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Civic Sideshows: Communities and Publics in East Oakland

Cristina Cielo (published in 2023-02-09 by Solange Jaramillo )
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Cielo, Cristina. 2005. Civic Sideshows: Communities and Publics in East Oakland. UC Berkeley: Institute for the Study of Societal Issues. 1: 1-27.
In this paper, I examine two very different public spaces in East Oakland, the streets and parks of a residential neighborhood and the hybrid public spaces of the Eastmont Town Center. In these places, as elsewhere, both the state and the market’s inability to address local concerns has led residents to seek alternative means to meet their needs. The development of community groups, non-profits and voluntary associations in East Oakland is part of a wider national and international trend that emphasizes the capacities of civil society, or what Nikolas Rose (1999) and others have called a ‘third way.’ This process plays itself out differently in the spatial practices of the sites we examine, producing distinct public spaces and collective identities. Yet despite the visible differences between the two spaces and their implicit collectivities, I will show that they share some of the same fundamental historical and structural limits. In particular, I will examine the ‘public’ that is produced in the ways that Oakland residents use the two sites, both practically and discursively. Neighbors in Maxwell Park, a quietly gentrifying residential area near Mills College, aggressively police its public spaces in an assertion of a civil society based on racialized hierarchies of property relations. The staff members and clients of the organizations housed at the Eastmont Town Center, on the other hand, are brought into social relationships mediated by notions of a ‘public good.’ Both modes of sociality, however, are finally embedded in and inform the same structural dynamics that serve to define the inequalities endemic in Oakland and its environs.