North Oakland’s Golden Gate neighborhood, encompassing the San Pablo Avenue corridor from 55th, the Berkeley border in the north, and the surrounding residential streets, is part of the most rapidly gentrifying area in Oakland, but the community has come together, creating neighborhood events to defuse tensions and reinforce a local identity that includes, rather than displaces, longtime residents.

“What is striking to me…is that it’s not your typical” neighborhood association, says Ethan Zatko, Program Manager for Destiny Arts Center, referring to the San Pablo Golden Gate Improvement Association (SPAGGIA). The community wants “enlivening but not at the cost of displacement or rejection or hurt or harm” and gentrification is “a principal concern.”

On Saturday, July 12, 2014, the Golden Gate takes community up a notch with Love Our Neighborhood Day, an Open Streets event that will free a two-mile circle of Oakland and Emeryville streets from car traffic while opening them to walking, dancing, bicycling, skateboarding and all-ages fun from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The ambitious event marks the first multi-city Open Streets in the East Bay, the first time a part of San Pablo Avenue will be (temporarily) car-free, and the first Oaklavia to take place away from Oakland’s downtown core.

Golden Gate neighborhood organizer, Laura Ingram.

Golden Gate neighborhood organizer Laura Ingram.

When Laura Ingram moved to the Golden Gate neighborhood in 1986, she was one of the first white people to buy a house there in 40 years. She recalls being immediately welcomed and invited to join the block club by her African-American neighbors. “Mostly who’s been engaged in the discussion about who’s a gentrifier don’t even live here or have lived here for a year,” she says. “Whoever moves here, if they have a good attitude, we invite them to join.”

The community has a history of working together to build a better neighborhood. “When it was really hard for people to have pride,” Ingram says, “we used to have these great events that were really down home.” She adds, “They were fun times,” noting that the same spirit infuses the planning for Love Our Neighborhood Day.

Actual Cafe owner Sal Bednarz

Actual Cafe owner Sal Bednarz

“My entire mission in opening Actual Café was to try to establish a neighborhood identity,” says Sal Bednarz, who also owns the adjoining Victory Burger. He wants to showcase what made him fall in love with the Golden Gate when he moved there in 2001. “The mission of the café naturally extended to ‘Let’s take this out of the walls of the café’” to create neighborhood-wide events, he says. A goal shared by residents and merchants, adds Bednarz is that “we wanted to celebrate. We wanted to have parties, events.”

“Every conversation that we have had about planning this event is how to make this event reflect the character of the neighborhood,” says Bednarz. He sees community gatherings as a way to get people from different economic and ethic backgrounds together “really enjoying themselves with each other. When we’re sharing a plate of ribs at a barbeque the conversation gets a little more nuanced,” Bednarz says.

Destiny Arts Program Manager Ethan Zatko.  Photo courtesy of Ethan Zatko.

Destiny Arts Program Manager Ethan Zatko. Photo courtesy of Ethan Zatko.

When organizers needed a venue for the Love Our Neighborhood Day after-party, they naturally turned to Destiny Arts Center because of “the tremendous good energy they bring,” says Ingram.

Founded 25 years ago in the Hand to Hand martial arts center on San Pablo Avenue, Destiny focuses on peace-building and violence prevention through martial arts classes. The group was recently able to buy a building not far from their original location. “Investing in this permanent home has allowed us to be participatory in the community,” says Zatko, who was himself among the original crop of Destiny students 25 years ago.

At Destiny, “we’re about a culture of welcome,” Zatko says. “The underlying message is a call to connection.” He sees Love Our Neighborhood Day as an extension of that call. “Let’s be intentional about connecting with each other here on this street in this community,” he says. “I can’t wait for that many more people to come [to the after party], know us, and take advantage of what’s happening here.”

A PLACE for Sustainable Living co-founders Jonathan Youtt and Veronica Ramirez, with Ginger, sitting on a cob bench built by the community.

A PLACE for Sustainable Living co-founders Jonathan Youtt and Veronica Ramirez, with Ginger, sitting on a cob bench built by the community.

Jonathan Youtt moved to the Golden Gate in early 2011, creating A PLACE for Sustainable Living, a partnership between the Sustainable Living Roadshow and local urban agriculture and permaculture groups with a vision “to create a center to teach sustainable solutions to urban issues,” he says.

“We actually canvassed the neighborhood for over a year and hosted open house potlucks and forums to discuss the needs, concerns and visions for the neighborhood,” Youtt says. “The resulting effort that happened from those meetings was the first Creating Commons Festival.”

He calls the festivals, held in 2012 and 2013, “a block party with a purpose.” Neighbors worked together to install gardens at a local church, school, and private residence.

“Bringing people out of their houses and engaging with their neighbors is the first step toward creating a peaceful society,” Youtt says. “Embellishment of the commons has been proven to be a pathway to creating robust relations that then build trust and eventually lead to peace.”

Father Aidan McAleenan stands by the most recent cross outside St. Columba Catholic Church, commemorating a 15-year-old girl who was caught in crossfire.

Father Aidan McAleenan stands by the most recent cross outside St. Columba Catholic Church, commemorating a 15-year-old girl who was caught in crossfire.

Father Aidan McAleenan knows something about peace. As pastor of St. Columba Catholic Church, he feels keenly each of the deaths by gun violence, marked by a cross in front of his church. He is proud of the connections between the church and its African-American congregation, whose gospel choir will perform in front of the Church at San Pablo and Alcatraz in the afternoon at Love Our Neighborhood Day.

Father Aidan befriended his neighbors at the PLACE soon after they moved in and St. Columba played an important role at the Creating Commons Festivals. “I provided all the food,” he said. “It was a lovely thing.” St. Columba church members offered free meals to all comers during the festivals. “It’s just a little hub of social justice,” Father Aidan says of St. Columba.

As with many neighborhoods in Oakland, the Golden Gate is struggling with growth, change, disintegration and development. Its strength is community: whatever happens, neighbors in this little corner of Oakland will weather it together.

On July 12, they invite everyone to join their party and see the neighborhood in a new light. After all, as Father Aidan says in his faint Irish brogue, “We have to put our lamp on a lamp stand instead of putting it under the bed.”

Love Our Neighborhood Day: Saturday, July 12, 2014 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., car-free streets and free activities on San Pablo Avenue, 65th Street, Doyle Street and 55th Street.

Love Our Neighborhood Day After Party: Saturday, July 12, 2014 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Destiny Arts Center, 970 Grace Street.

You don’t have to live in the neighborhood to be a part of the festivities. Anyone can volunteer to help this corner of Oakland shine bright.

 

Note:  In addition to being an Oakland Local reporter, Laura McCamy is a member of the planning committee for Love Our Neighborhood Day.

About The Author

Laura McCamy, is a freelance writer, editor and researcher, and a contributing production editor at Oakland Local. Her work also appears in Momentum Magazine and the Intuit Small Business Blog. Follow Laura on twitter @lmcwords

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