I’ve spent most of my life in San Lorenzo although when I meet people for the first time I like to say that I was born in the city to give myself a little more street cred. Let’s be real, you just don’t take people as serious if they’ve spent all their time living in an idyllic suburb. Yes, that’s right, you read that correctly, I’ve never left home. I didn’t leave home for college, I didn’t leave home even during grad school. And yes, I am writing this while sitting in my parents’ home (and guess what ladies– I’m single). This inaugural blog post isn’t about the reasons why I chose not to leave home (in fact in other countries it’s quite normal to live at home with your folks until you get married and decide to start a family of your own), but to emphasize the local, and I don’t mean that in the “eat local” sort of way, I mean that we should take a closer and better look at the neighborhoods we live in and by doing so, maybe we will take notice of things we didn’t before.
This is why I started this blog. I figured it was time to get involved in my own neighborhood and begin addressing some of the “needs” of my actual physical community, San Lorenzo. I write “needs”, because most folks wouldn’t complain about San Lorenzo, it’s the type of
town village unincorporated area that most families would like to live in. It’s your typical “American Dream” neighborhood where you have tract housing with yards, families with 2.5 kids, and your average 1.9 cars to get around.
Sure, San Lorenzo isn’t too hip, unless your idea of hip is grabbing a drink at the local dive bar, the Victorian pub (technically this place is in San Leandro), which is host to a middle aged and aging white crowd. Hey there’s an upside to not being cool, the area is relatively yuppy free.
Surprisingly, San Lorenzo is ethnically diverse, with Latinos making up about 37 percent of the population. This seems to be the trend for most suburban neighborhoods, especially with cities like San Francisco and even Oakland becoming hella unaffordable. People are forced to move further and further out to places like Tracy because even San Lorenzo is not the most affordable place to live in. Along with people, the ugly G word is kicking out everything that makes cities cool, unique, and cultured. This is especially ironic as San Lorenzo and other suburban neighborhoods like San Leandro and to an extent Hayward, is where white people ran to get away from black folks who were migrating in mass from the south. Just look at how much the demographics have changed in Hayward. White folks were further incentivized to move out to the burbs as dirt cheap mortgages were being handed out like grandma’s hard candy to returning GI’s and their families (Don’t even get me started on redlining). This was part of a big capitalistic project that funneled resources and services out of urban neighborhoods which left places like Oakland and Detroit utterly fucked.
So what the hell am I getting at? And how is this bringing the local into focus? Patience my reader, I’m new to this blog thing. In an effort to hold on to the vestige of physical fitness that remained after two years of shoving a ridiculous number of pastries into me while attending grad school, I decided to go
running joggin g racewalking in my neighborhood. It was on this jogg racewalk that I realized that the big empty lot down the street, which at some point was going to be developed into condos, is still a big empty lot. Then, I remembered there are 3 more empty lots less than a 5 minute drive away. “Damn how long have these lots been empty and I haven’t noticed?!” I thought as I gasped for air only a few minutes into my physical activity. I’m pretty good at noticing things too. For example, did anyone notice how they never explain how my Guatemalan homie Poe got off Jakku in the Force Awakens? I better get an explanation for that J.J. Abrams!
Hey kids, remember the economic shit show of 2007-08? Well these lots are the skeletons left over from the mortgage crisis (there’s actually a really good video by David Harvey explaining how these crises are inherent to capitalism). This is nowhere near the scale of say Detroit, which has blocks on blocks of empty lots and abandoned houses, but it got me to ask a few questions:
Who owns these lots? How long will they continue to sit there empty? Are there potential community projects that can fill these lots? Who the hell is the community in San Lorenzo anyway? Just a bunch of old white board members of the homeowners association? Are we going to wait until a Golden Corral comes around and sets up shop?
No seriously, there was a rumor that a Golden Corral was going to start developing in the lot that was the original Mervyn’s. That lot has been empty now for at least 10+ years and prior to that it was a big empty building. On this same block there are two more empty lots to the right and left of it. I posted photos and a map at the end of this post so you can get an idea of what I’m talking about. Even after taking these photos, I realized I had overlooked the empty parking lot from where I was taking the photo.
Can you imagine all the possibilities for these lots that could benefit the community? Hell, even if it was just one of the lots. A community center, a community garden, a park, basketball courts with Steph Curry’s face muraled all over! The problem is not that these lots look like the wasteland from Mad Max, but that the community doesn’t have an avenue to become involved in deciding what happens with these lots or planning in general, so they continue to sit there until a developer comes along with enough money to turn the land into expensive condos.
Let’s go back to Detroit for a second– my political #WCW, Grace Lee Boggs, saw the empty lots in her community as an opportunity rather than blight. She states in an article for The Nation,
“In response, we founded Detroit Summer, a multicultural/intergenerational youth program/movement to rebuild, redefine and respirit Detroit from the ground up. Detroit Summer involved young people with elders in planting community gardens and with community residents in painting public murals. This reconnection with earth and community unleashed their imaginations to create their own bike programs for transportation and poetry workshops to express their new thoughts.”
GLC and her fellow Detroiters saw the prolongated dismantling of their city as an opportunity to re-engage with one another and their environment transforming their community in the process. It is important to highlight that this is about reclaiming public space and challenging who has the right to regulate such spaces. Historically, public spaces have been places for people to come together and engage in democratic processes.
Now can you imagine the possibilities? What if the lots were turned into a public square where San Lorenzeans can come together for a variety of activities. If I close my eyes I can already see a child running with a balloon running across the square, two teens holding hands on a date, an old man sitting on a bench feeding some birds, a woman canvassing, a square filled with people protesting an injustice. What? It happened in Tahrir, Madrid and even in Madison, Wisconsin.
For those of you who live in the San Lorenzo area: What do you think we should do with the empty lots? Go ahead and comment below.
For those of you not living in the San Lorenzo area: Are there any things in your neighborhood you want to see changed? Go ahead and comment below also.
Well reader thanks for sticking through it, you made it all the way to the end. This is how I’ll be formatting my blog posts in the future. I’d like to make this blog as much of a collaborative process as possible, so if you want to write on here just holla at me. Oh, go ahead and share it if you liked my first post. Oh, and follow me on twitter or something.