A little over a month ago, a friend and I decided to set aside a couple of days a week where we met at coffee shops to work. Not uncommon for two entrepreneurs based in Oakland. We decided to visit different areas of town- The Dimond District and Temescal.
On the surface, it all seemed the same. Two hip cafes, organic pastries, local tea blends and ultra friendly, laid back staff. The vibe in the shops were the same too- buzzing creativity, intense yet cool energy, and smiling faces eager to hear whatever project you were working on and share theirs as well.
Cozy couches. Light music. Ample bike parking. And soul. So.much.soul.
Everything was the same. And yet, it wasn't.
Something told me to look up. Take a look at the faces in the cafe. What do you see?
In the Dimond District, it was all colors. Vanillas, caramels, chocolates, and everything in between.
In Temescal, my girl and I were the only shades of melanin. Surrounded by hipsters and bettys, you would have thought we were in San Francisco. And yes, I am throwing shade.
Fast forward to this past Wednesday, I attended Robert Ogilvie's, SPUR -Oakland director, presentation to the economic development and public policy committee of the Oakland chamber. The topic was addressing the economic opportunity in downtown Oakland and the efforts to create "A Downtown for Everyone".
The presentation covered the mindblowing attributes that Oakland naturally has to offer- amazing weather, beautiful open spaces, and its central location within the Bay Area. Not to mention that more BART trains and MUNI busses run under Broadway than Market Street in San Francisco. Downtown Oakland is ripe for an economic explosion.
How do we make that happen is only a part of the question. The other question, hanging heavy in the room, was how do we continue to build Oakland's economy while maintaining its vibrant, cultural fabric?
A difficult question to answer when topics like impact fees come up, revenue bonds, balancing affordable housing concerns with the needs of developers, and of course the political interests of many stakeholders.
And while race is not the only indicator of a culture, it is a heavy topic in a community that is sandwiched by the arguably souless San Francisco and the painfully vanilla Silicon Valley.
How does Oakland build a thriving economy that is welcoming of all races, includes blue collar opportunities and supports the needs of local, small business owners?
Ogilvie, a Jamaican-American with a Ph. D. in Political Science from Columbia University, highlighted the job possibilities through the Port of Oakland. Jobs that can pay $150,000-$600,000 per year with a skill labor background. Not a bachelors degree, not an associates degree, just a few select courses and deep knowledge in an actual skill.
He spoke about the support that lower-income communities need when it comes to transportation. Almost all of downtown Oakland is within a 1/2 mile walk of a BART station. A beautiful amenity for those that would most benefit from not spending already tight funds on a vehicle.
The entire presentation, including the job creation and resident goals and plans, will be available from SPUR, a policy planning and think tank, in September 2015.
In the meantime, the group present at the meeting left with a lot of questions and good discussions. Is there an example of a city who has a thriving economy and has maintained its soul? Is it even possible?
Maybe Oakland will be the first. Or maybe it will succumb to the legacy that its neighbors are leaving.
Only time will tell.
Danetha Doe (@danethadoe) is an economist and passionate about helping others achieve financial independence. She was named next-generation accountant by Quickbooks in 2014 and featured on HuffingtonPost Live with Suze Orman. An entrepreneur, she is the CEO of Future-Ready Accounting, a marketing agency for large accounting firms. You can learn more about her work at danethadoe.com.
Connect with her on Twitter @danethdoe.