Saturday, July 24, 2004

Yesterday I sat in on an all-day city-sponsored workshop ...

(charrette) on the Ford Peninsula development. It got its name from the amazing Ford Plant that is presently being restored and reconfigured to serve new purposes. It also sits smack in the middle of the new Rosie the Riveter Memorial National Park (of which I'm now a staffmember).

The event brought together in council chambers real estate developers, councilpersons, city staff, redevelopment agency staff, the Port Authority, environmentalists, and various industrial interests that are currently located in the target area. Judy Hart, the director of the park, was to make a presentation. The park is a major factor in the development of the proposed shoreline development. I was there to begin to absorb and gain a better understanding of the NPS' public position on related projects and potential areas of conflict.

It seemed quite clear to me that the proposed new developments (lots of residential) was not taking into account the fact that there is an existing community with its own unique culture and history into which new development must blend. At least that was true at the table where I was an observer during the breakout periods. They were busily putting ideas to paper (with transparencies) of what exists and what can be imagined. I asked at one point whether -- with all of the new residential properties being proposed -- would it not be smart to set aside a school site? Foolish me. A young staffer from Redevelopment told me that this would be housing for "empty nesters." Right. That would pretty well describe my condo complex, and most of the residential construction that I'm looking at both deep in the city and presently being erected at the outskirts. They look like rabbit warrens; more warehousing than housing. Hadn't thought much about that before, but it set off a train of thought that persists, even now... .

I've lived through a time when we've gone from senior neglect to what may well be an over-abundance of senior housing and services. It's been the easiest kind of construction to find funding for. HUD is there and ready to serve. We may need to re-think that approach. I'm sure that such an idea is unpopular and that voicing the thought might be unwise, but this is MY blog, and I get to say whatever pleases me.

While I surely appreciate all the added attention paid to my generation, it's also true that we are receiving more and contributing less to the whole than any other segment of the population. By that I mean that I'm way past the time of acquisition. I'm no longer feeding the consumer economy since I buy almost nothing these days. Am far past the need for home appliances. Have been the same clothing size for many years so buy almost no clothing. Last (used) car I purchased was 8 years old. Have received every kitchen gadget on the market as birthday or Christmas gifts over the years. I can access affordable senior housing when I decide to, or, can do a reverse mortgage in order to remain in my condo -- if that be my choice. Senior's lives are set in many ways. Would that my sons and the young families of their generation had the same advantages.

Along with many others, my greatest expense is using my financial resources to support the lives of my kids when necessary -- and at the end of life. They're the forgotten generation. Yet, they are the feeders of this consumer economy since it is those young families that buy those appliances, purchase homes and cars and toys and camping gear and gym memberships and all the rest that my generation is rarely in need of.

Empty Nesters as a class provide for the developers a fast turnaround on their investment. Take a look at Emeryville, just off the Interstate. Residential developers and the commercial developers of shopping centers have become the de facto city planners. Those who are young and childless seem more like transients, who will live among us until they become parents, then its off to the burbs to where the best schools are. Many live lives that are not necessarily rooted in the community since there is little need for civic involvement. At the end of the day they see the entire Bay Area as their playground and are more apt to spend their leisure dollars in nearby San Francisco, or the Napa or Monterey Valleys. There are exceptions, of course, since many of the city staff and officials live in Marina Bay, and continue to serve. But I'm speaking of those who will inhabit the hundreds of proposed new housing, and who will choose to live here because of the affordability and the scenic values while working and spending time and money elsewhere in the region.

Unless there is some attention paid to the need for blending family features into the new shoreline development, I see a invisible wall of separation evolving between the new and the old. Segregation based upon class may simply replace segregation based upon racial and ethnic differences. I see a red flag that needs to be noticed, but I have no idea how to deal with it; at least not yet.

I'm still struggling with identifying the differences between segregation and affinity groupings. I see as appropriate people gathering together and even choosing to live in close proximity to others like themselves. I've surely attended a lifetime of all-black social events, though in this period in my life there are fewer of them. Have also often been the exception in an all-white gathering, and that seemed okay, too. There are surely cultural differences -- and I find those fascinating. Just as there are cultural differences between fencers and bowlers, they are only that; cultural differences within the context of a common humanity.

Perhaps this can best be explained in this way:

I was once an active fan and occasional emcee for the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir. At its inception it was composed of primarily white singers who loved to sing black gospel music. The group had its beginnings at Jazz Camp one summer. The conductor was a brilliant young African American whose father was a noted jazz pianist whom I greatly admired, Ed Kelly. Over the years the choir attracted more and more black singers, though it remained primarily white. The music became more and more authentically "black." I remember having a conversation with one of the board members (I was a member of Rhythmic Concepts that was the choir's sponsoring body) that the experience really required an "affirmative action" audience in order for the music to become fully authentic. I knew that hearing the same music by the same choir was dramatically different depending upon whether it was being sung before black or white audiences.

I watched over the years, and -- in time -- more and more African Americans became devoted fans and the choir's voice became more and more real. When the time came that the audience held a critical mass of black folks, the "call and response" that is so much a part of the black gospel experience, came to life, and the experience was now -- not politely "white," but lustily "black!" Conductor, Terence Kelly, prodded that call and response into being by instructing the audience, but it eventually took root without prompting.

I'm not precisely sure what I'm trying to get at here, but I'll keep trying until I understand it better myself. I understand it in the context of music, but have difficulty getting to the gist of it beyond that. It's something about the fact that -- in the context of a white worship service -- the music is but one element in the liturgy. In the black church, the music IS the act of worship. Worshippers (read that audiences) respond, individually, and not collectively, to the pulpit(performance) Maybe you can help ... .

Something vital is lost when the cultural differences are not honored and/or appreciated for what they are.

There's something here about the importance I feel of the need to use arts and culture as the glue -- the binding -- in the blending of this community. And in using the Convention Center as the new image builder through what happens there. There's so much in this city to build upon. The important work was imposed upon the city in the WWII years. We're here now after much struggle, with that experience plus the Civil Rights years to inform our next period of social evolution. Embracing those differences may be the key to whatever comes next. In the witnessing of a kind of dizzying re-birth, we have the opportunity to do some marvelous things -- given the heart to not be led by the nose by those who have brought us the cookie-cutter homogeneity we're seeing all around us. Would that we could retain some of the unique diverse cultural environment that not nearly enough of us see as worth preserving.

Maybe working with the NPS will help me to re-live and pass along some of that history. Maybe I'll meet others of my generation who can help in that effort. Just maybe -- I'm precisely where I ought to be at this point in my personal journey. We'll see.

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