Tuesday, May 01, 2007

More West Oakland Treasures

West Oakland seems to be a neighborhood that has suffered terribly from the construction of the freeway system. 980 really cut a swathe through a formerly cohesive neighborhood. On the east side of it you have downtown Oakland, with Starbucks and skyscrapers, and on the other you have cute little houses like these. It’s a jarring change, and I doubt it looked like this before the freeway was there.

Not every home in West Oakland looks like these do, of course. Some are bigger, and some are falling apart. Some are brand-new condos. Some are high-rise apartment buildings. Many, though, are a lot like this: evidence of the day when the neighborhood was full of middle-class families, many African American, doing well for themselves. With the cost of homes going up all over, it will never quite be like this again, so it’s interesting to get a glimpse of what the streets must have looked like in the 1940s, when times were good.

One thing I do want to stress: I don’t mean to make it sound like gentrification is an unmitigated disaster for West Oakland. For one thing, it’s barely begun. For another, rising home prices mean that some families can finally think about making a profit from properties they’ve owned for years, but couldn’t give away until now. I really think the freeway did the place a much bigger disservice, cutting it off from downtown and creating an instant wrong-side-of-the-tracks situation.

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