To Solve Gentrification, Put Everyone On A Boat Until They Figure It Out

An artist in Oakland, California, is bringing locals on to the water for three days to hash out all the changes happening in the neighborhood.

For over a decade, the small community of artists and sailors that lives and works along a dilapidated stretch of waterfront in Oakland, California, fought a huge new development designed to transform the neighborhood. Despite the controversy–the development will use land that was originally set aside as a public trust, stir up toxic sludge, and bring traffic to an area with little public transit–the development is moving forward, thanks in part to a $1.5 billion investment made by a Chinese firm last year.


It’s one example of the kinds of radical changes that are happening throughout the Bay Area and in other cities, as new communities push out the old.

Now an artist who happens to live in the neighborhood is planning a new installation to help everyone process the change. For three days next year, she hopes to bring everyone abroad a 175-foot retired coast guard vessel from the 1930s–to spark conversations between local artists, newly rich tech workers, and city planners.

In part, it’s meant to bring attention to a change that many people don’t know about. “A lot of people in San Francisco and Oakland don’t even know that this development is happening,” says Constance Hockaday, a TED fellow who will speak at TEDGlobal this month. “It’s so enormous, and it’s going to happen in a slow-motion way over 15 years of construction, so it’s kind of going under the radar in a lot of ways. So part of this is to say hey, this is happening.”

But the main purpose of the art project is to give a voice to people who feel disempowered. “Their story is not unlike a lot of other people in the Bay Area especially in this last round of the tech boom, and in general in a lot of urban areas in post industrial areas throughout the country,” says Hockaday. “There’s a level of frustration, powerlessness, frustration–this whole slew of human experience when these large developments take place and completely remap communities that have taken maybe half of a century to create themselves.”

By bringing the residents of the current, shantytown-like marina and artists’ lofts together with some of the tech workers and others who may eventually live in the new development, Hockaday hopes the various communities can find creative ways to interact. “The culture is not so different–the curiosity, invention, and exploration, all of that is rooted in similar values,” she says. “There’s a disconnect between old artists and new techies that doesn’t feel real to me. I think there’s a way to bring that together.”

Putting the event on a boat was meant to be a statement. “The act of it is a performance in itself–just bringing a boat onto the water and saying there’s no space for us on the land, we’re moving onto the water,” she explains. “It’s interesting to think about bringing people on the water and reflecting on their landscape from a different perspective–you can see the marina and studios from the water, and you can also see the cranes and the development as it’s coming.”


The project isn’t Hockaday’s first to use a boat as a way to create a new space. “I realized it’s a place where people can have a conversation on our own terms,” she says. “Not in a kind of political, city meeting kind of environment. We can create a venue and discuss it on our own terms. I want to create the space and see what comes of it, what relationships and connections are made.”

Hockaday is currently crowdfunding the project on Kickstarter.


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.