downtown oakland
Downtown Oakland circa 1910

A Flurry of Placemaking

March 18, 2011

As we discuss the boundaries of downtown’s districts, several recent developments attempt to answer questions about downtown’s identity, for better or for worse.

The City Council unanimously approved a Broadway Transit Investment Study, which will study different approaches to creating a new transit service connecting Jack London Square to the MacArthur BART station. This study of future service, which could be anything from an enhanced version of the Broadway Shuttle to a rail system, will have to grapple with the doomed “Upper Broadway” moniker as it looks at anchoring a new district above Uptown but below North Oakland.

The Downtown Association, a Business Improvement District consisting primarily of commercial property owners, has installed banners around downtown in a placemaking exercise. Each banner says Downtown on one side and names a particular downtown district on the other, with color-codes that match the Broadway Shuttle stop signs. Unfortunately, the Downtown Association has not defined the districts to the level our discussion last week was aiming for: some of the signs are clearly erroneous, such as this banner reading “Lake Merritt” near the intersection of Broadway and 19th.

Lake Merritt banner on Broadway

Oaksterdam University, by anchoring downtown Oakland’s growing marijuana industry, has arguably created a new district downtown, although others would say that Oaksterdam is less of a place than a state of mind. The mural painted on their large, exposed side wall is meant to identify downtown as a distinctive place, and looks to be accomplishing that goal beautifully. Look for it to be finished in about two weeks.

Next week: a new map of downtown?


1 Naomi { 03.18.11 at 3:05 pm }

I think banners in general are over used, generally not too well-designed, not particularly durable, too high up for people to use them for wayfinding anyhow, and that we should spend that money sprucing up the 19th and Franklin PARKING GARAGE.

2 Gene { 03.24.11 at 10:54 am }

Those banners are definitely used a lot. I’ve seen them in Old Oakland, Rockridge, Montclair, the Dimond, Glenview, Piedmont Ave., and Temescal.

A while back I started a map of place name signs in Oakland. Some are businesses (e.g., the Uptown Club) and some are wooden signs, but there’s a lot of those banners. Flawed as they are, I’d rather have the banners to help give an identity to an area than nothing at all. The metal signs from the city (e.g., San Antonio district) are boring, as are most of the wooden ones (e.g., Allendale Park). My favorites are the Oakmore Highlands sign and the new Oaksterdam mural.

But there’s no excuse for the Lake Merritt banner @ Broadway and 19th.

3 Gene { 03.31.11 at 5:12 pm }

Apparently Lake Merritt gets around. I spotted this banner on the San Pablo side of Uptown. and the photo in the banner shows the Cleveland Heights side of lake. At least Uptown is adjacent to Lake Merritt, but odd placement of the banner on the far side of Uptown.