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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Rebuilding the Urban Structure of the Inner City: A Strategy for the Repair of Downtown Oakland, California


American cities have struggled to maintain the centrality of their downtown areas. As retail and office uses have continued to move into suburban areas and outlying regions, many local governments -- especially of smaller and mid-size cities -- have all but given up on the prospect of replacing the commercial vitality once found in many city centers. The ability to attract a permanent residential population, lured by good regional access, has become a necessary prerequisite for attracting new commercial uses back to the inner city.

In this paper, Bosselmann uses downtown Oakland to demonstrate an urban design strategy that starts with the history of the city’s urban form and its physical patterns. The strategy identifies the areas of vitality and the elements of the public realm that might be repaired if new development is directed and coordinated.

An important aspect of this essay is to explain what is implied when abstract terms are used, like "urban vitality," "urban repair," or "incremental development." These terms express professional values that require clear communication to the future and existing residents of the inner city. At the same time, the essay continues a tradition that identifies the need to balance the forces of competition with a need for cooperation. This tradition, one of the fundamental functions of city government, has emerged as a counter force to the worst effects of the industrial revolution. Then and now, city design professionals have seen it as their professional challenge to tame and cultivate what we now call "market forces" in a constant effort to protect the weaker elements of the city: culture, people and nature. In the inner city, these three elements will remain weak because market forces will only selectively address such concerns.

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