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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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).