The birthplace of the Black Panther Party’s Community School, Oakland California’s International Boulevard Corridor is home to the nation’s most ethnically diverse population with new immigrants from Burma and Mongolia residing near third and fourth generation African-Americans and Latinos. Running 9.5 miles from Oakland’s Lake Merritt to the San Leandro border, the Corridor has witnessed both community development successes and historic disinvestment with some of Oakland’s highest rates of crime, poverty and unemployment. Innovative groups have been advancing just growth on the Corridor for decades like Allen Temple Baptist Church, East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, Eastside Arts Alliance, Unity Council, East Bay Asian Youth Center, TransForm, Causa Justa::Just Cause, LISC, East Bay Housing Organization and Enterprise Community Partners.
Today, the International Boulevard Corridor and Oakland are ground zero in the national struggle for equitable development. With its proximity to San Francisco and the wealth in tech companies, history of innovation and urban grit, Oakland is experiencing unprecedented growth and attendant displacement impacts. In addition, a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is about to break ground on the Corridor, spurring potential economic development but also stoking displacement concerns.
In this mix, a new initiative has taken off on the Corridor to find the holy grail of development without displacement. Two years ago, the city of Oakland and community partners organized over 50 community and faith-based organizations, public agencies, national CDFIs, foundations and banks to harness our collective power for the Corridor’s revitalization. We recently secured over $850 million in commitments over the next 10 years for revitalization and anti-displacement priorities and are on the brink of implementation. I’m privileged to serve as the city’s director of this Initiative working with city staff, mayor and council offices and community partners. The work thus far shows that equitable development is possible if there’s genuine collaboration and shared values.
The Initiative’s structure of co-leadership and shared decision-making between city staff, community groups and residents disrupts Oakland’s traditional development model and required adjustments from everyone. We had to be willing to make changes to live our value of community driven development. For example, it wasn’t enough that we had a Community Planning Leaders program for Corridor residents, we also needed to give residents seats and votes at the decision-making tables. And in the successful pursuit of new infrastructure funds, residents’ stated priorities of street lights and sidewalk repairs won out in Collaborative decision-making over the “sexier” bike lanes that other members had advanced. The city then selected the Corridor projects as our number one projects over downtown projects that had once been city priorities. Building on these lessons, PolicyLink and Causa Justa::Just Cause are now working to develop a new community governance model on the Corridor that has the potential for citywide replication.
Our relationships were recently tested over the BRT. Some groups supported the BRT while others were concerned about its construction and operational impacts on small businesses. Through people’s willingness to engage in collective struggle, we arrived at a unified position supporting the BRT project but with an effective business mitigation plan including funds for impacted businesses as a way to prevent displacement. We had to respect the right of groups to separately advocate for what they believed, even if it sometimes went against city positions.
We are in a blessed and unique place of being able to build Dr. King’s beloved community on the International Boulevard Corridor. I believe that we have the dedication, talents and resources we need around the table that we have worked so hard to assemble. Please wish us luck and stay tuned….