Downtown Oakland, California used to be dead.
As recently as last year, I could walk the entire length of Oakland’s Broadway from the 12th Street BART station to the intersection with Grand Avenue on a weekend day without seeing another walker at all; maybe a few people working in a fast food restaurant, but that’s it. I would not see another person on the streets until I reached Grand Avenue. Even then, I would not really encounter much humanity until I reached Lake Merritt. If the legendary Paramount Theater did not have a show, downtown Oakland on the weekend was emptier than a scene from some big-budget post-apocalyptic alien invasion/incurable virus/zombie rampage flick.
Sunday afternoon was different. Very.
I had to pick my way through a large assortment of people hanging out in what has become an honest-to-God neighborhood. The area around the intersection of Broadway and Grand has–in less than twelve months!–become a destination, with a multitude of coffee shops, restaurants, a few galleries, and even a nightclub jam-packed with people at 5:30 p.m. on a Sunday (making it a “dayclub?”). Sunday!
Downtown Oakland has begun to look like San Francisco.
Even San Francisco-style murals have begun to appear.
Something has always held Oakland back; for example, the three biggest problems in that city are crime, crime, crime, crime and crime (and yes, I can count). I mean, “Crime in Oakland, California” has its own Wikipedia entry. But there does exist one factor that can push Oaktown over the threshold from “underrated with great potential” to “seriously freaking awesome.” Rents.
In the entire San Francisco Bay Area, you will find two types of rental markets: reasonably unreasonably high rents…and San Francisco. Oakland happens to fit in the former category and right now, it has begun to attract the kind of people who can no longer call San Francisco home, or who would have called San Francisco home if they could have afforded it. Oakland could become the kind of artists enclave that San Francisco might cease to become.
Oakland even has dance troupes that will board the BART trains and perform for money.
That used to be a San Francisco thing.
Vonn Scott Bair