July 7, 2015

Field Notes: The Colors of Oakland

Oakland, California

By Annie Ledbury, Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow

The current Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellows share their ideas, inspirations and photos from the field on our blog. Learn more about the Fellowship.

New to my fellowship, to Oakland, and to California, I see this city with fresh eyes.My community design work with the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC), takes me to some of the most underserved communities in Oakland, including the San Pablo Avenue corridor in West Oakland and the Havenscourt neighborhood in East Oakland. Even these neighborhoods, some of the most underserved in the city, are teeming with evidence of a rich arts culture -- music, metalwork, food, architecture, visual art, literature, craft, and performance just to name a few. Oakland is a place that expresses itself.Lately I’ve been struck by the many vibrant, inspiring, and beautiful murals across the city.

On first glance, the differences between these diverse works are vast. Some are done by one artist with one clear vision, while others are ever-changing collages done by many people over time. Scale, levels of skill, and content varies. On the whole, many of these murals tend to use a bright color palette and densely layered graphic patterns. Many feature inspirational human figures or faces, like this entrance to a youth center in West Oakland.

Youth Center

Zio Zigler’s new 135’ mural, commissioned by the United Nations on Telegraph at the heart of downtown, is a mural that transcends language.

big lady

There are community-planned murals, intended to brighten a vacant lot, deter graffiti, and express neighborhood points of pride.  In the Downtown and Uptown districts, independent artists, businesses, and service organizations host full-building murals to give life to parking lots and inspire people to action.

Along the San Pablo Corridor, the tone shifts. A small abandoned structure is a visual sounding board for expressing community issues. A few blocks away, a mural brightens the sides of an affordable housing building.




A food sovereignty mural reminds visitors to the People’s Grocery community garden of the larger social justice issues.


Afrikatown’s mural announces their new community garden, which occupies a contentious piece of land at the edge of the neighborhood. The historic imagery and bold colors of this African themed mural reflects the strong voice of the people, fighting for ownership of their garden.


Trash can murals are popular across Oakland. This one, recently installed near the California Hotel, across from another mural by Attitudinal Healing, celebrates the long musical history of the place.


At EBALDC, we are developing a process of community development that starts with resident-led placemaking, and evolves over time into permanent neighborhood change.  Because Oakland’s identity is deeply tied to arts and culture, it is essential that any creative work grow out of a deep understanding of the artistic voice of the place. Like the many layers of these murals, there are many layers to a vibrant city. As Oakland grows, new residents are joining those who have been here for generations. They all need to work together to create a bold and authentic place that is inclusive and true to its cultural past, painted with the diverse colors of Oakland.(For more images from Oakland, check out the #colorsofoakland project on Instagram

About the Author: Annie is hosted by the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, an organization with historic commitments to the Asian and Pacific Islander communities and an ongoing effort to build healthy vibrant and safe neighborhoods for the diverse population of the East Bay. EBALDC has a strong interest in improving neighborhood health outcomes; Annie works to further their Healthy Neighborhoods approach and to instill a culture of design-thinking, collaboration and creative community engagement within the organization.

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