Why I’m thankful I live in Oakland

I get so frustrated with the City sometimes. Okay, most of the time. Following Oakland government as closely as I do, especially in dire times like these, can be completely maddening. I am often tempted to just throw my hands in the air, declare the City hopeless broken, and like, move to the mountains or something.

But despite Oakland’s myriad problems, this is an incredibly special place. So today, I’m going to take a step back from everything that makes me angry or depressed about the city, and remember some of the reasons I really am thankful I live in Oakland.

Lake Merritt

I was sitting on a bench at Lake Merritt when I decided to move to Oakland. dto510 had spent the day giving me a walking tour of downtown, and we ended the excursion by watching the sun set over the Lake. I was hooked.

These days, I’m very fortunate to work close to Lake Merritt, and I almost always end up sitting there while I eat my lunch. I know people complain a lot about the geese, and the smell of the water, and the general state of maintenance, and so on. And while I’m not going to claim that everything about the way the City takes care of Lake Merritt is perfect, I do think people should like, relax a little bit about all that. It’s pretty damn awesome, and sitting out there soaking in the scenery beats the hell out of eating a sandwich in some sterile office lunchroom.

So thank you, Lake Merritt, for adding natural beauty to my life every day. Even if sometimes it means I end up with twigs in my hair when I come back to work.

AC Transit

Before I moved here, I lived in Portland, Oregon. Everyone was always saying back then that Portland had the best public transit in the Country. WHAT-ever. The buses didn’t even run after midnight! Hello! Also, the way the system was set up required way too much transferring.

AC Transit gets me where I need to go, and I love them for that. While service to the more sparsely populated areas of the district is less than ideal, Oakland’s major corridors and commercial centers are exceptionally well served by the bus, and thanks to NextBus, the only times anymore that I end up sitting at a bus stop waiting around for one to show up are the rare occasions when I’m out and my phone runs out of batteries.

It’s always surprising to me how little most people seem to know about AC Transit’s coverage. Probably twice a month, I find myself having a conversation where someone is like “Oh, this place or that is great, but you probably couldn’t go there, I bet there’s no way to get there on transit.” And my response is usually something along the lines of “Oh no, it’s easy. Line X takes you, like, right there.” AC Transit takes me shopping, takes me out at night (and back), takes me to meetings all over the city, took me to work when I was house sitting in North Oakland in barely more time than it usually takes me to walk there, and reliably took me back across the Bay every single night for the year I worked as a pastry chef in San Francisco and didn’t get off work until like 2 in the morning most of the time.

So thank you, AC Transit, for allowing me to live easily without a car.

The East Bay Regional Park District

Another thing people in Portland liked to brag about is how they have the most parks per capita of any City in the US. Sure, maybe. They have nice parks there, and they are definitely better maintained than ours. But they also count, like, tiny circles of grass in the middle of a road as parks, which kind of feels like cheating to me.

Wev, they have a lot of parks, good for them. But we have the East Bay Regional Park District.. Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, and Redwood Regional Park kick every park in Portland’s ass hardcore. Seriously, I love that when I get tired of the city, I can step out of my noisy downtown apartment, hop on a bus, transfer once, and forty minutes later, be taking a stroll in a Redwood forest.

And of course there’s our waterfront parks. The total awesomeness of Middle Harbor Shoreline Park pretty much goes without saying, and of course has been covered extensively elsewhere in the blogoaksphere, but I want to put in a plug for a somewhat more underappreciated waterfront destination, the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline. That’s what the photo above is of, and I apologize that it isn’t a very good one. I did bring my camera along with me on a recent visit, but had foolishly forgotten to charge the battery before going, so all I could do was snap a few mediocre photos with my cell phone. But the trail along the water is just totally lovely, it’s a great place to sit and read, and if you haven’t had the chance to enjoy a sunset from Garreston Point, you need to do it soon. Breathtaking.

Access to many of the East Bay Regional Parks is somewhat limited if you don’t drive, so I haven’t visited nearly as many as I would like. In fact, one of the reasons I’m committed to getting a driver’s license by the end of the year is so I can get Zipcar and go to more of our regional parks, and more often.

But access issues aside, thank you, East Bay Regional Park District, for keeping nature just a bus ride away.

The Oakland Public Library

Yeah, I work at the Library. I have wanted to work there since I first moved here, and when I finally landed a job there last year, I was pretty much completely over the moon.

Oaklanders are so lucky to be blessed with such an incredible library system. Sure, the hours aren’t what I would like them to be, and the materials budget is stretched criminally thin, but OPL does a fantastic job with the resources they’re given. People are always asking me things like “Do people even use libraries anymore, you know, cause of the internet?” And I alway just want to be like “Duh. Come visit one and see.” They’re packed! In fact, one of the best things for me about being at the library all the time is getting to see so many people actually enjoying a City of Oakland service. They come for books and for research help and to watch special programs and to bring their kids to storytime and to use the internet and sometimes, just to have a quiet place to work. So much of the interaction people have with the City is just so completely miserable, it’s heartening to remember that there’s a place thousands of people come to every day and have a positive experience.

Much of the time I’m not working is spent at Oakland Libraries as well. I love to page through old local newspaper on microfilm in the newspapers and magazines room and geek out in the local documents section at Main. My hands-down favorite wifi spot in Oakland is AAMLO, with its ample supply of outlets, consistent connection, and lack of irritating music or background noise. It’s a fabulous place to get work done.

So thank you, Oakland Public Library, for supplying me with movies to entertain me, books to teach me things, DVDs of Council meetings to help me write my blog, old photos of my neighborhood to decorate my apartment, and a great environment to go get work done on my days off.

The Farmer’s Markets

I really like to cook. Also, I’m kind of a food snob. Visiting other places and shopping for groceries always reminds me of how absurdly spoiled I am living in Oakland. I can buy quality, seasonal produce year-round, most days of the week at all the amazing farmer’s markets in the East Bay. On Tuesdays without Committee meetings, I hop on the 15 and go to the one in Berkeley, cause it really is the best. On Saturdays, I take a short walk up to Grand Lake. On Sundays, I buy the paper and head down to Jack London Square, where the food isn’t quite so great but the fresh cut flowers are an unparalleled bang for the buck. Plus it’s just a lovely place to sit and read.

When I visit other cities, people are always taking me to their farmer’s markets. Usually, they have like a small amount of mediocre produce and a bunch of craft and prepared food vendors. It’s fun to stroll around, but nothing like what we have here. Every time I feel like moving away, I remember that there’s basically nowhere else I can go and have access to this quality of food, and conclude that as long as I love to cook, I’m pretty much just stuck here forever.

So thank you, Oakland farmer’s markets, for providing me all the delicious fruits and vegetables I could ever possibly want, all year long, rain or shine.

And what about you guys? There are plenty of other posts on this blog where you can complain about your frustrations with the City. Let’s keep this one positive. What makes you thankful you live in Oakland?

23 thoughts on “Why I’m thankful I live in Oakland

  1. 94610BizMan

    The weather, my beautiful Mediterranean Revival house and rose garden as well as the reasonable proximity to every part of the Bay Area.

  2. Tommy Saxondale

    Thanks for the positive post! I love the smell of the fresh and salt water mingling at Lake Merritt, and I love the bossy geese as well. I’ll never understand why some people want to impose some antiseptic, disneyfied vision of what nature should be on our little urban estuary.
    I love the people of Oakland: our diversity in ethnicity, class, language, and every other aspect makes this a truly unique place.

  3. Chris Kidd

    I’m thankful for the fog. There’s just enough to keep our nights cool and not too much to keep our days from being warm. It’s beautiful to watch as it comes across the bay each evening and it provides a constantly changing backdrop to our lives.

  4. Karen Smulevitz

    Thank you, V. I share with you gratitude for the wonderful attributes of Oakland. This morning, walking my dog to the park, a pair of ducks made a beeline down Bancroft, the male sparkling with brilliant colors in the low-angled early sun. They made a sharp left turn into Arroyo Viejo Park. Moments later, I saw the ducks in the creek, so I leashed my dog – no water splashing for her while the ducks are in residence. We crossed over to the open area and puppy bounded and leapt with the joy only a dog can teach us. A pair of bluebirds visited the baseball field fence; again, the male sported the color – the happiest shade of blue imaginable – while the female was a lovely soft gray-brown, and the two of them flew close together. A pair of squirrels teased my dog, coming down a tree trunk with waving tails, enticing puppy into a chase, and then scampering back up to sit on a high branch and laugh at the fool dog.
    Within East Oakland, with all its nitty-gritty, graffitti, petty, sweaty woes, one can find pockets of poetry, and, like you, I know how to get up into the hills and away from the noise. Oakland has the best weather anywhere, and more than enough culture to fill a lifetime.
    To survive the slings and arrows of outrageous politics, I am thankful for young people such as yourself who are enthusiastic and well-informed and give us the heads-up on local issues.
    Today I give thanks for family and friends and love and hope and living in Oakland.

  5. Livegreen

    V, Thanks for this post. I would first like to agree with all that you’ve said here (geese aside). My thanks are as follows:

    –The wonderful neighborhood I live in, and the neighbors who come with it;
    –Our wonderful neighborhood public school, with all it’s diversity and high volume of parent volunteers (these are people loath to get involved in City politics, but boy do they do a great job in the school);
    –Dimond Canyon, Dimond Park, & Sausal Creek (in addition to it’s diversity) where in the middle of the City you can take your kids walking on rocks in the creek, go exploring through the woods after the trail ends, and see hawks on a branch above the trail, or diving into the canyon at a gazillion miles per hour (past speeding motorists who are so busy getting somewhere that they don’t know or care the birds are there, much less an entire Canyon);
    –Chabot Space Center and the Oakland Zoo where our family can learn to be fascinated with wonders in our world and beyond;
    –Our PSO & NSC who, despite a lack of communication about all the things they’re doing (& despite a lack of volunteers to help them) ARE doing many things behind the scenes to help prevent crime in our beat;
    –Everything about the Grand Lake Farmers Market, the Splash Pad & the nameless volunteers and City Officials who got that done (hope to see the Cleveland Cascade joining this).
    –V, the ABO, & other great Oakland blogs that are helping to shed light on Oakland and cover it, in a way that all the traditional forms of media refuse to do.

    There is much more but this is already so much to b Thankful for in Oakland.
    Happy Thanksgiving to All!

  6. MarleenLee

    Our beautiful weather, our house, our neighborhood, and our wonderful neighbors, who have become our friends and who are not only coming over for dinner tonight, but who agreed to do the turkey, and the stuffing! And for Loka Yoga, my local yoga studio that I can actually walk to on Thanksgiving morning and get both my exercise and a spiritual experience.

  7. 94610BizMan

    I like the geese but I wouldn’t mind working to getting the laws changed to inaugurate an annual goose hunt. All the goose haters could get great exercise chasing them with snares and I’m sure we could take up a collection for a charity to cook them for the needy.

    Nothing like this will happen in Oakland but I’m not kidding.

  8. Bruce Nye

    After almost 28 years in Oakland this stint (after an earlier one when I was at Cal), I’m thankful for all the stuff V mentioned, plus:
    – Warm sunny days in the heart of Baseball season at the Oakland Coliseum
    – All the great places for breakfast
    – Yoshi’s Night Spot
    – The great places to run and ride bikes
    – The wonderful and interesting folks who live here

    A couple of weeks ago, we sat at the Lake Chalet having breakfast at a window table next to the lake. Not a cloud in the sky, a beautiful sunny November Saturday morning, the lake looking its very best as the gondolier pulled up next to us. In what other American city do you get that?

    Thanks V for the uplifting post.

  9. Hayden

    The way West Oakland’s industrial past is written onto the streets and into the architecture, how it conveys a sense of connection with the past that is different than or missing from other Bay Area neighborhoods and ‘burbs. Not to mention the greater variety of urban design options it opens.

  10. Born in Oakland

    I love Oakland because I can be exactly who/what I am and no one gives a damn or judges me. We moved away from Berkeley three decades ago because it was difficult to live outside the PC box and we have never looked back.

    This morning our beat officer double parked and visited/caught up on the neighborhood now that he is back on our beat. He watched our kids grow up and today met the new generation: puppy and grandchild. How wonderful that in a big city we can actually know the people who serve us. (He is extremely optimistic about the new Chief by the way).

    I also like the way the Oakland neighborhoods come together in the face of any adversity. The younger generation in our neighborhood have all joined the local neighborhood yahoo and crime websites and have started phone trees because of our recent neighborhood robbery spree. None of them are thinking about moving OUT of Oakland but are planning ways to develop community and to take some responsibility for all our safety.

    The weather is awesome.

  11. Naomi Schiff

    All of the things you mentioned, and Oakland’s people in all our breathtaking variety. That incredible mixture of architecture and vernacular buildings, shacks and mansions, the terrific open spaces, the cultural riches, and people’s earnest efforts to make it a better place to live in.

    Thank you for your efforts, V!

  12. Ralph

    I love Oakland not for what it is but for what it can be. For the people engaged to make this a better Oakland. And the dream that one day, someone will tear down the numerous ugly bldgs and design structures that will stand the test of time.

  13. Andrew

    Geography matters to me, probably more so than it does to other people, and Oakland is a place of unfailing interest. I love the amount of different geology that fits in here, almost a world’s worth. And I believe Oakland may be a world center for sidewalk stamps, of all things. Who knew? The variety of people and cultures you can see in the course of an hour never ceases to amaze me. And wherever I go, even where you wouldn’t expect it, there are homes and buildings full of character and history. And from the hills, you can see the Sierra Nevada on a clear day.

  14. bruce

    Besides all that we have the wonderful Redwoods just South of Montclair, miles and miles of trails and surprisingly well used. What about the great numbers of artists and studios from East Oakland and West Oakland down to the estuary on 5th ave. I love Oakland because every day there is a surprise and something new. People talk to you in the supermarket and have something to say. All the coffee shops in Montclair, busy at 6 AM til 6 Pm.
    The climate. Being close to everything and so much to do. We have our problems but who doesn’t.

  15. VivekB

    For me, it’s the camradarie among neighbors, even though we are all vastly different ages, stages of life, sexuality, marital status, child status, ethnicity, political orientation. (It’s hard to be a Libertarian on the left coast…)

    I live in Rockridge where the houses are 15′ apart, and about 10′ back from the street. For the last 2 years now, my block does a biweekly “Happy Hour” every other Friday from 6-8pm in front of someone’s house. It’s a BYOB affair as we don’t want hosts to have to put up $$ or go through any effort to host, so lots of people alternate hosting. We’ve all gotten to know each other real well, much more so than just the annual block party or national night out.

    Before Oakland, I lived in SF for 4 years, and because I was a travelling management consultant from ’90->’01, have lived or worked in nearly every major metropolitan city in the US. I’ve yet to see this level of camradarie in any city either near or far.

  16. Chuck

    The first year or so I lived here, I was just thrilled / astonished / thankful to live in a place where I say to myself regularly “Wow, I’m so glad I live here.” A couple years in, it’s changed into “Wow, I’m so thankful I keep finding NEW reasons to say to myself ‘Wow, I’m so glad I live here.’”

    Especially around this corner of the web, I think we see a lot of the best Oakland has going for it — people who dearly care for the city, and have a realistic-but-positive vision for the future. This is a great site and great little community here, V. Thanks to you for facilitating that, too!

  17. Karen Hester

    Thanks V for mentioning MLK Regional Park. Whenever I am picking up or dropping off someone at the Oakland airport, I try and stop by the park, located a
    couple of miles from the airport, along the bay. The park is home to
    some restored marshland and I go to see the birds which are especially
    abundant during the winter months–scaup, surf scoters, coots, dunlin
    and stilts.

    Once as I was driving in, an enormous golden eagle chased a rabbit but
    missed. The area is popular with walkers and jogglers but the jewel in
    the crown is the long pier that reaches out into the bay. Here is
    where the endangered California clapper rail thrives and seeing it, if
    only briefly, has caused a few friends of mine to wait for me longer
    than needed at baggage claim.

    The saying “thin as a rail” comes from the ability of the rail to
    laterally compress its body to escape into the reeds. On my last
    visit, I was running a little late but felt the need to feed my rail
    sighting addiction. I passed a couple with a large scope and asked if
    they had seen any rails. They hadn’t but had heard their clattering
    call, and pointed in the general direction. Within minutes I had
    spotted the rail with its distinctive dusky orange bill. I motioned
    for them to come see it, but they arrived too late. Another time I
    arrived at the parking lot to see at least 30 cars. I thought there
    must be a rare bird sighting, but discovered that the tide was
    unusually high, and at least 30 normally elusive rails were in view
    and sharing the few bits of land not submerged, much like the
    survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Only the rails could fly away.

  18. Bobbie Altman

    We moved to Oakland from West Berkeley a little over 10 years ago and I have to agree with almost everything everyone else has said – great weather, great walkable neighborhoods, wonderful neighbors, parks, libraries, farmers markets, views from the hills, etc.

    But no one has mentioned that Oakland has a world class symphony – Oakland East Bay Symphony and a chorus to go with it – Oakland Symphony Chorus as well as hundreds of creative artists who live and work in Oakland. I am proud to be a part of this creative scene. If you check the local papers (including SF Chronicle) on any given day you can find incredible concerts, recitals, open studios, galleries (don’t miss First Friday’s Art Murmur in ‘Uptown’) – in some pretty classy venues – the Paramount Theater, the newly opened Fox Theater, the beautiful new Cathedral of Light, Yoshi’s – you can’t go wrong. You don’t have to cross the bridge to get your cultural fix. Oakland has it all.

  19. Mike Spencer

    As the one guy down at the Alley sings about Oakland, “It’s got hope, it’s got dope.” Oakland will always be in the news, for greatness and for tragedy. There is no middle-ground in Oakland. Good sports scene–didn’t say winning sport scene; great architecture, awesome weather and lots of recreation.

    Just this morning was down the hill at Peet’s Fruitvale then up to Joaquin Miller to show my wife the stairs/cascase and the park where I take dog to play fetch most mornings. The view astounded from the hills, seemed like you could see 50 miles in any direction.

  20. Rich Edwards

    Since the early 1970s we have thoroughly enjoyed the Oakland Museum of California — a unique museum in that it is focused on the diverse spectrum of local visitors and tells stories about California — its art, history, and natural environment. The museum closed in late Aug. 2009 to complete the first phase of a major transformation (into the “New Museum of CA”) and will reopen with a lot of public events in May 2010. The nearly $60 million project (to be fully completed in 2012) leveraged the $25 million in bonds approved overwhelmingly by Oaklanders (75+%) a few years ago in Measure G (which raised money also for Chabot Science Center and the Oakland Zoo); the balance of the money was raised privately (97% of the goal has been reached as of last month). This level of volunteer support and financial investment demonstrates that Oakland can host a world class cultural institution that is really democratic — completely unlike the image of most museums (stuffy; for wealthy patrons; etc.).

  21. Ruth

    I’ve lived in Oakland since 1986. I thought I was going to move to Berkeley, got lost, got off at the Grand Ave exit of 580, saw Lake Merritt and fell in love. Have yet to recover.

    I love the neighborhoods of Oakland, love the fact that I can hear so many languages on the street here. I love it that my kids have grown up here. I love the library, and the rose garden, and the views from the hills. I love the tiled buildings downtown, and the Grand Lake Theater.

    I’ve been here through the earthquake and the fire and through some personal quakes and fires, and it is HOME. My accent may be from Tennessee, but my heart is forever in Oakland.