V. Research Methods

V. Research Methods

Analyzing gentrification in urban neighborhoods requires a combination of both quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches. Because gentrification is a complex reordering of urban space, with changes occurring from the scale of one city property to a metropolitan region, certain data may not be accessible at the precise scale needed. There may be problems applying decennial census data to changes taking place in periods of time shorter than ten years. Some of this data is available through yearly American Community Surveys. As a result, many studies on gentrification employ anecdotal evidence in lieu of empirical information (Kennedy and Leonard 2001a.) This is particularly true regarding West Oakland household eviction data. Although residential displacement (either directly from eviction or indirectly through nonaffordability) is a central claim of critics of gentrification, the data to empirically support such claims is virtually absent. There is great difficulty in gathering data on former residents of a neighborhood, most of whom left without initiating legal action.
Nonetheless, the data used for this thesis are meant to support hypotheses about gentrification in West Oakland, and an array of data sources are used to present a picture of changes in the neighborhood with explanatory power despite data gaps. Although there have been two notable studies of West Oakland done in recent years (Robert Self’s 2003 American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland and Chris Rhomberg’s 2004 No There There: Race, Class, and Political Community in Oakland), very little research exists that assesses gentrification there, and the actual changes occurring at that level (Yee and Quiroz-Martinez 1999.) The research is an attempt to develop a picture of neighborhood change through three primary methods of data collection:

1. Quantitative data obtained primarily from the United States Census 1990 and 2000 years, as well as the American Community Survey 2006. Demographic change, home price/rental price, income and other data relevant to an accurate characterization of neighborhood will be used.
2. Archival primary source material, from local newspapers, planning documents, community-based land-use policy documents, and other sources are used to assess a variety of factors that either promote or limit gentrification.
3. Interviews with key informants involved in West Oakland development issues, including community residents, redevelopment committee members, planners, developers, realtors, local politicians, and local urban policy researchers provide qualitative evidence of the changes that took place in West Oakland.

First, I will look at a number of different indicators to assess the character gentrification occurred between 1998 and 2008, and the rate at which gentrification related changes took place. These indicators include changes in home values and rents, evictions, and other demographic information. These census figures will use data for the 94607 zip code as this most closely encompasses the West Oakland area (see Figure 5.) The area within zip code 94607 is the most accessible geographical category for data covering the years between the 2000 American Census and the present. I will also look at census block group data for areas within West Oakland yet not covered by zip code data. These data will be compared with figures for adjacent zip codes, Oakland, and Alameda County. Although data observed at the census tract level may reveal smaller-scale differences within West Oakland, information for the entire zip code is most useful for understanding differentiation at the city scale. Because gentrification is a complex process that transforms neighborhoods in numerous ways, it is important to look at census figures that most closely reflect these changes to both the place and the people living there. Much of this data is only significant as an indicator of gentrification when analyzed in conjunction with other data, whether from the United States Census Bureau or elsewhere.
Next, I will use a variety of archival material, primarily from local newspapers, planning documents, and material published by community groups in Oakland focusing on the impacts of the dot-com era in Oakland, and especially in West Oakland, during the period between the late 1990s and 2008. These sources contribute to a narrative of gentrification in West Oakland from a variety of sources and encompass material that ranges in perspective on issues of
gentrification. Documents produced by Oakland’s Planning Department, Community and Economic Development Agency, and Redevelopment Agency articulate land use, housing, and other policies that shape West Oakland; this thesis focuses specifically on the role these policies have played in contributing to or mitigating against the more serious negative consequences of gentrification. Local news media sources shed light on a variety of subjects related to gentrification in West Oakland, often editorializing in the process. Material produced by community organizations is an especially informative source of data regarding the opinions and research of those most directly affected by these negative, and sometimes positive, effects of gentrification. Each of these sources is representative of different individuals and groups, yet also reveal the degree of collaboration between community members of West Oakland and city agencies to formulate policy that reflects the concerns of residents.
Finally, I conducted interviews with individuals closely associated with land use planning, economic and community development in West Oakland. Interviewees were selected based on their familiarity with these subjects as professionals or as community activists. Participants included current members of the following populations: housing developers active within the West Oakland neighborhood; employees of city and county agencies involved with economic and community development or planning within West Oakland; community members from West Oakland involved with a community-based organization concerned with gentrification or redevelopment in the neighborhood; local policy researchers focusing on urban development; and local politicians that have been involved with these issues (see Appendix 1.)
Participant selection was accomplished through a purposeful sampling technique. Opportunistic and snowball sampling methods were also used as I
learned of other potential participants through outreach and data collection. Outreach to interview subjects occurred through engagement at community and public meetings, as well as email and phone communication. Questions posed to the subjects covered a wide range of themes related to West Oakland land use and housing policy, community political participation in these policies, local economics and investment patterns. Interview questions are listed in Appendix 2.
This study is constrained by certain limitations in data that are important in assessing both the driving forces and limitations of gentrification in West Oakland. First, eviction data is difficult to assemble. The problems of analyzing displacement from gentrification have been noted by other researchers (Atkinson

Figure 5. Zip Code Map of West Oakland and Adjacent Areas.

Source: Social Compact 2005

2002.) Many evicted households often do not seek assistance with any
organization, whether it is a legal advocacy group or public agency, and are not
counted in any figures. Court records do not reveal causes of eviction or trial outcomes and are made inaccessible through cost and retrieval time. Records of eviction notices do not correspond with actual evictions and are unreliable data in this regard. Tracking of displaced households for research purposes is beyond the scope of this thesis. The evidence for evictions used here is mainly anecdotal therefore, and I have tried to provide empirical data to support claims of eviction rates when available.
Second, trying to understand why a neighborhood like West Oakland does not gentrify as expected would require an investigation into the choices made by developers and homebuyers that did not move into West Oakland during the late 1990s. Although concerns about crime as well as racial attitudes may be factors in limiting gentrification in West Oakland, it was not feasible to assess these here.

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