We love working in Oakland. It’s the scrappy city by the bay. It’s one of the most diverse cities in the nation, it has the best weather in the bay area and it’s alive with creativity and culture. From the bustling Chinatown to the industrious Jack London District to the quiet of the hills, Oakland is an incredible place to work, live and play.
Even when it wasn’t trendy to do so the President of Cutting Edge Capital, John Katovich, raised his family in Oakland and has been involved in so many active ways to strengthen it’s local economy over the years. When our lease came up for renewal we searched across the east bay, but ultimately decided we wanted to stay in Oakland, stay downtown, and be a part of Oakland’s newest chapter. Signing a new lease wasn’t easy, or cheap. Our rent increased 24% to stay in downtown, a place that just a decade ago was begging to find tenants to fill office space. But the times have changed: gourmet restaurants, hip co-working spaces, breweries, locally sourced retail and upscale coffee shops abound. The din of construction is constantly in the background as buildings are bought, improved and filled at top dollar. Oakland is for sure an exciting place to be, but the changes are also terrifying. What will happen to the communities that have been here for generations? Will locals be able to find jobs, or will they be pushed out like so many communities across the country affected by gentrification? Will incoming middle and upper class residents understand the landscape, the culture and the history of the place they are flocking to? With increased rents for businesses, will goods and services be priced so high that “old” residents can’t afford them anymore?
Shortly after we signed our lease renewal the news broke that Uber purchased the old Sears building a few blocks away … for over $120 million dollars. Naturally this has started a wave of questions and concerns about the changing business landscape of Oakland. As large companies choose to relocate to the sunny side of the bay we wonder has the gentrification nightmare truly arrived on Main Street? Can we grow a strong middle class for residents that already live in Oakland? While there are a lot of reasons to fear these changes we see some hopeful signs that Oakland can respond to these challenges in a more thoughtful and intentional way.
We recently sat down with the Democracy Collaborative and were inspired by their approach to strengthen local supply chains as a direct response to the challenges of rapid growth. Recognizing the inequality in gentrified growth models (to play you have to have a four year degree, at least), they explore ways to build resilience, equality and opportunity for economically marginalized communities. They forge alliances and communication between experts, researchers, policymakers, community foundations, businesses, local leaders and grassroots organizations to build the local work force to supply services and goods to large “anchor” institutions (think local government, universities, and hospitals). As stated by the Democracy collaborative they are working with these anchors in “making a commitment to consciously apply their long-term, place-based economic power, in combination with their human and intellectual resources, to better the long-term welfare of the communities in which they are anchored.”