Downtown Oakland Serendipity

18 Aug

Earlier this evening, I was walking towards Broadway to the bus stop and I ran into a good friend and mentor of mine who I see much too little of lately. Though I was in a bit of a rush to catch the bus, she made me stop and give her a hug, which really brightened my day.

I continued towards Broadway and thought about how much I love that aspect of downtown – sometimes it feels like a small town. It’s hard for me to walk more than a couple blocks without running into someone I know – the employees of restaurants and stores I frequent, friends I rarely see, fellow bloggers.

And I thought about a conversation I had a few weeks ago, ironically, with the same friend I ran into this evening. She spent her 20s living in San Francisco and absolutely loved it so she was trying to talk a friend of ours who had just moved here from Chicago to move to SF. She reminisced about being out and about in San Francisco and running into people she knew who would invite her out for drinks and such. She said how that would never happen in Oakland – she just didn’t run into people here. She loves Oakland, but feels like it’s more of a place to settle down, not a place to spend one’s youth.

I think her perspective is somewhat related to age and circumstance. She’s no longer in her 20s and she’s a single parent. And it’s possible she just hasn’t built the same network here in Oakland that she had in San Francisco. To me, her description of San Francisco reminded me of how I feel about Oakland. For me, this city is filled with both a fair amount of familiarity and surprise – really, just the perfect mix. I think it’s the perfect place to spend my 20s, and hopefully my 30s and 40s and 50s…

What do you think – is Oakland just a place to settle down or can it be filled with as much excitement as San Francisco?

5 Responses to “Downtown Oakland Serendipity”

  1. Eric Fischer August 19, 2008 at 11:20 am #

    I don’t know if it’s necessarily just a place to settle down, but my experience so far is that you have to work really hard to find as much excitement in Oakland as you get automatically without really having to try in San Francisco.

    What really hurts the ability to run into people in Oakland is that there are so few pedestrians on most of the streets, maybe just because it is possible to drive almost everywhere. In San Francisco, even if you drive somewhere, you still end up walking a few blocks from wherever you were able to find parking, and maybe that alone is enough to give the streets in between a critical mass of pedestrians.

  2. John Harper August 19, 2008 at 6:49 pm #

    I think it all boils down to who you are – what kind of person – open? alive? engaging? actively involved in life?

    I could sit over here in Walnut Creek and wax poetic about Park City Utah where I was a couple of years ago, but I’m so busy discovering the East Bay, I have little time to miss the past.

  3. Steve R August 20, 2008 at 1:10 pm #

    Living near the lake without a car, I walk and bike around downtown, Grandlake, Piedmont Ave., Rockridge, and the lake all the time and routinely run into people from my building, work, and the gym. This happens as much as it did when I lived in SF. In most of Oakland, that probably isn’t the case, however.

  4. Becks August 20, 2008 at 6:23 pm #

    Steve – I think you’re right about it depending on what neighborhood you live in. I spend most of my time in downtown Oakland, Temescal, and Rockridge, all of which are heavily trafficked by pedestrians. So the likelihood of me running into someone on the streets is much higher than someone living in a less pedestrian friendly area.

  5. David August 20, 2008 at 10:02 pm #

    Ditto to what Steve R. said. I also live near the lake and walk and bike around the same neighborhoods he does. I run into people pretty frequently, plus I’ve gotten to know some of the strangers that I keep passing over and over as I walk to the store or walk the dog or whatever. (People with dogs often stop and chat when they run into other people with dogs. The dogs stop and sniff, which amounts to pretty much the same thing.)

    Living in a walkable/bikable neighborhood and not having a car probably makes all the difference. Even if you drive past someone who know in a car, you’re unlikely to pull over and chat unless you have a special reason to. On a bike, it feels natural to pull over and say hi…

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