Many have observed that San Francisco is the first city to have been
destroyed by the Internet. The city was described in “Hollow
City”, by Rebecca Solnit and Susan Schwartzenberg, as having
been reduced to being a bohemian theme park without the bohemians.
Similar devastation of the creative community has occurred in nearby
Silicon Valley. The region as a whole has become hostile to the lifestyle
requirements of its most innovative citizens. Now the trend has accelerated
so that even the top tier of innovative, wealth producing, businesses
are being negatively affected.
A productive location for innovation has frequently been in marginalized
urban neighbourhoods. Here visionaries, bohemians, and dreamers have,
traditionally, found refuge. These types of neighbourhoods are precisely
the type that were the most ruthlessly exploited by the dot com era
real estate developers in San Francisco. What happens to a culture
when these types of people are driven out?
Ironically, a solution to this urgent question may come not from “the
next big thing” that many are urgently seeking, but from the
world of environmental conservation. Well- intentioned organizations
and individuals make great efforts, at substantial expense, to preserve
the wilderness. There are even projects underway to create enormous
trans- national wilderness habitats.
Conservationist methodologies could be utilized to preserve urban
environments for the emerging component of the creative community.
Corporate business entities can either individually or collectively,
invest in the environments that best accommodate creative people
and preserve them as habitats. However, in order to achieve success
in this type of endeavor, property owners would need to stop thinking
like real estate investors, and begin thinking like conservationists.
There is a profound temptation for investors to use standard techniques
to manage the explosively rising value of their bricks and mortar.
However, in this instance, the most valuable return on investment
is the increase in intellectual and cultural capital for the both
the investor’s business milieu, and society as a whole. No
one should embark on such a project unless they are prepared to wait
a generation before beginning to manage their property as simply
a real estate investment. The most immediate reward for the corporate
investors is the fact that they will be the first in the world to
have participated in this new patronage – immediately setting
a new standard for the civic and business interface. Naming rights
for sports facilities will lose their cachet, how much better to
have artists living in the “Microsoft buildings” or “Apple
warehouses”, or small businesses setting up in the “Intel
The single best area in the San Francisco area for this project is
the strip of neighbourhoods along the waterfront, of the nearby city
of Oakland, an area that has been named “the Oakland Riviera”.
The O.R. is divided into multi-cultural communities such as, “Dogtown”, “Jack
London Square”, downtown, “Brooklyn Basin”, and
West Oakland. There is a very high vacancy rate throughout the various
neighbourhoods, and lots of raw warehouse space. At the time of this
writing, Dogtown is the underground warehouse district of choice
because of the low cost and proximity to San Francisco – it
is located at the eastern base of the Bay Bridge.
Downtown Oakland has commercial space that has been vacant since the
1970’s. One of the reasons for the failure of downtown is,
without a doubt, the lack of on-street parking. A sweeping move to
install on street, four hour meters on all streets downtown would
begin to cause an immediate reduction in vacancies. Unfortunately,
government officials in most municipalities still believe in the
gospel of public transportation, not fully understanding that in
the western United States, any neighbourhood is more vital when it
is possible for people to park directly in front of their destination.
For the Oakland Riviera concept to have substantial success, modifications
to the zoning codes and city plan would need to be realized. Solutions
could include temporary experimental zoning codes, development review
in the place of pre-determined zones, and linkage of zoning designation
with usage/occupancy of building. The key is to allow flexibility
in general, and live/work throughout the area.
Streamlining the building permit process for the addition of bathrooms
and kitchens for any building in this area would create an immediate
upsurge in occupancy. This could be directed by the requirement that
non-conforming occupants in the special zoning area be required to
have their own business, in addition to whatever other occupation
Oakland is a city that many white upper middle class individuals view
with trepidation. It is majority African American and has a rapidly
expanding population with roots in the third world. Frankly, Oakland
has earned a reputation as a dangerous, drug-infested city, with
stray bullets, and irrepressible gangs. However, Oakland’s
physical setting is undeniably gorgeous, with sweeping city and bay
views from the hills, diverse architecture, and substantial greenbelts.
Now, within the new context of the post dot-com world, Oakland, has
undergone a transformation, and is beginning to move in a different
direction. Now in addition to merely having weather that is better
than San Francisco’s, it is a city with multicultural beauty,
a place with many experimental enterprises – especially in
the academic and cultural realm. It is a side stream, where anyone
can live a slack life with relative ease, without being concerned
with trends or fashion. Slack, and non-fashion, are primary components
of modern freedom. Freedom is critical for creative people, who are
much better off not having to be overly concerned about basic living
expenses, or being in style.
Another development is the decline in the inner city crack cocaine
culture. Interestingly, it is being replaced by real estate investment
and development within a small but growing number of people who formerly
might have gone into the illicit drug business. A new type of hip-hop
real estate investor can be seen with increasing frequency. Methodologies,
and perspectives from hip-hop, and third world multiculturalism,
when interacting with influences and wealth from Silicon Valley and
San Francisco are creating a positive environment for both the formerly
marginalized, and creative people in general.
Coming in December 2005: More about “The Oakland Riviera”,
and “Replacing the Nine County Bay Area”
Sole copyright William Edward Summers, 2005, all rights reserved.