In response to a recent video promoting the “NOBE” neighborhood by Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate company, Phat Beets Produce decided to address the manufactured narrative Better Homes and Gardens utilized to sell houses and maximize profit from its financial investments in North Oakland. After seeing the “NOBE” video – NOBE stands for North Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville – Phat Beets members produced a counter-video to challenge this attempt to re-brand North Oakland in order to make the neighborhood more attractive for new home-buyers moving from San Francisco and businesses that cater to the young, affluent and hip.
With the help of long-term residents of North Oakland, our counter-video sought to elucidate how gentrification is in fact not a naturally occurring process but rather a politically deliberate program set in motion by real estate companies, developers, big business, government officials and police. All of these entities function together to displace mostly poor and working class people of color from urban areas to make room for more affluent residents that generate increased revenue for those financially and politically invested in the neighborhood, including the City of Oakland.
While Phat Beets is a food justice collective whose mission is to support small farmers and farmers of color by connecting them to urban communities such as North Oakland through farmers markets, produce stands and market gardens, we are much more than what our mission statement describes. Because many forms of injustice intersect and reinforce one another, it is crucial that Phat Beets works across many different issues – including both food and housing justice – to not only support those most affected by these problems but also to eradicate the causes of them in the first place. This is why Phat Beets has chosen to address, challenge and resist gentrification in North Oakland.
And while we can dissect how problematic Better Homes and Gardens’ NOBE video is, we would like to take a few moments to clarify Phat Beets’ position on gentrification:
If working class people of color are displaced from North Oakland – which inevitably happens through gentrification – then Phat Beets farmers markets and CSAs become inaccessible to the community as a whole, which contradicts our mission and is therefore something we cannot support as an organization. In other words, if you support the mission of Phat Beets outlined above, then not only are you dedicated to food justice but also to anti-gentrification work, since gentrification fundamentally prevents access to healthy food for low-income residents of color.
Divestment of resources from the City of Oakland in regards to neighborhoods like the North Oakland flatlands is a precondition for poverty, unemployment and crime, as well as the gentrification process itself. Perhaps we should begin seeing the real crime as the government’s structural neglect of communities of color that has led to the problems we typically associate with crime.
Phat Beets finds it unacceptable that the City of Oakland provides substantial investments to communities only after the gentrification process begins. While subsidies and funding are unavailable for grocery stores, affordable housing and local schools when sought by historic residents of North Oakland, the City selectively funnels funds into better transportation and subsidizes high-end business and housing developments in and around North Oakland to set in motion gentrification. This is itself the essence of structural racism.
Phat Beets wishes to challenge and counteract the narrative in the NOBE video that so often accompanies gentrification – that these neighborhoods are being “discovered.” In reality, current residents are displaced, existing culture is invisibilized, and local resources are appropriated to produce profit for the newer, more affluent population. This process bears striking similarities to colonialism.
Phat Beets sees gentrification as a structural process with many players and stakeholders, not an issue of individuals or families just trying to buy their first home near good schools, parks and restaurants. Therefore, we do not blame individuals for their roles in gentrification. Many of the members, allies and supporters of Phat Beets are not historic residents of Oakland, and while we are aware and critical of our own role in gentrification through urban greening, we also understand the powerful possibilities that our programming can create when we unite in support of current residents and re-investment in the neighborhood.
So while the City of Oakland, real estate companies, and private developers say YES to NOBE and gentrification, Phat Beets says NO to gentrification, NO to divestment from our communities, NO to home foreclosures and NO to false solutions like gang injunctions and policing.
What do we stand for then? Phat Beets supports a full and sustained investment from the City of Oakland to meet community needs, including equitable food systems, land for farming within Oakland, culturally relevant schooling that teaches the truth about our histories and herstories, stable, healthy and dignified jobs and job training programs, subsidized and affordable housing and care for those who need it, and finally, social programs that provide our young people with the resources and opportunities they need to thrive in the ways they see fit for themselves and their communities.
To see the original NOBE video and our counter-video, please visit the Phat Beets Produce Beet Blog:
Phat Beets Produce Political Education Committee
Have your voice heard at our “Community Voices Forum: Changes, Challenges and Resistance in the Oakland Flatlands.” Sign up for our forum in May 2013