The Geography of Opportunity in Oakland; The Digital Divide Edition

The past is not dead, in fact it is not even past, to misquote Faulkner.  The specters of racially exclusive policies still weigh heavily on Oakland’s underserved families.  From asthma rates, to environmental stress, to attendance, to school quality, and now even internet access, for the 25,000 students that need support.  We can trace our current disparities almost directly back to government actions.  Which is why the government has a responsibility to fix this.

I will trace this path below and we will be discussing it at 9 am Pacific on Friday on Access Denied, my web show chronicling the digital divide and how we fix it.

Some neighborhoods in Oakland provide ample opportunities, safe parks, high achieving schools, high speed internet, clean air, and a wealth of opportunities.  Other neighborhoods don’t.  And it is not a coincidence, who lives where, who benefits, and who suffers.  These are the ghosts of legal segregation, and they continue to haunt us, and will until we exorcise them.

An Unnatural State of Segregation

Segregation in Oakland was created under the Color of Law.  Take a look at the “redlining” map (below).  Places where Black folks were concentrated, by force of law, where you had to rent and subdivide units, and housing was more costly and lower quality, because there were not other areas where we could live. So, it is crowded and polluted, and the city invests less in sewers, schools, transportation, public safety, and everything else.

More health risks, less social services, lower quality schools, less wealth, less access to opportunity, and the stigma that goes along with it.  Utilities of all kinds tended to come later and of lower quality.  Broadband is no exception.

These historical disparities continue in the so-called digital divide.  Notice anything

First the redlining map.

Now the internet access map in Oakland.

from Oakland North 2014

A large part of this was government action around housing and the ability to get a loan to own a home, as Richard Rothstein puts it,

The HOLC (Home Owners’ Loan Corporation- who first opened the door to middle class home ownership by providing loans in “safe” neighborhoods) created color coded maps of every metropolitan area in the nation, with the safest neighborhoods colored green and the riskiest colored red.  A neighborhood earned a red color if African Americans lived in it even if it was a solid middle class neighborhood of single family homes…

And later when the FHA insured loans it’s “appraisal standards included a whites only requirement”

In thousands of communities from Fanwood to Berkeley FHA policy was the same, with very few exceptions: no guarantees for mortgages to African Americans or to whites who may lease to African Americans, regardless of the applicants’ creditworthiness” p 67

I am not even going to get into how urban redevelopment subsidized transportation for White suburban residents at the expense of Blacks in West Oakland, or the GI loans that bought homes for White soldiers and denied them to Blacks.  Nor am I looking at the adverse health effects of diesel trucks driving through the West, the industrial uses next door to housing, that the greater Bay Area benefits from.  This should be enough.

Mapping Inequality

Just look at the redlining map (prior) compared to internet, the school quality map, and the environmental stress map  and asthma rates.

What do you notice?  Pretty similar patterns around redlined housing, internet access, neighborhood stress, asthma and school quality.  None of this is an accident, or a coincidence.  This is the legacy of redlining and other racist policies.

No “Orientals, Asiatics, or Africans” need apply

There is nothing natural about our neighborhoods, they were designed to be exclusive and they still are.  Here’s an excerpt from the property flyer for my neighborhood (sewage, transportation and no undesirables).

  • That Maxwell Park is the only new addition to be put on the market this year that will have all the improvements in ready to build.
  • That the water mains are now in to every lot.
  • That the street car line will be extended at once to the intersection of Fleming and Madera Avenues.
  • That the property is restricted as to Orientals, Asiatics and Africans.

Notice how they advertise the public utilities.  And the parallel with broadband, which we still have not robustly provided to historically underserved families.

The time is now, please join us in pushing for free, no strings attached internet for every family that needs it, please sign our petition, join our show Access Denied on Friday at 9 am pacific, where we will be digging in on Oakland and what we can do to truly fix the digital divide.  25,000 Oaklnd student need you alongside the 15 million unconnected students in the US.

We can fix this, it’s only a matter of will and creativity, please join us.

What do you think?

More Comments