I got a question about the previous post, and it’s been on my mind.
Nice post. So here’s my question: why bother? I grew up in the Bay Area and know Oakland well. I would never live there. Crime is bad. The city government is corrupt and inefficient. The housing stock is falling to pieces.
However, these are things you’re obviously well aware of. So you must have a very good reason for buying a place in Oakland. What is it? I’m not trying to argue. I’m trying to figure out why a smart, energetic person is bothering with Oakland. Can you help me out here?
I’ll go one step further. Why live in a place where they’ll burn your house for complaining to the cops about drug dealing? Or where there are two recycling centers in easy walking distance - and one is a polluter and the other is a haven for crack-heads? In a city that has a well deserved national reputation for street crime?
I’ve done some travel overseas, and when I’m asked about the US, I’m usually stumped. After all, most Europeans seem to think of the US the way most Americans think of Texas… boorish, belligerent, and in poor taste. I answer, “Well, the US is really REALLY large.” In other words, we’re talking about people, not “crime rates”. In city hall, I’ve definitely run into my share of obstructions, and I haven’t even applied for permits yet. However, I also found Betty Marvin, who ran the Oakland Cultural Heritage Survey. She has every block of West Oakland memorized, and when I mentioned my address, she asked what had become of the church two houses down. At no cost, she provided me with an overview of Oakland architectural heritage, and found a picture taken of my house in 1987. I’ll be using it as a restoration guide, and the Mills Act she pointed me at may help mitigate tax issues.
Finally, my immediate neighbourhood. My right hand neighbour is a good friend and fellow NIMBY denizen. On my left, there’s a gracious family whose roots in that house go back almost a hundred years. I’m across the street from brand new yuppie condos. 7 minutes from the bay bridge toll plaza. 8 minutes by bicycle from a Bart station. I’m a 5 minute walk from my woodshop. Many of my friends in the area are either in the trades, artists, or both - so there’s a ready supply of skilled friendly help for this project.
On Friday night, I attended Art Murmur on my friend’s double decker bus. We drove through the Acorn projects in the wee hours of the morning and got nothing but smiles.
There’s even a potential upside. West Oakland was gentrifying quickly before the crash, and condo projects are starting - even now. As gas prices skyrocket, the suburbanites who bought places in Tracy have moved to be closer to their jobs. I’m within four blocks of Emeryville, Pixar, and more condos than you can shake a stick at. Ten years ago, it was solid industry.
Finally - if I’m lucky - this house is my way out of cubicle life. I’ve paid cash, and I have some left to fix up the house with. In a year, I’ll be broke, unemployed, and I’ll own my own house free and clear. How much money does it take to live a life well? I’ve made some compromises, but I get to live the life I want to be living, surrounded by happy people who have made a similar set of choices.
There is risk. I’ll lose some tools. I may get mugged on the street. It’s possible my house will be broken into. I’m panhandled daily. Shopping carts rattle by the front window all day. But you know what? It beats the shit out of working in a cube.