I recently went to the Bay Area for a couple of days. During this time, my girlfriend and I explored Oakland for a day. One place we stumbled upon was City Center. According to Wikipedia (I wish it was a better source, but for the time this will have to do) this is an outdoor shopping mall and is a “textbook example of redevelopment urban land planning…” The site was developed through eminent domain and involved the displacement of many residents and businesses. This is the sort of history that I cannot support and unfortunately has happened too many times across the country. However, compared to typical urban redevelopment projects, this one has a great physical design.
The Physical Design of City Center
The following pictures go from East to West, starting at the Bart Station at City Center and proceeding towards Preservation Park.
Bart Station Entrance
Problems with City Center
While the physical design of City Center is impressive, there are a couple of points that ultimately kill this space. The selection of stores and shops is predictable. Places like Panda Express, Popeyes, Jamba Juice and Radio Shack dominate the area. If you are looking for something unique, do not go here. Furthermore, the management policies of the private owners of this pedestrian street all but ensures that nothing creative or spontaneous will be allowed to occur here. If you want to dangle your feet in the water, go somewhere else. If you want to find a street performer, this isn’t your block. Many of the activities that makes an urban space great are not allowed here.
City Center has a horrible past, but the physical design is one of the best pedestrian streets I’ve experienced. Whoever designed this area did a great job. The jobs-housing balance is probably too far towards jobs thus leaving this place empty after work hours. Bringing in new residential units will help with this. Perhaps a better balance will allow for independent shops to move into the area. Then again, it may be that the private owners of the land are in favor of of chains. One good thing about chains is that you know what you’re getting. While they may be boring, you know both the quality of the food and the quality of the business model. This latter factor may make them more favorable to management. Nonetheless, it does deaden the cultural vibrancy of the space. Finally, places like this should be public property. Liability issues force management to keep people out of the pool. The private management keeps culture out of the area. By making the pedestrian street (not the shops) public, this area would become an actual part of the city and create a culturally vibrant space.