Building Walls Versus Building Bridges

Building Walls Versus Building Bridges

Some 15 years ago when I moved to this town, I heard about this mythical effort preservationists had undertaken in the 1970s to prevent the widespread building of “motel-style apartments” where gorgeous Victorian-era mansions once stood. 

Couched as an amazing feat of preservation, the 1973 Measure A sounded good enough to me. I, for one, didn’t want to live in those non-descript motel-style apartments and liked Alameda for the very reason that the Victorian-era homes remained.

Fast forward a decade and a half, and suddenly I’m being lumped in with the racist residents as this measure actually “did more to prevent low-income people from moving in than it did to preserve the historic homes.”

Even my older brother started laying in on me after Chip Johnson’s article in the San Francisco Chronicle said “Measure A should be viewed for what it is, a historic relic with little applicable use in modern-day city planning.”

My brother, Richard Kos, is a professor of urban planning at San Jose State University. His students have won awards on a national level, and his textbook on Global Imaging Software is a recognized resource nationwide. 

“I’m aware of the Victorian home protection,” said Rick, after I attempted to defend the voiceless homes. “But the way the protection was handled can be described as draconian and over-reaching at best. A sledgehammer when a precision scalpel was needed. Time to let Measure A go, Alameda.”

So I had to resign myself to the fact that I was apparently an exclusionary racist just by living here. I had to accept that I was somehow complicit with the establishment. I’ve heard the stories of racial profiling on the bridges, was around when Alameda was named “The Most Racist City in America” and heard our city manager John Russo speak on the entrenched attitude of “building walls” in Alameda.

That phrase burns me up. It’s a misappropriation, a misunderstanding and totally unfair to the new, open-minded residents of Alameda. 

Those of us who live here, racist or otherwise, may indeed want walls to be built around Alameda — to protect it from sea levels rising. 

Instead, I hear more Alamedans speaking up about building bridges — a much better metaphor if you ask me. I see Rhythmix Cultural Works, Pacific Pinball Museum and other organizations actively working to invite people from outside Alameda to our Island City. 

Time and again I hear city officials misunderstand residents who worry about traffic and parking as people who want to keep others out of Alameda. However, I hear people asking for better connections to the outside world. City Hall needs to rethink its use of metaphors.

Write to