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Gentrification in West Oakland, USA

Gentrification is not only changing the character of Oakland, it is making residents sick because of financial distress, loss of community services, and overcrowded substandard housing conditions


An increasingly prevalent trend in planning spheres is a shift towards “smart growth” as the standard.  Smart growth is presented as a better way to build and maintain our towns and cities. Smart growth means building urban, suburban and rural communities with housing and transportation choices near jobs, shops and schools. This approach supports local economies and protects the environment [1]. It means healthy communities where all citizens reap the benefits of stronger economies and access to improved community amenities. The benefits of smart growth, however, have not been felt by residents of West Oakland, California.  Building housing near public transportation has been touted as a smart way to reduce air pollution in communities.  In the California Bay Area, much of the mass transit infrastructure (such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit rail system) runs parallel to major freight corridors with heavy diesel traffic.  Transit-oriented housing is being located around light rail stations and for the Bay Area, this means next to freeways and designated truck routes.  One report notes that diesel truck and train traffic has been shown to reduce lung function in children, increase the risk of developing cancer and asthma, and affect school performance and sleep patterns – resulting in increased costs to the state for missed school days, missed work days, and health care costs [2].  Current state legislation does not require regions to account for emissions from diesel trucks and trains, which may expose more residents to toxic air pollutants like diesel particulate matter.  Environmental justice groups such as West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (EIP) and the Ditching Dirty Diesel Collaborative have been working to change this.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Gentrification in West Oakland, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:California
Location of conflict:Oakland
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Specific commodities:Urban property, affordability, public health
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Diesel emissions in West Oakland, a predominantly African-American community, were 90 times greater than in the rest of California (

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Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:30,000-40,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/1990
Relevant government actors:Bay Area Air Quality Management District, City of West Oakland, Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (EIP), Ditching Dirty Diesel Collaborative, Pacific Institute, Revive Oakland!, Causa Justa::Just Cause (CJJC), Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsReduced lung function in children from diesel truck and train traffic, increasing the risk of developing cancer and asthma
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Migration/displacement
Strengthening of participation
Development of alternatives:The Diesel Collaborative has proposed a number of solutions to regional agencies, including prioritizing land located beyond a health-protective buffer zone from freight-related land for sensitive uses like housing. The land located within the buffer zones itself can be prioritized for commercial and light industrial development.
Where the only available land for new housing is located close to freight-related uses, developers should be required to incorporate mitigation measures in the design, such as indoor air filtration and monitoring systems, to reduce potential health impacts ( AND
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Gentrification is an ongoing issue and one that is continuing to impact residents of West Oakland. Local community groups have found some success to effect changes in their local governments and they are committed to working on these issues of housing, health, and access to community services.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

West Oakland Specific Plan 2014
[click to view]

Agreement regarding the Oakland Army Base Project
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Smart Growth America: What is Smart Growth?
[click to view]

[2] New Housing Near Highways Threatens Community Health - Catalina Garzon; Race, Poverty and the Environment (2012)
[click to view]

[3] CREATING EQUITABLE, HEALTHY, AND SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES: Strategies for Advancing Smart Growth, Environmental Justice, and Equitable Development (EPA 2013)
[click to view]

[4] Oakland Gentrification Flash: 5 Negative Effects (Wear Your Voice 2014)
[click to view]

[5] Study Finds Gentrification in Oakland Hurts Public Health - Laura McCamy (Oakland Local 2014)
[click to view]

[6] Environmental Gentrification in West Oakland: Inequitable Impacts of Urban Renewal - Ellen Myers 2014
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project
[click to view]

Gearing up for action: a curriculum guide for freight transport justice
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project video
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Bernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update08/06/2016
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