As San Francisco housing prices spike, gentrification has become the hot topic in the Bay Area. It makes sense. Artists, pensioners, and service workers have been forced out and are now search of cheaper neighborhoods. The influx of tech wealth means the city’s business climate has changed, too. In the Mission, old taco stands have been replaced by boutique delicatessens and upscale coffee roasters. A cup of jo can now set you back $3.00. Worse: beloved community institutions like the InterMission are slated to be replaced by market-rate condos. We look to blame, but understand you can’t preserve a city under glass. Perhaps this is too resigned: Is it naive to demand more inclusive development?
I often feel powerless. Fortunately, as a photographer I have one trick at my disposal: the capability to freeze time with my camera. My goal with this shot was to preserve a precious moment of equipoise at Lake Merritt, my favorite Oakland getaway. Bounded by urban poverty and crime on one side and tech wealth on the other, this East Bay lake holds a delicate balance: it’s not too poor, not excessively rich, not too white, and not yet hip. Every morning brings an atmosphere of self-betterment as people practice capoeira, salsa dancing, and tai chi and improve their fitness at free community boot camps. Come Friday nights, the neighborhood comes together to dance in the OMCA gardens.
But I’m nervous for my neighborhood’s future. Will a vendor offering artisanal lavender-flavored scoops replace the Mexican ice cream seller? Will Vietnamese fisherman still ply the lake’s edge? Will commerce displace recreation? As the U.S.’s first bird refuge, Lake Merritt increasingly feels as much a hideaway for night herons, pelicans, and cormorants as it does for the low-income citizens of San Francisco.
The morning I took this shot, the lake was quiet—just a few joggers out, a few birds feeding along the shore. The sky was hazy and I felt –as I often do—the specter of doom in equal measure to a wellspring possibility. For the moment, at least, Lake Merritt belongs to everybody.