Along with podcasts like Serial, audio maps are among the most creative storytelling trends in radio, made possible by a plethora of low-cost, high-quality publishing tools. I first spotted Youth Radio's West Side Stories project thanks to CityLab's Laura Bliss. The Bay Area nonprofit documented the thoughts of longtime residents of West Oakland, California, about the effects of gentrification on their neighborhood, a weighty topic involving race, culture, politics, and economics that is often as difficult to define as it is to discuss.
Gentrification is a part of daily life for Americans who live near and in growing cities, and West Side Stories presents real people, one at a time, to talk about it. Every neighborhood in America could use a map like this. Presented below are three of the subjects Youth Radio interviewed.
DeFremery Park used to be a predominantly black neighborhood — and a primary Black Panther hangout
Ericka Huggins remembers that new residents were "looking for a different quality of life than they bought into. ... You get culture, but if you're afraid of it, you can't see it as that. You see it as other." A few blocks from DeFremery Park, a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment is currently available for rent for $1,950 a month on Craigslist.
Malik, 22, likes that his neighborhood is safer, but says that "we shouldn't let outsiders come in and take our neighborhood away from us"
As Malik suggested, a safer neighborhood should not come at the cost of one's expulsion from it. For many people of color, gentrification means saying goodbye to your house because it becomes too expensive for you to live there anymore. Gentrification has an insidiously discriminatory relationship with communities in need of economic mobility and parity, employment opportunities, and affordable housing.
The number of residents of high-poverty neighborhoods in the US has roughly doubled since 1970 and is spreading into the suburbs, as Danielle Kurtzleben noted in Vox last year. That's not to say that displacement in working-class neighborhoods isn't harmful, too — just look at Washington, DC — but income is the primary factor in who can afford to stay in a gentrifying neighborhood. Oakland is undergoing widespread sociodemographic shifts, and I recommend the Pulse of Oakland's maps and the Brookings Institution's study on income inequality for deeper dives into local history and trends.
Joyce Elaine Carter (a.k.a. "Miss Cookie") saw many children of the neighborhood sell their parents' houses to white residents from outside the community
Carter has no intention of leaving the neighborhood, and she has a lot of good reasons. "I paid $15,000 for my house, and I'm staying right here," she says. The map includes a series of interviews from West Oakland renters, too; one woman mentions that she wants to use a prospective property as an Airbnb location.
There are other amazing audio maps out there (like this PRI project mapping world sounds), but Youth Radio's map helps clarify a conversation about race, income, and equality that reaches well beyond Oakland. If you're in or from West Oakland, you can add your story to West Side Stories here.