Take One Of Jane’s Walks

In honor of Jane Jacobs, there are several walking tours planned around Oakland this Saturday.

You should set aside a couple hours and join one of the neighborhood tours, to appreciate all the human-level interactions in an urban setting – and to understand how Oakland presents a perfect case study of older, transitional centers.

Meet Urbanist Jane Jacobs, RIP

Almost fifty years ago, Jane Jacobs pushed against the old-school urban development parlance of high-rises surrounded by open spaces.  She recommended street-level retail and mixed uses in neighborhoods, and challenged the orthodox zoning concepts which separated uses.  She believed people would properly populate these mixed environments, and make them vibrant and safe.

In her seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs explained:

The bedrock attitude of a successful city district is that a person must feel personally safe and secure on the street among all these strangers.  He must not feel automatically menaced by them.  A city district that fails in this respect also does badly in other ways and lays up for itself, and for its city at large, mountain on mountain of trouble.

Tour Oakland On Foot, This Saturday

What kind of Jane’s Walks have been planned this Saturday?  Some trace stairways and hidden pathways, mostly in the hillier areas.  Others examine the remnants of our Key System train routes.  Still others embrace and celebrate Oakland’s original core.

All the walking tours are free to the public, and are well-organized by Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, Oakland Urban Paths and the City of Oakland’s Tourist Program.  Here’s the official line-up:

  • Old Oakland – Walk through what was once the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad!   See great, restored commercial buildings. – Runs 10:00 am – 1:00 pm.  Starts at G.B. Ratto, 821 Washington St (map), ends at La Borinquena, 582 Seventh St (map).
  • An Advocate’s Walk – Ever thought a scenic walk was too far away?  Walk from BART through Temescal, Echo Creek, Rose Garden, Whole Foods and Lake Merritt. – Runs 12:30 pm – 2:30 pm.  Starts at 555 40th St (map), ends at 1900 Broadway (map).
  • The Oakmore Stairs – The four sets of stairs in Oakmore were rebuilt as part of the original development.  Hear stories from residents and get a primer of the Key Route System. – Runs 10:30 am – 1:00 pm.  Starts and ends at Leimert and Arden Place (map).
  • Lake Merritt, Roses and Glen Echo Creek – Take several footpaths criss-crossing the city, connecting some of the city’s most stunning settings. – Runs 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm.  Starts at Grand Lake Theatre, 3200 Grand Ave (map), ends at Grand Tavern, 3601 Grand Ave (map).
  • Mills College, A Creekside Oakland Gem – Learn about current efforts to restore the creek, then tour around the college campus. – Runs 10:00 am – 12:00 pm.  Starts and ends at Mills College, 5000 MacArthur Blvd (map).
  • Crocker Highland, Grand Lake Stair Walk – Check out four historic neighborhoods, and traverse secret stairs and paths that were cut-throughs to the Key Route. – Runs 10:00 am – 12:00 pm.  Starts and ends at Azirmendi, 3265 Lakeshore Dr (map).

Honor Oakland’s Heritage All Year

Well beyond a single tour day, Oakland offers a terrific series of historical and cultural walks each year.  The Oakland Heritage Alliance organizes fee-based walking tours which are top-notch, attracting historians and experts as local docents.  Last summer there were over 20 weekend events, capped off by a neighborhood open-house in Storybook Fernwood.

In addition, the Mountain View Cemetery leads interesting docent tours twice monthly.  Introductory tours visit Millionaire’s Row and get a lay of the land.  Other tours are surprisingly creative, based on who’s resting there for eternity.  You really must check out this Frederick Law Olmsted creation.

The City of Oakland also organizes twice-weekly, free tours around the city for visitors and residents.  Local historian Annalee Allen oversees these tours with volunteers, but the whole program might get cut at this Thursday’s City Council meeting.  If you’re a tour-lover, then email your council rep now:   Jean Quan at jquan@oaklandnet.com, or Jane Brunner at jbrunner@oaklandnet.com.

Oakland’s still fortunate to have many residents who revel in our local heritage.  These experts make sure our historical, cultural and other local knowledge doesn’t vanish from memory – and you can meet some of them during Jane’s Day!

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America Sees Our Eastern Span

Your faithful blogger has been on a quick trip east, talking up Oakland as usual.  No one really cared much about Oakland, until 60 Minutes came to the rescue last night.  They aired a story about the urgent need to earthquake-proof the Bay Bridge, slinging superlatives about the new Eastern Span under construction.  We were so proud!

Of course, the TV segment considered the grandparent and grandchild bridges side-by-side.  Caltrans Spokesman Bart Ney received plenty of airtime and he showed the new bridge in ways we have already seen.  The original bridge was rigid, and a marvel for its time.  The new bridge enables movement, and certain parts can bend and break so the whole remains intact.

In typical 60 Minutes style, the piece played up the current risks of living with the grandparent Eastern Span.  The facts are undeniable, since the Hayward Fault quake and the replacement bridge are both well overdue.  Steve Heminger, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission almost shrugged his shoulders, responding to the concerns in a hopeful yet realistic manner.

This TV program didn’t touch on what Bay Area residents think or do about earthquake preparations.  Oaklanders even ran a major drill in Oakland this past weekend.  Residents are learning, finally, where to turn off their gas and what they should do to be self-sufficient for a couple days.  There’s no point in living with hysterical fear, que sera, sera.

By 2013, the Eastern Span will likely open for business.  In the meantime, all of America glimpsed this gorgeous engineering marvel and acknowledged the Contra Costa and Oakland – at least for a few fleeting minutes.