VIII. Conclusion

VIII. Conclusion

Gentrification is characterized by the restructuring of urban space for the purposes of capital accumulation, and requires a substantial shift in the class position of those living in a particular place. This is a complex process in which many forces are set in motion in the built environment; it is often difficult to discern whether certain land uses and investment choices will bring about an exclusionary pattern of class recomposition or whether particular development will benefit the disadvantaged communities in which these changes occur. As Kennedy and Leonard (2001b) have stated, gentrification can take place as a consequence of urban revitalization, and this is certainly true for West Oakland. Parks and landscaping improvements, rehabilitating blighted and vacant properties, and controlling pollution are all undeniably beneficial to current residents. These transformations, while part of an equitable development strategy, bring about a more stable and attractive atmosphere for gentrification-producing investment. This contradiction is one that deserves further examination in order to more precisely understand the gentrification process, and therefore develop more effective urban revitalization policy.
Gentrification functions through the decisions of a variety of individuals, including developers, realtors, city officials, homebuyers, and others; employment patterns, housing market speculation, and other structural influences condition the decisions of these individuals. Together their actions result in a transformation of land uses to those with higher income levels, as class power reshapes the urban landscape. It is a defining feature of cities that will likely increase in scope as metropolitan economies expand, cosmopolitan lifestyles are sought, and economic pressures make urban housing more attractive. This process is also indicative of the larger social inequalities that go unresolved in urban planning, as market-based strategies monopolize public debate and urban space is transformed not by the people living within it but by the movements of capital. Rather than approaching gentrification as solely an issue of protecting the housing of residents, it must be seen as part of a struggle on a wider social terrain for a “right to the city.”
In West Oakland, community members have been able to guide, encourage, or even restrict certain types of highly localized development projects and land uses, but their ability to halt gentrification is severely limited by the scale at which they function. The uneven pattern of gentrification throughout the Bay Area is reflected in how the process unfolded in West Oakland. Some areas were selected for market-rate development projects in an inflated real estate market while adjacent sections of the neighborhood are, according to many residents, unchanged. Portions of West Oakland with large amounts of subsidized housing are, ironically, more resistant to gentrification even though its residents are economically more vulnerable than other renters. These areas may be those avoided most by individual homebuyers coming into West Oakland as well as developers, who sought larger swaths of land on which to build or tended toward the edges of the neighborhood. There is a limited amount of capital available to be invested in the physical landscape even during the boom times, and poor neighborhoods like West Oakland are still places of last resort. Further research into the choices that developers and homebuyers make when deciding to move into lower-income neighborhoods would be useful.
While the WOPAC and other community members are able to manage the formulation and implementation of development policy in West Oakland to some degree, the real estate market swings wildly, realigning property values with regional and national economic trends. The end of the first cycle of gentrification in West Oakland may mean less investment capital to be used for revitalizing the neighborhood, but it may also allow for strategies that rely less on a booming real estate market and more on local solutions to the community’s pressing needs. Perhaps most importantly, local actors from the West Oakland community may become more powerful once larger pools of capital dry up there. The WOPAC is, despite the economic meltdown of 2008, able to put redevelopment money into tenant and low-income homeowner improvements, greening of critical transportation corridors, and other projects that directly benefit the neighborhood’s residents. The potential exists to create policy that protects residents from dislocation before the next wave of speculation occurs in the area, and to establish programs that revitalize and make the neighborhood less vulnerable to the shifts of the market. The decline of the housing market and the cooling of new development, while tied to other economic troubles for the residents of West Oakland, may also allow for a longer view of changes in the neighborhood and the opportunity to establish housing and growth policies that will help its residents remain in place in the future.

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