Ten things you can do to save your city

March 25, 2009

Like a lot of Oaklanders, I’m completely at a loss as to how to respond to Saturday’s tragedy. The murders of four OPD officers forced so many of us who spend our lives in the “other” Oakland to peer into the very darkest corners of our community. The only rays of light in the wake of the killings have been the tremendous and passionate uprising of support for the families of the officers killed (much of it from the people of Deep East Oakland) and the frank conversations that have begun all across Oakland on ways to address the unconscionable crime rate in our city and to alleviate the intense despair that plagues our most troubled neighborhoods.

So, rather than try to write something eloquent or profound about the devastating plight of our poorest families or the deep economic challenges that so often drive crime in our city, I found it a lot more comforting to focus on the concrete actions that are within my control, small as they may be. And so I present…

(If you’re visiting this site from afar, you can substitute your own city’s equivalent for just about any of these.)

1. Attend your NCPC (Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council) and neighborhood association meetings. Oakland operates on a community policing model (or at least tries to), so getting to know your neighborhood Problem Solving Officer (PSO) and the other officers who patrol your beat is key. PSOs help residents combat long-term community issues; ours, Officer Ercivan Martin, has been on the force for three years, and has worked in our neighborhood for the last year or so. He’s awesome, and goes out of his way to make himself available to residents, returning emails late at night and even giving us his personal cell phone number (and promising to come from near or far to be here in an emergency, even if he’s off duty). I know that we’re fortunate to live in a neighborhood where residents have a relatively healthy and positive relationship with the police. But even if you don’t—especially if you don’t—it’s important to come to the table and talk out the challenges. Help build a true partnership between neighborhoods and OPD.

2. Participate in planning for the city’s future. Don’t just ponder it—make it happen. Whether it’s thinking about transportation in your neighborhood or figuring out the future of the Parkway or planning for change along the Oakland Estuary, get involved. Be the change.

3. Organize a group of neighbors and volunteer at your local elementary school. There are opportunities to be a reading buddy if you have time during the day, help clean up and repair the campus a few Saturdays a year, help tend the school gardens, donate some professional time for anything from web design to t-shirts to art, and beyond. Even if you don’t have children, you can become a part of your local school community and help provide much-needed support from local residents and businesses. (Not sure where your neighborhood school is? Click here to find out. The principal can connect you with the appropriate volunteer coordinators at most schools.)

4. Dedicate one day a month (or more!) to celebrating the city….relaxing in an Oakland park, dining at a neighborhood restaurant, seeing a show downtown, or otherwise enjoying—and helping to support—the things that are wonderful about Oakland. Take hike or bike ride through the hills, or meet your neighbors for a drink somewhere nearby. Visit the Art Murmur. Join the Oakland Museum, which is getting cooler and cooler as they complete their renovations. Go check out the summer theater at Woodminster this year. Have kids or visiting relatives? Visit Fairyland or the Zoo!

5. Seek out the food, housing, jobs, and service organizations that serve your neighbors (or others in the city) and volunteer your time. Whether it’s spending a day once a year to help with a Thanksgiving food drive, taking a week one summer to help build a house in East Oakland, or committing to a long-term mentorship program, there are countless opportunities to get involved in changing the city. Need a place to start? Check out organizations like the Alameda County Food Bank, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Rebuilding Together Oakland, or the many other organizations that the Volunteer Center of the East Bay, Hands On Bay Area, or VolunteerMatch can connect you with.

6. Make Oakland a more beautiful place. Volunteer for Creek to Bay Day, plant daffodils in your community, paint out graffiti, or stencil storm drains to let people know that our drains flow to Lake Merritt and the Bay. Oakland Public Works can hook you up with these opportunities and more. (Already live in a beautiful part of the city? Contact neighborhood organizations in other areas of Oakland to see if they need help coordinating clean-ups and plantings.) Prefer to try something off the beaten path? Children’s Fairyland and the Oakland Zoo need volunteers too.

7. Subscribe to Oakland Magazine. I know, seems a little too simple, huh! But this terrific little local rag covers Oakland and Oaklanders, and helps the world see the sunnier side of a city often mired in challenges (in addition to advertising bazillions of local businesses). Celebrate the many reasons we all live here in spite of the heartache. While you can often find copies in the doctor’s office or at the coffee shop, the magazine needs subscribers to stay afloat; make sure it stays in the picture. (You can also subscribe to other local magazines like the OakBook and Edible East Bay; both are distributed for free, but could use subscriber support too.)

8. Host a National Night Out block party this year. National Night Out fosters community-police partnerships and has been a catalyst for neighborhoods coming together for over 25 years. This year more than ever, it’s an opportunity for Oaklanders to show their support for—and strengthen their relationships with—our officers. (Bonus: if your neighborhood has small children, OFD will often come give rides on their fire engines.) This year it will be celebrated on Tuesday, August 4th  in small towns and big cities across the country. (In Oakland, it’s also the only day of the year when you can close your street off without a permit.) Check with OPD for more information later in the spring; in the meantime you can check out the 2008 info. (We organized a block party last year and it was a pretty painless process.)

9. Join the People’s Grocery Grub Box Program. Get a box of farm-fresh produce each week through People’s Grocery’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) as you help support a West Oakland family’s CSA subscription.

10. And last but not least….introduce yourself to a neighbor you don’t know this week. Maybe it’s someone you’ve seen around but have never actually spoken to, or maybe it’s someone brand new to the block. Say hello! It’s free, and you never know what kinds of friendships it might bring.

Anyway. This list could go on for a while—but it’s a place to begin. And right now, that’s what I need more than anything.


  1. How about support your local police? There is no way we can thrive in a lawless society.

  2. Yes, that would be the first item on the list above…. 🙂

  3. I think the point is opening yourself more to the city and people around you, and start using local product to support the local economy.

    I love your number ten though. It’s true that nowadays we tend to don’t know our neighbor anymore.

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