I suppose it makes me sound like a crotchety old lady that every time I write something meta about the blogoaksphere, I go on and on about how there used to be, like, no Oakland blogs way back when I started doing this almost four years ago (yikes!). It’s boring and repetitive, I know. But I just cannot seem to get over how different the online Oakland landscape is now than it was in 2006.
2008 was a pretty awesome year for Oakland blogs, but I have to say, 2009 was even better. As we near the dawn of a new decade, I wanted to take a little time to look at what the blogoaksphere gained (and lost) this year. Let’s start with the sad stuff first.
Not only did one of my favorite local blogs, Brooklyn Avenue shut down, the author (or google? who knows) deleted the whole site, so now we can’t even go back and read the archives. Sad! Anyway, David was not totally immersed in local politics the way some of us are, but followed City of Oakland news enough that he always had insightful commentary, and I always enjoyed his sharp wit. David and Brooklyn Avenue are sorely missed.
Another defunct blog I always really enjoyed was Oakland Streets. Much to my dismay, blogger Crimson called it quits in September, saying he just didn’t have time to do it anymore. I totally understand the sentiment – blogging is a ton of work. But I will miss Crimson’s thoughtful observations about Oakland’s building stock and urban landscape.
We lost several blogs to relocations – An Oakland Citizen’s Michael Caton moved to San Diego for medical school, although he promises to return to the Bay Area (and hopefully, Oakland) for his residency. Frequent ABO guest blogger Chris Kidd abandoned us for Los Angeles, where he’s pursuing a graduate degree in urban planning and has started a fantastic blog of his own. His fanciful photography paints a very different picture of LA than I had always had in my head, and if keeps it up, it might just be enough to convince me to visit CA’s biggest city for the first time.
Oakland Goods blogger Jessica Hilberman shocked me when she announced she was moving to San Francisco – aren’t people supposed to migrate to Oakland from there, not the other way around? Somehow, I’m still managing to have fun in Oakland without her alerting me to the coolest shops, newest restaurants, and best events, but it has gotten tougher.
One of my favorite local blogs, Monteskewed, didn’t shut down, but no longer features posts about Oakland, since blogger Monte and his family moved to France earlier this year, where Monte is now a pastor at a church in Poissy. I still love his blogging towards Sunday posts, but definitely miss his wonderful stories about community driven neighborhood improvements. Monte said when he announced his departure that he hoped to return to Oakland, a town he clearly loves, when his stint in France was finished, and I sincerely hope he does.
Finally, we said goodbye to More Ways to Waste Time, a another blog that wasn’t exclusively about Oakland, but featured tons of local love. For anyone looking to appoint their home with the Oakland-made furnishings, or just hankering for a daily visual feast, it was a must-read. So there’s another one I miss.
But it wasn’t all, or even mostly, sad news for the blogoaksphere in 2009. We welcomed dozens of new blogs as well. Becks has a post up on Living in the O highlighting some of the best new Oakland blogs of the year, but I’d already gotten halfway through writing this when I saw it, so I’m going to go ahead with my version anyway.
In the local political arena, we welcomed two exciting new blogs, Marleen Sacks’s Defending Measure Y and Oaktalk, a blog written by leaders of the fledgling Oakland political advocacy organization Make Oakland Better Now. I love them both!
One of my favorite things about the rise of blogging as a communication and news platform is that it provides an opportunity for newsmakers to discuss their work without the (often inaccurate) filter of an intermediary. This blog, from the woman who sued the City over failing to keep their promises to the voters regarding Measure Y, does just that. Marleen’s posts are opinionated, blunt, incredibly thorough, and in general, just a total pleasure to read.
A Better Oakland is largely driven by whatever happens to be going on at the City Council (or AC Transit, or the Planning Commission, or MTC, etc) right now, and as much as I would love to write more reflective posts about what the City needs longer term, or in a broader sense, I just never seem to get around to it. Still, I feel strongly that this is a dialogue we should be having, and I’m thrilled that Make Oakland Better Now! has popped up to provide a platform for exactly those kinds of conversations.
Sadly, not all the new entries in the local politics field are so praiseworthy. I’m always saying I wish some of Oakland’s politicians would start blogs, but when I say that, I have in mind either something like the thoughtful, personal reflections of Cory Booker’s Moving Newark Forward or the wonky detail of Assemblymember Evans’ Budget Blog.
Alas, we get, like, the opposite. District 4 Councilmember and Mayoral wannabe Jean Quan started a blog about Oakland’s budget this Spring, allegedly “to help Oaklanders understand and participate in the Two Year Budget Adoption.” Unfortunately, after less than a week and a measly four pitifully uninformative posts, which consisted almost entirely of copied and pasted information from other City budget-related documents, she abandoned the effort. I guess she decided we could figure out the budget for ourselves if we really wanted to know.
The other one isn’t quite so bad, and to be perfectly fair, Mayor Dellums in the News doesn’t actually claim to be written by the Mayor himself. Posts are hilariously authored by the defensively named handle “set the record.” Straight, I assume, is implied. I have to admit that I actually kind of like Mayor Dellums in the News, just because it’s so bizarre. Updates are completely sporadic, and when they come, they’re an odd mix of reprinted press releases and oddly compiled lists of the Mayor’s activities. Weird.
For more general Oakland news, dto510 and I have reunited and are once again blogging together, this time at InOakland, where the posts are substantially less dense than what we tend to write on our own sites. We highlight upcoming community meetings, fun local events, sweet Oakland stories, and whatever we happen to find most interesting in local news or blogs. And occasionally, we’ll post some news of our own. It’s fun.
There’s a similar concept behind the new site Oakland Local. The self-described “community hub” was conceived by new media veteran Susan Mernit shortly after she moved to Oakland, and came to fruition with the help of a J-Lab New Voices grant, another recent transplant, Amy Gahran, and Oakland writer, editor, and general all around dynamo Kwan Booth. Cool features include weekly music from local artists, daily photos of Oakland, daily news round-ups/commentary, and stories about food, environmental, and other local issues. The site debuted in October, and my favorite item so far has been a post about the composer of the Farmville theme song, who it turns out, lives in Oakland. Who knew?
On the transportation and planning front, we’ve got several delightful new additions. Rebuilding Oaktown, written by Uptown resident Ken O, focuses on preparing Oakland residents for a post-disaster world, plus helping ensure Oaklanders enjoy themselves while they can, with posts about fun stuff to do and great places to eat in the neighborhood. (Ken, BTW, also runs a pedicab that runs around Uptown Thursday through Sunday. He took me for a ride recently, and it was wicked fun. If you happen to see him while you’re out, flag him down and ask for a ride. You’ll be glad you did!)
BARThood isn’t really a blog, I suppose. It’s just a wicked cool website that aggregates data, news, and photos centered around Bay Area BART stations. But they do have a blog, so I’m allowed to include it in this round-up. Local planning, transit, and urban design geeks are crazy if they’re not reading recently born blogs No Ordinary City, 21st Century Urban Solutions, and my hands-down favorite of all this year’s new blogs, Fragmentary Evidence. I dream of someday being as engaging a writer as DC, sigh. He always manages to say exactly what I want to say, but in about a tenth of the number of words and be more persuasive about it to boot.
I’d be remiss if I left out Switching Modes, although I don’t really know if I would say I enjoy reading this one. dto510 and I like to joke that this transit-focused blog is secretly written by Steve Heminger. For those of you who aren’t masochistic enough to sit through MTC meetings, that basically means that the Switching Modes author and I do not tend to share the same perspective about what is or is not a wise transportation investment. Nevertheless, it’s well written, and challenges to one’s perspective are always healthy. If you find yourself in need of a palate cleanser once you finish over there, visit Bay Area Public Transportation Examiner. That one’s infuriating too, not because of the writing, but because Guy Span does such a thorough job spelling out the twisted, deceptive, and suburban-oriented machinations of the MTC.
For a different sort of transportation, we’ve got Original Scraper Bikes. Mostly, the blog highlights media features about scraper bakes (it’s kind of incredible how much press they get), but they mix cool videos and music in there too. It’s fun.
Trib reporter Katy Murphy’s blog The Education Report and Alex Gronke’s work at The Oakbook are both excellent source of OUSD news, but beyond those two, there really didn’t used to be much at all out there if you wanted to read online about local schools. Happily, things have improved this year, with the addition of three new Oakland school-related blogs. Teacher, Revised is a group blog whose authors include (I think) four Oakland teachers. Their reflections on their classroom experiences and the education system are sometimes maddening, frequently heartwarming, and always a refreshing reminder of what wonderful, caring people we have out there trying to take care of Oakland’s kids.
For a somewhat less encouraging look at the inside of Oakland’s public schools, check out Ms. Q takes on Oakland, a chronicle of one woman’s experience as a first year Oakland teacher. In case you couldn’t guess, it’s a rough gig. I always feel so happy for Ms. Q when she writes about her rare good days, but they do seem to be few and far between. She’s nothing if not determined, however, and I look forward to watching her make it through to the end of the year. It’s certainly an enlightening look at what it takes to be a teacher in Oakland.
It’s not only teachers blogging, though. For the education activist in all of us, there’s the Great Oakland Public Schools blog, which keeps me posted on School Board agendas and OUSD improvement efforts. While all my attention is directed towards City Hall, I find it heartening to be reminded there’s people out there working just as hard for a better OUSD.
It wasn’t just education and political blogs that got a big boost in 2009, though. Oakland food and art were big winners this year as well. In the art field, a couple of art destinations have started their own blogs this year. I’ve been loving the updates from Frisbie Street Art and also the Oakland Museum as they complete their renovations.
As far as viewing art goes, we’ve been blessed with the stellar Oaktown Art. Go there, and you’re sure to enjoy the virtual gallery tours, but that’s, of course, just the beginning. I love the way studiodeb333 puts together little series. One week, all the posts will be about Christmas lights. Another, it will be murals or graffiti. No matter what the subject matter, the photographs are great, and every post is a treat.
For food, we’ve got another neat mix of new blogs, representing business, personal, and advocacy perspectives. Even after twelve years living on the West Coast, I still have kind of a hard time with the concept of vegan baked goods. (What can I say? I’m a former pastry professional. We used a lot of butter.). But when I read the Fat Bottom Bakery blog, I can’t help but pull for Carloynn and Ashley. They just make vegan baking seem so fun. Also, their cupcakes look delicious. I’m going to try one soon.
No, really. I am. I’ve already marked the East Bay Vegan Bake Sale on my calendar. You guys should go too!
Actual Blog, about the newly opened Actual Cafe in North Oakland, kind of cracks me up, since the one of the cafe’s big things appears to be that they hate the internet (their other thing is that they love bicycles), yet they’re on Facebook and Twitter, and like I said before, also have a blog. I’ve loved reading about their construction and permitting trials, and look forward to visiting Actual Cafe in person when I get back into town. Until then, I hope they keep up with the blog.
Novella Carpenter gets a lot of press (deservedly so) for her writing about urban farming, but I almost enjoy more reading the new blog about the somewhat scrappier seeming Funktown Farm. Does that name just roll of the tongue, or what? They always look like they’re having so much fun in the photos, and for some reason, the place appears to be filled with children. It’s almost enough to make a girl want to move to Eastlake and adopt a chicken.
When I first saw it, the idea of an Oliveto “community,” kind of made me laugh. Now, I get upset if this Oakland-based food blog goes too long without a post. If you’re a serious foodie and you’re not reading Oliveto Community Journal, you need to, like, turn in your badge or something, forthwith. DROOL.
For a somewhat more down to earth, but still totally delicious looking take on Oakland eating, visit Oakland Garden Kitchen. And if you’re the type that enjoys a plate of politics with your dinner, be sure to check out the Oakland Food Policy Council blog.
2009 also brought us a bunch of great new blogs devoted to just kind of general local love. A few years ago, when Meet Downtown Oakland first debuted, they had this weekly game, “I Spy Downtown“. dto510 and I used to call it “Guess where, DTO,” because that sounded less stupid. Basically, they would put up a cryptic picture of something downtown, and you were supposed to guess where it was. Kind of self-explanatory, I guess. Anyway, we thought it was great fun and looked forward to every new installment until they quickly abandoned the game. I have to admit, I don’t think either of us were that sad to see it go, since, while the concept was great, the pictures they had were all pathetically easy – once, it was a photo of the clock on the Trib Tower!
Anyway, now there’s a whole blog devoted to the same idea – Oaksnap. The Oakland snapshot mystery game. A lot of their photos have been easy too, but not in a pathetic way like the Trib Tower clock, just easy for me I guess since I live downtown and that’s where most of them are, so I see them every day. The most recent entry was from the building I work in, so yeah, obviously I’m going to know that. (This one, on the other hand, totally stumped me). Anyway, it’s a cool game, and a neat way, I think, to highlight different parts of the City. Also, everyone is invited to submit their own photos, so if you’re thinking it isn’t quite tough enough, send in one you think is a stumper. Anyway, I just love this concept.
And we’ve got a lot more. Oakland’s apparently endless supply of fabulous and eye-catching signs, plus exciting local events (and occasional forays into politics) get a great showcase at Our Oakland. Oakland Daily Photo isn’t quite daily, but has done a great job reminding me what a pretty City I live in. Sparkart Oakland tries to prove that not all parts of this town merit our less than stellar reputation, Oakland Hidden Treasures reminds us that delightful new adventures are always hiding just around the corner, and Sweeeeet Oakland keeps me current on all sorts of great upcoming local events. Bay Area Love Letters isn’t a new blog, but was tragically gone for a really long time, and I was thrilled to see it come back recently.
As far as blogs about life in Oakland go, I can’t wait to see what super-duper new blog Mr. Oakland has in store for us in the coming year. Over at Scenes from Oakland, local resident Jennifer Inez Ward shares her thoughts on politics, schools, and the town in general. Finally, there’s Back to Oakland, a blog I discovered only recently, but that won me over immediately. It’s about a couple who used to live here, then moved to the midwest, and are now finally coming back and so excited about it that they started a blog about rediscovering the city. How sweet is that?
We also gained a number of blogs about very specific places, which might just be my favorite kind. Friends of the Montclair Library offers updates on, well, the Montclair Branch Library. If you’re in the mood for something a little heavier, The Waiting Room posts videos of people waiting to be seen at Highland Hopsital. It’s incredibly depressing, and often hard to watch, but the stories are totally engrossing and make a powerful case for the need for change in our health care system.
Picardy Project chronicles one couple’s large scale renovations on their adorable house located on East Oakland’s adorable Picardy Drive. Friends of Biff’s only had a few posts this summer, then disappeared, but I hope it comes back, because I love the concept – trying to resurrect Oakland landmark Biff’s restaurant.
Save our Dimond Post Office is another blog that came and went in the same year, but this time for happier reasons – they got what they wanted! On this blog, Dimond residents working like crazy to get their post office taken off the USPS closure list kept neighbors posted about their efforts. And they did it! I love happy endings.
Other placeblog additions include Grand Lake Neighbors, which focuses on civic improvement efforts in the Grand Lake Area, and Shalom of Oakland, which is mostly about a small community center in East Oakland that the author runs, and sometimes about the area in general.
For sports, we got one new blog focusing on the professional side of things, Baseball Oakland, and then almost the complete opposite, Oakland Warthog Rugby, where Oakland resident Mike Spencer reports on his efforts coaching a rugby team of Oakland teenagers. (BTW, if after reading the blog, you feel inspired to help the Warthogs out, you could do worse than throwing a little cash their way.)
Shopaholics were treated to the new Oakland Grown blog, which highlights locally made goods and locally owned businesses, and also Diary of an Oakland Shopgirl, where the proprietress of Oo la la! gift & accessories lounge on 17th Street downtown blogs about her store, her merchandise, and fashion in general. She has adorable stock, ladies! Go check it out!
Last of all, but definitely not least, I want to highlight The Fault Lines Project, a reporting effort aimed at creating a dialogue about violence in Oakland among all different types of people impacted by it. The work culminated in a six part series on KALW about violence in Oakland, and I guess that’s kind of the end of it and the blog won’t be updated anymore, but you should go read all their posts, like, right now. It’s some of the absolute best, most nuanced reporting on violence in Oakland that I have seen since I lived here.
Okay, so that’s what’s new in the blogoaksphere in 2009! How many of them will last into the next year? Some of the ones I listed above haven’t posted new blogs in a couple of months, but I never consider a blog truly dead until either the author says they’re giving up or a year goes by without posting. I hope they’ll all come back to it in 2010. And I can’t wait to see all the new blogs next year brings.
Happy New Year, folks!