Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Oakland's Gentrification Accelerates

Amid all the bad news since the recession and housing crash began, the world has taken on a grayish hue.

With a do-nothing mayor like Ron Dullums, it's easy to see why this pall has extended to Oakland, at least in the minds of most people.

What's interesting about Oakland, though, is that its future may not really depend at all on the behaviors of its politicians. Sure, they can slow down one thing and speed up another, but they are at the mercy of the underlying trends just the same as the rest of us.

I was pleased to see The OakBook begin a series on the gentrification of Oakland. Of course, they use different words for it, and they go to great pains to label "gentrification" as a politically charged word.

I have a reputation (such as it is) for telling things as they are. In that vein, let me be very clear about what is happening in Oakland: The black people are leaving. In large measure, they are being replaced by Latinos, with a few whites and asians filling in the rest of the mix.

Here's a separate piece of information that hasn't received very much media attention in the politically correct Bay Area press. Take a look at Oakland Unified's "two-year comparison report" (caution: PDF file).  I take a look at these kinds of reports when they come out because, as an Oakland property owner, I realize that a big part of my investment is the performance of our beleaguered school district.

In any event, the report was largely unexciting. Things generally improved, as they have for the last 10 years. OUSD's crypto-trend of becoming a reasonably good school district continues unabated. I call it a crypto-trend because no one talks about it, which is probably just as well, since discussion would probably cause the powers-that-be to try and stamp it out as some kind of racist trick.

Back to the PDF. Usually, I look at these documents they way they're intended to be viewed -- taking into account the ratio of kids performing at or above grade level for each task. But in this document, a separate piece of data jumped out at me -- the denominators.

According this PDF, in 2008--2009, this was the ethnic breakdown of the Oakland school system: 1894 whites, 9358 Latinos, 4206 Asians and 9555 African Americans.

In 2009-2010, there were 1968 whites, 9827 Latinos, 4093 Asians and 8647 African Americans.

Now, let's net out those numbers to see how the district's population has changed:

  • Whites, +74 (+3.9%)

  • Latinos, +469 (+5.0%)

  • Asians, -113 (-2.8%)

  • Blacks, -908 (-9.5%)

One of these numbers jumps out as far more significant than the others. A 10 percent reduction in black students in a single year is an enormous change. While I'm sure some part of it is attributable to charter schools or some such, what I can say is that none of it is due to lower overall attendance at Oakland schools. The total number of students increased by 65 from 26,880 to 26,945 over the last two years.

This school district information goes along with the information in the census and the OakBook article to paint a clear picture of Oakland.

The bottom line is this: Oakland is no longer a black-dominated city. And, in several years it will see a black proportion of the population lower than the average American city. This is incidentally is exactly what has happened in San Francisco.

There are some cities in America with sizable affluent black populations -- Atlanta is a great example. Oakland is not such a city. As such, the marked decrease in black population in Oakland is a symptom of the city's rapid gentrification.

There's another movement that I view along similar lines. It's the group of people organizing to encourage locals to enroll their kids in local public schools. Most recently I read an article about a parents' group doing this for Oakland High -- a traditionally low-performing high school.

Such efforts are not really activism. They're actually a natural reaction by rational parents to gentrification. I expect similar movements soon for schools such as Montera Middle School -- a school located in a predominantly upper-middle class area which suffers from low local enrollment and attendant busing of students from bad parts of town.

This is the steamroller of gentrification: Fueled by easy access to Bart and great amenities, encouraged by lackadaisical city planning policies and galvanized by moronically inept activists trying to hold it back.

And, these are all reasons why, in the midst of this sluggish economy, I expect those who invest in Oakland to reap rewards as the unemployed and poor gradually leave our beautiful town.