If you have been to Temescal recently, you may have noticed the colorful banners which announce its adopted ethos: “cool,” “hip.” The banners’ placement—and the careful calibration of the neighborhood’s grittiness—is the work of the Temescal Telegraph Community Association and executive director Darlene Rios Drapkin, an East Bay urban revitalization specialist who delivered the keynote speech at San Francisco Heritage’s Community Summit last Saturday.

Addressing a crowd of Bay Area city planners and community business owners, Drapkin drew on her experience developing business improvement districts across the East Bay—Fruitvale in 2001, Temescal in 2004, KoreaTown in 2007, and now Jack London square—and how they can help heritage businesses, or mom-and-pops, stay competitive in up-and-coming commercial areas.

“We’ve been working to maintain [Temescal’s] urban, somewhat gritty feel,” Drapkin said. “Tools such as BIDs and CBDs provide consistency.”

While Drapkin explained how BIDs and CBDs (community benefit districts) like the Temescal Telegraph Community Association can support heritage businesses, her speech highlighted the importance of attracting new independent businesses to revitalizing commercial districts.

Drapkin spoke of Oakland’s renewal, which has been widely chronicled in the past year by the New York Times and is by now familiar to locals, even as many have mixed feelings about the “renewal” and its relationship to gentrification.

The Temescal district in particular, Drapkin said, attracts refugees from rising San Francisco rents, as well as a steam of hipsters and artists. This is no accident: Drapkin says these are exactly the type of people that Temescal is trying to attract.

Last month, the real estate website Motovo ranked Oakland the most exciting city in America. A report by Trulia (recently covered by Oakland Local reporter Laura McCarmy) revealed that Oakland home prices rose by 31 percent in the past year, making it home to the fastest rising home prices in the nation.

“Oakland has existed in the shadow of San Francisco since the 1980s,” Drapkin said, who said that her friends from San Francisco have recently started to take BART to Oakland. “I am pleased by Oakland’s rankings as an exciting place,” she said.

Drapkin believes the commercial success of the Temescal district is a testament to the effectiveness of the BID’s revitalization strategy, which is based on the trademarked Main Street Four-Point Approach that she uses in her professional practice.

The approach involves creating a BID, improving building and street design, promoting business through street fairs, and creating an economic restructuring plan that attracts new businesses and retains older ones.

The Temescal Telegraph BID advises their heritage businesses to buy their building, if possible, so that they can protect themselves from rising rents. Drapkin also advises her clients to use social media to bring older businesses up to speed, and to adjust to fill a new market need if their sales stagnate. However, Drapkin emphasized that BIDs cannot control market forces too much.

“Attracting independent businesses should always be the priority, but sometimes we have to look for other options,” she said. “We cannot cry too much if businesses cannot change with the tides.”

Though Drapkin lamented the displacement of African-American hair salons and Latin fusion restaurants in Temescal, she argued that the Main Street approach provides the organizational structure to make sure neighborhoods retain some elements of their cultural heritage even as they adapt with commercial expansion, pointing to the examples of the murals on the PG&E building and the colorful Temescal Flows overpass, and the 37 artisan mosaic trash cans that line Telegraph.

While Temescal’s businesses change, the BID maintains a watchful eye over the feel of the neighborhood. Though the Dutch Boy Paints store no longer exists, the Temescal Telegraph Community Association successfully fought for the preservation of its ornate sign, a relic of the neighborhood’s mom-and-pop days. When a member of the community association suggested that Temescal build a central kiosk, members overruled it, according to Drapkin, because of fears that it would make the neighborhood look too neat, more reminiscent of Rockridge or Walnut Creek than a burgeoning arts and restaurant district.

“I sometimes hear insinuations that the Main Street Program is a tool for gentrification,” she said. “It is far from it.”

Drapkin emphasized in her speech that BIDs are especially important in Oakland because of the city government’s limited resources.

“We pick up where the city leaves off,” she said. “We work a lot with councilmembers and the City of Oakland and we do know that they value our CBDs.”

7 Responses

  1. Mike Linksvayer

    “Oakland has existed in the shadow of San Francisco since the 1980s,” Drapkin said

    What happened in the 1980s? As far as I can tell, Oakland has existed in the shadow of SF since 1852.

    Reply
  2. Elizabeth

    Keep Oakland Real. Keep Oakland’s entrepreneurial spirit alive & well. NO BEVMO IN TEMESCAL!

    Reply
    • Carl Temple

      Tim…No BevMo in the Temescal, the traffic and parking are already bad enough. A more appropriate place for BevMo would be at the Shopping Center at 51st/Pleasant Valley and Broadway.

      Reply
    • Tim

      Also a fine place for Bevmo. Oakland shouldn’t make perfect the enemy of the good though. Complaints about Bevmo bringing in more traffic apply just as well to any new business. If you want to ensure no traffic and ample parking, let’s keep that building vacant. We could also run some other businesses out of town while we’re at it. That would free up parking.

      Reply
  3. Lillian

    “Though Drapkin lamented the displacement of African-American hair salons and Latin fusion restaurants in Temescal, she argued that the Main Street approach provides the organizational structure to make sure neighborhoods retain some elements of their cultural heritage even as they adapt with commercial expansion, pointing to the examples of the murals on the PG&E building and the colorful Temescal Flows overpass, and the 37 artisan mosaic trash cans that line Telegraph”

    Sorry your business collapsed once your customers could no longer afford to live around here… but at least you have a trash can that is supposed to represent you! Not to argue about the benefits and challenges about gentrification, but really? Half the irritation with being priced out of your own neighborhood is that fact that the people that are doing it deny it. Be honest about the change.

    Reply

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