As Mills students, we are located in Oakland, truly one of the most diverse cities in America. Over 130 languages are spoken by people who have lived in Oakland for generations, are recent transplants, or have just immigrated to the United States. There is a wide range of socioeconomic statuses, from higher to lower class brackets. The residents are one of the main reasons Oakland is so incredible.
Oakland places us within a historically rich city that is also undergoing change due to the increased cost of housing, which results in the influx of new residents as older residents who cannot afford the increase are pushed out. This is called gentrification. If you have walked outside of campus, you might have noticed the vast difference between neighborhoods; if you have lived here for a couple of years, you might be aware of the way neighborhoods are changing. The Oakland Wiki defines gentrification as the “phenomenon of wealthier residents moving to poorer neighborhoods” for the cheaper rent “and in the process raising neighborhood property values, eventually pricing out previous residents who can no longer afford higher rents and cost of living [so that they must move elsewhere]. Gentrification is the ‘opposite’ phenomenon of white flight [where upper- and middle-class white residents move from cities to suburbs].”
Are you tired of hearing about it yet? Gentrification as a topic is not exactly new. For some, it is pervasive not only in the classroom but also in daily conversation. But does that mean we should care less? One editor argues because gentrification is something we just talk about that detachment is possible. How do we use our knowledge and apply it to avoid glazed-over eyes and blunt objectivity?
Gentrification is mobilized as a kind of buzzword nowadays, especially in reference to the techie boom in San Francisco and how the surrounding Bay Area neighborhoods are affected. One Campanil editor writes that in the Mission District in San Francisco, people are being evicted from homes because their landlords want to renovate once dilapidated buildings into fancy expensive lofts for techies to rent. It’s becoming more difficult than ever to buy a home; techies are buying up property with cash ready at hand. SF is becoming a playground for the wealthy and white. The East Bay is affected similarly as young professionals or those pushed out of their SF neighborhoods flee the high prices of the city. Gentrification is problematic because Oakland is shifting.
Mia McKenzie, creator and blogger for Black Girl Dangerous, writes about her #WhitePeopleEquivalents hashtag where people can tag on Twitter the ways in which issues, ideas and concepts are skewed to align with white heteropatriarchal viewpoints. She uses Aamer Rahman’s Tweet as an example when he writes, “Gentrifying a neighborhood=improving a neighborhood #WhitePeopleEquivalents.” Gentrification can be spun as positive because with gentrification comes more money, renovation, trendy stores and eateries, and the like. But this requires us to ask the question, who is this city for?
Obviously there is not one clear answer. But as Mills students, we must implicate ourselves and ask this question. We must be aware as many of us are coming to Oakland from other cities or countries. We must keep our own actions in mind as we choose where to live if or when we move off campus.
Another Campanil editor explains that if Mills wants to differentiate itself from the other institutions that are exploiting the Bay Area, we need to find a way to reconnect with the Oakland community. It is crucial to narrow the distance between our Oakland neighbors and us as students. We live in Oakland yet the Mills campus can act as a membrane separating us from the city we inhabit. Gentrification threatens the security of its residents, the residents that make Oakland what it is.
If you don’t think Oakland is beautiful or has something to offer you, you should get out more.