A City in Upheaval: The Story of a Single Block in West Oakland’s Ghost Town Neighborhood

Image by Hossam el-Hamalawy (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The entire west side of Oakland, California, is undergoing dramatic change, and the Ghost Town neighborhood of resident Annette Miller, who was born in her house on 30th Street over 50 years ago, is right in the thick of it. Rents and house prices have soared, while nearly 43 percent of its neighborhood’s residents remain below the poverty line. And while the white population has more than doubled, the black population has dropped from 50 to 39 percent.

Over the years, Miller has fought an eviction notice and a stream of realtors interested in buying her home. But more recently, with properties on the block selling for over $800K and an industrial building soon to become live-work spaces for artists, she feels like many things are out of her control.

At San Francisco Magazine, Gabriel Thompson tells the stories of Miller — and the neighborhood’s old-timers and newcomers — as they witness the changes sweeping the block.

From this perch, Miller has watched as the block—and the entire west side of Oakland—has changed over the decades. She can disentangle its history like an evolutionary biologist. During the Great Recession, houses were bought and lost to banks at some of the highest foreclosure rates in the entire Bay Area. Then those houses were scooped up by real estate men who paced the sidewalks and rarely smiled. Buildings were emptied out, murals painted over. Fences went up. Rent went up—by 71.5 percent over the last five years. Way back in 2001, SFGate called the neighborhood “deliciously attractive” because its “poverty and misfortune preserved a rare sort of purity and beauty,” as if it were a forbidden, primitive fruit. Later, the real estate men would try to take a bite out of Miller, too.

Miller was born in this house, some 52 years ago. “The average person lives in a house for what, three years?” she asks. “I try to tell my kids, living in the same house for so long, it should mean something.” As the pace of change has accelerated, Miller has become the default historian of the block, a keeper of its stories and secrets, an advocate for the old-timers and a bridge to the new arrivals. “It’s not hard at all to remember,” she says of all the missing people and families who once made a life on 30th Street. “When you’ve lived here your whole life, you don’t forget.”

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