The East Bay Express calls it the “bacon-wrapped economy” — once diverse, affordable neighborhoods transforming into hotbeds of techie hipsterism. The debate over gentrification is a perennial one, but it has reached a fever pitch in recent months. Still, the loaded “G-word” means different things to different people, and encompasses thorny issues of race, class, development and displacement. As part of our “Priced Out” series, we ask several leading Bay Area thinkers — and our listeners — what gentrification means to them — and to the region.

What is Gentrification? 11 November,2013forum

Ayodele Nzinga, artistic director, The Lower Bottom Playaz; participant in "Here. Before. Art From A Contested Space" at de Fremery Park in West Oakland
Randy Shaw, director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic in San Francisco; author of "The Activist's Handbook, Second Edition: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century"
Rebecca Solnit, essayist and author of "Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas" and "Hollow City: Gentrification and the Eviction of Urban Culture"
Farhad Manjoo, technology columnist, Wall Street Journal

  • Francisco Howard

    Gentrification: when white people with no money starts to complaint about white people with money….imagine how bad is for the rest?

    • Skip Conrad

      the white people with no money are local. the white people with money are local, out-of-state, and foreign. Who are these people who are driving gentrification?

      • Another Mike

        Item in the paper the other day about artists moving to Vallejo: unsafe, cheap space, low(ish) rents — everything the Mission used to be.

  • Francisco Howard

    boutique fancy and very expensive stores in Valencia street getting together to fight Jack Spade? come on people!! who fought you back when you were displacing old timers in the same street?

  • $22911251

    Ayodele Nzinga is now claiming west Oakland as her turf, she must have forgotten that she told the Chronicle in 2004 and the Berkeley Daily Planet in 2009 that her home
    was on Sacramento St in south Berkeley. Nzinga lost her section 8 Berkeley unit because of her sons criminal activity.

    Nzinga is not CREDIBLE. Who forgot to vet her? She is a self promoting “artist” with a history of race baiting rhetoric, she has NO integrity.

    Shaw is correct, those of us struggling in tough neighborhoods aren’t gentry and we deserve to be free from predators such as Nzinga kids who rob, sell guns and drugs.

    • Bob Fry

      Didn’t hear any mention of the forced removal of Japanese in WW II contributing to the problems of the Oakland flats. I heard that many lived in West Oakland, when they were removed Blacks moved in.

      • $22911251

        one of many facts that do not fit her dangerous rhetoric.

        People need to stop promoting her, the truth about her contributions to society are quite troubling.

    • cwestsf

      It’s not about the neighborhood. It’s about her CAUSE.

    • cwestsf

      Maybe she wasn’t picked for her “credibility”, but to give a voice to the BS that’s been flying around about how white people shouldn’t move to West oakland.

  • Ryan

    Your guest Ayodele sounds like she may be drunk or high. Setting appearances aside, her reference to the movement of indigenous people from west Oakland as the same thing as colonialism is laughable. Where do you find guests like this?

    • $22911251

      Ayodele Nzinga had heard somewhere that gasoline was effective for killing head lice, and she was applying the fuel to her son’s hair in her Berkeley kitchen
      on Sept. 18 when a spark from the pilot light on her stove flared, and
      the boy caught fire.

      • Ryan

        Very fitting and not surprising. Although I presume the tip about gasoline getting rid of lice was proven correct after they extinguished the inferno on the kids head.

  • Lester St Gwen

    “colonial” “herding” ? please.

    “black flight” is the stronger pattern here

    So many former neighbors here tell me, with relief, of their
    “Escape” to Pinole or Hercules from the
    crime ridden “Donkey Island!” that is tolerated if not outright built
    by the proud descendents of porters, machinists, and professionals of color

    There are serious challenges to accumulating capital at the unit of the family.
    (polygamy and other communes may survive better).

  • ldemelis

    I grew up in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s. The city was in a long-term decline, largely because people worked in the city and lived in the suburbs. Here, you have the opposite — people working in the suburbs (Silicon Valley) and choosing to live in the city. That’s a good thing — something to be cheered not feared. And there’s plenty of diversity in the Valley.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Why should we pay our taxes to have ‘the Twitters’ not pay there’s?
    Billion dollar businesses are being forgiven from paying what others before have had to pay. So again, the wealthiest pay less.
    In what universe is this fair?
    Ours is a system of progressive taxation, yet our Mayor, and cronies game the system; this raises fees on the rest of us 99 percent just trying to survive day to day. Bad legislation makes it more expensive to live, and that’s exactly what our Mayor and cronies support now.

    (hanging on by a thread)

    • Bob Fry

      In no universe, but that’s competition among local taxing entities. All worship unconstrained competition! But only so long as it favors the corporations.

  • Francisco Howard

    Rebecca….is the one that I think is high or drunk! there is nothing that we can do about this? really?? do you know about “red lining” by banks NOT giving loans to people of color? this is created, designed, and implemented by one group. Wake up and read some history please.

  • Sarah McBride

    the connection between gentrification, Twitter and 8 Washington:

  • Guest

    It really is about change. Isn’t “gentrification” at its “basics” the speculative and therefore risk taking ability of property owners and business owners on the future capital appreciation of their property and business? The devil is always in the details. We need to note there are real property owners and real business owners who take risk on their speculation – good or bad. People of any class can group their monies together and purchase land. It takes long term and multi-generational planning and discipline. And of course access to capital markets. Look at Kofi Bonner and his success albeit he works for a large company it is that type of sophistication and discipline. And there is Signature Properties and their 10 year risk on the 64-acre Oak-to-Ninth development promises to invigorate property that is industrial and underused.

  • Ben Rawner

    Could the well spoken woman from West Oakland speak to the idea of black gentrification of downtown oakland. I have heard and met many young black business owners in downtown oakland who are excited about a particular flavor of gentrification. Is that a myth or small growing reality?

  • HaikuFish

    People with money no longer happy to have one home in one great place, they have multiple homes. People in San Francisco are loosing their homes to second and third partially occupied homes of the upper class.

  • $22911251

    Those of us willing to buy blighted empty houses in dangerous neighborhood with high crime are urban pioneers, not gentry. We make real sacrifices and endure hardships to be homeowners.

    • Francisco Howard

      urban pioneers??? please, that is another urban myth, you have the money to go there, you are not forced to go there like other people. What is next are you going to send a pic of your wagon, your horses? so if you choose to suffer, just enjoy it.

      • $22911251

        a presumptive and ignorant response
        somehow I bet you would not have the guts, ability or work ethic to renovate a dilapidated property.

  • Guest

    Why in an appreciating market are they still given tax breaks? That doesn’t make any kind of business sense for a City to do.

  • Jane Rutledge

    As a white person looking at real estate in Oakland, I’ve spoken to homeowners and families of color who welcome change in their neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods have been riddled with drugs and crime for years. Should law-abiding citizens continue to have to live with that in order to avoid “gentrification”. Oakland is proud of its diversity where people of all colors and nationalities live together. I don’t think the term gentrification as it is usually used applies here.

  • Emily Jencks

    Gentrification is when people with money displace people without money who live in an area that they can afford. The gentrifiers make their money by identifying a place that is cheap enough to buy and make money off of.

    The woman who is speaking on behalf of black grandmas who are losing their homes is the only one who is speaking with compassion about a community that has lived almost literally through hell.
    Why can’t the old grandmas be protected by us, all of us, in the form of government subsidized housing?
    Let the techies and grandmas live together by subsidizing the grandmas’ livelihood. Let them stay in the neighborhood that has been theirs for their whole lives.

    In other words, white boys, open your hearts even if your eyes can’t see what has gone before.

    • FoolioD

      Proof you’re only looking at this through a racial lense – not only ‘white boys’ who are moving into the area – but various people of color, age, gender, and orientation.

      • Emily Jencks

        Not looking through a racial lens at all, read ‘white boys’ as anyone who thinks that past harsh treatment somehow justifies more of the same now; nor am I defending the actions of the gangstas and other violent denizens of West Oakland. I’m only making the point that it would be charitable and kind, and humane to work out a way to avoid evicting older poor people who will have a very hard time finding anywhere else to live.

  • mike reitsma

    Aside from a small number of tech IPO “born on 3rd base” folks, what kind of numbers are we talking about? Twitter notwithstanding, the center of tech is still in Santa Clara County. I worked in semiconductors there for 30+ years and can count on one hand the number of tech people who bought property in San Francisco. So is this a 5% of the population of SF issue?

    And please stop lumping “firefighters” with teachers and mechanics when you talk about being priced out of the market. The average pay of our local San Mateo firefighters (who rarely actually fight fires, BTW) is $150K a year. SF fire people probably make more. I think they could afford an apartment in the City.

    • Another Mike

      I have worked with fresh grads over the past 20 years who lived in the Mission or North Beach. When they got older and married, some settled in the Haight or West Portal. Today’s grads tend to rent or buy in the tall SoMa buildings.

  • cwestsf

    Ayodele Nzinga is letting get agenda and nostalgia get in the way of her facts.

    The first thing Ms. Nzaiga said that caught my attention is that people are coming into West Oakland and breaking single-family homes into 4 units. Perhaps she is intentionally skipping over WWII, when many single family homes were converted into boarding houses (illegally) to accommodate all the dock workers.

    My husband and I have lived in West Oakland for the last nine years. We both have corporate jobs, we are white, and we are gay. So we’re the “problem”, right? We had to rip out many walls and remove and illegal external staircase to return the building to its original 1-family capacity. If planting a nice garden, tending to street trees, cleaning up trash, and restoring the house to its original condition (gradually) is “gentrification”, then yes, we’re guilty.

    Our home was built 100 years ago by an Austro-Hungarian Catholic family who owned a “bottle yard” and a cigar store. This neighborhood became African American after that, yet there’s not talk of THAT “colonization”.

    She even claims that no street lights, bad schools, and slow police response was never a problem “before”. Why? Because the residents didn’t CARE about the lack of those basic services?

    As it is, West Oakland is a great people for the young, the gay, and those who aren’t interested in raising children there. There are still occasional gunshots, the schools are still terrible, but at least we got some nice new LED streetlights.

    Ms. Nzaiga also said that “people should be allowed to live where they want to”. If that were true, many many more people would be living in San Francisco, and much fewer would be considering West Oakland. It’s a ridiculous statement that overlooks the obvious: Real estate has value, and we live in a free-market economy. If she is proposing something else, who decided who gets to live where they want to, and who doesn’t?

    If you want to blame someone for the influx of middle-class whites, blame the people who sold us their houses. Blame the landlords evicting tenants so that they can either raise the rest or sell. When the Austro-Hungarians who built our house left, they weren’t “driven out” by “black neo-colonialists”. They were bought out by middle-class African Americans. And the same thing is happening today, except that now we’re hearing that we shouldn’t buy houses and fix them up, plant community gardens, buy $5 lattes and $12 steaks because we’re DESTROYING THE NATIVE CULTURE. Because West Oakland has to stay trashy and dangerous to remain “West Oakland”?

    I know change is never easy, and she has many powerful memories of her neighborhood as it was before, and now she’s seeing West Oakland turn into a city she doesn’t recognize. But her facts are carefully curated, her memory is selective, and her target is me and my husband because we’re DIFFERENT from what SHE wants the neighborhood to be.

    • Another Mike

      Migrations come in waves, and one wave is not better than the rest. I’m sure the Ohlone are still scratching their heads over the changes they’ve seen.

      The World War II manufacturing boom that attracted migrants from the south is long over. Long live the tech boom!

      • cwestsf

        True. I have seem 3 boom-and-bust cycles in the SF Bay Area (since 1999), and every boom brings evictions and screams of “gentrification”. I noticed that in the Mission they claimed to have succeeded in “stopping gentrification”. when what it seems like they really did was prevent a few businesses from moving in, and stalling until the next bust.

        It’s like two birds on the beach congratulating themselves on making that wave stop and GO BACK!

  • Catohornet

    On reason Gentrification is seen as a race issue is because most silicon valley companies practice racism in hiring.

    Just exam the demography of most tech compaies.

    • Another Mike

      Tech companies hire people with engineering and hard science degrees. The people who study these subjects are basically self-selected.

      The racism that lies behind these hiring decisions occurs at the high school, middle school, primary school, and preschool levels.

      • Catohornet

        I think the multitude of African American Engineers who are overlooked, and not recruited by these companies would disagree.

        • Another Mike

          I always worked in places with diverse workforces, so I can’t tell you. But in undergrad, we had more black students from Africa and the Caribbean than from the US.

          One of my friends, who was African-American, decided he hated engineering, and became a journalist. Networking through the NSBJ helped him get a number of jobs, as well as finding mentors. Perhaps the NSBE could fill a similar role?

        • cwestsf

          I’ve helped with hiring and trust me, race isn’t the issue, it’s who’s qualified. I have a black female coworker who was recommended by the boss’s boss, and she’s freaking amazing. She replaced a white women who no one got along with.

          Just trying to find resumes of people who are qualified is a nightmare. Their race is NOT a consideration.

          It’s not about race as much as it is about socioeconomics and culture, the ability to get the education and then do something good with it. And there is deep systemic racism against the black and poor in this country.

          I have had a couple of African (yes, from Africa) coworkers who come from a completely different cultural background. Or maybe it’s just the slight british accent?

          Anyway, if I could find more black people like the ones we have working for us right now, I would be THRILLED. The white ones… eh, hit or miss.

  • Jim Cervantes

    In the early 1980’s, I worked in the affordable housing field in the Mission District. The ongoing topic then was gentrification. The demographic transition I observed, though, was the conclusion of the out-migration of the Irish and Italian population (to the East Bay or Peninsula) and in in-migration of the Central American and Vietnamese communities. Was this bad? It certainly created a different kind of vibrancy and cultural dynamic.

    Healthy cities don’t stay static–they evolve. If we want to preserve diversity we need to create broader housing options in the form of higher density and subsidies for low income households. Both are hard policy choices. Frankly, the NIMBY’s do more than their fair share to squeeze out lower income households by limiting their options.

    Final note–the “neocolonialism” argument of one of your speakers is just cheap rhetoric and does nothing to really address the gentrification issue.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    The Ellis Act was intended to allow some mom or pop landlord to retire from the landlording business. However, the law is now being misused. In our hyperinflationary real estate market, we have outsiders making a purely paper play to close down apartments only to re-sell for profit a couple years later. That was not legislative intent of the law. Essentially, we have state law that is not addressing the latest abuses occurring at a local level.

    • Another Mike

      The new buyer takes away the headache and the heartache from the mom and pop landlords seeking to retire, by taking on the Ellis Act conversion task. I’m sure that, for example, the owners who rented to the Lees for more than a third of a century could not have evicted them face to face.

      But rents based on market rates in 1979 won’t even pay today’s property taxes. So the new owner has only one avenue — evict and Ellis.

      If you want to avoid Ellis Act evictions, work to eliminate rent control.

      • cwestsf

        Because making people move because they can’t afford the rent is better than an Ellis eviction?

        • Another Mike

          Why can’t they afford market rents? Because they’re not making a “market salary?

          Let SF beef up their living wage ordinance. Why not put the burden on people’s employers, instead of on their landlords?

    • egoldin

      It’s not the renter’s apartment, it’s the owner’s apartment. The Ellis Act is there to make sure you aren’t forced to be a landlord and rent out units if you don’t want to.

  • cmizera

    The woman being interviewed (I guess it’s this Ayodele Nzinga) discussing Oakland real estate sounds totally racist and I believe has a case of sour grapes. Since when does anyone have a right to live anywhere purely based on ‘I have lived here for xx years’? If you do not own it, you have no rights to ownership. Get real people. I live in San Jose as San Francisco has always been over priced. This whole debate was ridiculous.

    • Another Mike

      Providing affordable housing for people who work in SF’s many service industries is reasonable. Making this economic burden fall strictly on landlords is not.

      Other countries can make attractive public housing for the working poor — why not in SF, “America’s most European city”?

      • egoldin

        But it’s so easy to put the burden on landlords! Politicians get to avoid the cost and make it seem like what they’ve done is actually effective.

    • cwestsf

      The racial aspect of the “West Oakland colonization” in the elephant in the room. If there were middle-class African Americans moving in, fixing up houses, drinking $5 lattes and eating $12 steaks, they would call it a “renaissance” instead of an invasion.

    • $22911251

      Nzinga lived in south Berkeley until 3-4 years ago.

      ….But some other neighbors said they believed that the youth and his companion had been involved in neighborhood altercations and that at least one had been arrested as the result of a violent incident involving another youth.

      “They’ve had problems,” Nzinga said. “But we live in South Berkeley.”

  • Tony Rocco

    Only in San Francisco would people complain about rising prosperity. We were all taught to go to school, get an education, and then go out into the world and get a good job and earn a good livelihood. Now, apparently, all those bright, hard-working people with good jobs and earning good livings are unwelcome interlopers who have no right to change the culture of The City. What about the hippies who radically changed the character of San Francisco in the 60’s? Did they have no right to be here? And the Latinos who changed the Mission from its previously Irish character? And the gays and lesbians who pushed working class families out of the Castro in the 70’s and 80’s? How dare they change the character of San Francisco!

    When large-scale demographic changes occur, there are always those who like it and those who don’t, those who benefit and those who lose out. There’s no stopping it short of some totalitarian plan to freeze The City in time and prevent further growth, change and evolution. That can’t be done and it shouldn’t be done.

    • egoldin


    • Francisco Howard

      I agree, but one thing that you should point is that those families that were pushed out of the Castro area went to the suburbs, mostly white families and they were welcome wherever they went. Also remember when the hippies were smoking pot and having their summer of love Blacks were fighting racism in Oakland with the Black Panthers, And for the Latinos please check your history this was Mexico before it was San Francisco. And probably you benefited from getting and education and working hard, you grew up thinking that there is a level field out there in the world. Well let me tell you kid that is not the real world

      • Another Mike

        Whoa, wait, what? San Francisco was San Francisco long before there was a Mexico. SF was founded (whether the Presidio, the Mission, or the Pueblo of Yerba Buena) in 1769, while Alta California remained New Spain until 1822. (The news of Spain’s capitulation took about a year to get here.) Then, SF became part of the Bear Flag Republic two decades later. The imprint of Mexico was only shallow and fleeting.

  • neo01123

    Capitalism could be brutal. But i do think overall there is prosperity in the bay area. There has always been, always is and always will be gentrification. Because of the tech boom, America has the best cutting edge in technology giving it a huge competitive advantage over other countries.

    To just compare, we can just compare SF and detroit, here was Detroit with over 100 years of Exceptional American manufacturing, but the whole automobile industry just shifts and shifts big time. And now only 3 companies exist and the city is not really doing that well. As I said Capitalism could be brutal.


  • Carbon Based

    I believe it was Gore Vidal who said what we have in this country is socialism for the rich, and a free market for the poor…

    The Bay area poses as a progressive community with the most closed and regressive political systems i have encountered in any part of the U.S. I live in a neighborhood where the “neighborhood association” is a secret organization, meetings and membership are not published and membership is apparently by invitation only–probably open only to homeowners. Homeowners can privatize and alter stretches of sidewalk to create private gardens for themselves on needed sidewalk space, and make parking in front of their houses more difficult. But if they have no responsibility for this space if they choose to leave feces, glass or needles lying around instead. They are considered to “own” the sidewalk but the city maintains their tree cover; however they can cut down valuable mature trees needed to shade pedestrians in summer, so their home is sunnier. For $350/year, homeowners purchase permanent parking spaces in front of their homes via the red MTA strips that supposedly help them use their garages. This is equal to four parking fines, or 10 all-day passes. The strips aren’t needed, either because they have wide driveways or because they use their garages for gyms or illegal apartments. But this gives them permanent parking for personal and business use with the assistance of the friendly MTA. This includes parking for their friends, since the MTA frequently ignores “guests” parallel parked in driveways (unless the homeowner calls them in). It is illegal to park in the driveway of a 3+ unit building, but this is not enforced. The sidewalk and street they use are maintained with tax money–more subsidies for the affluent.

    As for luxury condos, if we do not want the super-rich buying third and fourth homes here while people sleep on the street, we can prohibit the maintenance of empty housing and require owners to either live in or rent out their homes. If tenants can be thrown out for renting their lawfully paid-for units for short periods of time via AirBNB, then why can’t owners be prohibited from using SF living space as a hotel for themselves?

    If we give subsidies to companies, their employees are being subsidized to live here and drive up rents and prices–the subsidies create local inflation–tax money is transferred almost directly to the educated middle class to create jobs for them. It’s direct social engineering. Welfare for the haves. I have no problem with support for the middle class–but let’s admit that that’s what is happening and distribute tax/social largess equably to all. How about requiring companies that hit it big (IPO, anyone) to fund some permanent housing for the poor who give us a much-needed break from the sight of young hipsters spending daddy’s and the taxpayers’ money.

  • lfivepoints69

    Gentrification is a GOOD change. Gentrification means better schools, improving property values, better restaurants, less vandalism, more culture and entertainment, more amenities, lower crime, and improved housing. We need much more gentrification in this city.

  • lfivepoints69

    San Francisco is better than ever thanks to gentrification. I embrace techies and other creative innovators and welcome them to our City.

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