Like Oakland and San Francisco before it, Richmond is beginning to become a hot commodity for land developers seeking to expand. Will proposed urban renewal plans be inclusive for all Richmond residents? Or will these plans only benefit non-Richmond residents and corporate entities?
Last November, I was invited to an open house for Berkeley’s Global Campus (BGC).It was a very interesting event but, I only saw six or seven individuals that I knew from my neighborhood and local Richmond network.
The BGC Community Working Group were showcasing their drafted community recommendations to local stakeholders and residents. The event felt like a UC Berkley-themed production. I saw a UC Berkeley journalism grad student with her digital camera conducting live interviews, and BGC Community Working group members were walking around the open house helping residents interpret the community recommendations.
I felt this event was unrepresentative of the greater Richmond community because the core residents that would be greatly impacted by this project weren’t there to vocalize their opinions. I wonder how and if the core information was disseminated to the general community at large.
Entering into the new year, I realized that this open house is apart of a pivotal movement in Richmond. Sadly, there are quite of new developments that are being implemented without the consent of long-time Richmond residents.
I also found it quite appalling and offensive to hear Richmond officials or activists using coded terms like revitalize, when the correct terminology is gentrification. I read a Radio Free Richmond article written by a longtime resident indicating how the Hilltop area needs to be revitalized. Yes, I am advocate for rebuilding a more economically vibrant culture in my hometown, but if the process is going to hinder marginalized community members, then my vote is out.
When I visit my old stomping grounds and reminisce about old memories there, I’m and simultaneously experiencing feelings of emptiness because Richmond can remind me of an eerie ghost town. The City of Richmond was once full of so much life because residents could watch and enjoy the Bay Area steppers practicing at the Richmond Recreation Center, or you could find Ms. Barbara teaching youth the fundamentals of tennis at Nichol Park.
Unfortunately, I feel that African American culture of Richmond is becoming extinct. I make weekly effort to buy a chili cheese dog at Casper’s, or get a banana pudding dessert at Boulevard Fish & Barbecue on Cutting, but I rarely see individuals I grew up or even when to school with there. It seems like all my neighbors, peers, classmates, and family members who once lived in Richmond are now spread throughout California.
I recently heard that the King’s club shut-down. This place was safe haven for many kids in our community. During my basketball days, the King’s Club girls basketball team were my arch-rivals, but now that’s just another faded memory.
These are some the landmarks that had a special meaning to the culture of Richmond, and it is sad to see community activities and places that I once enjoyed as a kid now extinct or inactive.
Oakland is prime illustration of emerging businesses and expansions that omit efforts to provide vital career opportunities and housing opportunities to long-time residents. Richmond residents must challenge Richmond officials and ask themselves: Will these new land developers and tech startups give native residents vital career opportunities and commit to building affordable housing?
The Haas Institute’s “Belonging And Community Health in Richmond” indicates that Richmond’s predominately African American neighborhoods will be hit the hardest during this new stage of development. In speaking to one of my friends, he mentioned that rent payment at St. Johns Apartment is now $1,100 a month.
The African American population in Richmond fell by 12,500 persons between 2000 and 2013, while Latinos and Asian Americans increased, and the white population remained stable. In the late 2000’s, I witnessed many of my friends moving out of Richmond by the dozens to live in cities like Antioch, Vallejo, Fairfield, Pittsburg, and Stockton. Each had more affordable housing opportunities. The Richmond Housing Authority made these areas sound more attractive to Richmond residences and made the relocations seem more like a prize or a reward to low-income families.
As a kid, I remember going with mom to sell Avon products to her friend, Rose, who lived in Easter Hill housing projects. Most of the longtime residents of Easter Hill were priced out and moved outside the San Francisco Bay Area, leaving the area with a ghost town feeling.
The only time, I have an opportunity to see all my peers, friends, and old neighbors all in one place, is at Richmond’s Juneteenth celebration at Nichol Park. The majority of African American population of Richmond were priced out, and I personally knew some individuals who lived in Crescent Park that took advantage of the housing voucher opportunities to fund housing in other cities.
The shift in population was gradual, but I am now seeing Richmond's African American culture minimize at a rapid pace.
The Haas study also clearly indicates that mid-gentrification efforts will exploit local neighborhoods and areas that include North Richmond, Iron Triangle, Hilltop, Marina Bay, and Parchester Village. Longtime Richmond residents must challenge the system and let our officials know that our city must mandate an inclusive plan for all citizens.
Local policy-makers and community groups must continue to challenge and create efforts to ensure that the Richmond City Council is held accountable for investing in an anti-displacement fund to protect longtime residents and low income tenants because most land developers shy away from apartment complexes due to them being more expensive.
We also must protect Richmond’s legacy, because if we don’t, community legends like the late Fred Jackson will become a mirage, and our city’s motto “Pride and Purpose,” will probably become a profitable t-shirt that would be sold at apparel shops, not owned by a Richmond native. It will be similar to what is taking place in Oakland right now with the “Oaklandish” clothing stores and the new “gentrification” names for various parts of Oakland like Midtown, Uptown, Temescal, and other names for parts of Oakland that are not familiar to long standing residents.
I just want to make sure that Richmond’s strong legacy of community lives on through these future developments. In honor of Black History month, our city is home to many passionate community leaders who have fought so hard to make Richmond an inclusive and respectable city for all of its residents.
In the next 40 years, will Richmond lose its sense of historic heritage, or will it become a city of equality that halted the painful stages of gentrification?This is a question that needs to be examined and answered by the Richmond community and its long standing residents.
By: Maiya Newsome-Edgerly, Richmond resident