Health of the Hood: Merritt/Cleveland Heights

Each of our correspondents took roughly a 3 square-block walk around their neighborhood, taking stock of the area’s services, stores, homes, schools, and especially how people in the community were living their lives. The goal is to give real, detailed texture to our understanding of the quality of life in East Oakland’s neighborhoods from the perspectives of people who live there. These pieces were done in conjunction with Oakland Tribune Violence Reporting Fellow Scott Johnson’s Oakland Effect project.

By Sabirah Mustafa

I began my journey through my family’s neighborhood in the Lake Merritt area of East Oakland.  My starting point was on Lester Avenue. This diverse, working-to-middle class, ethnically mixed neighborhood, is what I’d like to call the “Oakland Riviera”. The name might seem misleading, because depending on which direction you walk, you might also find blight as well. Located within a three-block area of Lake Merritt, there is plenty of contrast – so much so that at times my journey felt like I crossed city limits into an entirely different town.

I began my travel north, toward Freeway 580.  This area was residential, dominated primarily by a mixed bag of apartments and condos, with an occasional, single-family home.  The condition of the sidewalks varied from block-to-block.  The area was relatively clean, but there were a few potholes on the streets, and uneven pavements and large cracks on the sidewalks.

The apartments and homes varied in style and condition.  Most of the homes were small-to-medium in size, with small yards that had wild flowers, and at least one large tree.  The shady trees and flowers provided a natural, comfortable feel. This was further enhanced by the residents who were outside maintaining their yards, which balanced out the apartments and homes that were not as well maintained.  A children’s day school—sandwiched between two single-family homes—lightened the feel of the area.

Most people I noticed were very casually dressed, as if heading to the park, while others were wearing active wear while walking their pets, jogging or pushing strollers.  The atmosphere was laid-back, charming, friendly and tranquil.  Most of the individuals I saw were between 25 to 45 years old and Asian or white. There were also plenty of cars parked on the street (mostly late-modeled foreign cars: BMW, Subaru, Volkswagen, Toyota, and Honda).

If you travel immediately west, you’ll encounter more apartments with some small businesses mixed in. A wide street divider, encased with flowers and plants, splits the neighborhood in four directions.  On the corner there is a coffee shop and pizza restaurant where you could relax and dine al fresco.  There is also a Laundromat, food mart, and a pet shop. The storefronts were charming and welcoming.

I continued north and saw many more single-family homes. Most were large, with manicured lawns, bursting with many colorful plants and flowers.  The condition of the streets and sidewalks were more consistently maintained.  Some of the streets were narrow and curved, and some didn’t go all the way through.  They weren’t full of potholes, but they were worn and cracked.
Going north parallel to Lakeshore, there were plenty of large trees and colorful flowers lining both the front yards and the curbsides of entire blocks.  Very few homes had fences.   The streets and sidewalks were clear of debris, with garbage cans and recycle bins neatly placed on the curb.

Further north, the streets were wider and relatively better paved. There were flowers and trees enclosed in triangular center dividers. I noticed a difference in the size and luxury of the homes—somewhat dividing the neighborhood into sections. Turning east of Lakeshore, I saw a few small businesses:  a clothing boutique, a gift shop, an insurance office, and a doctor’s office, located close by each other, with storefront’s that were well-maintained and blended unobtrusively into the neighborhood landscape.

Continuing east to Park Boulevard, I came across a clean, well-maintained park and a small recreation center.  The park had two, colorful, modern playgrounds, separated by a full-sized basketball court.   The park had plenty of natural light and lots of grass. I also observed a group of Asian seniors doing Tai Chi nearby.

Across the street on lower Park Boulevard, I began to see more small, neighborhood businesses:  a barber shop, child resource center, massage/acupressure, a florist, and a couple of ethnic restaurants.  Also, there were barbershops, dry cleaners, Laundromats, and hair salons, and a bar/lounge.  Park Boulevard divided the neighborhood in two sections.

After crossing Park Boulevard, I headed toward the “avenues”. The older, fenced-in structure of the apartments and homes, the lack of trees, bushes, hedges, or colorful foliage in most of the yards or by the sidewalks, made a dramatic difference in the landscape.  When there were fences, they were mostly chain linked.  I also noticed bars on the windows and doors of homes and apartments.

The area was quiet, clean and there was hardly any traffic. I hardly had seen anyone outside.  There wasn’t any traffic. The streets and sidewalks were uneven and cracked.

As I began heading south toward E.18th, I saw more traffic. The layout had more small businesses with a few apartment buildings in between.  I saw a liquor store at the corner, between a couple of apartment buildings that were mostly fenced in.  West, down E.18th, there were swaths of areas without any “greenery” at all.  The area had litter strewn around.  Many of the storefronts were in poor condition with peeling paint, and cracked, covered windows.  I wasn’t certain if the businesses were open or the space was vacant.
Further down E.18th , at the end of  Park Boulevard, amongst the businesses,  I saw another barber shop, beauty shop, hair braiding  shop,  and a check cashing store.  There was also a Church’s Chicken, two bar/lounges, two Laundromats, and a Subway.  Lucky’s grocery/pharmacy and Walgreen’s were the largest retailers in the area.  There was also a community bank and a Chase bank located almost next-door to each other.  Nearby, there was an Out of the Closet store, which provided on the spot HIV testing.  The area had a cultural mix reflecting Oakland’s diversity.  Most of the employees and customers visiting the businesses were black, Asian, or Hispanic.

E.18th and Park Boulevard is one of the busier intersections in the area, and provides a highly visible contrast between the lake area and the less-affluent avenues. At the end of E.18th, at the Lake, there was a park-like resting area with benches, tennis courts, and plenty of birds. Some locals, with shopping carts filled with garbage bags and other items, were casually feeding the birds in the park.

On Lakeshore, there was a lot of construction taking place on the streets and sidewalks. The streets were being paved. Bus Line connections to destinations throughout the East Bay were plentiful. The traffic lights placed at such close proximity created constant gridlock.

Next, I reached Lake Merritt. The Lakeshore side of Lake Merritt is beautiful.  It’s the area that would most likely fit the description “Oakland Riviera.”  Lake Merritt‘s murky, deep blue depths are intoxicating.  The ducks and geese carelessly walk the green, grassy banks. The wide-open, meticulously manicured grass area harbors striking plants and flowers on the peripherals of the sidewalks.  Often, you witness random street musicians, serenading the joggers, lunch crowd, and couples, relaxing on the benches strategically placed near the walking paths.

The area had clean, newly paved, wide sidewalks and walking paths.  The area is lovely, especially if you’re lucky enough to catch a romantic gondola glistening in the evening sun, bright-colored sailboats easing by on the weekends, or crew boats darting past the towering backdrop of downtown.

The Lake area has undergone, and continues to be undergoing, extensive renovations, and the streets and sidewalks were somewhat congested with foot and motor traffic, not to mention bike riders sharing the space as well.

The diversity of cultures sharing space in this microcosm of urban beauty covers just about every age, ethnic, and social status you can imagine, reflecting the heterogeneous mixture of cultures. I saw an endless parade of dog walkers, strolling couples, joggers, babies in strollers, kids goofing off, and workers wearing badges, speedily walking by in track shoes.  Their atmosphere was energizing. The street narrows to one-lane on each side of the road, with a bike lane taking up another on the lake side, and street parking readily available on either side.
There weren’t any businesses along the Lakeshore area I covered.  There were apartment buildings located on the opposite side of the Lake.  

Heading back to Lester from Lakeshore, there was a large grassy park, which surprisingly, had public restrooms! The park was almost entirely grassy and spotted with an array of beautiful yellow daisies.

I reflected on my brief, but enlightening journey, through the neighborhood.  Overall, it felt safe, comfortable, and charming. Judging by the diverse mix of apartments and single-family homes, this neighborhood is easily suited for single professionals, families, couples, and everything in between.

There weren’t any hospitals or public schools in the three block area I covered. However, if I travelled a few blocks further, in either direction, I would’ve found schools, post offices, and gas stations.

Part of the neighborhood I covered was quaint and cozy.  It seemed designed for individuals and families to be able to stroll safely and comfortably, while greeting a neighbor or two on your way to the park or lake. Almost the entire area was located in a natural setting with an abundance of clean, well-maintained parks, shady trees, flowers, and other foliage.

In other parts of the neighborhood, mostly heading east and south, it felt like the neighborhood was designed primarily for individuals to be mobile throughout the city based on the location of most of the public transportation outlets.  The litter, unkempt lawns, and chain-link fences, could give some of the areas a less than welcoming appeal.  There were traffic lights on E.18th and it appeared to be a traffic thoroughfare from east Oakland to the lake area, which made it less quiet and quaint than the areas that didn’t have stop signs or any traffic stops at all.

The small businesses in some of the areas reflected the ethnic makeup of the area (hair and barber shops) but also some social factors as well, as witnessed by the check cashing store, liquor stores (one east and one south), and the two bar/lounges. In some areas, al fresco dining or comfortable places to congregate and greet neighbors and friends, was noticeably absent.
The natural, and man-made, dividers strategically placed throughout the neighborhood were hard to miss. Although each area had brought its own unique atmosphere, the dividers broke the neighborhood into disparate sections so that when compared side-by-side, revealed obvious environmental and economic disparities.

Health of the Hood: Lockwood

Each of our correspondents took roughly a 3 square-block walk around their neighborhood, taking stock of the area’s services, stores, homes, schools, and especially how people in the community were living their lives. The goal is to give real, detailed texture to our understanding of the quality of life in East Oakland’s neighborhoods from the perspectives of people who live there. These pieces were done in conjunction with Oakland Tribune Violence Reporting Fellow Scott Johnson’s Oakland Effect project.

By Michael Holland

As I start this assignment I realize that I am at a disadvantage. I live on a dead end street. Starting south on 61st Avenue towards the dead end are houses – all single story with no garages. The houses all have iron gates. Although there are no garages, all of the homes have at least two cars.

The other side of the dead end wall is the AC Transit bus yard. The smell of diesel fumes is present at this end of the block. I can’t help but notice that the street is in desperate need of repair. Potholes and depressions line the entire 1100 block.

Residents can often be seen cleaning the front of their property. The city street sweeps twice a month but it is hardly enough.                                   

Heading north three blocks leads to International blvd. Along the way are more iron-gated homes with no garages. All of the homes seem to be inhabited by Black or Hispanic families.

From my starting point at 61st and Tevis, I begin heading west. Along the way, I notice a group of Black males talking loudly. A street vendor turns the corner sees the group and crosses the street to avoid breaking their ranks. I do the same.

I come upon a group of middle aged Hispanic men talking in Spanish and laughing heartily. Another street vendor appeared out of nowhere and sold them something that resembled a corn on the cob dipped in pepper.                                           
I come across two cigarette stores next to each other. As if people of color need more cancer. In the next block, there is another “smoke shop,” and across the street from that is a liquor store that is always booming with business. As I venture two blocks east there is a McDonalds. Across from the that is a strip mall that has two vacant businesses. Next to the empty check cashing place is La Raza Market.

There are no banks, libraries, or clinics in Lockwood. There is Rainbow Community Center.   

The overall health of the area in my opinion is poor. From diesel fumes, loud music, questionable people hanging out on corners, closed businesses, and a wealth of discounted cigarettes, the hope lies only in the fact that people going to work during the week will attract services in the future. Street vendors have already starting jumping on the ready cash available to be spent.    Hope also lies in the schools in the area that are not closing. My daughter will be attending Greenleaf (formerly Whittier) charter school, which has public funding. The discipline and structure that I witness in that school will be the catalyst in those kids’ futures.

Health of the Hood: 73rd & Bancroft/Eastmont

Each of our correspondents took roughly a 3 square-block walk around their neighborhood, taking stock of the area’s services, stores, homes, schools, and especially how people in the community were living their lives. The goal is to give real, detailed texture to our understanding of the quality of life in East Oakland’s neighborhoods from the perspectives of people who live there. These pieces were done in conjunction with Oakland Tribune Violence Reporting Fellow Scott Johnson’s Oakland Effect project.

By Sheila Blandon

My neighborhood is one long narrow block. The streets are very close together with long blocks. There are a lot of homes with families, only a few apartments. The streets are kind of clean – cleaner than other neighborhoods around the East. The block of 69th avenue is pretty friendly and welcoming. There are always a lot of people outside. We sometimes throw BBQs in front of our home on the porch. The people that are always outside are often drinking alcohol, dancing, and smoking weed. They don’t bother anyone and they are familiar with everyone on the block. Everybody knows each other and speaks to one another. We are a urban community filled with Latinos and African Americans.

Stores:
Near my home, there is an alley way which leads to a corner store. They sell vegetables and some fruits but it’s a little store so they don’t have much, and don’t sell any alcohol. However, on the other side on 73rd we have a  liquor store. This store is bigger and sells more. They sell meat, liquor and some vegetables.

Schools and Parks:
Up the street we have Markham Elementary, which is a public school. The school is either fairly new or it has been remodeled, because it looks good. When I drive by and they are in recess, I see them playing outside in a nice courtyard. We have no parks near our neighborhood.

Services:
There is a Bank of America, as well as a supermarket, clothing and shoe stores, and the welfare and police departments. Most of the people that visit are African Americans and Latinos.

 

Health of the Hood: Maxwell Park

Each of our correspondents took roughly a 3 square-block walk around their neighborhood, taking stock of the area’s services, stores, homes, schools, and especially how people in the community were living their lives. The goal is to give real, detailed texture to our understanding of the quality of life in East Oakland’s neighborhoods from the perspectives of people who live there. These pieces were done in conjunction with Oakland Tribune Violence Reporting Fellow Scott Johnson’s Oakland Effect project.

 

By Ronald Owens

Maxwell Park. By Ronald Owens, Oakland Voices 2012.

The neighborhood is primarily residential, with single family homes on Walnut Street. Walking west on High Street from Walnut Street, the residences are mostly apartment buildings and there are a funeral home and a few retail stores, including a Laundromat, a hair salon, a pizza joint, a couple of auto repair shops, and a used appliance store.

The streets are reasonably clean and the pavement is pretty much intact. Most of the side streets have speed bumps. On the corner of High and Congress Streets, about three blocks west of Walnut Street, there is a liquor store and the street there is usually littered with discarded bags and bottles and plastic utensils.

Heading north on Congress to Monticello, the streets seem a little rougher and there are more speed bumps. Heading back to Walnut Street, the streets on Monticello are clean and smooth, and there are fewer speed bumps.

Walnut Street is lined with trees, about 45 from Renwick, the cross-street of my address, to High Street. High Street is also tree-lined, with trees every 10 yards or so to Congress St. Congress has fewer trees and more concrete. Monticello also has fewer trees and more concrete.

There weren’t many people on the street. There was a guy near the door of the liquor store, another man on Montecito getting something out of his car, an older woman crossing the street on Congress, and a woman getting out of her car on Walnut.

Doors, and The Doors. By Ronald Owens, Oakland Voices 2012.

It usually feels pretty safe to walk in the neighborhood. The neighborhood is usually quiet and kids play ball on the street. It can feel a little dicey around the liquor store, especially when it starts to get dark. Some streets closer to High Street are kind of rough and there have been shootings lately there.

The general location is usually quiet. It seems less tranquil on streets like Congress, especially in the areas nearer to High Street.

Stores

  • There are not that many stores. There’s a Laundromat, a pizzeria, a used appliance store, a hair salon, and a liquor store.
  • There are no full-service markets
  • There’s one liquor store. There had be three but one was shut down by the city about five years ago and has been vacant ever since, and the other one eventually reopened a pizza joint. The remaining liquor store does sell meat and chicken, and other light groceries such as cookies and crackers, bread, cereal, and canned foods. And of course liquor, beer, cigarettes, and outdated wine.

Schools

  • There is no school in the target area, but there is a public grade school nearby that the city plans to close down in its current downsizing effort. The school appears to be in good condition and kids play on the grounds.

Parks

  • There is a park in the target area, Brookdale Park. It has grass, basketball courts, a baseball diamond, and a field house. It appears to be in good condition and it looks welcoming. You don’t see much activity in the park, though. “Word on the street” is that gangbangers frequent the basketball court, making other visitors wary.

Services

  • There are no banks, gas stations, libraries, pharmacies, hospitals, or clinics within the walking area. There is a funeral home and a pizza joint. The pizza place is take out only, and you order through a thick Plexiglas window. There are gas stations nearby outside the walking area, and a fire station and a boys and girls club.

 

Health of the Hood: Maxwell Park

Each of our correspondents took roughly a 3 square-block walk around their neighborhood, taking stock of the area’s services, stores, homes, schools, and especially how people in the community were living their lives. The goal is to give real, detailed texture to our understanding of the quality of life in East Oakland’s neighborhoods from the perspectives of people who live there. These pieces were done in conjunction with Oakland Tribune Violence Reporting Fellow Scott Johnson’s Oakland Effect project.

By Katrina Davis

I’ve lived in this neighborhood since I was 2 years old. It’s pretty quiet and suburban. I know some of my neighbors, and they even come over from time to time for events. The crimes that happen here and there are mainly break-ins, but other than that it’s pretty quiet. Everyone seems to have a pretty nice front yard and keeps it up.

Maxwell Park. By Katrina Davis, Oakland Voices 2012.

 

It’s a residential area with mostly single family homes and only one apartment complex. The streets are pretty clean and neat. All the streets have a lot of incline. There are trees on just about every block.

Contrary to the popular image of East Oakland, many neighborhoods are quiet, beautifully green, and pleasantly drama-free. By Katrina Davis, Oakland Voices 2012.

There aren’t too many people on the streets, and the people I’ve seen thus far have been getting in their cars to leave. Others just seem to be doing some cleaning around there house. I feel safe walking around my neighborhood. I feel safe because everyone looks each other in the eye and greets each other. Also, the fact that it’s pretty quiet and not too many people out on the streets makes me feel comfortable. The only time I ever feel nervous in my neighborhood is when I hear about a recent crime that was committed nearby. The whole area I’ve walked seems tranquil. Especially with the nice yards and trees everywhere.

There aren’t any stores in my neighborhood. We have a few close by markets such as Max Values and Farmer Joe’s, they’re about 5 minutes away if you drive. There aren’t any liquor stores.

There are two schools very close to my neighborhood, but not exactly in it. They’re aren’t any parks in my neighborhood.

Although there aren’t banks, shops, restaurants, etc in my neighborhood, they are very close by.

“Don’t take away my ‘Shine’”: New Film Spotlights Bay Area Youth Facing Mental Health Challenges

By Katherine Brown

Brianna Williams, left, and Markeeta Parker attend a screening of “Shine” in Alameda. By Katherine Brown, Oakland Voices 2012.

The atmosphere of the room is thick with joy and hope. Young women donning colorful, flowing gowns, and beautifully coiffed hair, laugh and giggle as they line up for group pictures.  Young men in tailored suits, and hair neatly trimmed, shake hands and greet each other as they enter the room. Their parents look on proudly, some even with tears in their eyes, as they beam with pride at the amazing strides their children have made.

With all the joy and happiness that fills this room, one would think that this was a prom or a graduation ceremony. Instead, it’s the premiere of Shine, a documentary by Peers Envisioning and Engaging in Recovery Services (PEERS) – an Oakland-based non profit advocacy group for people with mental health challenges.

Shine highlights the mental health challenges of youth in urban communities. This uplifting documentary was directed by Dan Reilly.

In a nearly packed Alameda Theater, audience members are drawn into the lives of three Bay Area youth as they share the traumatic experiences that created their mental health challenges, their journeys towards recovery, and their fights to eliminate the stigma of mental health issues.

In this film, we meet Markeeta Parker, 23, of Oakland, who bravely tells how she was sexually abused as a child. “Inside these walls, they have a lot of history to tell,” says Parker as she recounts how, between the ages of 7-9, her father molested her at home. For years, Parker suffered in silence, as no adult would listen to her. In the film, she describes living a double life: on the outside, a playful and happy child, but on the inside was a child suffering in her sadness and pain.

Arthur “AR” Renowitzky, 24, was shot in the chest during a robbery attempt while leaving San Francisco’s City Nights dance club in December 2007. The incident left him paralyzed from the waist down. In the film, Renowitzky talks about the deep depression he fell into in dealing with the mental and physical impact of his paralysis.

23 year-old Brianna Williams – also an Oakland resident – talks about her struggles of feeling different as an adolescent, and not receiving the understanding or support of her peers or adults.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, three quarters of all lifetime cases begin by the age of 24. Young people who experience depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health challenges in urban environments, such as Oakland, are often under-served.

“Some trauma that is experienced by the youth is not officially diagnosed by a psychologist, so it does not have the credence, and they are not given the correct treatment,” says Shannon Eliot, Media and Marketing Manager at PEERS, and co-producer of the film.

Briana Williams says young people can also face hurdles in their own communities because “some African Americans don’t understand mental health challenges.” She says opinions from others like “‘you need to get through it,’ or, ’you’re not strong enough’” often slow a young person’s recovery. “Mental health challenges are impacted by your situation and life experience. It’s important to find help.”

Williams also says sometimes it’s hard for young people to have their trauma taken seriously when others find out they are from Oakland – a city often stereotyped as a hotbed of crime. The expectation, she explains, is that youth are so used to violence that it shouldn’t phase them.

Despite these barriers, “there is also hope,” says Khatera Aslami, Executive Director of PEERS, who says that society should not “focus on the hardship, but focus on the process.” The PEERS organization creates an environment for youth to support one another on the journey towards health and wellness. The group also creates what it calls a “barrier-free community,” designed to make anyone who needs help feel safe and included regardless of their race, gender, sexuality or other traits.

Shine lets us see barrier-free communities in action. All three youth highlighted in the film are currently involved with peer support groups that are rooted in Oakland and the greater Bay Area. Brianna Williams is a PEERS Transitional Age Youth (TAY) Initiative coordinator, working with young adults.

Markeeta Parker is an advocate for youth with mental health issues. AR Renowitzky is the founder of the “Life Goes On” (LGO) Foundation – a nonprofit dedicated to fighting youth gun violence and finding a cure for paralyzing spinal cord injuries.

By sharing their stories, and through their genuine compassion for helping others, their work is helping to change the hearts and minds of others about the issue of mental health. The light that they shine is helping to illuminate the pathway towards a society where youth voices will be heard, and where they are able to receive the help that they need and deserve without the judgment, discrimination or disrespect that mental health issues – and people from cities like Oakland – currently face.

If the courage and determination displayed by Markeeta Parker, Brianna Williams, and AR Renowitzky in Shine is any indication of what is to come, then we should all take heed and embrace this positivity with arms stretched wide.

To learn more about Shine, and to see the film for free, visit the PEERS website.

 

Health of the Hood: Mills College/Seminary Ave

Each of our correspondents took roughly a 3 square-block walk around their neighborhood, taking stock of the area’s services, stores, homes, schools, and especially how people in the community were living their lives. The goal is to give real, detailed texture to our understanding of the quality of life in East Oakland’s neighborhoods from the perspectives of people who live there. These pieces were done in conjunction with Oakland Tribune Violence Reporting Fellow Scott Johnson’s Oakland Effect project.

 

By Katherine Brown

Path #1- heading south (56th Avenue to Millsbrae Avenue – Along MacArthur Boulevard)

This is a residential neighborhood with single family homes. MacArthur is a busy street – lots of cars driving by. Some cars are speeding/loud music. There are three bus stops along the walk. The lawns look well-kept. The streets look ok – some cracks and the lane lines and the “Stop” painted at each intersection is faded. All the street signs are intact and are visible. The cross walk that leads to the bus stop near the Mills college fence is not very visible. The on-ramps on the corner are fairly new. The streets are relatively clean. There are some leaves and paper on the sidewalk and street. The sidewalks are intact – no huge cracks or breaks. There are tons of trees across MacArthur – since this is Mills College. There are six trees along the path that I walked – five of the trees are fruit-bearing cherry plum trees. There was one woman walking her dog, and another man that came off the bus as I walked by. The neighborhood felt safe to me as I walked. There is quite a bit of noise along the walk because of the traffic along MacArthur – random horn blowing/music/engines.
*Seminary is a block beyond my three block limit  – where there is a church, an insurance office , and a childcare center.
Stores:
None along the walk.
Schools:
None along the walk.
Parks:
None along the walk.
Services:
None along the walk.

Path #2 – heading west (MacArthur Boulevard to Roberts Avenue – along Millsbrae Avenue/ Roberts Avenue to Picardy Drive – along Seminary Avenue)

This is a residential neighborhood with single family homes. The streets are relatively clean – with random oil spots on the streets. The “Stop” painted at the intersections are faded. There is a fire hydrant that looks rusted. The lawns are manicured and well-kept, and there is no debris on the lawns. There are quite a few cars parked on the street, and a basketball court in one of the driveways. There are lots of flowers planted in the front yards. The streets are relatively clean. Along this walk, there are about 30 trees all together – interestingly, two palm trees. There are two people walking dogs (one of the neighbors I know – we chat for a minute), and  three women and a baby. They all speak and are friendly. I feel safe walking down this path. I can here a few dogs barking from the backyards of the houses along the walk. It’s very tranquil along the walk from MacArthur to Roberts.
From Roberts to Picardy, it’s noisier because it is a busy street with traffic and cars driving by. As I walk towards Seminary along Roberts, I see some of the homes have overgrown lawns, peeling paint, cracked window blinds, and broken fences. There is one woman watering her lawn.

I begin to note the burglar alarm signs in just about all the lawns on this three-block walk. One house that looks unoccupied has a chain link fence across the front. There are three unoccupied properties across Seminary. I still feel safe on the walk. There are no trees on this short path.

Stores:
None along the walk.
Schools:
None along the walk.
Parks:
None along the walk.
Services:
None along the walk.

Path #3 – heading north (Seminary Avenue to 55th Avenue – along Picardy Drive)

This is a residential neighborhood with single family homes. Picardy is a long block – an equivalent to about four blocks. The lawns and landscaping is well-kept, and the houses are in good condition. One house still has Christmas lights. There are children playing together (baseball/riding bikes). An adult is reading while two girls laugh and play in the yard. There is Spanish-language music playing from one of the houses. There is the smell of fresh cut grass. There are a lot of houses with burglar alarm systems signs in the lawns. There are nearly 50 trees along this walk. I feel safe on this walk. People are friendly and say “hello” when I pass by. It is very tranquil. The streets are clean – no trash or leaves in the street or sidewalks.
Stores:
None along the walk.
Schools:
None along the walk.
Parks:
None along the walk.
Services:
None along the walk.

Path#4 – heading west (Picardy Drive to Brann Avenue – along 55th Avenue/ Brann Avenue to MacArthur Boulevard – along 56th Avenue)

55th Avenue is a busy street/lots of cars driving by. The lawns and houses look nicely kept. Birds are chirping. The lane lines and painted “Stop” at the intersections are faded. There are not any crosswalks at the intersection of Roberts and 55th Avenues – this is a 4-way stop. There is an empty property near Normandie and 55th Avenue. The streets look clean – not much trash/paper on the streets. Sidewalks are intact.I feel safe on the walk, but the street is a little noisy because of the traffic driving by. There are two bus stop signs indicating that service to that location has stopped. There are nine trees on this walk.

From 56th Avenue to MacArthur Boulevard along Brann Avenue is a residential neighborhood with single family homes. One speed bump in the street – there are four-hour parking signs on this street. The street looks clean – a few leaves and paper in the streets/a few cracks in the street. The lawns and houses look well-kept. The street lights are beginning to come on. I feel safe walking down the street. There is no one outside. It’s very quiet. There are fourteen trees on this path.

Stores:
None along the walk.
Schools:
None along the walk.
Parks:
None along the walk.
Services:
None along the walk.

 

Health of the Hood: Between Upper Diamond and Laurel

Each of our correspondents took roughly a 3 square-block walk around their neighborhood, taking stock of the area’s services, stores, homes, schools, and especially how people in the community were living their lives. The goal is to give real, detailed texture to our understanding of the quality of life in East Oakland’s neighborhoods from the perspectives of people who live there. These pieces were done in conjunction with Oakland Tribune Violence Reporting Fellow Scott Johnson’s Oakland Effect project.

By Jian Di Liang

In general, my neighborhood is really quiet. The streets are narrow and clean. The restaurants, school, stores and so on are mainly located on MacArthur Street. Not a lot of people are on the street. Some people just drive by or walk with their dogs. Compared to Laurel Street, few trees are planted on Georgia Street.

There is one auto repair store and one car-wash one block east away from my house. There are no public schools, parks, banks, libraries, or other services within the target walking distance.

Health of the Hood: Castlemont/Golf Links

Each of our correspondents took roughly a 3 square-block walk around their neighborhood, taking stock of the area’s services, stores, homes, schools, and especially how people in the community were living their lives. The goal is to give real, detailed texture to our understanding of the quality of life in East Oakland’s neighborhoods from the perspectives of people who live there. These pieces were done in conjunction with Oakland Tribune Violence Reporting Fellow Scott Johnson’s Oakland Effect project.

 

By Howard Dyckoff

In my neighborhood, there are no bookstores, or supermarkets or restaurants. There are no dress shops, no dry cleaners, no pharmacies or drugstores. These services lie a mile or two or three away, some still in Deep East Oakland, but not very close by.

A year ago, the thrice failed restaurant at the corner of MacArthur and 90th was reborn as Sherry’s, with new awning and a bright paint job. The business folded in 6 months, a shorter time than any of the previous tenants over the past 2 decades.  

There was a Lucky’s once, on the edge of San Leandro, at  Foothill Square, near 107th Ave.  It’s been closed for years. It had been about 2 miles away.  It remains empty, with a small laundromat nearby.

That’s typical of Deep East Oakland.  Chains like Safeway and Walgreens serve Deep East Oakland from north of High Street or from San Leandro to the south. There’s even a Starbucks, near Dutton, in San Leandro.   

There was a cell phone store. It advertised Metro PCS. It thrived in the early 2000s, but has been closed for over a year. There are auto repair shops and body shops and tire shops. With businesses and amenities so far away, keeping a car running is critical.   

There are lots of churches, many occupying the empty storefronts and some expanding into larger buildings.  But even some of the storefront churches are now boarded up, with “For Lease” signs in their windows. The long recession has taken a deep bite out of the neighborhood.

Eastmont Mall is 2 miles away. It has fast food – Burger King, McDonalds, Taco Bell – but no actual restaurants.   But it recently acquired a CVS drug store and one of the longer term tenants of the mall is Gazzali’s Market, a moderate size food store that sometimes can match the pricing at Safeway or Luckys.  

There are schools. Castlemont High School is nearby. About a mile away is the Barack Obama charter school, which is closing this month and may not reopen in the Fall.  And adjacent to that school is a fire station, so there are first responders on the edge of the neighborhood.

But what is most common in Deep East Oakland are the liquor stores.   They may be partly disguised as mini-marts, but the regular sale is alcohol, frequently available alongside cans of meat or veggies, loaves of airy bread, and quarts of milk on the edge of expiring.  Sometimes there are oranges or apples. These have longer shelf lives.

There are some new Mexican food markets on International, many located in the 90s, where there are empty storefronts to rent.  One, Mi Tierra, has opened 2 parallel stores that face each other across International. They carry fresh produce, dairy foods, meats, a wide range of groceries,  and many brands of tortillas. They are revitalizing the area.  

My street is fully residential. Its a dead-end street, ending at the local reservoir. It is a full 3 blocks down to Thermal St.  and another 3 to 4 blocks to Mac Arthur Ave. Or take the steps, a right of way between 2 homes, that descends about 50 feet near a church parking lot and winds up near Castlemont High School.

Health of the Hood: 18th & Park/Haddon and Ivy Hills

Each of our correspondents took a 3 square-block walk around their neighborhood, taking stock of the area’s services, stores, homes, schools, and especially how people in the community were living their lives. The goal is to give real, detailed texture to our understanding of the quality of life in East Oakland’s neighborhoods from the perspectives of people who live there. These pieces were done in conjunction with Oakland Tribune Violence Reporting Fellow Scott Johnson’s Oakland Effect project.

By Edward Cervantes

Starting on Merritt Avenue and walking down the Cleveland Cascade to Lakeshore Avenue, I head south along Lake Merritt, where people walk, jog, and bike along designated paths at almost any hour of the day. Lakeshore Avenue curves alongside the eastern edge of the lake, and on the other side is lined with architecturally diverse apartment buildings with striking views of the sun setting behind Downtown Oakland.

Cleveland Heights. By Edward Cervantes, Oakland Voices 2012.

At 18th Street, I turn east, walking past busy tennis courts, the historic Merritt Bakery, and the large and always lively Lucky Supermarket. Half a block from Lakeshore, sunset views and the luxury of lakeside living give way to a more mixed-income area. The shell of the Parkway Theater is covered in graffiti – some pieces by local professional artists Ras Terms and Dead Eyes, others by amateur opportunists. The building towers empty over payday lenders, a laundromat, and the ubiquitous corner liquor store. 

Lakeshore Blvd. By Edward Cervantes, Oakland Voices 2012.

Proximity to the lake and the conveniences of the Lakeshore/Grand shopping district produce a competitive housing market and expensive rents. Gazing back at Lakeshore and all of the buildings in disrepair, there is a sense of fading elegance, of better times past. The once-glossy buildings do continue to offer a visual barrier from the more unpleasant realities beyond the Lakeshore façade.

 

For those of us who live on Haddon Hill, it is important to remember that the calm and conveniences we enjoy are not necessarily standard throughout all of East Oakland. I may describe the elegance on our hill as fading, but it is elegant nonetheless. The 12th Street project on the southern edge of the Lake and recent upgrades to the Cleveland Cascade will surely have positive effects on our neighborhood. Further comforts, however, should not come at the expense of safety or services for our neighbors to the south and east. Resources should not be funneled to maintain a façade, while the rest of the city suffers.

 

Notes on a neighborhood

  • The area east of Lake Merritt, south of the 580 freeway, north of 18th Street, and northwest of Park Boulevard is almost entirely residential though the style and size of homes varies significantly. Penthouse condominiums on Lakeshore Avenue can sell for millions of dollars while a 3-bedroom basement apartment near 18th Street can rent for $1,200.
  • The neighborhood is not on a grid and most streets are on steep inclines as the majority of residences are built on what is known as Haddon Hill. Lakeshore Avenue is well maintained and regularly street-swept along with other portions of the neighborhood that are on flat ground.
  • The streets in the target area are clean though 18th Street appears to be the dividing line between a relatively affluent area to the north known as Cleveland Heights and a neighborhood to the south that seems more depressed. Though just outside of the target area, 15th Street is regularly littered with shopping carts, old mattresses, torn and dirty armchairs, and other furniture no longer desired or left behind in a hasty move.
  • Trees abound in the neighborhood.
  • People are always exercising around the lake or up and down the Cleveland Cascade. Partly because of the steep streets, people come to this neighborhood to go for walks or to push themselves by sprinting uphill. The fitness seekers are racially and ethnically diverse but the neighborhood’s residents are predominantly white.
  • Most of the neighborhood feels safe to walk most of the time, though I would be more likely to hesitate near 18th Street and the intersection with Park Blvd. The area around Smith Park also feels less safe, particularly at night when the back of the park seems to be dark with potential blind spots.
  • The target zone is quiet, but Lakeshore is a busy street with significant traffic, including ambulances on their way to Highand Hospital so sirens are not uncommon. Boot camps on the Cleveland Cascade often involve early morning motivational yelling, but those are the sounds of relative privilege. Overall, neighbors seem to “keep to themselves,” but on my street at least, the tone is friendly and respectful.

Stores:

  • 1 Out of the Closet Thrift Store (also provides HIV testing).
  • 11 restaurants (Church’s Chicken fast food, Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, and Burrito/Fish & Chips/Seafood).
  • 3 bars of the “dive” variety (Baggy’s, Lakeside Lounge, and Parkway Lounge).
  • 1 supermarket (Lucky)
    • carries a full range of groceries, including some organic options
      • fresh produce section that is comparable to Safeway’s on Grand Avenue closer toward Piedmont
      • good range of meat options, including large family packs that offer significant savings
      • less prepared-food options than other supermarkets
    • nothing stands out about their ethnic food aisle, though they do have one
    • hard-liquor is kept behind a counter and requires customer service
    • check-out lines are long even when several lanes are open, including up to four for self check-out
    • not uncommon to be asked for money when getting out of your car, walking into the store, or walking back to your car.
  • 3 convenience/liquor stores (Quickstop, Carriage Liquors, and Dave’s)
    • Quickstop is like a 7/11, offering chips, candy, soda, beer, liquor, some processed food (hot dogs or sandwiches that can be warmed), and cigarettes
    • Carriage is primarily a liquor store though they also offer typical convenience store items
    • Dave’s Grocery and Liquor is less than a grocery store, but more than a liquor store. Though not substantial, they do offer some fresh food options and carry a larger variety of options than a typical convenience store.

Schools:

  • Cleveland Elementary School
    • Title I Academic Achievement Award Winner for 2011-12
    • Healthy food options (including “Meatless Mondays”)
    • Grounds are in good condition and has a large playground
    • Informative website.
  • Lake School
    • small, private, non-profit preschool. Curriculum is based on “philosophy that children are naturally curious and eager to learn”
    • seeks “to encourage self-confidence and individuality by helping young children to understand and feel in control of their own world through developing learning and social skills.”

Parks:

  • Besides the lake and the grassy area that surrounds it, there are 4 parks in the target area
    • open, grassy hill with benches, picnic tables, and restroom facilities
    • grass cut and landscaping maintained
    • on warm sunny days many people sit out and blankets and enjoy the direct view of Downtown over the Lake.
  • At the corner of Lakeshore and 18th there is a small park that is not well-maintained and is often muddy and or bare of grass
    • does include 4 well-used tennis courts.
  • Smith Park on the corner of Park Boulevard and Newton Street is the largest of the four parks and includes a recreational center
    • basketball courts
    • open grassy area
    • toddler playground that is noticeably aged
    • playground area for larger kids – monkey bars, swings, and slide over sand and soft foam padding
    • sculpture of the Borax mules and tombstone for Smokey, who was “a good mule.”
  • Grassy hill off of Park Boulevard, no amenities and not often used.

Services:

  • 2 banks (Chase and Metro).
  • 2 check cashing/payday loan businesses.
  • 2 tax service providers (H&R Block and Liberty).
  • 2 auto repair shops.
  • 2 nail salons that almost look out of business.
  • 2 hair/braid salons though unclear if they continue operating.
  • 2 dry cleaners that may have shuttered.
  • 2 busy laundromats.
  • 1 print shop that looks closed.
  • 1 hardware store that is rarely open.
  • 1 bike shop, doubles as a community space and gardening center.
  • 1 pharmacy (Walgreens).
  • 1 Vietnamese clinic.
  • 1 Thai Family Resource Center.
  • 1 HIV Testing site (Out of the Closet).