downtown oakland
Downtown Oakland circa 1910

Where is the DTO?

October 2, 2007

With the opening of Whole Foods on 27th and Harrison, observers have commented that the new store is “a stone’s throw from downtown.” So, where, exactly, is downtown Oakland?

Uniquely for a city of its size, Oakland has a very large downtown that includes several distinct districts. Traditionally, downtown is bordered by 980 to the West, Lake Merritt to the East, Grand Ave to the North and 880 to the South. That does not include Jack London Square, Auto Row, or the up-and-coming arts district centered at 23rd and Telegraph. The 10k Plan’s area includes Jack London Square and areas north to 27th Street (including the Whole Foods and Mayor Brown’s former residence at 27th and Telegraph).

Within downtown, neighborhoods are characterized by unique land-use patterns (such as high-rise office in Center Center and high-rise residential in the Lake Merritt Apartment District), different types of retail (ethnic goods and services in Chinatown, or specialty shops in SOBO), and distinctive architecture (Art Deco in Uptown, Victoriana in Old Oakland). I created a map of the districts, based on a downtown map from the Oakland Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

DTO District Map 1

Already, newish neighborhood groups are focused on their districts, like Old Oakland Neighbors, Downtown Lake Merritt Apartment Neighborhood Group, and the SOBO (South Of Broadway Oakland) merchants’ association. Visitors to the DTO are often confused by downtown’s size and the utter lack of city wayfinding. This map is a start toward identifying those districts and placing them in context.

So, I ask the reader – what do you think? Are these borders correct? With Jack London Square approaching the high-density mixed-use character of downtown, should it remain separate? If the Conley Report’s goal of transforming Auto Row happens, should that be considered downtown? Is there a historic name for the area I call West DTO?


1 LakesideLucy { 10.29.07 at 6:33 am }

To the author, you write: “Within downtown, neighborhoods are characterized by unique land-use patterns (such as high-rise office in Center Center and high-rise residential in the Lake Merritt Apartment District)”

…Go over to the Lakeside Apartments District, as described by the City’s cultural heritage survey, and as appearing on your map, and take a look around and you will probably not find the district to be characterized by “high rise residential” buildings. The Hillcastle Apartments at 15th and Jackson is among the tallest buildings in the neighborhood and it has 10 stories of apartments. To be clear there are a few taller buildings around the periphery of the district, but by far, most of the apartment buildings are mid rise residential 3-5 stories. I wouldn’t exactly call that “high rise” unless you have a pro-development, vested agenda to advance.

2 dto510 { 10.29.07 at 7:01 pm }

On my map, the Lakeside Apartments is a larger area than the city’s Lakeside Apartment Historic District. The historic district is about two-thirds of the area I mark, it is bounded by 14th, 17th, Alice and Jackson streets. The city defines high-rises as any building over 75 feet, so the area that I mark has plenty of them, but most are outside of the historic district, along the Lake.

This blog is not the Grand Lake Guardian, and I do not mean to encourage bickering over heights or development. The point is to acknowledge the distinctive districts within downtown, and create an updated map that will be useful to residents and visitors alike. The districts are separated by character and use, not historic status.

3 LakesideLucy { 10.29.07 at 9:43 pm }

An “updated map” to which “older map” are you referring ?

My remarks certainly referred to the “character” of the Lakeside Apartments District, and not merely the “historic designation” of the area. If you take a walk down Alice, Jackson, or Madison Streets, you will find the neighborhood to be “characterized” by poor/working class/middle class residents who live there because they are both tranist dependent, and must live close to transit because they cannot afford a car, and parking costs…and those who can barely afford to live in the rent-stabilized apartments that “characterize” the Lakeside Apartments District.

So yes “character” is everything.

4 dto510 { 10.30.07 at 8:58 pm }

The above map is taken from the Oakland Convention and Visitors Bureau, and does not include all downtown neighborhoods, and has some errors (like the location of the African-American Museum and Library). There is another map, from the General Plan, that I will discuss in a future blog.

The neighborhood is characterized by historic architecture, mid-rise and high-rise urban residences, and proximity to Lake Merritt. It is also by far the most expensive place to live downtown. While it’s mixed-income, like all of downtown, your description of the district applies better to other downtown neighborhoods. Most people consider the Lakeside area fairly ritzy, especially with all the historic and modern highrises boasting lake views.

Most people live downtown because they are transit dependent – that’s the whole point of Smart Growth.

5 LakesideLucy { 10.31.07 at 4:45 am }

Hey there dto510, “the whole point of Smart Growth” depends upon your planning philosophy. The way Smart Growth seems to be taking shape here in Oakland is up for debate. Most of the new “smart growth” residence that have been planned for the Downtown Oakland area in the past few years have been expensive market rate condos where an appropriate buyer’s income would take them out of “transit dependent” status and clearly make them a transit-oriented “choice” rider. In other words, people who could afford 1, 2, or 3 cars, but rather –choose– a transit-oriented lifestyle. These folks are generally not “transit dependent” and I believe this should be an important public policy distinction that shapes the future of our urban planning here in Oakland.

I somewhat disagree there dto510, the Lakeside is not the most expensive place to live in the vicinity of downtown, that honor may go to the Warehouse District because of the newness and quality of its housing sock. I don’t have comparision data as of this writing. Rather the Lakeside has become, in the past few years, one of the most expensive places to —move into— an apartment. However since many Lakeside residents are long-time or mid-time tenants of the rent-stabilized apartments here, a majority of the housing stock in this neighborhood, to a large extent, it defies your description. Just because you see 20 and 30 something vegetarians shopping at Nature’s Best Foods at 15th and Jackson, –doesn’t mean– they have NOT lived here for 3, 5, 8, 9, 14 years. Culturally, many consider the Lakeside not to be “ritzy” but rather, if anything an artsy-fartsy eclectic rainbow of people that includes artists in residence at at the Malonga Arts Center, schitzophrenic people from the Lakehurst Nuthouse, fixed-gear hipsters, Ruby Room punk-rockers, seniors, crack-addicts from the SRO’s, the Menlo, The Hotel Harrison, etc., and plenty of not-exactly-rollin’-in-the-dough-middle class professionals.

If you haven’t noticed a pattern here, I seem to be focused on people, whereas you seem to be fixated on buildings, views, property, land, land use. This may speak to our philosophical differences and a coming war of ideas around here. Whose side are you on anyways ?

6 dto510 { 10.31.07 at 8:52 pm }

It’s true that the newest buildings tend to be more expensive, and in this map I did not include Jack London Square as part of downtown. I will address that Friday when I post again about the map.

In terms of your neighborhood, I don’t think we have much of a disagreement over where it is. The Downtown Lake Merritt Neighborhood Group identifies a very similar section of the DTO as my map above. I’m sure that the existence of rent control contributes to the diversity you write about, but I don’t see any problem with the simple economic fact that new construction is more expensive than older buildings.

I don’t see “a coming war of ideas.” The General Plan represents a clear community consensus, and I think we can all agree that there are different parts of downtown that perhaps could use some sort of different recognition (as the GP calls for). In the meantime, I’d like to help create a new map and a new way for thinking about the DTO.

7 Chris K. { 02.07.08 at 11:59 pm }

“I’d like to help create a new map and a new way for thinking about the DTO.”

Sir, could you please elaborate and explain the driving motivation behind your desire to create this new train of thought?

-Chris K.

8 dto510 { 02.08.08 at 10:27 pm }

Downtown, because of its size and diversity, can’t be understood without appreciating its distinct neighborhoods. I was inspired by community groups including yours (DLMNG) to try to bring that understanding to a general audience. I’m also concerned about wayfinding – most people around the DTO don’t actually live here, so they have a tough time figuring out where things are.

I will post another map within the month, with updated information about what’s going on in different DTO districts.

9 Eric Fischer { 02.20.08 at 10:36 pm }

I don’t have any useful comments about the boundaries, but you seem to have West Oakland BART about a mile from its actual location at 7th and Mandela.

10 Where is the DTO? 2 « The DTO (Downtown Oaktown) { 03.07.08 at 11:10 pm }

[...] by the Downtown Lake Merritt Neighborhood Group and Old Oakland Neighbors, I’ve revised my DTO map to have slightly different neighborhood boundaries. Several questions are raised by this map: is [...]