Wednesday, October 15, 2008

That's Emery-village to you

Writing from Oakland Airport. I walked by a newstand, the standard fare with piles of t-shirts in front, and saw one that said, “Oakland, est. 1850.” Cool: Oakland asserts its history. I felt that tug of acquisitiveness. “Mine,” I thought.

And then reality pulled me back. Oakland isn’t going to be mine any more.

I’ve been a devout Oaklander for 15 years. When I was (joyfully) unemployed before my current job, I watched Oakland city council TV. I like the city’s big messiness. It reminds me of Cleveland, where I grew up: some great old neighborhoods that outsiders aren’t aware of; a decent stab at culture; and a large, troubled African-American population. To me it is undervalued, an underdog, a place where good is just dying to happen and lives are ready to be changed, and I wanted to be part of turning it around.

In defining my condo search, Oakland was the only place I wanted to live. In fact, I wanted to live specifically in the downtown or uptown areas of Oakland, where there is lots of new construction and definite evidence of an evolving neighborhood. I didn’t mind being a pioneer: I knew that commerce would follow. Single professional women are a target market for these areas.

When I didn’t find anything I liked, another area I found was Temescal. Just blocks from my current neighborhood, Temescal is supposed to be The Next Rockridge. Since I’d love to live in Rockridge, why not be in the next one?

I read all of Temescal’s and Macarthur BART’s development plans. I contacted Jane Brunner, the city councilmember for the area (also my current councilmember), who was, predictably, entirely unresponsive.

(I had really been hoping to move out of her district anyway. My alternative was to put myself on course to run against her for her seat.)

Another red flag: the development plans are dated 2005. I could be an optimist who thinks that they’re due, that the time is about to come to execute them; or I could listen to my friend, J., who says that even if Oakland begins to execute these plans, they’ll screw something up. Certainly Jane Brunner’s unresponsiveness made me feel like I wouldn’t be a part of the success of even this neighborhood.

I made an offer on a place in lower Temescal, a condo that my father and stepmother and niece and brother and his girlfriend all visited. On the one day that month two people in California were buying condos, and I was outbid.

An unexpected swing of emotions. And when my great broker contacted me to go back out to see condos the following weekend, I was uninterested, but I indulged her. Grumpy. The last place she showed me was in Emeryville, and it was great. On Hollis, which is one of my favorite streets there. After a very traumatic detour into almost buying another place in Temescal, I bought the condo in Emeryville.

And then my car was broken into in front of my Oakland apartment. A sign?

Every change brings loss. Changing my identity from being an Oaklander to an Emeryvillager is going to take some practice. Changing from a city whose symbol is an oak (and I’ve wanted one of those oak pins that city councilmembers wear) to one whose symbol is … Ikea? … Best Buy? … Bay Street? … the Powell Street onramp? is not something I can get excited about.

I am excited about living in a well-run city, an aspirational city that executes is plans. Emeryville knows what it wants to be, and it’s not hesitating in heading there. And if it strays I only have to work with 8,000 people to help return it to success.

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