by Molly Herrick
The Evolution of Oakland
Oakland is changing, reinventing itself. It’s a city finally laying to rest a not-so-rosy reputation. Over the past few years, there has been a transformation in the fundamental perception of the city as an enticing and exciting place to be. This has not only occurred in the minds of people in the region, but is backed by tangible evidence plainly visible in the city’s streets.
The Neighboring City
Oakland’s neighbor just across the Bay Bridge, San Francisco, has burgeoned as a tech center over the last decade. Not surprisingly, prices have soared there with apartment rents up +54% and office rents skyrocketing by +121%– just in the past six years. Thus residents and businesses alike have increasingly looked to Downtown Oakland, just a short two-stop BART train ride away from the San Francisco CBD. In recent years, there has been a marked desire in to live near work in public-transit-served areas with urban amenities. Oakland fulfills this. Thus, the population of Oakland has increased by 23,000 people (nearly 8,000 households) since 2010. Furthermore, Alameda County as a whole has seen a +8.5% increase in new residents totaling 128,000 in that time period; by contrast, only approximately 16,000 building permits for new residential units have been issued.
The Allure of Oakland
Bolstered by this influx of new people, Oakland now has an allure all its own, yet continues to draw new breath. As a result, businesses have begun to relocate or open an additional location in Oakland, causing office vacancy to drop to extreme lows in the core areas of Downtown and Jack London Square. Office vacancy Downtown is now just 4.0% (compared to 10.9% at the beginning of 2010). Industrial product in the region has likewise seen significant demand levels with vacancy a scant 2.0% as the East Bay serves as the prominent industrial hub in the Bay Area region.
In addition to big tech names such as Pandora, and soon Uber, calling Oakland home, the city also fosters a growing number of startup tech companies of a particularly Oakland bent.
The deep history of social activism in the city has spurred a unique grouping of tech startups with a social conscience addressing social issues. That said, Oakland has also seen a huge migration of businesses across a wide variety of industries in recent years, and it is this variety that helps strengthen the city.
What Makes Oakland Oakland
The past few years have been pivotal. And the city has emerged with a newfound vibrancy. Still, the creative drive that makes Oakland Oakland remains. A strong artist community and maker community has long existed here. It feeds the collective sensibility of the city. It is both crucial to and parallels the story of Oakland’s rebirth—the desire to create and retain ownership of something great: to build a community.
A central part of Oakland’s identity is its place as one of the most diverse cities in the country. There are varied, multiethnic pockets that have long existed and now coexist alongside and among the new. Mapped out, the city reads as a patchwork of ethnic neighborhoods. New residents mixing with longtime residents has been a catalyst for the emergence of an exciting bar and restaurant scene that fosters new talent and creative concepts that still speak loudly of Oakland’s diversity.
What is true now, though, has always been true: there was always potential energy here. It’s been thrilling over the past several years to see it transform to kinesis, even as more wells up, the city continuing to visibly shift, evolve, grow in front of us.
What truly remains to be seen is precisely how dramatic and, most importantly, permanent the reawakening of Oakland will prove to be. Today, there is a constant buzz about the city, the tenor of which has uplifted spectacularly in recent years. The further arrival of new residents will continue to churn momentum in the city; we’ll continue to see businesses pulled here as a result.
While spillover from San Francisco has catalyzed the city’s growth in the past few years, with life now all its own, Oakland will forge its own future, propelled forward by both the new and the mix of components that has long made Oakland unique.