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Fruitvale’s transit-village housing shows how growth can avoid displacement

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A national model for livable communities without gentrifying side effects

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Benjamin Schneider’s most recent piece for City Lab (“How Transit-Oriented Development Can Prevent Displacement”) should be required reading for anyone worried about the effects of residential growth around transportation hubs. The story looks at how Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood gained economic prosperity without losing its majority-Latino population.

According to a UCLA study, the Bay Area has almost uniformly seen an increase in wealth, housing prices, and white people moving into neighborhoods historically home to people of color since 2003. The big exception, however, has been the community around Oakland’s Fruitvale Transit Village. Here’s how that happened:

One of the main things that differentiated Fruitvale from its peer neighborhoods over the study period was the opening of the Fruitvale Transit Village, in 2003. In addition to 47 units of housing (10 of which are affordable) and a number of retail spaces, the village includes a charter high school, a community center where residents can access legal services, a public library, and a small clinic, making it a hub of community activity.

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It wasn’t just the many community-facing enterprises in the village that helped shape Fruitvale’s fortunes, but also its design. Initially, BART, which operates the rail stop adjacent to the transit village, had planned to build a parking garage on the lot. But the Unity Council and other community groups insisted on a more active use of space. The finished result includes a pedestrian walkway, lined with storefronts, that provides an inviting connection between the neighborhood and the station, and a safe, new public space for events and street vendors.

Phase II of the project is now under construction, and will reportedly include 94 units of affordable housing as well as more clinic space. “Another 180 units of market-rate housing are planned in a future phase,” notes Schneider.

An astounding feat, one that could and should be replicated around other Bay Area transit hubs, especially around other low- and middle-income communities. What’s more, it is refreshing to see a neighborhood grow without yielding to yet another chain gym or artisan startup cafe, which are often harbingers of a neighborhood’s impending homogenization.

Perhaps the only downside of the project—the languid time it took to get moving.

Photo by Russell Mondy/Flickr

“[I]t had been 24 years since the community plan for the Fruitvale Transit Village was conceived, and nearly 14 years since the 47-unit first phase opened,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle. “Casa Arabella, phase two, was supposed to be completed in 2008 but was hampered by a mix of bureaucratic delays, resistance from BART commuters and from community groups, and economic downturns that resulted in two development partners’ walking away from the deal.”

And who knows—maybe if SB 827 passes, it would upzone and speed up such projects minus the decades-plus wait.