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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism
Two Articles About Oakland From Fireworks
Parklets: Prophecy of a Class' Collapse
The parklet is a seemingly insignificant facet of the Bay Area’s urban landscape. But, with 38 installed in San Francisco, several in Oakland and over 50 more pending approval, the spread of parklets coincides with the growth of the Bay Area’s yupster contingent. Alongside this contingent is the luxury economy springing up in its service, and subsequent gentrification. The parklets’ physical construction and relationship to the new-fangled service industry is strikingly symbolic of Oakland and San Francisco’s swift gentrification. The fact of a tech boom’s eventual implosion is mirrored in the parklet’s temporary characteristics. Their shoddiness and imposition upon the urban environment reflects the impermanence of the luxury class frequenting them.
In their Bay Area manifestation, parklets are short extensions of sidewalks. From the curb to the edge of the lane, parklets provide a patio where one was not previously possible. Restaurants, bars and cafes sponsor their installation for the sake of additional seating and visibility. They are built with planks of wood, floating concrete slabs or brick and often feature plant-life, bike parking, tables and chairs. Like the shrubbery adorning them, parklets are rootless by design and not physically integrated into the urban space. They are not built to last.
Permits issued by the City of Oakland must be renewed yearly. They are the urban-development equivalent of a regional fad – operable only so long as a trend is in fashion. In this case, the trend is young wealth and vendors of all sorts who cater to their indiscriminate spending.
Upstart money and the new outposts of consumption they frequent – this double-headed juggernaut is responsible for the disenfranchisement of people and cultural heritage rooted in Oakland. Parklets are only one visible by-product of this tumultuous cycle, but the nature of the cycle is actually prophesied in the structure’s physical traits. It is a cycle after all, as gentrification apologists are quick to point out. The Bay Area is not enduring its first influx of young wealth and upward economic mobility; a very similar scenario played out in the late 90s in the dot-com boom, and it burst in 2000. Lots of young people lost their jobs and many food and retail establishments closed. This is likely to repeat for the tech boom, effectively middling the top-heavy economy. Apolo gists wield this truth as justification, as a reason to tolerate yupster decadence.
A more insidious truth rests in between the lines of the logic which excuses gentrification because some of its byproducts will wither when the boom settles, though. When the now-lucrative tech economy busts and the industry enters recession mode, the favorite haunts of the industry’s young money will buckle beneath the blow and the parklets will be demolished. Another cycle of reckless consumption will come to its implosive finale. This is the apologistss defense, but the disenfranchised families priced out by the boom do not return after the collapse. The businesses rendered obsolete by surrounding luxury retailers don’t come back and set up shop again. The fact that booms deflate does not undo their damage to pre-existing communities.
Permitting and constructing parklets is a racket for the city and developers; parklets commodify public space. They serve consumption, not people. Their impermanent construction reflects the rule of commodification: like food and shelter, once these monetized outposts of public space are no longer profitable, they will be destroyed. The feverish construction of parklets is it self a testament to their impermanence and the careless and destructive process that they contribute to. The planks creek, the thin concrete chips away, nodding to the not-so-distant future of their obsolescence. While the luxury economies of gentrification can afford to be short-sighted and unsustainable, the communities and places that they consume cannot afford this leisure of short-sighted profit—they are permanently displaced, permanently razed to the ground. Lodged in the woodgrain and mixed with the masonry of each brick is an acknowledgment of wealth’s cyclical nature and by extension the irreparable damage done to communities by its influx.
Art on Fire, Again
What Is Popuphood About?
Money. Popuphood began as “a social enterprise consulted to incubate small business and revitalize neighborhoods, block by block,” consulted by none other than the City of Oakland. Popuphood launched in the Old Oakland neighborhood just north of the Oakland Police Department headquarters and the city jail. Several hip, independent artists’ businesses were given 6 months of free rent to aid in “retail curation and marketing to activate previously vacant spaces, transforming them into vibrant destinations.”
Popuphood is quickly gaining steam as the City’s sit-in project of economic stimulus. On their website you can watch a presentation by Sarah Filley, Popuphood’s co-founder, unapologetically boasting about the projects’ ability to increase Oakland’s sales tax and the appearance of “safety” in the areas they and their artisan guinea pigs are commercially colonizing.
What Is Popuphood Not About
Artists, space and people. Popuphood mimics the City of Oakland’s rhetorical campaigns against “blight” with their surefire strategy to fight “urban decay” with commercialization. The only “revitalization” that can occur through Popuphood relies on the creative class and their ability to encourage big-time investors and profiteers to bring their money to Oakland. While this strategy is quite effective, the only people who benefit from it are investors and a hip consumer class. Popuphood raves that all of its retail stores support local artists and sell local
goods, but the project fails to engage with the question of who these retail stores cater to. The co-founder’s statement that “Oakland has a real problem with retail” is a red flag that Popuphood gravely misunderstands the real problems that exist for people in Oakland.
The Art of Gentrification
The documentary ‘Voice of Art – GATS (Graffiti Against The System)’ is an amazing showcase of Oakland’s creative, criminal contingent. The video features footage from Occupy, the Oscar Grant riots and a vandalism campaign GATS and his friends created called “The City is Ours”. The documentary explores illegal street art by following GATS through this graffiti campaign and interviewing a number of other Bay Area graffiti artists. It is a testament to vandalism as art: change your environment and speak your mind on your terms, illegally or otherwise. Unfortunately, the film does not mention the burgeoning scene of entrepreneurial and commercial art that threatens the existence and abundance of illegal street art. This could be because this effort at recuperation has yet to have sweeping effects on the graffiti scene; more likely and perhaps even worse, this could be because the commercial artist community that is taking over Oakland has disguised itself incredibly well.
As East Bay rebels, street artists or otherwise, we can’t lose track of capitalism’s subtle yet sickening and numerous manifestations. With generating power from the City of Oakland and in the absence of any resistance, enterprises like Popuphood are sure to continue “popping up”
"Popuphood At The Plaza...Our Plaza."
Popuphood is now working closely with the city for the soon-to-be established businesses that will saturate the in-progress “Broadway-Valdez Corridor”, the development of a regional retail center along a stretch of Broadway and within the Valdez triangle. It was first advertised with the tagline: “Occupy Broadway (with growth)”. They’ll be working diligently in their new
headquarters at Oscar Grant Plaza to “popup” the hood.
Despite our enemies’ resourcefulness, it is imperative that we demonstrate, symbolically and literally, that we can see through their expropriation and manipulation of language, aesthetic and culture. We will always be vulnerable to the powers of capital so long as our lives depend on it. Until then –stay illegal, stay up and paint unmistakable lines of differentiation between revolutionaries and capitalists.
Words And Phrases Our Enemies Use To Create And Protect Capital
Cultural Awareness (Cultural Expropriation)
Community Benefit District