IV. Literature Review

IV. A Review of the Literature

A considerable amount of scholarly research exists on the subject of gentrification. This literature review will examine the main foundational concepts of gentrification and will discuss the evolution of these ideas through debate among scholars. It will contextualize these concepts in the specific history of West Oakland’s development in the Bay Area. It will then look at new research in the gentrification literature and how this informs my own research into West Oakland.
This thesis seeks to understand the social, economic and political forces that affect gentrification in West Oakland, and in particular how community members attempt to navigate the complex terrain of urban revitalization while minimizing the potential for the negative impacts of gentrification. Very little has been written about this experience in West Oakland, and this research aims to contribute to a greater understanding of the neighborhood as it has changed over the ten year period between 1998 and 2008.

1. Uneven Development in Cities

The process of uneven development in modern cities, wherein flows of investment cycle through urban neighborhoods, is a theoretical foundation for many urban geographers and is fundamental to gentrification theory (Smith 1982,1987, Harvey 1989b, Wilson 1991, Swyngedouw and Heynen 2003, Atkinson 2003.) Uneven development refers to the lack of economic and functional uniformity across space that results from structural economic and political forces. This unevenness may be observed at different geographic scales, and helps to explain the processes by which some cities thrive or decline, as well as how impoverished areas persist within prosperous cities. The use of uneven development for most scholars is rooted in Marxist approaches to urban analysis. Socioeconomic differentiation is rooted in the restless and competitive nature of capital accumulation, creating poles of wealth and poverty at different spatial scales. Capital is invested irregularly across space, and this translates into inconsistencies in the urban social landscape, often into distinct areas of wealth and poverty maintained through the abundance or absence of capital flow. The constant movement of capital through productive spheres (like housing construction) and reproductive spheres (like mortgage lending) makes lasting changes to the built environment and to the social composition of places.
The built environment changes in accordance with the spatial requirements of production and consumption. A factory must be located somewhere; if that factory is closed the building remains but loses its original exchange value-producing qualities, specifically its ability to generate profit through rent. Meanwhile, new spaces may become sites for investment. Because periodic crises of overaccumulation are inherent to capitalist production, new or rebuilt spaces are continually created to renew diminished profit rates (Walker 1978, Harvey 1982.) In North American cities during the post-World War Two era, whole neighborhoods were virtually abandoned by capital in order to facilitate the accumulation process elsewhere. Formerly thriving parts of town, like West Oakland, became ghettoes and older industrial centers fell to ruin as suburban development exploded.
The reverse of this disinvestment pattern is also part of the urban landscape as dilapidated and previously neglected areas are transformed into upscale residential and commercial zones through reinvestment. When this occurs, those of a higher socioeconomic position frequently replace working class residents, the main characteristic of the process of gentrification. This pattern has repeated itself across American cities and internationally over the past decades, wherein large-scale changes in urban environments are largely influenced by the imperatives of the real estate market, often with minimal participation from the individuals most adversely affected (Feagin 1986.)
A widely discussed manifestation of uneven urban development is the gentrification of low-income neighborhoods. Although suburban real estate continues to expand across the U.S., cities increasingly attract more investment in the built environment relative to undeveloped suburban land, as central cities once again become the hubs for economic growth. But the capital that is returning to cities concentrates unevenly across space, and the effects of new investments may be more detrimental to the residents living there. While some areas experience gentrification, other neighborhoods may continue to go unnoticed by investors, looking much as they did decades earlier. Although these neighborhoods avoid the wholesale dissolution of advanced gentrification, they are not unaffected by changes occurring at the metropolitan and regional scales. Some have experienced an affordability crisis although little developer capital enters the neighborhood. This apparent paradox helps to explain how West Oakland changed during the decade of 1998-2008, as an area largely overlooked by both capital and local government despite its location in the Bay Area during a period of sustained economic prosperity. Uneven development also helps one understand how some areas of West Oakland can become the focus of new development projects, while other areas nearby remain unchanged by the gentrification occurring around them.

2. Defining Gentrification

In the 1960s British sociologist Ruth Glass described changes in declining areas of London, where inflows of middle-class residents began rehabilitating older homes and subsequently raising property values. Glass’ research showed the negative effects of these changes as lower-income renters were, over time, priced out of their neighborhoods. The replacement of one class with another, more affluent one was the focal point of Glass’ analysis. Researchers typically describe gentrification as a process in which higher-income households and more affluent commercial users displace those of lower economic standing. At the same time the price of the housing supply rises sharply, ownership becomes more prevalent, affordable housing declines, and subsequently the overall physical condition of buildings is improved (Hamnett 1991, Atkinson 2002, Slater 2006.) Coinciding with these changes are transformations in the character and culture of these neighborhoods, including new businesses and uses of public space that are either inaccessible to or incongruent with preexisting residents (Kennedy and Leonard 2001b, Hackworth 2002.) Often zoning changes are made to a neighborhood in order to facilitate these new uses and make industrially zoned land available for larger residential and commercial developments (Davidson 2002.)
The definition of gentrification used here distinguishes itself from revitalization in urban communities in that, while both processes may improve the “physical, commercial and social components of neighborhoods and the future prospects of its residents through private sector and/or public sector efforts,” revitalization does not displace current residents, although “[g]entrification sometimes occurs in the midst of the revitalization process” (Kennedy and Leonard 2001b.) Defining gentrification is necessary for anchoring an analysis of neighborhood change, particularly in light of recent scholarly efforts to replace the term with less critical names like “urban renaissance”, and where the emphasis among scholars have shifted to managing gentrification rather than opposing it (Slater 2006.) Smith (1982) described gentrification as the primary expression of uneven, or differentiated, investment at the urban scale. It is not an aberration of the classic model of urban growth that leads to suburban expansion, but a “continuation of the forces and relations that led to suburbanization” (150.) In other words, gentrification is another dimension of the same spatial strategy that once disinvested in central cities, but now finds them to be profitable arenas again. Regional job growth and tightening housing markets make areas like West Oakland more attractive to an influx of developer, realtor, and homebuyer investment (Kennedy and Leonard 2001a.)
Gentrification is a complex process of urban change in which large capital follows smaller investors. Early “pioneer” gentrifiers seeking both a home and an investment opportunity in their home are still part of newly gentrified landscapes, but their presence draws attention to the speculative possibilities of neighborhoods for developers and bigger investors. On the other hand, neighborhoods with virtually no pioneers building sweat equity may be targeted for redevelopment, rezoned for new land uses, and set on a course of gentrification (Ley 1996.) The variety of place-specific factors, including neighborhood composition and the role of local government in land use, combined with a historically uneven landscape of investment within cities, makes gentrification a highly varied occurrence (Beauregard 1990.) Yet, despite important distinctions to be made among trajectories of neighborhood change, gentrification signifies in each case the remaking of space for use by residents and consumers of higher socioeconomic strata.
Displacement of residents (either through evictions or lack of affordability to current residents) and the accompanying loss of social cohesion are the two most serious negative impacts of gentrification. In the 1980s debate occurred between researchers who looked at national figures for displacement, with estimates as high as 2.5 million persons annually according to one study (Legates and Hartman 1986.) Displacement as a consequence of gentrification is a difficult problem to analyze, and little research has taken place on the subject in recent decades, despite some important contributions to the subject matter (Atkinson 2000, Atkinson 2002, Freeman and Braconi 2004, Newman and Wyly 2006, Slater 2006.)
3. Human Agency versus Structural Arguments

The most heated debates have focused on the root causes of gentrification (Smith 1979, Smith 1996, Ley 1996, Slater 2002, Lees 2000,) weighing the role of human agency and cultural factors against economic structures as the prime mover of gentrification. As a result of these disagreements, gentrification research became “one of [the] key theoretical and ideological battlegrounds in urban geography, and indeed in human geography as a whole” (Hamnett 1991: 174.) While these arguments have persisted for decades, most contemporary researchers find that a more comprehensive analysis of gentrification develops from recognizing the “complementarity” of culture and economy (Lees in Phillips 2004: 12.)
Like those who employ a supply-side analysis of gentrification, researchers who emphasize consumer choice instead as its driving force also argue that the decline of traditional industry and the increase of advanced technology in the production process significantly altered the class composition of the urban workforce (Hamnett 1991.) Shifts in the composition of urban workers over the last few decades to include more highly educated individuals, more women, larger numbers of unmarried people, and more couples without children brought different residential choices (Ley 1996.) This changing division of labor gave more economic power to individuals who had different aesthetic and lifestyle preferences than traditional blue-collar households. Most importantly among these was a rejection of suburban residential locations and a desire for a more cosmopolitan urban lifestyle. These preferences translated into demand for urban housing, often in older, more affordable parts of the city that contained attractive homes.
Gentrification takes hold in an area once land speculation begins, prices rise, and older residents’ tenure becomes precarious. Speculators and developers market whole neighborhoods to buyers, effectively creating demand in a particular location through appealing representations of a neighborhood that sometimes confer a level of romance and risk upon potential buyers (Smith 1996, Mele 2000.) In other words, consumer agency is greatly amplified by prevailing economic and political forces. Finance drives the real estate market creating new spaces available for consumption. The notion that the sovereign individual in society makes consumer choices independent of these forces ignores the market dynamics that create demand among consumers in the first place. It also neglects the central role that state intervention plays in gentrification, the role governments play in reshaping patterns of urban land use and ownership through policies ranging from slum clearance to subsiding development projects. Without these large-scale efforts to bring capital into urban centers, consumers of gentrified space would have far less options. The “back to the city movement” took shape within a setting of active political and economic involvement from the federal to local levels of government.
These new urban residents are the result of structural changes in the labor force over the past fifty years, as many workers became employed in service-related industries while traditional manufacturing jobs declined. Coinciding with these changes in the urban workforce are new tastes in housing and other commodities, and larger amounts of disposable income to fuel their demand (Walker 1981, Harvey 1989b, Sugrue 1996, Brenner 2002.) However, individual consumption preferences alone do not produce gentrified spaces. Consumer agency does not wield the same political and economic power as large flows of speculative real estate capital, and mortgage loans have always been the precondition for gentrification.
Rather than articulating the causes of gentrification, individual preference theories demonstrate how changing consumer habits may be harnessed in order to complete the circuit of capital. Gentrification may begin in a neighborhood as individuals move without the assistance of larger development capital. However, in the case of West Oakland and countless other places, early gentrifiers cause little change in the landscape until the area is noticed by larger economic players and governmental agencies capable of directing money into development projects. In this context, the inflow of wealthier residents and homebuyers into West Oakland must be seen in the context of a vastly overinflated housing market that impacted the neighborhood to a far greater degree than the limited number of new residents.
Consumption-based theories emphasize one agent of change among many, often far more influential actors on the production side of the housing equation: namely the “builders, developers, landlords, mortgage lenders, government agencies, [and] real estate agents” and both private and public entities promoting gentrification as a social good (Logan and Molotch 1987: 57.) These producers of urban space are engaged in a relationship with consumers, influencing demand through advertising and production of desirable housing options. Urban history in North America is one of uneven spatial divisions of wealth, labor, and living conditions that took shape through the housing market (Jackson 1985.) Suburbs and central cities typically enforced racial and class segregation through discriminatory covenants and as a consequence of racially biased lending patterns, and rapidly emerged as two poles of accumulation and disinvestment. Gentrification marks the rise of land-oriented capitalists who direct fiscal resources back towards the urban housing market, reproducing on a smaller scale this socioeconomic spatial polarization.
Some contemporary research focuses on the culture of gentrifiers and the creation of inner-city lifestyles as a relationship joining production and consumption arguments (Rofe 2003, Butler and Robson 2003.) A distinction is made between “production gentrifiers” who act as “investors in a pre-fabricated identity, rather than [consumption gentrifiers] actively constructing their own place-based identity” (Rofe 2003: 2522.) As gentrified spaces become more widespread and more deeply entrenched in cities, less advertising and state provision of amenities is necessary to induce demand (Butler and Robson 2003.) Gentrification becomes the predominant style and policy priority in cities, and it is promoted as the key strategy to achieving a livable city (Harvey et al. 1999, Atkinson 2004, Slater 2006.)
In contrast to these consumption-based theories are the explanations embodied in Neil Smith’s rent gap theory, which has been widely discussed and used as a methodological and conceptual tool for understanding gentrification (Smith 1996, Harvey et al. 1999, Weber 2002, Slater 2006.) The rent gap is defined as the difference between the existing rent that a property can command and the potential for this rent to increase through capital improvements. As a result of chronic disinvestment in neighborhoods, this gap becomes sufficiently large to attract new capital investment, and developers are often further encouraged by economic assistance from local governments. The rent gap theory is not intended to be the sole determining factor of gentrification, but rather to show the critical role of speculative capital and state institutions in the urbanization process (Smith 1987, Clark 1992.)
The rent gap is a consequence of the uneven nature of capitalist growth across space. The “contradictory product of capitalist accumulation, which provides economic growth at the expense of particular places, fractions of capital, and populations” is exemplified in the concurrence of suburban development with inner city disinvestment (Fainstein et al 1983: 275.) As capital jumps from place to place, in cycles of speculative boom and bust, it leaves its mark on the landscape and built environment. Areas previously devalorized by capital flight, like many inner city neighborhoods, may years later become prime areas for a new infusion of investment.
The creation of gentrified spaces depends upon large capital flows targeted at specific working-class areas. These flows must be justified both in economic terms (producing profit) and as a social good (reversing decay, deconcentrating poverty). An assemblage of land speculators, developers, and pro-gentrification political figures and agencies on the one hand, and an affluent set of consumers desiring these spaces are both essential parts of this dynamic.

4. Suburbanization and the Rediscovery of the City

The history of modern suburbanization is directly linked to the withdrawal of investment in older housing markets like West Oakland. In the early twentieth century the land market surrounding central urban areas originally developed for industry but quickly became a dynamic residential market as developers shaped an emerging middle-class identity that hinged on homeownership. Taking advantage of cheap rural land was also a direct response to a shortage of avenues for profitable investment in the city at the time, due to the inherently long turnover rates of real estate investment (Harvey 1982, Walker 1981.) A spatial solution to the necessity of recirculating capital was found in suburban expansion, aided over the decades by new transportation technologies, by expanding urban populations, and by class and racial divisions in American society.
In Oakland during the 1940s private developers were encouraged by discriminatory federal housing policies that channeled vast amounts of mortgage capital to suburban-bound whites. Federal housing and mortgage loan strategies also adhered to racially discriminatory “covenants” that allowed only whites access to new housing; blacks became concentrated in West Oakland and the industrial corridor throughout East Oakland. Restrictions were sometimes violently enforced by white residents when blacks attempted to move in (Rhomberg 2004.)
Blacks still lived primarily in West Oakland, and residents seeking home loans there were refused as postwar capital investment in residential property gravitated toward the suburbs through the policies of the Federal Homeownership Association and the redlining practices of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation that designated most inner city neighborhoods as too risky for investment. An Oakland Residential Analysis, published by the city’s Planning Department in 1956, depicted West Oakland as seriously lacking in indicators of residential quality, prioritizing that neighborhood for urban renewal efforts (see Figure 4.) Among the indices used were substandard lots, overcrowded and dilapidated buildings, high levels of juvenile delinquency, and low incomes. In a manner consistent with the priorities of the period, a predominance of mixed land uses was also identified as having a deleterious effect on neighborhood quality (OCPC 1956.) While many of these uses may have been hazardous to human health, the disdain of mixed land uses also points to the preference among planners and government agencies for new suburban development. These factors combined with the decline of blue-collar jobs in Oakland throughout the second half of the twentieth century to make West Oakland into a predominantly African-American ghetto. The disinvestment that deeply impacted and shaped the character of West Oakland drove down land values there so that by the decade between 1998 and 2008 the area became realized as having great potential for profitable reinvestment. The earlier neglect experienced there positioned West Oakland for its decade-long cycle of gentrification.
Shortly after 1945, discriminatory housing and employment laws became a fixture of Oakland’s landscape. As white property owners moved out of West and East Oakland, social inequality and polarization increased (Rhomberg 2004; Self 2003.) Meanwhile, West Oakland deindustrialized rapidly, and the withdrawal of capital from the local economy left a landscape of “boarded houses, shattered storefronts and vacant industrial land” (Sankalia 1999: 9.) Black residents who remained in West Oakland as others moved away felt the effects of job losses and economic abandonment most intensely. The neighborhood became a devalued and neglected space throughout the postwar era.
While poverty and unemployment characterized West Oakland into the 1970s, the metropolitan Bay Area economy revived, sparking a return of capital to downtown San Francisco and Silicon Valley, as the centripetal pull of employment and business opportunities increasingly attracted investment capital to those areas. Scholars have noted the shift in urban land use beginning in the 1970s, as growing financial and corporate service industries drew real estate developers back towards metropolitan areas (Harvey 1989b, Ley 1996.) This new economy began to replace the declining manufacturing base of cities, and the subsequent loss of stable blue-collar jobs in these places further diminished living conditions in working class neighborhoods (Walker 1981, Harvey 1989b, Sugrue 1996, Brenner 2002.) Depressed land values in these neighborhoods that had been unattractive to investors and consumers alike just a decade earlier now represented investment opportunities as urban economies transformed.
The need for capital to reorder its strategies of profit-making at that time led to both spatial and temporal solutions, or “fixes” to the crisis of the falling rate of profit (Harvey 1982.) Mechanisms of expanded credit and debt available to consumers (temporal fixes), coupled with the rediscovery of the city as devalued space ready for new investment, created a blueprint for gentrification. As the private sector shifted into the financial, real estate, and insurance industries, it simultaneously began moving operations back into the central business districts of certain cities, including San Francisco (which had always maintained its position as financial capital of the western U.S.), rehabilitating and developing new office buildings (Zukin 1987, Wyly and Hammel 2002.) Paralleling the
corporate rediscovery of the city were new employees of the financial and corporate service economy who began moving into older parts of the city and rehabilitating their homes.
Cities were forced to restructure too, and many began to create conditions more favorable for financial investments as manufacturing slipped further. Under this new regime too, highly mobile and deregulated capital could determine with more force the conditions under which it would settle in certain places (Harvey 1989a.) An early form of neoliberalism became the predominant economic ideology in cities from the 1970s to the present, as city budgets became more austere while legal obstructions and taxes on investment capital were minimized:
Whereas the major territorial axis of economic competition prior to the 1970s pitted regional and national economies against each other, by the 1990s the new geographical axis of competition was pitting cities against cities in the global economy. This competition takes place not simply in terms of attracting and keeping industrial production but also in the marketing of cities as residential and tourist destinations (Smith 2002: 447.)

This logic of interurban competition prioritizes those residents and visitors who have a higher “consumption potential” (Beauregard 1986: 50), the winners of restructured urban labor markets and of gentrification. Scholars have attempted to understand the massive transformations to urban space over the past several decades through identifying historical moments, or waves of gentrification, and these waves to some degree help explain how gentrification proceeds in West Oakland.

5. Three Waves of Gentrification

The concept of “waves of gentrification” is an attempt to model urban change within cycles of economic activity and political trends, with each phase resulting from previous economic restructuring, political shifts and changes in the social composition of urban places. Despite local variation among cities, each wave of advancing gentrification marked many North American cities with similar patterns of social displacement and demographic change.
First-wave gentrification, occurring between the late 1950s and the national recession of 1973, was the result of urban renewal efforts undertaken by many city governments to reverse the decline of private investment in the inner city. These urban renewal strategies were largely driven by local and federal funds and had severe implications for the working class across the United States (Hackworth and Smith 2001.) Urban renewal was carried out through a process in which certain areas were identified as blighted, which further discouraged investment. These practices were followed by large-scale housing demolition of blighted neighborhoods, and construction of new transportation infrastructure and city attractions such as convention centers, through which urban tax bases would be replenished (Cordova 1991.)
During this first wave, large amounts of public funds were used to underwrite risks to investors and developers working on central city projects, and aggressive urban renewal policies guided city planning priorities. West Oakland’s 1956 Residential Quality map (see Figure 4) described an area that lacked the characteristics of a stable, vibrant neighborhood. This map at the very least supported the vision Oakland planners were developing for West Oakland, a vision that rationalized the demolition of vast swaths of low-income homes. The map in effect reduced much of West Oakland to an area that should be shunned by banks and investors, unless their efforts coincided with the city’s plans to level it. Urban renewal policies were enacted with both political and financial federal support between the late 1940s and the early 1960s. In particular, the 1949 and 1954 Federal Housing Acts “gave cities the power to assemble land, clear it of offending uses, and finance redevelopment” (Walker 1998: 4.)
Urban renewal expelled thousands of people from central city neighborhoods while others were relocated to public housing projects. The policies of urban renewal did little to help increasing joblessness among the urban blue-collar workers. One study placed the number of U.S. urban housing units eliminated during the 1960s at “ten percent of all central city residences occupied by whites and twenty percent of units occupied by blacks,” not including displacement due to “more routine market forces” (Dahmann in Logan and Molotch 1987: 114.) In West Oakland, urban renewal “created the blight that it sought to ameliorate” (Solari 2001:35.) Urban renewal in West Oakland did not gentrify the area by any account, instead it wiped out businesses along the main 7th Street corridor. The Acorn project, the first foray into urban renewal that the city attempted, not one unit of housing was built after demolition until 1969.
Where the federal government had been active in realigning cities to the new paradigm of economic growth after the war, they pulled back from assisting cities by the late 1960s, ending subsidized housing programs by 1973. In many instances, agencies applied the term “blighted” to “long-standing and stable communities,” which were then subject to demolition (Cordova 1991: 25.) These areas, condemned through the designation of blight, became justified targets for urban renewal and renewed cycles of investment and accumulation in the built environment (Solari 2001, Weber 2002.) Virtually all of West Oakland was classified as “blighted” by city officials as early as the 1930s, and this characterization set the stage for the bulldozers and displacement of redevelopment through following decades (Rhomberg 2004.) Urban renewal projects waned by the early 1970s, partly because financing projects became difficult as urban economies experienced inflation and cuts in federal funding. These difficulties were compounded by local hostility to the displacement caused by urban renewal. By the later part of the 1970s, however, a new wave of gentrification became prominent in cities across the U.S.
The massive-scale leveling of inner city core neighborhoods during the first wave of gentrification eradicated older land uses that had become obsolete in the circuits of capital accumulation; new values had to be created in order to bring these spaces into productive use. Smaller working class homes, whose mortgages typically were paid off, along with small businesses serving the area, were sacrificed for new housing and retail for wealthier residents (Walker 1981.) Funding for large-scale government programs dried up in the recession of the early 1970s, and new forms of investment capital reemerged in the aftermath to create a second wave of gentrification across North American cities. As the housing market rebounded by the late 1970s, gentrification became a more spatially generalized phenomenon in which the private sector took the lead, financed to a lesser but still important degree by local, state, and federal government.
This second wave of gentrification was facilitated by government subsidies in the form of block grants and other mechanisms designed to encourage private enterprise, but by the end of the 1970s government spending in cities was greatly reduced. This era coincided with a shift from a declining Keynesian distributive state to a leaner and deregulated entrepreneurial urban management style, often promoting economic development with subsidies to developers and other more passive methods of encouragement (Harvey 1989a, Bounds and Morris 2006.) Real estate became an important investment arena for private capital sources that recognized the rent gap, or potential profits of purchasing land at depressed values in cities around the U.S. (Harvey 1989a, Hackworth and Smith 2001.) Economic revival in the new financial sectors made city land desirable again, and working class residential areas were promoted to the new middle class as economical and exotic alternatives to the suburbs (Smith 1996.)
During this second wave, however, West Oakland’s population fell deeper into poverty as suburbanization continued to draw people and retail establishments away from the city. Oakland’s Postwar Planning Committee noted the trend in 1945 towards the homebuilding boom outside of Oakland that threatened city tax revenues, property value losses, and the impending decline of the central business district (Oakland Postwar Planning Committee 1945.) The flight of investment and employment from the neighborhood, and from the entire city, continued the downward trajectory of property values and livelihoods of many West Oakland’s residents. Gentrification was far from a reality there, as efforts to revitalize downtown, largely unsuccessful, constituted the main focus of the city administration’s economic policies (Rhomberg 2004.) The dynamic financial services sector aggregated mainly in the central business district of San Francisco. The stock market crash of 1987 and the ensuing recession created another dramatic slowdown of gentrification throughout the United States, prompting some to claim that the return of capital to the city would prove to be a short-lived phenomenon (Bourne 1993.) However, by the 1990s a third wave occurred across the U.S., in which gentrification reestablished itself as the defining feature of urban housing policy. Third-wave gentrification became more deeply rooted in the life of cities than ever before, remaking urban landscapes into more wholly transformed spaces with “shopping, restaurants, cultural facilities, open space, [and] employment opportunities-whole new complexes of recreation, consumption, production, and pleasure, as well as residence” (Smith 2002: 443.) This new round of investment did not occur evenly across urban space, however. While some neighborhoods experienced more thorough shifts to wealthier residents and commercial uses, there were neighborhoods like West Oakland that still appeared much as they had for decades.

Neoliberal economic policies are equated with a third wave of “postrecession”, or third wave gentrification, distinguishing it from previous eras of gentrification (Hackworth 2002). First, the consolidation of developer capital during the recession of the 1990s now allows for far more concentrated investments in large urban development projects. Second, the state more actively intervenes in the process of planning gentrification than it previously had during second wave gentrification. This may include financial assistance, media promotion, and more aggressive policing for minor offenses. Third, social movements that once challenged gentrification are more marginalized politically. Two trends were identified in this regard. Often the very people resisting gentrification were themselves displaced in previous periods of gentrification. More likely, activist organizations transformed into state-sponsored affordable housing organizations whose mission emphasizes more conciliatory and market-friendly approaches to preventing displacement and securing more affordable housing. Lastly, neighborhoods once overlooked by investment capital become areas of intensive speculation and transformation.
Yet, despite the entrenchment and diffusion of gentrification in North American cities, pockets of disinvestment like West Oakland paradoxically survive in locations that would otherwise seem to fit the model of a neighborhood slated for intense speculation. This third wave of gentrification transformed West Oakland, but the gentrification there has proceeded along very slowly and unevenly, and in 2009 the neighborhood is far from being gentrified as the housing market takes a downturn. Moreover, downtown Oakland did not truly begin a process of gentrification until the mid-1990s third wave, and West Oakland lagged even further behind in this regard. Thus the first cycle of gentrification in West Oakland highlights the geographic limitations of capital’s ability to reshape urban environments.

6. Third Wave Gentrification, Global Economy and Neoliberal Politics

Uneven development manifests as intense economic polarization at different geographic scales- among rich and poor countries, regional rust belts and boomtowns, and within cities. A once narrow conception of gentrification applied merely to housing markets and consumer demand has developed into a far more encompassing analysis of the process as an aspect of global economic, political, and cultural shifts (Smith 2002, Atkinson and Bridge 2005.) Gentrification is the “visible spatial component” (Sassen 2001: 261) to the restructuring world of global capital networks. Gentrification’s appearance is contingent upon local economic, political, and cultural contexts, yet its outcomes are for the most part unchanged:
The important point here is the rapidity of the evolution of an initially marginal urban process first identified in the 1960s and its ongoing transformation into a significant dimension of contemporary urbanism…[which] portends a displacement of working-class residents from urban centers (Smith 2002: 439.)

Saskia Sassen (1996) found that as economic activities become more spatially dispersed in the global economy, they simultaneously require more centralization. In particular, the need for more concentrated management requires urban infrastructure for the “command and control” functions of key financial industries, as well as their support networks. Metropolitan regions are indispensable in fulfilling these new centralized functions in the economy, since “many of the resources necessary for global economic activities are not hypermobile and are, indeed, deeply embedded in place” (Sassen 1996.) Not all cities house these command and control functions, however. Cities like Oakland, situated near both Silicon Valley and San Francisco, may experience gentrification regardless, as regional housing and commercial real estate pressures extend beyond the economic centers (Yee and Quiroz-Martinez 1999.)
Cities are now super-commodities, and it is the business of city officials to market their respective places as pro-business in order to capture the mobile capital circulating around the globe. Urban space is still, despite the predominance of suburban development, an important investment channel that requires managers to ensure increased land values. Despite internal divisions, a consensus prevails to “eliminate any alternative vision of the purpose of local government or the meaning of community” (Logan and Molotch 1987: 51.) The vision that continues to gain ideological strength is that of the city governed by neoliberal social and economic policy.
Urban neoliberal policy increasingly permeates urban political culture and housing market policy, advocating rigid free market solutions, deregulation of capital, and severe economic austerity imposed on the public as the only formula for a prosperous society. They are the localized urban corollary of a global attempt to return to a period of profitable economic growth. Yet neoliberal attempts to displace the problems of capital accumulation into new spatial and political forms are seen as temporary and plagued with contradictions, failing to restore economic growth rates and creating a vast global oppositional movement (Jones and Ward 2002, Weber 2002, Harvey 2006.) The neoliberal turn marks a decline of the liberal Keynesian model of state intervention prevalent in cities until the 1970s. Public investment in health, housing, infrastructure, and education was previously considered critical to the functioning of the economy and represented working class gains. At the same time, regulation of the private sector and capital mobility were maintained to moderate the irregular cycles of accumulation, which had reached such devastating proportions during the 1930s (Newman and Ashton 2004, Brenner et al 2005.)
The “distributive” city, materializing through decades of social struggle, has given way to cities based on severe economic discipline and a gradual trend toward more punitive politics. City governments increasingly must respond to the imperatives of unyielding market logic or lose access to vital resources (Hackworth 2002, MacLeod 2002, Brenner and Theodore 2005, Slater 2006.) Reduced federal funding to local governments and the rollback of federal agencies like HUD that restricted the private housing market, push cities further towards a fiscalization of planning policy. California cities have the added burden of drastically reduced property tax revenues from the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, deepening the fiscalization of urban land use planning (Fulton and Shigley 2005.)
As cities themselves become commodities in a competitive global economy, an “embrace of public-private partnerships, deregulation, fiscal austerity, cross-subsidies, and market solutions” (Blomley 2004: 30) combines with police and state apparatus to enforce market discipline, as evidenced by the rise in repression of anti-gentrification activities over the last two decades. Cities more often contend with resistance to gentrification in less directly malevolent ways, (this is the case in West Oakland) and the proliferation of affordable housing nonprofits and community development corporations attests to the strength of these movements, the ability of the state to recuperate dissent, and the tensions of local governments that are anything but monolithic in their application of the neoliberal agenda (Robinson 1995, Smith 1996, Hackworth 2002, Mele 2004.) The continued devalorization of certain places and residents contrasted with the intense capital flows into others creates a strikingly divided city environment. Resulting class antagonisms are increasingly subdued through “zero tolerance” policies in the city, marked by heavy-handed police tactics and surveillance of public space.
There is an underlying economic logic behind the ideology of zero tolerance social control policies. Increased police presence and the criminalization of certain behaviors in public space serve to prepare neighborhoods for middle class residents and retail. In an increasingly competitive market for global capital, urban economic development becoming dependent on creating and regulating places (HoSang no date.) This revanchism is increasingly found in urban politics is primarily a means of reducing economic risk in the urban environment (Smith 1996, Lees 2000, MacLeod 2002, Slater 2002.)

7. The Undiscovered Parts of the City

One of four components of postrecession gentrification is the broadening and deepening of the process geographically. Some neighborhoods that have previously undergone a residential and commercial upscaling experience “supergentrification,” in which extremely wealthy homebuyers, often employed within the financial sector, move into an area that has already gone through a wave of displacement to accommodate middle class residents (Lees 2004, 2004, Butler and Lees 2006.) On the other hand, neighborhoods close to the central urban core overlooked during previous eras of gentrification receive the attention of the local state and often larger corporate developers able to underwrite greater risk in their investments. Although the neighborhood did not witness the overwhelming levels of gentrification that concerned some, West Oakland has increasingly become the recipient of development capital and has changed in significant ways.
Yet, gentrification literature lacks explanations as to why neighborhoods like West Oakland are overlooked in the first place, why investors ignore relative advantages in some places. The small amount of research that has gone on in this area provides a justification for analyzing these factors in west Oakland.
Using case studies, Shaw (2007) identified four factors at the local scale influential in hindering the advance of gentrification into a neighborhood. The first is the quality and size of the housing stock in an area that may be amenable to potential homebuyers and developers looking to rehabilitate housing units in order to realize their potential ground rent, thereby closing the rent gap. Second is the status of housing tenure and security in the neighborhood. Places with higher proportions of longstanding owners, as well as the presence of rent and eviction controls, tend to resist gentrification better than others. Third, the existence of local communities who are able to develop a political culture and organize to demand property tax relief, affordable housing, and other measures fare better than those places lacking strong social networks. Fourth, the assistance of a progressive local government, which is typically tied to cohesive community groups, often can prevent a wide range of gentrification ills. Other scholars have noted the importance of racial fears (Zukin 1987) as a potential limiting factor in the selection of housing among individual gentrifiers, despite the existence of other favorable characteristics. Additionally, the role of discourse in shaping perceptions of place must be included in any explanation of the spatial logic of gentrification.

8. New Assessments of Gentrification

Recent appraisals of gentrification research point to an “almost total silence” on the part of researchers with respect to the effects of gentrification on displaced populations, and on lower-income residents in areas adjacent to gentrified zones (Slater, Curran, and Lees 2004: 1142.) Instead, serious critiques of gentrification have shifted to “somewhat centrist” approaches of looking at the behaviors of gentrifiers themselves or at interminable debates about the minutiae of defining gentrification (1141.) Much contemporary research in the field has shifted towards a less strident critique of gentrification, or more generally support for the process with some reservations (Freeman and Braconi 2004, Hamnett 2003.) Many recent studies promote the advantages of gentrification while treating its negative consequences as unalterable. Instead, more researchers speak of managing rather than fighting gentrification (Slater 2006.)
Freeman and Braconi argue, based on their research in New York City, that gentrification does not definitively cause displacement of low-income residents. Rather, increased job opportunities, amenities, and neighborhood safety stemming from gentrification encourage lower-income residents to remain, despite added financial burdens. Newman and Wyly (2006) have put forward the most comprehensive critique of Freeman and Braconi’s research to date. Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, and many of the same datasets used in the other study, Newman and Wyly reject the notion that displacement is not a major consequence of gentrification. Instead they argue that more gradual and indirect displacement pressures make gentrifying cities unaffordable to low-income and moderate-income residents. They note the importance of affordability controls in limiting displacement in the Freeman and Braconi study, and that erosion of these controls in the future will cause widespread displacement in gentrified neighborhoods. A study by the Fannie Mae Foundation (Hsu 2004) identified government subsidies and rent-control programs to be critical factors inhibiting displacement in the neighborhoods studied by Freeman and Braconi, and that these were being dramatically cut from New York’s housing budget. Additionally, they found that a significant number of displaced, who either became homeless, crowded into housing, or left the city, were not counted in Freeman and Braconi’s study.
Researchers who maintain a more critical perspective on gentrification concern themselves with the policy implications of advocating for market solutions to urban problems. It is argued that city governments can either compete for increasingly mobile capital or face permanent crises of capital flight (Slater 2006, Shaw 2007.) Presenting gentrification and displacement as the only option for urban regeneration is a false choice offered by local governments and developers currently formulating neoliberal urban policy. However, as in the case of West Oakland, active community members who want a voice in the remaking of their neighborhood may influence these policies.
Existing literature on gentrification has extensively analyzed various dimensions to the phenomenon of gentrification. The theoretical approach of uneven development emphasizes the use of geographic scale for comprehending the mechanisms that drive difference in the urban landscape. Through years of debate over the role of agency in gentrification, researchers have arrived at a point where a variety of local forces can be seen as actively shaping gentrification, increasing the level of complexity with which we can analyze the process. A wealth of historical research into urbanization and suburbanization provides the context for understanding patterns of investment and disinvestment that support Neil smith’s rent gap theory, an indispensable tool for contextualizing gentrification in West Oakland. Less attention has been devoted to the overlooked spaces in cities, the places that seem to be the next area to be transformed, but for which any change comes very slowly. West Oakland is an interesting place in this regard, so central in the Bay Area and yet so far removed from its economic dynamism. Researching the particular nature of West Oakland’s decade-long cycle of gentrification will, it is hoped, be of some benefit to local community members and policy makers who seek to understand how this neighborhood changed, and what forces affected those changes.
By examining the forces that affected gentrification in West Oakland during this period, this thesis will look more deeply into the local context from which these factors emerge. A minimal amount of scholarly literature on limiting factors of gentrification exists, and this thesis discusses the factors identified in West Oakland, and how they interact with the course of investment and gentrification there. How community members engage in land use decisions, and the significance of these decisions as limiting factors to gentrification will be discussed; the degree to which gentrification can be resisted effectively is a concern among recent scholars discussed in the literature review, and this question informs my own research. I contend that community members in West Oakland can manage to some degree the detrimental effects of gentrification, yet they are minor players in the larger speculative housing and commercial real estate markets that have significantly transformed Bay Area communities over the past decade.
Finally, I will look at West Oakland with Jason Hackworth’s conceptual framework of “waves of gentrification” in mind, and assess the changes in the neighborhood in relation to this theoretical approach. To avoid confusion, I distinguish between the term I use to describe a period of gentrification in West Oakland as a cycle, and Hackworth’s theory of gentrification “waves”. I use the term cycle to correspond with a moment in which several combined indicators of gentrification occur at a rapid pace, and then stop rather abruptly. This cycle follows the economic cycle of expansion and decline between 1998 and 2008 closely. The fluctuations in the regional, national, and even global flows of capital, their vitality in the housing market, created produced local changes in the overall makeup of West Oakland. On the other hand, a “wave” of gentrification in this thesis refers to theoretical observations and assumptions about previous eras of gentrification, emphasizing the underlying similarities across urban areas in the United States. This attempt to model gentrification will be assessed in the context of West Oakland’s recent experience. Although it will be shown that West Oakland did not follow these theoretical developments very well, it has gentrified over the past decade in its own “cycle.” Therefore, the first cycle of gentrification in West Oakland will be discussed as it follows or departs from of “wave” theories of gentrification across the North American urban landscape.


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