Chris Kidd: Sim City is fun, Sim Oakland is *funner*

Let’s take a trip in the Way-Back-Machine, guys.

Remember Sim City Classic on your mac plus?  That game was awesome.  I remember coming into school early, going to the computer lab, switching on one of those little off-white boxes, and building new cities with 3×3 squares of residential, commercial, and industrial zones.  It was all there: fighting crime, delivering essential services, growing your tax base, solving traffic, fighting off a Godzilla rampage(okay, some things weren’t so realistic).

Just don't imbezzle too much or you'll set off an earthquake!

Just don't embezzle too much or you'll set off an earthquake!

Man, that game was sweet.  I shoulda known back then I was a sucker for city planning.  Well, this coming Saturday at 9:00 AM, you can play too.  But instead of playing on your old-school Mac Plus, you can come down to the Beacon Day School at 2101 Livingston St. and play for the benefit of your city.

The city of Oakland is having its fourth meeting for the Central Estuary Specific Plan.  The first meeting got people talking about what they’d want in a specific plan, the second meeting crafted the vision statement for the specific plan, the third meeting dealt with the existing conditions in the specific plan area, and the fourth meeting will be a big game of Sim City.

our fair CESP area

our fair CESP area

Here’s how it’s going down:  Planning staff is going to lay out a huge map of the specific plan area and anyone who attends can show the changes on the map that they envision with either markers or place holders (or maybe even some sweet little residential/industrial/comercial squares).  The challenge is to make your dream real while also making it realistic.  Say you want to complete the bay trail: what about the waterfront industries that need access to the estuary?  Say you want economic/industrial development for blue collar jobs: what about the added polution affecting the quasi-residential neighborhoods 2 blocks over?  Maybe you’d like to increase housing density: what kind of traffic implications are you creating?  Though it can feel like trying to dance between the raindrops, these are the issues(among many others) the specific plan must resolve.  If you want the specific plan to be a success, you’ve gotta pitch in.  Staff is asking for your help.

I’m not going to play my hand right now (gotta have something left for the meeting), but I’ll lay down some ugly truths that we’re going to run up against at some point.  Getting them out of the way right now might help the coming meeting deal more with fun solutions and grand visions.  Or so I hope.

There are a few things that just aren’t going to change in the CESP area.  The Central-West section of the CESP area, bounded by Fruitvale and 23rd Ave (basically Jingletown) isn’t going to have its zoning changed.  It’s one of a very few areas in the city zoned HBX (mixed use), a new zoning that was implemented only a few years ago.  Adding to the HBX theme, the city council (in their infinite wisdom) declared that the area below Tidewater Ave on the south side of High St.(about halfway down the linked post) was to be zoned HBX as a pre-requisite for funding the specific plan study.  A big retailer like Home Depot ain’t going nowhere: Don’t plan on replacing that with low income housing or green collar jobs or whatever.  Places like Quinn’s Lighthouse and Beacon Day School are other sources of vitality that will most likely have a long life.

I wouldn't expect this guy to go anywhere either.

I wouldn't expect this guy to go anywhere either.

Outside of that, it’s open season!  It’s also where things start to get hairy.  My opinion is that a lot of the current industrial uses simply don’t fit in with the goals of the CESP.  Small time manufacturing, light industry, etc. certainly have their place -and should be encouraged to grow within the specific plan- but the large industrial producers like Cemex, ConAgra, and the Brockway-Owens glass factory are kinda antithetical to a lot of the goals for the CESP.  They impede the progress of the bay trail and contribute nothing to the vibrancy and walkability envisioned by so many stakeholders at previous meetings.  What’s more, they’re already an issue for current residents.  Take a gander at the “polution risks” pie chart in the Public Health section of the existing conditions charts.  Jingletown residents had to get John Russo’s office involved before Cemex was willing to take actions mitigating the enormous amount of particulate matter thrown up into the air (and thus, into people’s lungs) from their cement manufacturing.  Whatever type of specific plan is drafted, there are going to be more residents moving to the estuary and the polution is already unacceptable for the ones living there now.

It’s true that such a pronouncement is sure to make the social-justice types howl, and rightly so:  That’s a whole lot of centrally located blue collar jobs going out the door.  To counter this, the specific plan needs to be rigorous in attracting new blue collar jobs in more small-scale, low-impact industries.  By spreading these replacement blue collar jobs across the CESP area, we could help retain the industrial feel (even while more residential development takes place) that make these neighborhoods so uniquely attractive.  Additionally, spreading low-impact industry throughout the CESP area could serve as a counterweight to rapid gentrification, helping some areas retain their working-class and artist-loft affordability.

My last wish is a mechanism within the specific plan to make a permanent place for artists on Oakland’s estuary.  It was primarily a second wave of artists to Jingletown (escaping the rapid gentrification of artist space in the Mission and Potrero Hill during the dot-com boom) that made the central estuary so attractive to further development.  The specific plan needs to make sure they stay.  On one level, it’s altruistic: the reward for revitalizing a section of Oakland shouldn’t be a ticket out of town.  But on a more city-serving level, it makes plenty of sense: their pressence is the safety net for the the central estuary’s vitality.  Artists will make the central estuary an interesting place to live, no matter the status of either the economy or the housing market.  Why wouldn’t you want to live in a place where this, this, and this are right outside your front door?  What’s more, creating a permanent place for artists will help maintain the economic diversity necessary to have a truly vibrant neighborhood.

So what are your ideas?  One idea I’ve heard floating around is a street car from Jack Lodon Square down the estuary to Jingletown.  Maybe you think the central estuary should be an incubator for biotechnology with state of the art research campuses.  Maybe you’ve got an idea nobody’s thought of yet.  This is a great opportunity to dream big!  Bring any and all ideas down to Beacon Day School this Saturday at 9:00, no matter how nutty they are.  It is, after all, Sim Oakland.

how will YOU plan it?

how will YOU plan it?

26 thoughts on “Chris Kidd: Sim City is fun, Sim Oakland is *funner*

  1. Russell Spitzer

    According to Simcity, shouldnt we just separate our heavy industry from our residential by a strip of trees and everyone will be happy (May have been Simcity 2000)? That and of course add a baseball stadium.

  2. gem s

    This hands-on approach is a really great idea. Sounds like a possibly chaotic meeting though. I think if I were doing it, I would have several groups with several maps who could work to develop something and then could then present their vision. A final map would be the effort to address the possibilities and concerns brought up by each group’s plan.

    Then again, maybe I’ve been spending too much time in design and architecture classes. :-/ Still, Oakland Sim City is a brilliant idea.

  3. Timothy Rood

    Good point, gem s, and that is in fact exactly what we are doing on Saturday. We are hoping to have up to 10 table groups each working on their own map. Each group will be a diverse mix of stakeholders, including residents, business owners, artists, etc. Input from this workshop will be used to develop 3 alternative schemes, which will be analyzed and brought back to the community in the fall. Please encourage anyone who has an interest in the process to attend! Thanks. Tim Rood (principal at CD+A, prime consultant on the Central Estuary Plan)

  4. Ken O

    augh, i loved that game. i played sc3000. or was it 2000. i still have it somewhere. gotta love (some) central planning.

    i like gem’s idea. that sounds like a community design charette.

    where’s beacon day school? i’m lazy and feeling entitled.

  5. Robert

    Looking at the map, it would be nice if Alameda was included in this process. The Alameda shore is only a couple of hundred yards away, and is connected by a couple of bridges, and could easly be further connected by a water taxi or eauivalent. If the expectaion is to migrate heavy industry out of the central estuary in Oakland, it only makes sense if the same is done in Alameda.

    Just a thought for better regional planning. A cooperative redevelopment seems to make a lot os sense in this location.

  6. Jeremy Murfitt


    What you are doing (i.e the process) is known as a Charette. See extract from Wikpedia below. It can be a very powerful way to engage stakeholders and ultimately end up with a plan which everyone can buy into.Good luck – Jeremy Murfitt (UK)

    [Edited for length. There is no reason to copy and paste entire websites when a link will suffice. You can find the Wikipedia page here. - V]

  7. Chris Kidd

    okay, blanket post of “Charette” from Wikipedia: not helpful

    a simple link would have sufficed.

  8. LeAndre

    Chris, you have no idea how much I loved Sim City…Fact is I still do, I play Sim City 4 religiously…its the closest you can get to actually running a city and is extremely realistic. If your a huge Sim City fan I recommend you play it…

    With that being said…my vote goes out for a new stadium somewhere along the waterfront for the A’s…We’ve all heard this idea before, and we’ve all heard the arguments. But I dont think there would be anything else that would attract as much people, popularity, or entertainment other than that. Business along the estuary would prosper due to the massive amounts of fans in that area. Not to mention the national spotlight it would put on Oakland, and the positive image it would send to our city. As far as realism goes, it would obviously take some serious city and team leadership, but isn’t at all impossible. It actually could be more realistic than you think.

    BTW…I’ve read your “Jingletown” stadium idea a while back Chris. I think it makes a lot of sense, but I think the estuary would benefit more if it were closer to JLS.

  9. Almer Mabalot

    Sim City 4 is so fun! I like the idea of the next meeting. It gets more people active, think more creatively, and ultimately create a plan that a lot of people would like.

    Having a trial for walking/exercising/etc, and especially a street car to Jack London Square? I would love that, and it would actually get a lot of residents to explore Oakland a little more. Surprisingly not many Oaklanders explore the whole city, or most of it. Even visitors.

    All these plans can really create window of opportunity for an A’s Stadium, since all these specific areas are being redeveloped, and whatnot.

  10. Joe DeCredico

    Although I was disappointed by the smaller than expected turnout today, I thought the planning exercise was very well run, and the participants were active and respectful. Everyone had a number on their name tag that correspnded to a table, so there their was no table loading as sometimes happens.

    There were a good number of land owners in attendence, commercial, industrial, and residential, along with Chris, bike advocates, and a few planners. My count was under 50 attendees with 10-15 or those being from the City or the CESP project team. Maybe it was because it was a 3 hour committment on a Saturday morning, or maybe people are burned out on planning.

    Of course there will be plenty of time for more input as the consultants come forward with the alternatives, but I was surprised that there were not any representatives from the Waterfront Coalition, affordable housing groups, the Chamber of Commerce, the numerous citizen organizations, or the OHA. Thee were a lot of voices and interests missing.

    There were a few key themes that emerged from the 6 groups:

    Preservation of artists spaces were highly valued. The concentrations in Jingle Town and the Kennedy Tract were talked about the most, but there is another pocket near Embarcadero Cove.

    Open Space along the waterfront was emphasized. Continuous open space is going to require either moving a number of established industrial users, or getting them to give up their barge operations and land. This impacts Con Agra, Cemex, Hansen Aggregate and Gallager & Burke primarily. Brockway-Owens to a lesser extent.

    Access along the waterfront, across the 3 bridges, and into the “Uplands” for pedestrians and bikes was highlighted.

    Nearly every team left Jingle Town alone to continue with the current HBX zoning and maintain its character.

    There was a lot of housing proposed primarily in two areas I recall; along the Embarcadero from Quinn’s to Union Point Park, and below Tidewater. Teams talked about other uses to buffer the residential areas from the light industrial areas.

    The mixed use nature of Embarcadero Cove was talked about as something that should be continued and enhanced.

    The elephant in the room, heavy industry was thought by most to be not appropriate, as Chris described in his post, and in most cases, other uses were envisioned for these sites. But there was not a clear understanding by those present of what to do with them. One group suggested moving all the truck depended operations to land near the Port.

    It will be interesting to see how the project consultants synthesize this exercise into 3 alternatives.

  11. Chris Kidd

    Thanks for rundown, Joe. I was also surprised that waterfront action and low income housing folks were not in attendance. We did have a guy from Urban Strategies at my table, so they showed up.

    I’ll try to get a recap up sometime next week. It’ll probably depend on when staff gets up the photos of the maps we created at the meeting.

  12. gem s

    “Additionally, spreading low-impact industry throughout the CESP area could serve as a counterweight to rapid gentrification, helping some areas retain their working-class and artist-loft affordability.

    My last wish is a mechanism within the specific plan to make a permanent place for artists on Oakland’s estuary. It was primarily a second wave of artists to Jingletown that made the central estuary so attractive to further development. ”

    This is the thing about heavy industry in those neighborhoods: it keeps land/rent cheap, and makes it possible for people who need a lot of space and make a lot of noise to live and be productive there. Now, in no way am I trying to whitewash all the problems that come along with heavy industry, but it definitely is an umbrella against gentrification. For some reason, dissolute, hard-partying, late night welding artists (*wink*) are willing to mostly accept the trade-off of early morning trucks and equipment. Big industrial warehouses are also a very visible sign for people who want to buy an upscale live-work loft where there is peace and quiet to look elsewhere. So I wonder if there are ways to have big industry as good neighbors: clean them up, make them plant street trees *everywhere* and take care of their facades, route trucks along very specific routes, keep the jobs. In turn, artists, light industry, and people who just plain don’t care as long as the air is clean could live in the buffer zones around these places, and have some security that they won’t be priced out of the neighborhood or have neighbors complain about their loud art openings, band practice, or large scale sculpture workshop. The industries also gain some security from NIMBYism, because now they are part of a relationship that is recognized as mutually beneficial. Now, I’m sure there are instances where this isn’t feasible, but it seems like in some cases this is an organic solution where the operating principles are already in place. Even if it makes sense for most, if not all the heavy industry to be moved to the port in the case of the Central Estuary plan, I think this is something to consider when developing the port as well- at least, if live-work is part of the eventual port equation.

  13. Naomi Schiff

    I was very sorry not to make the meeting, but had some previous commitments. Has anybody talked to the cement plant folks? It was interesting to tour High St. Bridge and the concrete operation with Waterfront Action and to think about where concrete comes from (and how very many trucks it uses) for construction projects. I don’t have a firm opinion about what should happen with it, but here’s an industry that is using barges to bring in material, and has some reason for its waterfront location. There were some speculative conversations about whether you could get the coastal trail through the industrial area using a covered walkway of some kind, to let people be in the industrial area and on the waterfront at the same time. The barges don’t come in extremely frequently, so maybe it could work.

    OHA is definitely following these proceedings; unfortunately this one conflicted with the beginning of our fabulous walking tours schedule (see http://www.oakland and a bunch of our folks had to be over there, doing that. (And yes, Saturday mornings on summer weekends are pretty tough to recruit for.)

  14. James Robinson

    Why can’t artists and stable blue-collar folk just move to East Oakland? We need all the help we can get. Let the market speak, let gentrification happen

  15. livegreen

    Joe, Do they even care where the heavy industry goes? I think they need to, but in the past the City has just kissed those businesses and the jobs that go with them goodbye.

    I’d be very curious about whether this happens again. I’m all for relocating them as long as they’re not totally lost, as long as some light industrial is truly kept (including some businesses there now), and new green & other businesses are brought in for some blue collar employment.

    It’s going to take work to get to a well rounded, holistic plan that builds a real business-living eco-system. Including for people who work there but live on the other side of 880…

  16. Chris Kidd

    James, I believe there are more than a few artist co-ops in East Oakland. The Vulcan down on San Leandro Blvd comes to mind immediately, but there are others as well.
    Gentrification of pre-existing vibrant regions, especially those with an embarrasment of cultural riches like Jingletown, need to be handled delicately. Developers can, in these neighborhoods, sometimes have what I call the “Baby Huey” effect. In the rush to take advantage of what makes a neighborhood so interesting, they can end up crushing it through a monoculture of use and socio-economic background. A controlled, gradual approach to development can help retain the aspects of the area that make it so attractive in the first place. Sometimes developers need to be protected from themselves.
    Besides, if a developer is looking to cut a gentrified neighborhood out of whole cloth, the soon-to-be-zoned-HBX Tidewater region should be ripe with opportunity.

  17. Naomi Schiff

    The market is not speaking so loudly right now, so I wonder if anybody has started to think of what our new model of development should really be? The thing that unnerves me about some of these discussions is it keeps seeming like we are planning for the last ten years, instead of the next ten years. For example: as above, how to preserve organic growth of small business, art enterprises, and other locally-owned initiatives as and where they spring up? Are condominiums the only model for housing development moving forward? Are there ways to encourage industrial businesses rather than send them away?

  18. Ralph

    Oakland needs to define its place in the BAy Area. It seems like to much time is spent trying to figure out how best to cut up a shrinking pie to service those who can’t service themselves. We need to grow the pie, but how. Oakland is not going to be the center of engineering innovation – the Valley seems to have a lock on that. Oakland is not going to be the WC financial center, SF holds that title. One problem of course is Oakland would appear to lack any one concentration of professional types. With UCB in our back door their should be some type of oppty to be the hub of some new innovation.

    Dellums, god bless his small mind has tried, but he is low on details. Green jobs are nice, train them up so that they me be employable in green industry is even nicer, but not having a clear path to how we going to be the center of developing green technology makes the former moot. For whatever we are going to present to the world we need to lay the infrastructure.

    I must have been channelling Naomi this am as I too was wondering what makes the best housing options. I would love to see a mix of condos in the Uptown area. But as I spread west across Telegraph, I would love for nothing more than for some of the older more decrepit looking housing to be bulldozed and replaced with new single family homes. You can add condos to the mix but I envision residential sub-areas with neighborhood eateries.

    I can’t recall who it was that has walked the city and noted just how small it is, but the land west of telegraph east to the lake should really be a set of connected walking neighborhoods because it is small.

  19. Chris Kidd

    Yes, retention of industry (and jobs in general) is very important in Oakland. The problem with the CESP area is that there is a significant population already embedded within this industrial area, across the freeway in the Fruitvale, and across the Estuary in Alameda. From a public health standpoint, the heavy poluting industry within the CESP is a huge liability. If the CESP area is going to further increase its housing density (the Tidewater alone will see to that), whether that housing is condos or otherwise, then the heavy polution becomes an even larger liability. I think Oakland should do everything in their power to help these businesses relocate within city limits, but relocate they must. Rather than replace the heavy industry with housing, they should be replaced with other business and industrial uses that have a higher jobs-to-acres density and have a lower carbon footprint than their current uses. Part of the user fees generated by new housing development could be redirected to infrastructural upgrades that would make the CESP area attractive to these types of businesses.
    Now, you could definitely call this pie-in-the-sky thinking, but I’m not really sure of any other way to both help retain and grow business and industry in the area while also helping address some of the unacceptable public health risks for current residents and the sure-to-increase residents of the future.

  20. John Klein

    One of the things I’ve been thinking more and more about as I trapse around Oakland looking for killer view corridors (Hi, Joe D.!) is: what is the plan?

    By this I mean we’ve got the revival of Uptown and gathering strength in the CBD. We also have several new retail, office, and restaurant projects at Jack London, which are mostly vacant, sorry to say.

    Yet, we want more – more development downtown, including residential, office space, etc. Now, we see plans for the Army base coming forward. One plan promotes business development mostly while the other is a mix, including retail and office.

    Part of what I see is that it appears the CBD, the Port, and the Army base are, and will be, competing for the same jobs and retail dollars.

    If each of these three areas become as successful as everyone would like, we would have an Oakland that is completely different than now – as in COMPLETELY different.

    Is there a plan on this scale, a plan that shows how these three areas integrate, if that is the right way to think about it? Would it be beneficial or helpful to look at how each of these three areas hurt/help each other? Seems like it could be kind of important.

  21. Chris Kidd

    John, I don’t think you’ll have much to fear from increased retail in the central estuary specific plan. The general consensus among stakeholders at the last meeting was that most retail services are adequately met by the surrounding Fruitvale and Alameda neighborhoods. The thinking was that any increase in retail for the area would be in scale with the increase in population/density.

  22. livegreen

    Naomi, Agreed, as I see IDLF does too. Unfortunately I’m not so sure about JB.

    At the Oakland Economic Summit a few months ago she said she wanted to see stores there to help provide entry level jobs, if only they can figure out how to not turn the port into a parking lot. (Well, isn’t that part of the problem?…)