shine a light on what’s wrong with ours. Thomas More’s Utopia and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels come to mind.
Oakland has long been San Francisco’s ugly sister derided for its crime and Gertrude Stein determined that there was no there, there.
It is a small city and it has had its share of issues with crime. But there is a great deal of natural beauty, cultural and compelling architecture not to mention some fantastic historic landmarks.
What makes a trip to Oakland revealing is what its urgent desire to create more multifamily housing in the downtown area. There don’t seem to be the debates we have in Seattle about whether we have growth and whether Seattle should accommodate it. Instead former Mayor Jerry Brown developed the 10K Initiative which set as a goal to create 10,000 new units of housing.
Shocking! Imagine a housing agenda with an actual numerical and geographic target. And add to that the fact that the projects that are listed range from subsidized low income housing to large mixed used projects like the one on 23rd and Valdez Street. The amazing and historic Cathedral Building is also being converted to condominiums.
My walking tour of these projects took the better part of a day and some of the projects were completely ugly, others run of the mill and some appeared to really be reaching for new ground in design and function.
The sad thing is the effort may not be working. The flailing economy and the uphill climb to reverse the doughnut effect is creating a high vacancy rate—at least anecdotally. Some locals say they are the ones that should be living in the new units, but Oakland just doesn’t work for them.
So while some in Seattle want to shut the door behind them and keep out new growth, or nickel and dime developers with disconnected housing goals (How many? Where? Why?) Oakland is actually going out of its way to identify under utilized parcels and recruit efforts to build housing on them. I am
sure Oakland wishes it had our problems. And the Lesser Seattle folks, I’m sure, wish we had theirs.