Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What's The View From Your Window?

Have you ever lived in a "transitional" area? Maybe you still do? The sort of neighborhood I just wrote about, where your view is of a enormous billboard of a blonde Beyonce in white sweater and navy short shorts. (The view from my first flat in Acton, London was of a roaring motorway... probably now utterly gentrified and the home to Tara Palmer blahdeblah.)

I recently wrote an article for the SF Chronicle about a local architect building out "transitional" neighborhoods in Oakland, including Dogtown in West Oakland, and I had the chance to talk many residents about what it's really like to live there. The story ended up being very complex, taking a month to complete with interviews of around 30 people and days in the public library. The architect Matthew Baran works with developers re-modeling Victorians and building very modern homes on the double lots behind. The houses generally sell within two weeks for between $500,000 and $1million.

After: Backyard, 59th Street in N. Oakland. Photos: BaranStudio

Before: 59th street
After: Dining room, 59th Street
Before: Dining room
Hannah Street, Dogtown
Willow Street
Willow Street, inside
Louise St, Dogtown
Inside Louise St.
The views from Louise St

Many of the residents I spoke to said they were very proud of the award-winning new homes in Dogtown and they love to surprise friends with a tour of the area. One person added thought that some new residents really wanted to be living up the hill in Rockridge and they're bit bitter they've ended up in Dogtown.

Some of the houses are perfect; story-book Victorians surrounded by Sycamores and fruit trees and pristine cars parked out the front. On one fall day I saw a family hanging out Halloween decorations, their neighbours watering the succulents in their galvanised iron window boxes, a Grandma eating chocolate cake on her porch, a couple of teen girls in their Sunday-best walking home from church and two Steampunk guys fixing their car. But some of the other houses were run-down and at the ends of the roads were tags on the fences and spilled garbage.

There is a tension between new and old residents - one resident says he was burgled four times in his first year but he hasn't been touched in the last six years. He's annoyed by new residents who complain about gun shots when it's just a few firecrackers and a Norteno band on Friday nights at neighborhood parties.

One long-time West Oakland African American grandmother says new residents have complained about the joyful noises coming from their church and have called the police on their young men who are simply talking and laughing in the street.

Another resident says she goes back and forth about wanting to move out but makes sure she says "Hi" to everyone "even the guy who sells drugs at the end of our road."

For sure a sense of optimism and tolerance is key: you need to appreciate the urban views out the window including the massive billboard I mentioned, lately featuring a blonde Beyonce her in her blue shorts and white sweater. One Dogtown resident told me every night she says goodnight  to the large lit-up "E" for "Emeryville" sign that glows over the motorway: "People value the Hollywood sign but I love this E just as much"







31 comments:

  1. I'm not hip enough for anything that transitional. I love the Louise St. property but the location would cause me to look elsewhere. Maybe if I didn't have kids. I just love that they have friends across the street!

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    1. Friends always make the place that is for sure!

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  2. So pertinent to what's happening in a lot of cities! In London there is the same issues and because it's been rather forced and not a smooth transition like in for example notting hill there are issues that reverberate like the examples you gave...just to let you know that houses in Acton are about 800k to 1 mil. I live in a very eclectic area but then I like it whereas I don't know if people like change period...great article by the way

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    1. Yikes!!! Whaaat? Too expensive for even Tara blardy blah! Funnily enough the first place I lived in Notting Hill was the most dangerous place I've ever lived in Helen Street, drug dealers everywhere, you would not walk around after 4pm by yourself, my window didn't close and the bed sunk in the middle, horrible place

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  3. Jody- Very interesting! No billboards in my neighborhood...

    Loretta

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  4. Great post! My first apartment with Barry was a basement apartment looking our at plugged-in cars in Saskatchewan. We lived in an old neighbourhood about 15 years ago that was being gentrified and definitely felt the tension of the old neighbours who'd stuck it out and the new neighbours who were buying for a song and then piling the money on and resenting the low income folks. I guess it is the cyclical nature of of 'hoods, but we did love that area - until we had children...

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    1. Oh I remember the days of basement apartment in London, we were below the footpath, glimpses of feet all day long. Just occurred to me that some people who live down the Pensinsula (googly internet types) might think everywhere in Oakland is transitional. In fact someone the other day rolled his eyes at me every time I said Oakland...

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  5. I loved the photos in this (and the houses). Our backyard looks onto other backyards... but we still have a lot of privacy as the lot is big!

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  6. The renovations are just beautiful.

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  7. Quite the redo indeed
    At their new feed
    A mix of old and new
    Safe bets a clash will come due

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  8. What an interesting story to write, and I love this post. I think there has been a big push/pull in most cities around the world over the past 30 years with people moving back to the inner city areas. Our last house in Melbourne was in a mixed suburb. It was most definitely gentrified as a whole, but there were still some original residents (like our neighbour over the back fence, an elderly Greek lady who would hock up phlegm all day in the courtyard at the back of her home, or our next door neighbour whose house was falling down - literally). On a street around the corner to us sat houses valued at $4Million minimum, and yet there were two that were still half way houses - one for psychiatric patients, the other for elderly homeless people who would sit in the local village high street each day outside the upmarket boutiques and gourmet shops and cafes asking for $2 so they could buy some booze. It was definitely a suburb of contrasts. I love the colour you've captured in this post, and the mixed feelings of the residents about it all. xx

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    1. I see the Greek lady (and hear her!) and raise you two. We lived in a flat owned by three crazy Greek sisters in London, they watched our every move like hawks but then couldn't be bothered getting someone in when we smelled a gas leak!

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    2. Speaking also of halfway houses there was an article in NY Times recently about how in Malibu the residents are rising up. In the middle of their dusty sandy (but extremely expensive) town there are now 30 re-hab centres!

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  9. What an interesting post! Our first flat was above an amusement arcade, opposite a bust chip shop and where all four rooms would now fit into our sitting room!
    We have varied views now, one window overlooks the garden and fields and church beyond while another looks straight at the neighbour who recently called the police on us when a ball went over the fence!!

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    1. Wow, we would have the police called on us all the time if we lived next to your neighbour - that is a bit worrying!

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    2. My first comment should have read busy chip shop not a bust one! And yes in the last 17 years many balls have been confiscated by the neighbour, the police visit did leave me a bit flabbergasted though!

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  10. Interesting, I like the re-done places and I think I could put up with living in such a place. I've lived in worse, so it couldn't be that bad!! x

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  11. These are some amazing renovations indeed. Wow.

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  12. My view are trees and more trees……………
    I know the area that you spoke about and well that is WONDERFUL the remodels etc……….BUT.

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  13. I lived in the Mission before it became hipster heaven and within a block or two of my apartment, the tone of my neighborhood changed dramatically. Two blocks north, it was posh, two blocks south it was gang territory. A new development a block away touted itself as high end loft living. And still, we heard gunshots one time or two in the time we lived there. It's always a negotiation! Could you link us to the article?

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  14. Hi there, thanks for asking, It is linked under SF Chronicle. I will link it under the word article which might make it clearer. Yes funnily enough I had some designers who wanted me to see completely Italian styled apartments in the Mission!

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  15. In the centre of dublin in the docklands area it has been developed in a similar way. In fact I worked for the authority which redeveloped the area. It worked hard to bring the old and new residents together and also involved the local businesses the financial services is also located here. As with all new ventures some residents loved the changes others did not. But it is an exciting vibrant area which was previously rundown.

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    1. Inge I lived in Dublin for five months about 23 years ago and there was so much potential there. I must go back there again and see what has sprung up - I bet I would not even be able to recognise the street I was on (or where I worked.... which was Kitty O Sheas)

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  16. Some amazing renovations there, although I couldn't live in the white interior.

    The old residents must know their days are numbered because there'll be none of their type left once they're gone. The whole area will become gentrified because the increasingly high prices will push the average buyer out.

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  17. Interesting post and some beautiful renovations. You mentioned London - it's amazing how certain areas have changed in just a few years with properites that were once run down now selling for close to a million pounds!
    http://missbbobochic.blogspot.co.uk/

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    1. Yes my sister lived in Peckham and houses in her street are now pounds 700,000!

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  18. Dogtown the name is not pretty.
    I never have lived in a transitional area but we certainly have the incomer situation here where certain of them complain about cocks crowing in the morning, church bells ringing on Sunday and country life in general. Wusses!
    Fascinating post.

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    1. They'll be complaining about the cowpats next!

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  19. I did my time restoring and living in a Georgian house in Liverpools toxteth....fun but exhausting and eventually a quitter life in a more settled area beckons.

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