My Like/Indifferent Relationship with the City of Oakland

The following is a tirade by AzN and does not reflect the overall feelings of all BcB writers. Past and present.

Let me start by saying, I really like working in Oakland. I enjoy the warm, sunny side of the Bay, Monday-Friday. 9AM-6PM. Sometimes 9-10PM. But I gotta say, I’m not a fan of much else. I realized that this weekend when I was at the Apple Store in southside San Jose. Right before walking over to another part of a mall to watch a movie in the theater. My realization: Oakland is just so damn difficult. Everything is difficult. Its not easy to live in Oakland. You gotta LOVE Oakland to live in Oakland. Props to folks that live in Oakland, cause they really are down. Great to be you, I’m so proud. But for me, it would be hard.

Why? Oakland has the worst attributes of a suburban city and ALSO all the side effects of an urban city.

Suburban problems: suburban tract homes, dependency on cars, poor public transit, disconnected neighborhoods with separated land uses, long commutes to work (cause you probably don’t work in Oakland), fast food stores everywhere, things to do in general, and highways/highways/highways.

Urban problems: access to conveniently located stores (1/3 a TARGET doesn’t count), parking, traffic, crowded/ill-timed buses, crime or perception of crime, Race Wars!, rioting, downtown Oakland after 11PM, active parks, and Piedmont (need I say more?).

You wanna go shopping? Oaklanders drive to Emeryville. Wanna go see a movie? That’s in Alameda. Wanna work? Take the ferry to SF. Nice romantic dinner for two? Better hop on BART to Berkeley. Eventually wanna raise your kids up in a good public school? That’ll be Albany. Wanna take the kids to the mall? BART over to Union Square or Hilltop (if you’re adventurous). Wanna see Doug E. Fresh or De La Soul perform, oh wait, you can stay in Oakland for that and head to Yoshi’s in Jack London… Oh Shit, they’re not performing at Yoshi’s in Jack London, they’re at the new Yoshi’s in SF… damn.

I’m not saying Oakland isn’t a great city, I’m just saying it doesn’t have any the benefits that a suburban city provides a family and it ain’t got the benefits that an urban city provides it yuppie DINC couple (dual income no children). Sure, Oakland has San Jose and San Francisco beat when it comes to diversity cause there aren’t many Black folks in those other cities. But what about that couple from Germany you run into when you’re in SF or that family from Japan that’s on a 1 year contract to work in San Jose? I consider that diversity as well.

So I’m not sure what any of the counter arguments will be, cause I’m sure I’ll see some. But all I can say is for now, while I’m single and looking for an urban environment, I’m happy in The Mission. I can walk to cafes, bars, grocery stores and BART. And when I want to settle down and get coerced  by the missus to move to the suburbs, I’d go to San Jose where I can shop at Target and CostCo and take my kids to soccer practice, all without leaving my car. I’m not saying I would actually want to do any of this, mind you, cause I f’n hate the suburbs. But I’m just sayin’, Oakland is going to attract the folks that want a little urban/suburban mix. But getting a little of both means you’re getting both sides of a shitty coin. And the look in my friends’ eyes after happy hour in Oakland when they have to ride AC Transit or hop in their car (usually drunk) to go back home while I hop on BART to continue the party in the Mission. That shit is priceless and I’m glad I’m walking those steps to BART and not waiting for the #18 to never come on Broadway.


14 thoughts on “My Like/Indifferent Relationship with the City of Oakland

  1. From my friend L. B. (Entertainment Attorney)

    I disagree totally. I do all my shopping and entertainment in Oakland. Oakland has a luxurious amount of fresh locally grown organic food, great restaurants (within walking distance of my house), a thriving art scene and people who share my… liberal sensibilities if not always my opinion. We go to movies at the Grand Lake, forested walks on the sunset trail, learn at Chabot and our library, paint and sculpt at MOCHA, eat on Park, Piedmont and Grand Avenues, browse books at Great Good Place for Books and have lovely discussions of events of the day there too, buy toys at the Montclair Toyhouse, go for gondola rides on Lake Merritt, and so much more every week of the year. Sure our house was burgled once but that’s a small price to pay for being so close to so much and living in an economically diverse city. But even when our house was burgled, our councilwoman (now mayor) Jean Quan emailed me at 1am to say she’d help us get the police moving. And she did. I never got that kind of attention in NYC.


  2. I wouldn’t live in Oakland but I did work there for a year (and so did my mom) so yes there are some jobs in Oakland.

    Your examples are poor support for the argument that Oakland isn’t a decent place to live. There’s a big ass Wal-Mart in Oakland so that should be a decent alternative to Target, there are a bunch of boutiques dotting the city, you don’t need to go to Alameda for a movie (Grand Lake and Jack London theaters), you can have romantic dinners in Oakland (had a great first date at Dona Thomas) and I saw Mos Def at Yoshi’s in Oakland not SF. Mos actually sucked at Yoshi’s SF from what I heard. I have a feeling AzN doesn’t really have a good handle on all the spots in Oakland.

    You also come off as a yuppie snob with little sense of balance in your argument. I live in NY so I can say that SF’s public transportation blows. BART seats have fecal matter on it and my friends often get into altercations on MUNI. The Mission is filled with douche bags from the Marina and B&Ts on the weekends.

    And you should get some friends that don’t drive drunk.


  3. I was hoping to not have to start with explaining that I’ve lived in the East Bay for 10 years. And prior to that, in the traditional suburbs of the South Bay. So my argument isn’t a where’s the best place to live if you’re a yuppie. Its why choose Oakland over San Jose or SF in general. You can bring up the 4 great things about Oakland to prove your point and then knock on my yuppie lifestyle all you want, that won’t change the fact that you spent one year in Oakland and would never live in Oakland and probably never took AC Transit. Have you even been to Jack London theater lately? That’s probably the most ridiculous part of your argument. Its not 1999 anymore.

    And I really like how all douchebags living in New York always have to slide in the fact that you live (or used to live) in New York. Thanks for the reference to the New York Times article on the fecal matter on BART. We get it. You live in New York. The last time I checked, Oakland has the same number of BART stops as SF.

    And I’m a little confused. I’m not sure why you’re defending Oakland when you’re saying you wouldn’t live there yourself? And yes, you’re right, the wal-mart and all those boutiques must be lovely. But my point is you have to drove to those place. Like in a traditional suburb. Why don’t you just live in San Jose?

    Mos Def lives in SF by the way.


    • When you write something like this you should take the knocks when they bring up valid points. I didn’t agree with your examples and gave you counter-examples just like LB did at the top of this page. That was my main problem with this post. I can’t relate to your frustrations about movie theaters (hey, there’s still Grand Lake) and Yoshis so I didn’t think your examples supported your argument.

      I lived in SF for 9 years and the East Bay for 22 . I’ve never lived in Oakland but 70% of my friends do and I spent most of my post-college life there as a DJ and working in its non-profit community. So your Oakland differs from the Oakland I’ve experienced and the Oakland that my friends live in and love. I wouldn’t live in Oakland because that’s my personal preference. Some people prefer cucumbers over broccoli and while I may disagree I’m not going to write a post using shaky examples and a conclusive tone about the superiority of broccoli.

      I also don’t care for your assumptions about me. I grew up taking MUNI in SF and AC Transit in Oakland as did my mom when she worked in Oakland. Your knock about people probably not working in Oakland was annoying because plenty of people work in Oakland. Maybe not the readers of this blog but from my pov the post just didn’t jive with my reality.

      And I’m a yuppie too but I’m not the one knocking a city in print based on my yuppie tastes.

      As for the douche bag thing. You know I wasn’t talking about you right? Not sure if you’re normally this defensive but I would watch who you’re calling a douche bag because we have the same group of friends and we might run into each other in Oakland or SF.


  4. I’m a firm believer that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so long as that opinion doesn’t come at the expense of negatively impacting other people’s well-being (ie. pro prop 8 douchebags, republicans, and religious missionaries who think that my people in VN are salvages and must enlighten us with your god… F you!). That being said, with all due respect to the author and commenters of this post, I’m not quite sure if any of you truly understand and know the essence and identity of my beloved Oakland.
    1. If you’re going to cite reasons to prove why Oakland is not a desirable urban or suburban city to live in, and your reasons come from a purely city planning perspective, then you probably shouldn’t live in Oakland to begin with. The desire to live in Oakland goes beyond walkable bars/restaurants, reliable public transportation (mind you, at least AC Transit drivers aren’t getting into as many accidents as Muni!), and the inevitable sales tax leakage to San Leandro’s Costco and Target. The desire to live in Oakland stems from the commitment and belief that, despite all of its social and economic challenges, Oakland’s strong and diverse community will always outweigh the yuppiness of SF and wealth of the South Bay.
    2. If you’re going to defend Oakland, please don’t start off by saying you wouldn’t live here and don’t use Walmart (ever) as an example of anything good in Oakland.
    3. If you’re going to point out all the great things about Oakland and only cite examples west of Lake Merritt, then you probably have not ventured into my neighborhoods of deep east Oakland, and therefore, probably also don’t have a firm grasp on ALL THINGS OAKLAND.
    I know my beloved city has its challenges. I don’t deny that the crime rate in Oakland is high, but lets not get into the institutionalized reasons why that is the case…another time, another post. What gets to me about people commenting on why they love or hate Oakland, is that it’s always because of reasons that are superficial on both ends. You hate Oakland because it’s not walkable? Please, find me a city in CA that is truly walkable and then we’ll compare notes. You love Oakland because of its great attractions on Piedmont, Grand Ave and Jack London? Venture into the murdah dubs or Bancroft and 108th and see ALL of what Oakland has to offer, and if you still love Oakland afterwards, then share the reasons beyond the increasingly hipster neighborhoods of Lake Merritt and Uptown.
    At the end of the day, having spent nearly my entire life in Oakland (and FYI, part of the years that I didn’t live in Oakland, I lived in NYC- so there, my douchey reference to living in NYC), I know why I love (and sometimes get frustrated with) Oakland. I don’t expect anyone else to desire to live in Oakland for the same reasons I do, because to me, behind the high crime rates and violent streets and beyond Bakesale Betty and the Grand Ave Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, there lays a community of people truly committed and empowered to work for social change purely for the love of their city.


  5. Who goes to Berkeley for a good restaurant? I mean, other than dropping $300 at Chez Panisse, I’d say that there are far more options in Oakland. I’m not really mad at this post or anything; I sort of file it under “whatever.” The Oakland v SF debate makes me want to take a nap.


  6. I love Oakland! I can’t even imagine being indifferent to it! My Oakland bias comes from being born there and living there until I was a teen. So, I admit there is some nostalgia there. San Francisco is literally built differently that Oakland, and developed differently than Oakland, so it’s not really fair to compare how one is auto oriented. Oakland is also NOT a suburb. Suburbs tend to be primarily residential areas outside of cities. It’s in the top 10 for largest cites in the nation.

    Also, why would Oakland need a mall? And I wouldn’t even say “Hilltop if you’re adventurous.” I would say if you want to be adventurous in a mall expedition head over to Eastmont Mall.


  7. All great points. I didn’t want to make this an SF vs Oakland thing. This really is a SJ vs Oakland vs SF thing.

    And by top 10 largest cities EL, you mean San Jose, yes? Its #10.


  8. Place is a funny thing. When you say Oakland, what are you talking about exactly? Are you talking about the taco trucks on International or Joaquin Miller Park or Rock Paper Scissors during Art Murmur on a Friday night? He’s got chutzpah even trying to throw this out there. I’ll take my chances with more thoughtful folk… One of the better bi-coastal meditations on this complicated place I love:


  9. Hey I’ll jump in and be the enemy – fuck all of California. Move to New York, a real fuckin’ city. 😛

    Nah, in all seriousness, I’m just trying to unite all of CA in its hate for us on the East Coast, so y’all can unify behind a cause. 🙂


  10. I hella love Oakland! I’ve lived here for about 10 years and am now looking to buy a house here. I’ve lived off Piedmont, off Park, now in Rockridge…and am looking at houses in Millsmont. Here’s what I love about Oakland: it’s history (Mt View Cemetery, the old Oakland Airport, FruitVale, Pardee Home, the Peralta Hacienda), it’s culture (Oakland Art & Soul, Oakland Pride, Temescal Street Festival, Oakland Symphony, Yoshis, the Crucible’s Fire Arts Festival), it’s people (I cannot name the diversity), the food (Mexican, French, American, Ethiopian, Soul, Italian, Indian, Japanese, Chinese), and I love it’s parks (Joaquin Miller, MLK Regional Shoreline, Lake Temescal, the greenway that runs by the Peralta Hacienda), and I work here.

    Sure I shop in Emeryville, or go walking at the Albany Bulb. I go to Alameda to play pinball and El Cerrito to check out Playland not at the Beach. Occassionally, when I have to, I go to SF to see friends or a show. And I attend conferences, concerts, and not much else down in San Jose.

    And the beautiful thing about Oakland is that it is central to all these places.

    Also, yes, public transportation sucks here, but not more than in Minneapolis where I grew up, or Baltimore where I lived for a year. The best place for transportation has got to be NY (only been a visitor and wouldn’t want to live there), but DC is a close second and I loved being able to commute almost anywhere quickly in that city.


  11. I feel like Oakland is a lot like LA and you know that 80’s song, “Nobody walks in LA…”

    A big problem for me living in Oakland is the must for having wheels: either driving a car or a bicycle. It’s just a spread out kinda city. Unless I’m near Rockridge, Piedmont Avenue or Lake Merritt, I seem to be one of very few people walking around and it’s such a bummer! Aside from feeling like the only person alive in my neighborhood–I’ve been stopped and harassed several times by creeps on bikes (on my walk from BART in North Oakland) and recently was followed by a car on my way home from Berkeley Bowl. I don’t think it’s anything but being the only person on foot on the street. People drive to get coffee, drive to go out to eat, drive to go drinking and it’s just such a sad way to live!

    Previously I lived in SF for over 10 years and really came to enjoy the fact that if I didn’t want to take public transit, or was broke, walking to most destinations wasn’t impossible. It’s a small city and aside from how expensive and ridiculously fancy it’s becoming; you can save money, get great exercise and connect with the city on a daily basis; while not having to rely on buses, MUNI, car or bike.

    It may seem totally ridiculous, but this is why I want to move back.


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