A Tale of Two Wards
I first moved into the Oakland First ward eight and a half years ago. My first impression was that it was pretty white for a ward that is supposed to be in one of the most racially diverse cities in the country, but also it’s Mormon, so that’s going to lean white anyway.
Quickly, I learned that Oakland has 2 geographically-based English-speaking family wards: the First ward and the Ninth Ward, and it’s the Ninth Ward that contains most of the racial diversity because it contains the city center. I once mentioned (at a ward book group, maybe?) that the First ward likes to say it’s so diverse being in Oakland, but it’s still pretty rich and pretty white. Someone was quick to defend that it’s better than it used to be- apparently (and I don’t know the old ward boundaries) the boundaries used to be much more divided. And that may be true. But as of last week, it isn’t anymore.
We are one of the many families that have been affected by new boundary changes. We’re assigned to the 9th ward now, which is fine by me- I’m personally hoping there will be fewer hills to bike to get to ward members’ homes. But what is not fine by me is the very striking new boundaries. They look almost exactly like the old redlining maps of Oakland.
New ward boundaries:
You can also compare it to the current Trulia map of median listing prices of homes in Oakland, screenshot taken November 1, 2018
Redlining was the practice of bankers and loan institutions to not give loans to people of certain demographics, most commonly black people in US cities during the Jim Crow Era and continued afterward. There were whole swaths of Oakland where black people could not get loans. And this caused segregation in the city and continues to cause school segregation and other systemic issues today. Which parts of the city have nice parks? Which are policed more? Which have more regular street sweeping? Where to people move to go to the “good” schools?
And it affects what our wards look like. But it doesn’t have to.
It’s not uncommon for the Church to split wards along major highways. When I was a kid, the small town I was in went through a ward division in my late elementary school years where the main thoroughfare split our city into the 2nd and 3rd wards. Then a few years later when I was a teenager the wards were recombined. This was personally hard for me because it split and then recombined at crucial growing-up years and affected which friends I had and who I connected with and any cliquish behavior among the Young Women in the ward(s). But that is so minor compared to the systemic racism we have in larger cities.
Sure, roads are easy ways to split roads. But roads are not neutral or natural ways for dividing people. In fact, the decision of how, where, and why to build roads, especially highways, in cities is a part of the larger city planning system: a system with hugely racist past and continues to deal with race. For further reading I recommend this Washington Post article, How Railroads, Highways, and Other Man-Made Lines Racially Divide American Cities.
You have to actively fight the way roads and trains divide neighborhoods. Not too far from my house, the Ashby BART station was built underground because of the activist work of Mable Howard, who did not want the train to divide the neighborhood. Sometimes it takes an act of nature to tear down freeways like the Loma Prieta Earthquake did to the Cypress Freeway which divided West Oakland. When that fell, instead of rebuilding the freeway, they turned that space into a long green park and pedestrian/bike path called Mandela Parkway.
One person reached out to me this week and mentioned that people always have mixed feelings about ward boundary changes. Sure, I’m going to miss some people and it’s going to be hard to learn all new people, but I’m not upset about going to a new ward. A change is probably good for me. But I am absolutely seething that, when given the chance to make wards more culturally, racially, and economically diverse, the Church chooses to make our wards more segregated than they already are. It’s like they took the redlining of the 20th century and said, “Yep, that’s what God wants.”
If you are interested in other redlining maps, perhaps for your own city, check this out.