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Those who don't know history are doomed…

While blogging by nature is an art rooted firmly in the present, this blog is called FutureOakland because it covers current controversies that shape the future. Yet to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, a knowledge of history is necessary. As 2008 draws to a close, the year that Oakland’s blogosphere broke through to the mainstream also saw bloggers put aside media criticism, and begin to use their unique platform to write and to build Oakland’s history.

Food security emerged as a major issue in 2008, thanks to local activists and political campaigns, and also because elite foodies finally found a sympathetic cause. Brahm’s Blog recording the travails of the People’s Grocery, the Inadvertent Gardener’s quest to get space in a community garden, and Urban Farmer raising animals and vegetables in the heart of Ghost Town, explore today’s local urban agricultural and food access issues. But as A Dish A Day lovingly documents, the present is played out against Oakland’s past: its legacy of historic fast-food joints.

Other subjects of public discussion explicitly seek legitimacy in history. Oakland’s identity is always a furiously debated topic, whether the subject is gentrification, “East” Oakland, or negative media portrayals. But since highways displaced and divided nearly every part of the city, Oaklanders have searched for and contested neighborhood names, from Lower Bottoms (vs. Prescott / Oakland Point) to Rockridge (vs. Temescal) to Jingletown (vs. Kennedy Tract or just Fruitvale). A skilled researcher goes to the source, and that’s exactly what City Homestead did in her excellent rendition and map of historic neighborhood names gleaned by reading a century’s worth of Trib articles, including real estate listings and society columns. She also pieced together a complete history of her own home in the Westlake district. Some highlights: Auto Row has been named so since 1913, the Planning Commission quit en masse in the 1920s, high-density housing was once restricted narrowly to the Lakefront, and proximity to rapid transit as well as having a chicken coop were a Realtor’s favorite amenities.

A good grasp of the past can inform debates about the future, but it’s also necessary to understand conditions of the present. Unfortunately, that’s often missing from debates over transportation. Even as the Planning Commission routinely rejects NIMBY arguments that a less car-oriented future is wishful thinking, their Zoning Update Committee expressed amazement when I told them that I don’t have a car and in fact most of my friends rarely use a personal car. Similarly, when MediaNews published a casually-written editorial in favor of a multi-billion-dollar public investment in electric-car charging stations, championed by all three Bay Area big-city mayors, they failed to note that electric cars do not exist. Bike/ped/transit advocates may squabble with each other over sidewalk bulbouts versus bike lanes versus Bus Rapid Transit versus light rail, but those entrenched in car culture will continue to fight all alternatives. Oakland’s past and much of its present is built around mass transit and walkable neighborhoods: rediscovering this history, for example by watching a digitized pedestrian safety film from 1948, illuminates the shared goals of bike, ped, and transit advocates.

This blog is not meant to be a roundup of the best posts of 2008, but certainly there were many excellent entries about Oakland’s past, present and future. This year, the blogoaksphere expanded several times over: my favorite new blogs include City Homestead, 38th Notes, Oakland Space Academy, Oakland Streets, We Fight Blight, and Brooklyn Avenue. Some blogs met their demise in 2008, including Beautiful West Oakland, Dogtown Commons, and The Grand Lake Guardian. A Better Oakland once wrote that much of Oakland’s “news” is something that also happened many times before, so after writing enough blogs, she can just begin to repost them. With an ever-expanding blogosphere allowing for the presentation of in-depth research and an ever-lengthening record of debate, there are more opportunities than ever to know Oakland’s history, and so avoid being doomed to repeat its sorrier episodes.

Posted in blogoaksphere, california, news, oakland, planningcommission, transportation.

2 Responses

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  1. V Smoothe says

    I miss Dogtown Commons so much!

  2. Becks says

    OMG, me too! As I was looking through old blog posts for my year in review post (which will be up tomorrow), I stumbled upon some things I had written about Dogtown Commons. I wish I had some way of contacting Dogtowner. If anyone knows, please tell me!