tech’s second attempt at oakland
MIGRATION ORIGINAL: 12/07/2016
This was possible in Reed and Brown’s time because the individuals who were brought into Oakland by Brown’s initiatives were mainly uninvolved with the cultural heart of the city. Yet, as more and more individuals are shying away from San Francisco, a large contingent of techies is following the starving artist into Oakland. With enough of that contingent calling Oakland home, embellished with the even stronger push of real tech jobs within Oakland itself, the same types of people who helped reshape San Francisco into the tech-over-all environment are planting roots. Signs of such progression can be found when taking a close look at the historic Telegraph Ave, one bustling with diverse and locally owned businesses, now teeming with groups of,
“well-dressed and soon-to-be well-groomed men sat patiently in the sun outside Temescal Alley Barbershop waiting for $25 haircuts and $30 straight-razor shaves. Some idly pecked at their phones, while others wandered into Standard & Strange, a men’s clothing store that stocks rugged-looking American-made apparel.” (Haber 2014)
More simply put, Oakland is seeing much of the cultural impregnation that Brooklyn witnessed over the last decade. Events like First Friday in Oakland are no longer frequented by a people of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds coming together to celebrate their differences, but rather by a more homogenous party enjoying fourteen dollar drinks and an assortment of food trucks.
To imply that the influx of technology in Oakland can be completely likened to the kind of “cleansing” that Brooklyn has experienced this last decade would be out of place. The new level of involvement that individuals from the software world are brining to Oakland has shown some positive signs within the community. One of the biggest criticisms of the tech community is its lack of gender and racial diversity. This is extremely apparent from the recent findings of the Chamber of Commerce. Oakland has 5% more females working at tech firms compared to San Jose and San Francisco, as well as 7 times more black and multi-racial employees than anywhere else in the Bay (Oakland City Chamber of Commerce 2015). This drastic differentiating factor amongst local companies (albeit still in need of far more change) suggests that many of the cultural keystones of Oakland are starting to show within the companies themselves. When Pandora was asked why they chose Oakland, they cited the culture. For a music company they felt it was critical to their mission that they be able to incorporate as many viewpoints as possible, finding that,
“We [Pandora] found a model where employees are actually involved in determining how to spend their budget because when they own it, they’re a part of it. If you’re not a part of something it’s easy to complain, but if you’re part of something you feel an ownership and accountability, and you’re more engaged. So everything we do around employee experience we try to make employee owned.” (Pandora 2014).
With local companies being much more interested in incorporating themselves into what Oakland as a city culturally represents as opposed to reincorporating something else into the city, the companies stand a far better chance of involving the citizens of Oakland in shaping the company and helping Oakland as a city grow using tech rather than falling to its side. At the beginning of the century, the key difference was that the companies people worked at weren’t based in Oakland. Given a new sense of embodiment, there’s hope that the new wave of immigrants to Oakland might just buy into what the traditional, blue collar spirit that has driven the city to be what it is today.
More interestingly, the tech community has made an active attempt in incorporating the habitants of Oakland into tech. Haber notes that transplants from the city kin to Mitchel Kapor feel like,
“There’s a sense that everything is possible,” continued Mr. Kapor, whose Kapor Center for Social Impact funds various groups in the Bay Area committed to diversifying the face of technology, like Black Girls Code and Hidden Genius Project. “We’re going to see an explosion of tech in Oakland. It’s the next big area.” (Haber 2014).
Rather than seeing Oakland as an area to displace workers and wiping out the current embodiment of the city, a lot of resources are being dumped into tech education and hiring local. The state has pushed millions into Berkeley, Albany, and Oakland HS to develop technical skills. Likewise, over the last three years, tech can easily be attributed to a rise in local salaries rising 17% as well 4% growth of employment in tech amongst individuals residing in the city three years or longer, (Oakland Chamber of Commerce 2015). If tech is willing grow alongside the city rather than displace it, there’s a lot to be said for the benefits of its involvement.
With all of this, how does Oakland move forward? Given that the city has very little it can do to actively impede companies from moving over to the East Bay, it needs to anticipate the migration in the next ten years, especially with rumors of giants like Google and Amazon shopping for Oakland real estate, and Uber moving in 2017. Yet, maintaining the cultural spirit and diversity is key, a resource that is much harder to come by in recent years. Oakland has the opportunity to be an example of how to incorporate previously disenfranchised groups in an industry famous for excluding those who just “don’t fit in.” The hope is that Oakland can move forward by avoiding much of the issues cities like New York and Sn Francisco have seen with the industry, while avoiding the lines of its failures in 1999. If anything, Oakland’s biggest asset is just how different it is from the rest of the tech incorporated bay, and if it can move forward into embedding tech companies into the city without comprising its values, then we all have a lot to gain from its growth. Otherwise, we’re destined to see a repeat of the failure that we’ve seen in Brooklyn, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and the most concerning, a previous version of Oakland.