Blogging Bayport Alameda

March 29, 2021

The characters make the neighborhood

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:09 am

I can’t express how this piece in Rewire resonated with me because it’s something that has always bothered me about our local conversation around development, particularly housing development. It has to do with how even the language we use to give a reason why a development is not wanted is exclusionary in itself. The phrase mostly commonly offered in Alameda? “Neighborhood character”

From Rewire:

But what counts as “neighborhood character,” and who gets to define it?

In many cities, it’s wealthy, white homeowners who have lived there for decades.

“A common tactic is to use zoning for single family homes or large lot zoning that requires the single family homes to have a significant amount of land around the structure,” said Lance Freeman, a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

“Things like that make it difficult to construct multifamily housing. So clearly that would serve to keep out certain types of housing that would be more affordable.”

And, in fact, in Alameda it is the same. It’s old Alameda that gets to define the je ne sais quoi that is “neighborhood character” and is typically helmed by organizations like the Alameda Architecture Preservation Society.

Given that Alameda’s neighborhoods have been shaped profoundly by redlining. It has been shaped the exclusionary covenants (Fernside anyone?). And it has been shaped by the most exclusionary zoning of them all: A/26 this is as relevant to the lasting effect of who has gotten to determine what is the “neighborhood character” of Alameda:

Racial covenants haven’t been enforceable for decades. But it doesn’t mean they didn’t have a lasting effect on what we consider “character.”

“If a Baby Boomer purchased their Highland home 30 years ago, it is a statistical likelihood that they purchased in the 1980s from another longtime resident who intentionally bought a home that was ‘protected’ by racial covenants,” Daigh writes.

“…It is also reasonable to surmise that, in the twilight of legal racial covenants, homeowners still made intentional choices about whom they sold to.”

This piece and the new attention to the issues around the treatment of Asian American in the US does bring up an interesting bit of history that we’ve never talked about in Alameda: what happened to the homes and property of the Japanese residents who lived in Alameda when they were interned. We know there was a Japanese district in Alameda where naughty picture shows were screened and we had our first known Karen-ing memorialized in the City Council minutes. Those residents never did get to stick around to dictate what “neighborhood character” was for Alameda. I wonder whose families financially benefitted from that tragedy.


  1. It would be nice if AAPS could clarify their intention and meaning when they employ this term, or refer to places as “established neighborhoods.” So we dont presume.

    Comment by Rasheed — March 29, 2021 @ 8:53 am

  2. Thank you for addressing the hidden messages that “neighborhood character” implies for some.

    Recently I was at a diversity/equity/inclusion workshop where one of the participants in a small breakout session started talking about why multi-family housing wasn’t appropriate. There would not be enough space for parks. A limited amount of multi-family housing might be appropriate near a BART station. Multi-family housing, though, would not be appropriate anywhere else as housing could not be affordable if it was built with attractive outside finishes and other features suitable for areas away from transit centers.

    I angrily reported back to the privileged white participants in the main session of this workshop that besides being erroneous (multi-family housing makes MORE land available per person for parks), in this context parks was a dog whistle for classism and racism as well as the expressed requirement for expensive and attractive finishes. Except for me, none of the participants were from Alameda. The experience is relevant to Alameda, though. Parks, traffic and yes, NEIGHBORHOOD CHARACTER, served as racist and classist dog whistles for many in the campaign against the Alameda Wellness Center about 2 years ago.

    For too long I have borne silent witness to such abuse of language. The escalating homeless crisis has driven home to me that it is more dangerous to bear such remarks in silence than to call them out immediately.

    Comment by 2wheelsmith — March 29, 2021 @ 9:10 am

  3. Having served on the HAB board for four years I believe it is influenced far to much by AAPS. Things need to change.

    Comment by John P — March 29, 2021 @ 10:46 am

    • What changes do you suggest?

      Comment by Curious — March 29, 2021 @ 11:47 am

      • More diverse board, with less association to AAPS. You can’t Just decide to save every building wether it deserves to be saved or not. Definitely this board needs more community input.

        Comment by John P. — March 29, 2021 @ 12:32 pm

  4. More diverse board, with less association to AAPS. You can’t Just decide to save every building wether it deserves to be saved or not. Definitely this board needs more community input.

    Comment by John P. — March 29, 2021 @ 12:35 pm

  5. “Sometimes a Cigar is just a Cigar” -Sigmund Freud. Guys, maybe sometimes “neighborhood character” isn’t a dog whistle. It’s just that people don’t want that kind of density. 58% of us voted no on Z … we’re not a bunch of racists. We’re the majority.

    Comment by Big Johnson — April 1, 2021 @ 2:19 pm

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