Amblin' Alameda: Cityscape

Amblin' Alameda: Cityscape

Morton Chalfy

We took a day trip with some friends to San Pablo on Sunday to listen to some traditional New Orleans jazz and to even dance a few steps when the beat got to our bloodstreams. San Pablo is, when viewed from a traveling automobile, a standard-issue California town - newish, clean, modern and right out of the cookie-cutter school of California architecture and town planning. Anywhere, USA. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but you can't tell the town without a sign.

On the way to the concert up Interstate 80 it was impossible to miss the traffic jam heading south: Bumper to bumper and crawling along midday on Sunday. It did not bode well for the return trip. Still, after several hours of foot tapping we set out on the return journey and I-80 southbound looked kind of clear. Traffic was moving, the sun was still shining, a soft breeze was cooling us off and so we entered the roadway.

Unbeknownst to us, it was sort of like entering the outer swirls of the maelstrom. We moved along at a good clip until we came to the outskirts of Berkeley and the lead-in to the spaghetti snarl that separates 80 from 580 and 880. Parking lot!

We discussed our options and decided to take the city streets. It wouldn't be any slower (it couldn't be), and at least the scenery would be more interesting. Off the roadway at Gilman, over to San Pablo Avenue and follow the lights to downtown Oakland. We crossed into Alameda through the Posey Tube and there began an interesting and at times heated conversation.

For some reason, after hundreds of traverses of the streets in Oakland leading to the tunnel and the streets leading to the various bridges, I was at last able to identify exactly what it was that made the streets of Oakland and the streets of Alameda so remarkably different: Trash. Graffiti. On the Oakland side the streets are strewn with litter, and every bare wall is marred by graffiti. Blown about by the wind and ignored by the city fathers, litter is the signature decoration of the city and graffiti proclaims it. (Oakland boasts some beautiful murals - these are not graffiti.) But only cross over into Alameda and any piece of litter stands out by virtue of its uniqueness.

I remarked on this as though it was a revelation and received blowback from my friend in the back seat. He is loath to criticize Oaklanders lest he become aligned with the bigots who blame Oakland's ills on race. Of course I would maintain I'm not a racist and certainly wouldn't characterize Oakland's problems as being one caused by race. Oakland's problems are caused by generations of incompetent or dishonest governance and a fear on the part of the City Council of the police and their unions.

Race isn't why trash doesn't get collected and race isn't why taggers' graffiti adorn every bare space. Those are lapses in good governance and could be remedied by good governance. Streets clean of trash only require a civic commitment to that as a civic good. It is harder to litter when everyone else is placing their trash in an appropriate receptacle, but let that sort of civic pressure relax, let the trash pile up in some areas without pickup in a timely manner, and it becomes the norm to not care, to carelessly litter and eventually turn a blind eye to the trash.

What exactly does it take to have a clean town beyond a commitment by the city's rulers not to put up with a dirty one and with the city's residents refusing to put up with rulers who can't get the job done? There is a definite attitude discernible in every city, an attitude that determines how the residents feel about their city and life within its environs. In Alameda civic pride is encouraged by city fathers and mothers who care, and that's lucky as Oakland offers the example of a city's residents largely abandoned by their governors.


Submitted by Jason (not verified) on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

There's a pile of trash by the entrance to the Posey tube, doesn't bode well for Alameda! So much for "Alameda civic pride is encouraged by city fathers and mothers who care ..."

Submitted by Anya (not verified) on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

City leaders need to embrace integrity and a commitment to the public to bring about a change.