It has been so wonderful to welcome everyone to the town I have called home since 2000. I remember well being on playa in 2000, wrapping up my staff duties after the burn – Check Point Salon (precursor to Playa Info) and Greeters – and heading back to the Bay Area to move into my new home across the Bay Bridge. Housing was so much more affordable in the Oakland than in San Francisco, although I quickly found that I had to travel back over that bridge for nearly everything. I even had to travel to Berkeley for a decent grocery store. None of that could be found in my new city. Oakland was empty, downtown was boarded up, and there was no nightlife or restaurant scene. But Oakland had big, affordable homes with yards, better weather and easier parking than San Francisco, and a sense of diversity I hadn’t experienced since my days in the East Village at NYU.
Flash forward twelve, almost thirteen years, and boarded up downtown Oakland is a radically different place.
Oakland has an incredible sense of community that has rallied together to rebuild the city and bring art to its residents and visitors. Leaving the Oakland City Center Marriott with participants of the GLC, burners from around the world (Korea! Ireland! Spain! Brazil! Israel!), parading to the BRAF bike bridge, was an amazing experience. Wandering around the streets after dark with friends, witnessing the crowds out and about, it feels like a different city than the boarded up, burned out city where I couldn’t find a decent restaurant or grocery store. Last year, because of the art and restaurant scene, the New York Times said Oakland was a top tourist destination, and listed Oakland in the top five cities to visit in the world. Rand McNally has said Oakland has the best weather in the country. Like any city, is has its beautiful parts, and it has its rough parts.
Art Murmur is a small non-profit organization that includes twenty-one galleries and nine mixed-use art spaces clustered along the Telegraph and Broadway corridors between 27th street and Jack London Square. First Fridays is an immersive art and community experience where Oakland’s cultural art community springs to life with Galleries, Artists Collectives, Street Artists, Culinary Artisans, Local Artisans, Performers, Musicians, Dancers, Live Painters, DJ’s, Poets, and Literary Events too. Together, they bring thousands of people to downtown Oakland, filling up the restaurants and streets, and creating an event that is perhaps the largest urban monthly event in the country.
The revitalization of Oakland is an exciting thing to experience, and it was amazing to bring burners from around the world to experience it. As an out of town participant in our conference, what did you think about Oakland? What did you find unique about it? What is Oakland doing right to build community? What can Oakland be doing better?