Resisting a Siege Mentality

By Dogtown Commoner | Posted at 3:39 pm, December 1st, 2007 | Topic: cities, new york, oakland

Safety TipsAfter a woman was robbed at gunpoint while walking home on Wesley Ave. near MacArthur Blvd this past week, signs have been posted on telephone poles alerting residents to the incident and offering tips for staying safe. It’s great to see Oakland residents getting involved in neighborhood safety efforts, but one piece of advice really jumped out: “Always Stay In Home After Dark.” Always? No more going out to dinner or to a movie? No more going to the local bar to watch a Warriors game with friends?

More seriously, even granting that the safety tip was not meant to be taken so literally, I have very mixed feelings about this piece of advice. It’s understandable that people want to avoid face-to-face encounters with the muzzle of a gun, and far be it from me to tell people they should walk around desolate streets after dark on principle, but on the other hand, ceding Oakland’s public spaces to criminals after the sun sets (that means 4:50 pm today) doesn’t seem like a solution either.

As Becks at Living in the O was reminded recently on a trip to DC, and as has been discussed here before, neighborhoods feel much safer and more walkable not only when there are police visible, but also when other pedestrians are around. During many years of living in New York without a car, I never once — no matter how late at night, or what neighborhood I was in — felt as exposed as I feel walking around Oakland after dark, simply because there were always other people walking around too. Of course New York City is an extreme case, given its density, its comprehensive and efficient public transit system, and its low car-ownership, and as much as I might fantasize about it sometimes, it’s unrealistic to think that Oakland will ever be as amenable to a carless lifestyle as New York.

Oakland does have some neighborhoods, however, which are close to BART, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, grocery stores and other amenities. Many residents of downtown, Temescal, Rockridge, and the neighborhoods surrounding Lake Merritt are able to get around fine without cars, and many car-owners would also appreciate being able to walk to dinner and back without feeling that they were putting themselves at risk. Rather than telling people to hide inside their homes after dark, should we be encouraging people to gather together some friends and go out for an evening stroll instead?