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!


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.

Violent Crime, Never Mind

Bring in the SWAT team and roving helicopter.  Shut down the street.  Yesterday in Montclair.

We learned that an armed man was spotted around Broadway Terrace, late yesterday afternoon.  The Oakland Police Department jumped on the lead, which ultimately turned into a false alarm.  Yet we shouldn’t mind the practice drill, not one bit.

On Montclair Safety’s Yahoo board, Natalie Henrich passed along the neighborhood scoop:

I just heard from a neighbor that all of the police activity that occurred today from 5-6 pm near Mountain and Broadway Terrace was for naught.  It turns out that it was a “kid” with a pretend gun.  I don’t know more than that, but I am relieved that it was not what everyone thought it to be.

Without knowing the full details, we’re still comforted by the Oakland Police’s response to this priority call.  Our area is best known for property rather than violent crimes, but you never know when there might be a threat to life and limb.

Not Hopeful About Dunsmuir

We just learned that Dunsmuir-Hellman Estate will shift operations from a non-profit group to direct city oversight.  Knowing how our cash-strapped city has been cutting back on cultural and park resources, we’re extremely worried this special place will get mothballed.

Like so many places, Dunsmuir has been challenged by the recession.  While owned by the City of Oakland, an independent non-profit organization has managed the estate for decades.  There are weddings and events booked this year and next, but not enough to pay $380k in annual operating costs required for estate upkeep.

Over the past 40 years, the estate has figured into the traditions of East Bay residents.  Well-known Christmas celebrations takes place through December, when the mansion gets decorated to the hilt and plays host to tours, teas and Santa Claus.  It’s part of our cultural fabric!

In more recent years, Easter celebrations, Halloween festivities, picnic days and movie nights have joined the annual roster.  Various groups also host great events, notably the Scottish Highlands Games.  Plus the mansion has figured into a couple movie shoots as well.

We’re pretty depressed about Dunsmuir’s change of control, as reins get handed to Oakland Parks and Recreation now.  We know that our city administrators and elected officials can’t wave a magic wand and support the estate.  Are there any white knights in shining armor out there?

Imagine Portland For Oakland

Try imagining a world that’s more like Portland than Oakland.

While a bus rapid transit project won’t literally impact Montclair, the opportunity captured our attention during the City Council meeting tonight.  The route would run along the entire length of Oakland, across International and Telegraph – and maybe look like these mocks below.

Is there a preference? Not yet.  Our City Council was asked to green-light an environmental impact statement and review, including designated and non-designated lane options.  Listening to residents and Council reps, there’s no consensus right now.

Who makes decisions? The City has control and officially owns the city streets.  If this rapid bus option were in the cards, then A.C. Transit would legally access a portion of the streets from the city.  However Caltrans has authority on International, below 42nd Street.

Why are the sparks flying? Everyone who lives near the potential route seems a little scared.  In East Oakland, there’s no well-developed district along International and added traffic would be detrimental.  In Temescal, there’s a nicely developing district along Telegraph and concerns over parking spaces.

Could Portland happen? It’s the million(s) dollar question.  Council Rep Larry Reid, of East Oakland, mumbled “this will never happen.”   Many Oaklanders stepped up to the mike and shared their public transit hopes and dreams.  Around the hills, we are mostly drivers – but aspirations are a good thing.

More info:   Bus Rapid Transit overview City Administration report AC Transit report draft

Yes, Goats Are Back!

Sure enough, our beloved goats have returned from their off-season stomping grounds.  We spotted the billies roaming the lower reaches of Hiller Highlands this afternoon,  making rapid progress on a now-mowed patch.  You might catch a glimpse yourself, while looping from 24 West to 13 South.

With brush growing quickly around here, these goats contribute to annual fire-prevention efforts.  The East Bay Regional Park District has scheduled two major grazings this year – first in Claremont Canyon from May 23rd – June 3rd, and then at Redwood Regional Park from July 19th – August 4th.

To prepare for fire season, the goats won’t have to operate alone.  The Park District already has cut down brush and intends to oversee controlled burns along with local fire officials.  As soon as calm weather prevails, these burns will take place in Gwinn Canyon, a high-risk area flanking Claremont Canyon.  So don’t be alarmed if you see a little weekday smoke in the hills.

Within a couple weeks, Montclarions will need to start working as well.  It’s almost time to get out your machetes and slay the greenery growing too closely to your homes.  While still a whisper, there will be rallying cries:  defensible space! defensible space! defensible space!

April 20th Update:  The NY Times Bay Area blog reported about local goats, since our Oakland City Council is deliberating on whether to approve (or not approve) $250k for goat grazing on city-owned lands.

Another Perfect Day In Nearby Hills

Our East Bay springtime is ephemeral and utterly amazing, and the emerald greens, flowers, flowing waters, and overall gestalt are an antidote to our daily responsibilities.  This weekend, we drove 45 minutes to the Sunol Regional Wilderness and it delivered on all spring fronts.

The Waters

Our travels took us to “Little Yosemite,” and this gorge definitely reminded us of that little national park on a 1:500 scale.  If you haven’t been to Sunol before, then you must put this on your to-do list.  The water shots, above, are low resolution video freeze-frames we took by mobile phone.

It’s quite easy to get there!  The walk down Camp Ohlone Road lasted around 15-45 minutes, depending on your propulsion speed.  There were a couple dozen walkers and families with the same idea, and plenty of room for everyone.

As you parallel Alameda Creek, it eventually transitions into a beautiful, rocky gorge that continues for a good distance.  We climbed down and around the rocks, finding suitable perches.  Then we simply sat quietly, listening and letting the river run.

The Hills

Eventually the emerald hills and comfortable weather beckoned, and we decided to head up a couple thousand feet through the adjacent Ohlone Regional Wilderness.  This part of the visit is for heartier hikers, and you need to decide how many vertical feet and miles to travel.

We headed straight up, down and across the ridges on this picture-perfect weekend.  With a single, cross-country trail running through Ohlone, views like the one snapped above reveal San Francisco Water District no-man’s land.  At this point, we were a couple miles from Rose Peak, known as Alameda County’s high point.

En route, we noticed prodigious white, purple, and yellow wildflower carpets which won’t be around much longer.  That feeling of spring, with few signs of civilization in the watershed, had worked liked a charm.  Ohlone and Sunol both hit the spot – and felt just right on this weekend celebrating Earth Day.