We had trouble figuring out where to set up our rig: most sidewalk space was occupied by spillover from store displays and trucks unloading various goods. We finally decided to pull into the Pacific Renaissance Plaza located at Franklin and 9th since we figured that there would be a lot of casually foot traffic there. The Plaza is a comfortable mini-mall nestled among some towering residential buildings. Inside you can find restaurants, cafes (we highly recommend the sweet shop next to the B of A: they serve excellent tapioca fruit drinks), the Asian Branch of the Oakland Library and the Asian Cultural Center. This plaza was built as a redevelopment project in the early 1990s. Due to community struggles during the 1970s and 1980s, the developer was required to build and pay for affordable housing, a library and community center as part of the project. We got the feeling that this was a strong neighborhood gathering place even though in 2003 it was the site of a huge tenant-developer conflict.
While there were lots of people of all ages strolling about, sitting at the fountain area and on benches, people were very reluctant to talk to us. We thought this might be an issue of language; we tried to encourage people to respond to our survey written in Chinese. One older man just raised his hands in confusion and smiled. We did speak to one woman; she thought that both West and East Oakland are dirty and that Chinatown in “the dividing line between them.”
Then the security guard saw Erin filming the scene; he approached us but carefully avoided being caught on tape. He ducked and scooted around, all the while smiling and saying, “Please, you can’t do this here.” I asked him if this was public space, and he replied “No.” Seems like these redevelopment plazas are not so conducive to free speech.
So out we rolled, and set up on the sidewalk at the Plaza’ entrance. Some people slowed down to look at our trailer, but few stopped. We did speak with a group of women from Danville, as it turns out, who came to visit the Plaza for dim sum. They didn’t know anything about Oakland.