Archive for the ‘Oakland Happenings’ Category


Check out City Canvas at the First Friday Art Murmur!

June 1, 2010

Come check us out this Friday—and spread the word! The City Canvas Westlake murals will debut on Friday, June 4 at Farley’s East (Grand and Broadway in Uptown) as part of the June Art Murmur. New murals will cycle through the gallery throughout the month of June as each set is removed to be installed on traffic signal boxes. Look for the murals on signal boxes along Broadway, Grand, and Harrison beginning later this month. For more information on the project, visit

See you there!


Saturday, May 22: Come paint the town (Uptown, that is!)

May 12, 2010

Please come to the first City Canvas Community Paint Day at Westlake! Join City Canvas, a new East Bay arts organization, for painting, food, and drinks in the parking lot between Westlake Middle School and First Congregational Church on Harrison. We’ll be painting murals designed by Oakland artist David Stern-Gottfried in collaboration with eighth-grade students at Westlake Middle School. In June, these murals will be on display for First Friday (location TBD, so stay tuned!) and then installed on traffic signal boxes throughout the Westlake/Uptown area. Thanks to Westlake Middle School, Open Circle, the City of Oakland Public Art Program, Benjamin Moore Paints, and Whole Foods Oakland for their support of this project.

For more information on City Canvas and the Westlake project, check out our website.

Live in the neighborhood or own a business with a window for flyer-hanging? Click here to download a flyer.

A few notes:

  • Families are welcome, although painting activities will be geared towards adults and youth in grades six and above. (Westlake has a beautiful lawn, though, so feel free to bring along other outdoor activities for the younger crowd!)
  • If you drive, please try to park on the street as we’ll need the parking lot itself for painting.

Restaurants coming out my ears (or: the spring restaurant report)

May 11, 2010

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve posted any restaurant news….which means there’s a whole lot happening to report! Here’s a quick pass at what’s coming up. (I’m quite sure I’m missing a bunch of stuff, since I haven’t been paying much attention to much of anything but work and wedding planning this spring….but I promise to catch up this summer!)

Temescal/Pill Hill

  • Little Mac, a macaroni-and-cheese restaurant (?!? sign me up!) that will also have craft beer and tasty sounding salads and desserts, is slated to open at 40th and Shafter this fall.
  • Commonwealth is due to open later this month at 29th and Telegraph, and will be a British-style pub. If they have good fish and chips, we will be regulars!

Piedmont Avenue

  • Sparky’s is indeed open. And it is indeed an extension of the burger place up in the hills.

Grand Lake
Grand Lake is kickin’ this spring!

  • Mimosa reopened as Mimosa Ethiopian Restaurant at Santa Clara and Grand.
  • YaYu Ethiopian is also now open on Lakeshore where Vine used to be.
  • La Taza de Cafe plans to reopen (yay!) where the Grand Lake Neighborhood Center used to be on Lake Park. There will apparently be a small Cuban takeout place next to a larger cabaret, says the Splash Pad newsletter.
  • Good Chemistry Baking, a gluten-free bakery, will open where Daily Delectables used to be.
  • Yogofina, another of the trendy tart yogurt shops, is coming soon on Lakeshore (and also to Montclair Village).

Uptown/Upper Broadway
…but not as much as Uptown!

  • Pakxe is going in at Broadway and 30th where Union Auto used to be on Auto Row. This is super exciting because it’s the first reuse of an auto space on the main Auto Row drag. (Mua also reused an auto space for their Webster Street place.) No clue what kind of food it will be, but the name suggests Laotian.
  • Plum, Daniel Patterson’s new restaurant,  is coming soon where Louisiana Fried Chicken used to be—and will be expanded in the coming months to include a bar where Franklin Square Wine Bar used to be. This is exactly what I was hoping for in this space. (Well, okay, I didn’t necessarily have a chef in mind, but broadly, it was the perfect timing to combine the two spaces and really make use of Franklin Square’s plaza, as FSWB was doing.) Go Uptown! Also, it is named after a William Carlos Williams poem that was one of my favorites in high school, which bodes well…
  • Xolo, the new taqueria from the Dona Tomas/Flora crew, is still under construction.
  • Uptown Café & Crêpes is now open at 21st and Franklin.
  • Bakesale Betty is open at Broadway and Grand! (Woohoo! Now if only they had weekend hours…)
  • More pizza! Hurray! (Because, in case you haven’t figured this out, D. and I really, REALLY like pizza.) Mua is expanding into the space where the short-lived Cafe Noir used to be on Webster, and will be making pizza for me (okay, and everyone else in town…) (Cafe Noir had a wood oven, so I presume it stayed with the space.) No details yet. (Incidentally, is this Uptown? Or Upper Broadway? Or still Auto Row? Curiouser and curiouser….one of our neighbors predicted we’d live in Uptown in ten years’ time, and I do have to say that it seems to be creeping this direction!)

And falling off the radar…

  • The third Pizzaiolo location in Uptown now has a “for lease” sign back in its window, which I presume means that project is toast. Boo. (But at least we’ll always have Boot and Shoe…)
  • Kotobuki Sushi on Piedmont has moved to Montclair.

Building Oakland’s neighborhoods through community art

April 2, 2010

Community building and neighborhood identity are two of my favorite things to think about, and I’m very lucky to be surrounded by many friends who share these passions. We each have our own take on these ideas, and last winter, some of us found ourselves talking about how we might bring our diverse interests together into a single project, and specifically, a community arts initiative.

Over a year after we first conceived of this little project, we are extremely pleased to announce that City Canvas, our brand new community art organization, is finally ready for prime time! And I’m very excited that our very first pilot project is right here in my own neighborhood!

What is City Canvas?
City Canvas is a grassroots project intended to foster neighborhood identity across the East Bay through community-driven public art. A collaboration of professional and seasoned teaching artists, community builders, city planners, and arts administrators, the City Canvas team was brought together by our common desire to contribute to the vibrancy of our cities. Currently, our city faces high crime rates and heightened racial tensions, with few venues to come together and celebrate our individual and collective identity as Oaklanders—yet we know that Oakland is teeming with creativity, diversity, and youthful energy. City Canvas will create opportunities for shared visioning and creation of public art in neighborhoods across Oakland through partnerships with city agencies, neighborhood schools, businesses, residents, and local artists.

The idea for City Canvas emerged from:

  • A commitment to the diversity and vibrancy of Oakland, its neighborhoods, its culture, its businesses, and its residents;
  • The knowledge that art is a universal language and that collaborative, creative expression helps build individual and collective identity;
  • A trust in the transcendent power of our individual and collective connections to the places we love;
  • A belief that every individual has a story, a voice, and the ability to share it with the world;
  • A love of public art that is bold, beautiful, and an honest representation of the community in which it lives; and
  • The desire to connect with and contribute to the beautiful city of Oakland.

What is the Westlake Project?
Our pilot project, a series of murals that will be installed on traffic signal boxes in the Uptown/Lake Merritt neighborhood, is currently underway. Through a grant from the City of Oakland Public Art Program’s Oakland Open Proposals (which in turn is funded by the Open Circle Foundation), City Canvas is currently working with an eighth grade leadership class at Westlake Middle School near Lake Merritt. As part of the class, the students will work with the community, create art that explores their identities as youth and as Oakland residents, and examine how they fit into the broader civic community.

Lead teaching artist, professional muralist, and Oaklander David Stern-Gottfried will adapt this art into a format to be painted and installed on a series of traffic signal boxes throughout the Uptown/Lake Merritt neighborhood. As part of the design process, students are actively engaging local residents and businesses, and an open paint day in May will provide an opportunity for interested community members to be directly involved in the project. Student work may also be featured in gallery settings as part of Oakland’s June First Friday Art Murmur. The murals will be installed in late June 2010, with a dedication to follow in the fall.

Westlake students work with artist David Stern-Gottfried on collages to represent their identities

How can you get involved?
Whether you live in the neighborhood or not, we would LOVE to have you involved! Community residents and businesses are invited to come and participate in the project. We also plan to present the finished canvases as part of the June First Friday celebration before they are installed on the signal boxes. (Know anyone with gallery or window space who would like to host the exhibit? We’re hunting for a great spot in the Uptown/Upper Broadway area.)

Westlake Community Paint Day
Saturday, May 22, 2010, 10 am to 1 pm, First Congregational/Westlake Parking Lot (entrance at light on Harrison across from Whole Foods)
Come help the City Canvas team, students, and their families paint the parachute cloth that will ultimately be installed on signal boxes. You don’t need to know anything about painting or have any art skills—we will provide all of the materials and will walk you through the process of translating the designs the students and artist have created into large-scale pieces of art. We will also provide refreshments and water.

June First Friday Celebration
Friday, June 4, 2010, 6 pm to 9 pm, Location TBD
Once the canvases are finished, they will be on display in early June so that students, their families, and other interested community residents can get a peek before they are installed on the traffic signal boxes in late June. There will also be a formal dedication of the boxes sometime in the fall.

Our partners
This project would not be possible without the hard work of a lot of key partners across the city. Among them are:

  • City of Oakland Cultural Arts & Marketing Division: CAM coordinates public art throughout the city, and funded our project through a competitive grant from the Open Circle Foundation.
  • City of Oakland Public Works Agency (PWA), Electrical Services Division: We have an active partnership with PWA, and are extremely excited to be working with their team for this project. We hope this can be a model project for other neighborhoods in the city hoping to use City-owned spaces for community art in the future.
  • Westlake Middle School, where administrators, teachers, and students have worked hard to make this project a reality. We hope to work with Westlake again in the future!
  • First Congregational Church, Westlake’s next-door neighbor and a supportive partner on this project.
  • Whole Foods Oakland, providing food and drinks for project workshops.
  • Benjamin Moore Paints, donating paint for the project.
  • Local businesses in the Westlake neighborhood, who are helping to ensure that the project is a success.

A very big THANK YOU to everyone who has helped City Canvas get off the ground!

Want to learn more? You can check out our website, which has more on City Canvas, the Westlake project, and our second project, an art class at King Middle School in Berkeley that will become a part of a much larger mural project on Shattuck Avenue. You can also contact us via the website (or via this site) for more information on how to get involved, or if you have ideas to share.


The very long overdue winter restaurant (and bar!) update

February 16, 2010

I realized it’s been months and months since I did a restaurant rundown, which is no good! Here’s a very quick summary of food news in the ‘hood…

Already here or coming soon in Grand Lake:

  • Zoey’s Afghan Bistro, the newest addition to the growing Middle Eastern scene in the neighborhood.
  • Boot and Shoe Service, Pizzaiolo’s sister restaurant. Yay for pizza even closer to home!
  • Yayu, a new Ethiopian spot on Lakeshore, is coming soon to the spot that housed the short-lived Vine.
  • Heart and Dagger Saloon: There’s a changing of the guards happening at what used to be the Serenader, one of the last remnants of the old Grand Lake. This new bar is due to open this Friday, February 19th, and I’m super curious to see what they do with the space! (If Yelp is to be believed, they will have pinball, video games, and pool. Maybe they can be kinda like the Chatterbox Pub in Minneapolis—a city that has the art of neighborhood bars mastered—except without the 3.2 license….that would make me happy!)
  • Mimosa Café, under new ownership: Rumor has it that this Grand Lake spot isn’t gone for good, but is merely changing hands. We’ll see.
  • Kwik Way, the Sequel: A yet-to-be-named replacement for the long-closed Kwik Way Drive-In on Lake Park by the owners of Somerset is finally under construction. No ETA, though.

Already here or coming soon in Uptown:

  • TrueBurger: Former BayWolf sous chefs do burgers, milkshakes, and fries. Reviews say “better than In ‘n Out”—but with sustainable meats! How can you go wrong?
  • Hibiscus: It’s open! Yay! We have reservations to try the Caribbean food later this month, so I’ll report back then.
  • Era: Okay, it’s a bar, not a restaurant, but still. We’ve been eyeing their empty* windows forever, so I’m glad they’re finally open! Full report once we’ve tried their cocktails out. (*Okay, not actually empty, but filled with cool teasers, which is why we were eyeing them! Let’s go with “vacant” windows instead.)
  • Bakesale Betty: Someday, someday this will come off the “coming soon” list, if the stars are aligned in our favor. I hope. April is the current ETA on this, and there’s activity and a hole in the paper on the windows, so we’re ever hopeful.
  • The other Pizzaiolo sister restaurant, name TBD. They have the beginnings of a liquor license, though it’s still in process. But that’s promising! (I don’t speak ABC so I can’t say exactly why it’s on hold or what that means, though.)

Already here or coming soon on Lower Telegraph:

  • Phat Matt’s BBQ: Loved him at the Grand Lake market? Now he’s got his own spot! We haven’t made it here yet, but it’s just a few blocks away so it’s high on the list. I’m also excited to see more restaurants staking out this stretch of Telegraph, which has struggled to keep retail for years. With Oasis Market opening just down the street a few months ago and several small coffee shops, it’s finally starting to fill out. Yay! Look for him next door to Neldam’s.
  • Remedy Coffee is trying its best to open soon—and you can help out! You can prepay set amounts ($1000, $750, $500, or $250) and get a percentage back in a setup similar to Awaken’s credit system. Check their Facebook page for details. Their sidewalk cart is already up and running, too.
  • SR24: Okay, I can’t believe I missed this one given the name! Anyway, this comfort food spot popped onto the scene this week, replacing Bear Naked Burgers in the little mini-mall across the street from the Temescal library branch.

Already here or coming soon on Piedmont:

  • Sparky’s (maybe?) Something is happening with the space at 4151 Piedmont, which has been vacant forever. Way back in December 2008, a restaurant called Sparky’s (which may or may not be related to Sparky’s Giant Burgers up near the Mormon Temple) had a plan for this space, but there’s been no movement since then, though ABC says they got their liquor license in October. So possibly this is Sparky’s coming back from the dead, or maybe something new is afoot. Keep an eye out!
  • César Latino: Okay, this is really just Piedmont staple César, but the restaurant has reinvented itself as a Latin American hot spot featuring South and Central American dishes, rather than the Spanish tapas it has traditionally featured. So it’s almost like a new restaurant to try!

And leaving us are:

  • Café Noir: This closed eons ago, shortly after it opened. But now they are definitively gone. Not sure what went wrong here, as they weren’t open long enough to even get their feet wet…maybe a change of heart. But a great spot for a new coffee shop, which are in short supply in our neighborhood, so hopefully there’ll be some takers!
  • Louisiana Fried Chicken: This place always seemed busy, so possibly this is just a victim of rising rents. I never ate there, so can’t say I’ll miss the food, but I did think it was going to be funny when there was a quadrangle of fried chicken in Uptown (with variations served at Luka’s, Pican, Bakesale Betty, and LFC). Ah, well.
  • Mimosa Café: I never managed to get to this spot either (maybe all of these restaurants are dropping at my hands?!?) but they had a brunch that was widely loved in the ‘hood. It will supposedly reopen under new ownership soon (see above).
  • Franklin Square Wine Bar: Don’t know details here, but I’m sorry to see Uptown losing one of its newest spots. That means two wine bars have come and gone in the neighborhood in as many years…maybe Oakland isn’t the spot for these? With luck, maybe this will be the magic time for a new restaurateur to come in, lease both the FS Wine Bar and LFC spaces, and take down the wall between the two, since one challenge Franklin Square did have was its tiny, narrow seating area. We’ll see… (Incidentally, not in the neighborhood, but I did recently notice that Wood Tavern in Rockridge, one of our favorites, is doing just this: taking over the adjacent storefront and growing out a bit.)

Celebrate the holidays in Oaktown

November 27, 2009

The day after Thanksgiving traditionally marks the official start of the holiday season! Here’s the 2009 run-down of things to do in town to celebrate. (Is something missing? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!)


Jack London Square/Downtown:

Uptown/Lake Merritt/Piedmont Avenue:


West Oakland/Golden Gate:

Montclair/Oakland Hills



Plaid Friday: Shop local this holiday season!

November 23, 2009

Yep, it’s that time of year again—and as usual I haven’t even started thinking about holiday shopping yet. Luckily, though, this Friday is Plaid Friday in the East Bay—which means it’s time for indie holiday shopping! “Plaid Friday” is a concept created by two independent East Bay businesses to help encourage Bay Area shoppers to go local on the Friday after Thanksgiving, traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year.

What you need to do to participate:

  1. Wear plaid on Friday, November 27, 2009 in support of local independent businesses.
  2. Look for plaid placards in shop windows or visit the Plaid Friday website to find independent East Bay businesses near you that are offering special discounts or hours.
  3. Buy stuff from local independent businesses on Plaid Friday and in the weeks to come!

There are dozens of independent businesses participating in the day of festivities, so here’s a quick sampling of just a few near my ‘hood. Check the website for their special Plaid Friday discounts and hours.

And don’t miss the after-party:

Penelope Bar and La Borinquena Mex-icatessen
Corner of 11th & Clay, Oakland | Plaid Friday Hours: 6-11pm

Penelope Bar and Tina Tamale of La Borinquena are joining forces for a Plaid Friday afterparty. Once everyone is worn out from shopping at fine indie businesses, we are inviting everyone to quench their thirst and fill their bellies with us.

$3 Plaid Friday Shots | $6 Select Signature Drinks | 1 cent Indie Special shot if you wear plaid | $6 Tamale Plate with tortilla chips & salsa


Coming soon to an avenue near you! (Okay, or at least to one near me…)

October 7, 2009

…otherwise known as the fall restaurant update! It’s been a rough year for a lot of small local businesses and restaurants, so I was excited to see a bunch of new spots show up on the horizon this summer and fall to fill the empty spaces. It’s been a while since I last did a restaurant rundown, so here’s the latest and greatest.

On Piedmont Avenue:

  • The widely-anticipated Commis opened at the end of June to much fanfare. We finally checked them out earlier this month, and were duly impressed.
  • A new La Farine branch is coming soon now open! where Piedmont Lighting used to be. (I know, I’ve mentioned this several times already—but I’m so, SO excited to finally have good baguettes within walking distance!) The cases are in and the signs are up, so they should be open any day now.
  • Caffe Trieste is actually open! They’ve been in limbo for so long over the cabaret permit (longer than we’ve been in the house!) that I hadn’t even bothered including them in my “coming soon” list. But they’re here!!
  • Lush Gelato opened earlier this summer where Tango Gelato used to be.
  • Tutti Frutti, a tart frozen yogurt chain, is now open in that stretch of Piedmont, too.

On Grand and Lakeshore Avenues (Adams Point/Grand Lake):

  • The new Pizzaiolo spot where DiBartolo used to be on Grand is still “coming soon.” opening in early December! It will be called Boot and Shoe Service (though the website isn’t live yet).
  • Taste of Joy Southern Bistro has moved over to Upper Grand from Lakeshore, and is now in La Taza de Cafe’s former location.
  • …which, of course, means that La Taza de Cafe has closed, as has their brand-new tapas bar. Go figure.

In Uptown/Lake Merritt (Grand, Broadway, Telegraph, and San Pablo Avenues):

  • The Lake Chalet opened with much fanfare last month. Mmm—local brews on a deck overlooking Lake Merritt, walking distance from our house! We went for the first time last week, and were impressed—while the food isn’t out of this world, it’s solid, and the location is top-notch. (You have to wait long enough for a table as it is, so I almost think it’s a blessing in disguise that the food isn’t A+ quality…)
  • Farley’s East opened earlier this summer on Grand near Broadway, hopping on the Uptown bandwagon. We checked it out a few weeks back; my latte was great, while D.’s gibraltar was a bit on the milky side. Haven’t tried the drip yet, though. They hope to extend their evening hours in the future, so if that happens we’ll be able to hit them a bit more often.
  • Down the street, there’s now an Oakland Specialty’s location at Grand and Harrison for lunchtime sandwiches and cookies.
  • Mimosa Champagne Lounge is now serving dinner, desserts, and cocktails (and, of course, champagne!)
  • Still under construction: the second Bakesale Betty location, which now has an ETA of February March 2010. (I really am going to stop asking, I swear!) I’m almost afraid to ask these days, since every time I do it gets pushed back another few months…
  • In the space of a month, Café Noir on Auto Row got its liquor license, opened for dinner, and then abruptly closed “for renovations.” Umm. I really want to love these guys—they have tasty pizza and beer and great coffee, and they’re just down the street!—but they desperately need to get their act together. Let’s hope they’re really just closed for renovations (but really…what could they possibly be renovating?!?) and not for good, since the place was just oozing with potential….
  • Hibiscus, a nouveau Caribbean spot, is going in where Sweet Jimmie’s used to be on San Pablo between 17th and 18th, and sounds like it’s going to be excellent! (Their website doesn’t have much up yet, but their Facebook page has a running list of information on potential dishes and renovations.)
  • And another Pizzaiolo spin-off is going into Uptown, too. Still all papered up, but the liquor license notice went up in October—promising!

On Telegraph Avenue (Pill Hill/Mosswood/Temescal):

  • Subrosa Coffee is now open on 40th at Webster next to Manifesto Bicycles. Haven’t been yet, but I’m hearing good things—yay! Hours are 6:30 to 7 on weekdays, 7 to 7 on weekends.
  • Remedy Coffee is coming soon on Telegraph at 43rd, but is already selling out of a cart in front of their new storefront. They’ll be brewing Ritual beans.
  • Oasis Food Market, technically a small Middle Eastern grocery store, is getting some buzz for great prepared food as well. They’re across the street from Alta Bates  Summit on Telegraph at 30th. Hours are 6 am to 11 pm on weekdays and 8 am to 11 pm on weekends. We tried them for the first time this week—yum! And they have a small but complete and good-looking section of fresh fruits and vegetables, too, which means they’re a great late-night grocery option since the other local groceries all close by 8 pm. More on the food later….

So that’s the story for now….as usual this list just includes places I can walk to, so it doesn’t take into account the many (many!) new spots coming soon in other parts of the city, including Jack London Square, which is hopping these days. (I’ve spent more time there in the past two months than in the rest of the years I’ve lived here combined….and when Blue Bottle finally opens, it will be hard to tear myself away!)


Building bridges

September 3, 2009

As I think just about everyone on the planet (or at least everyone in the Bay Area!) knows, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is closed for the third time this weekend so that Caltrans can perform some amazing engineering feats and get the temporary bridge that will serve the Bay Area for the next four years ready for Tuesday morning’s commute. When the bridge closes for the fourth and final time in 2013, we’ll finally have a new, earthquake-proof bridge. (The Bay Bridge is the last bridge in California to get a seismic retrofit, and far and away the most complicated bridge to retrofit.)

If you haven’t already read about the Bay Bridge retrofit, it’s really a pretty astounding civil engineering process (as, for that matter, was the construction of the original bridge back in the 1930s). Check out the Caltrans Bay Bridge website for more information on the retrofit process, including a timelapse video of the work going on this weekend. You can also see some incredible photos of the construction of the original bridge here.

While we wait for the bridge to reopen, though, I thought it would be a good time to post some shots that D. took the last time the bridge closed in 2007, when he was lucky enough to go on a helicopter photo shoot to document the work.

The west span of the bridge, looking towards San Francisco

The west span of the bridge, looking towards San Francisco

More Port of Oakland

Port of Oakland trucks

Port of Oakland with AT-AT Walker (or not) cranes

Port of Oakland with Star Wars (or not) cranes in the background

Oakland: Looking west to the estuary from above Laney College

Oakland: Looking west to the estuary from above Laney College

The new east span in 2007

The new east span in 2007---today it's close to complete!

Over the mudflats

Over the mudflats

The edge of the MacArthur Maze (with traffic like you've never seen it!)

The edge of the MacArthur Maze (with traffic like you've never seen it!)

San Francisco

San Francisco

Creative Commons License
These photographs are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


Food and the city

August 25, 2009

(Or, perhaps more accurately, “Food and The Town”…)

Urban food is back in a big way in my little city. The Oakland restaurant scene, which has been gathering energy for the past several years in spite of—or perhaps because of?—the bleak economic times, finally seems to be hitting its stride, and is making splashy news with features in GourmetSunset, Fortune, the New York Times, and other national publications. And the urban agriculture trend in town—from city chickens and bees to rooftop gardens to urban foraging—is getting some press time, too. The nice part, of course, is the positive publicity for Oakland. It’s been a pretty rough year for national media attention here amidst several tragedies. I thought we’d been thrown a small bone when the New York Times did a May “36 Hours” feature on Oakland that acknowledged the city’s reputation and bad press, but also called out some of the hidden gems. But that seemed to jump-start a sea of other articles. Everywhere I looked, it seemed, there were articles on Oakland, and especially on Oakland food. But maybe it’s just that I notice those articles more. So I waited to see.

It started out slowly. First, while we were on a visit out East, my dad asked offhandedly if we lived anywhere near “that T neighborhood” that This Old House had recently dubbed one of the best old house neighborhoods in the country. (We pointed out that not only did we live just south of the Temescal, but they had even been to several restaurants there the last time they visited!) Just a few days later, wandering through bookstores in Manhattan, we spotted Novella Carpenter’s new book, Farm City, out front and center in several displays. Novella runs (and blogs about) a tiny urban farm about ten blocks from our house (although it feels like a world away given the freeway in between, so we haven’t actually been to check it out yet—soon!) At a cupcake shop in the East Village, the owner spotted my “I Hella ❤ Oakland” t-shirt and gushed over Oakland coffee, promising to trade me cupcakes for beans if I’d bring some on my next visit. (Granted, she actually asked for Peet’s—which is technically roasted just across the Oakland line in Emeryville, and which I was astounded to discover you can’t get in New York, since you can buy it in Boston!—but I told her I’d send some Blue Bottle instead.)

Then D.’s mother called to tell me she’d seen an article in the New York Times about all the Oaklanders who were jumping headfirst into the city farming movement, raising vegetables and chickens in the backyard. “There are lots of people like you!” she exclaimed. She sounded relieved. (The best part? I’m not even sure which article she was talking about, since the Oakland urban food movement was featured in the Times not once but twice this summer—the first piece focused on the Forage Oakland project, while the second talked about the urban homesteading trend in Oakland, where, in the best line from the article, “backyard menageries and D.I.Y. charcuterie are the new garage band.” I guess you know your neighborhood is officially “in transition” when you have all three, complete with a fleet of single-speed hipster bikes!)

None of this is news to Oaklanders, of course. The urban farming bug bit many people here years ago, especially because our temperate weather means that just about anything grows here. The city’s community gardens continue to have long waiting lists. (There are only eight to serve this city of 420,000—and that includes gardens reserved for OBUGS programs with youth.) And more and more friends have been jumping on the chicken wagon in recent years. (In fact, not long after we moved into our house, our neighbors got together and started planning a cooperative chicken coop for the block, though we have yet to make much progress on it! It’s near the top of the 2010 Resolutions list, though.)

Big Daddys Complete Rejuvenating Garden, a community garden and art project on the Emeryville/Oakland border. (Photo from Oakland Geology)

Big Daddy's Complete Rejuvenating Garden, a community garden and art project on the Emeryville/Oakland border. (Photo from Oakland Geology)

Neither is the urban homesteading trend unique to Oakland. Concerns around energy consumption and climate change, the local food movement, community health, and the global recession have sparked an immense flood of interest in creating more self-sufficient, healthier communities. Victory gardens are back in cities across the country. People are walking and biking more. They’re joining CSAs. This year’s Maker Faire, a big do-it-yourself event held annually in the South Bay, included an entire area devoted to food and gardens, with booths on everything from beekeeping to cheese making to urban foraging. Perhaps most importantly, organizations committed to food security and equitable food systems have been growing in recent years, too. Somehow, the convergence of the Bay Area’s foodie scene, culture of civic engagement and social justice, and a renewed interest in urban living have fostered a pretty vibrant urban food and agriculture community.

By July, we were awash in local food news. The Oakland Food Policy Council, one of only a few dozen city-run food councils nationwide, formally launched this summer, creating a space to bring together Oaklanders interested in food policy, infrastructure, and equity, from backyard gardens to restaurants to commercial farms to processing plants along the Estuary. (One of the OFPC’s major projects will be a strategic plan for food access and security in the city, which is critical, because thus far the “eat local” movement has not been especially accessible to lower income Oakland residents, and there are huge swathes of the city that remain underserved by grocery stores and farmers markets in spite of the sizable number of both that have opened in the central parts of the city in recent years.)

In August, PolicyLink and its partners released a new report on building viable urban food systems

In August, Oakland-based PolicyLink released a new report on building viable and fair urban food systems.

Not far away, Urban ROOTS, a new organization focused on creating cooperative “microfarms” throughout Oakland as a path to food security, was just getting rolling. In Old Oakland, Oakland Roots—a “school of urban sustainability”—had set up shop on a vacant downtown lot, and across town, Oakland Sol (Sustaining Ourselves Locally) spent the summer tilling their own vacant lot garden in the Lower San Antonio. This fall, Oakland Food Connection is getting ready to launch an after-school urban agriculture program at an East Oakland charter school where they built a rooftop vegetable garden last year, and I noticed recently that all three of the elementary schools near our house now have raised beds in their schoolyards, as does Mosswood Park. A message just came across our neighborhood listserv today about an effort to organize Oakland’s PTAs to advocate for major changes to the Child Nutrition Act to promote healthier school lunchs when it comes up for reauthorization this year. Everywhere you turn, the energy is building.

And last but not least, coming up this weekend is the Eat Real Festival in Jack London Square. Taking place on Friday the 28th through Sunday the 30th, the festival purportedly started as an effort to bring the local food movement to the masses by celebrating street food, beer, and the other simple pleasures in life after last year’s Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco got some flack for coming across as a little too high-brow (and prohibitively expensive) for many local residents. The Eat Real Festival, in contrast, is free (except for the Beer Shed, where tickets for all-you-can-drink beer are $20 in advance or $25 at the door). It’s grown into a pretty massive undertaking, though. The three-day schedule now features everything from street food to a special farmer’s market to to a butchering contest to outdoor movies and live music to a canning and foraging demonstration and food swap. There are accompanying dinners to raise funds for local nonprofits, bike tours of food in the city, and even a tour of Novella Carpenter’s Ghosttown Farm, complete with a chicken slaughter (not sure I’m up to that quite yet!) and a how-to-raise-goats session.

So there’s a lot to do and a lot to think about (and a whole lot to eat!) around Oaktown—and in cities across the country—these days. Here’s a little taste!

Oakland food organizations:

Recent Oakland restaurant coverage in the national press:

General Oakland coverage: