Popuphood: Designing the new 'Old Oakland'

Old Oakland is new again, thanks to a neighborhood revitalization effort called Popuphood. By fostering many new businesses at once, planners hope the whole area will rise up.

Six small businesses have banded together in Oakland, California, in a bid to help revitalize a part of the city that, up until the recent recession, was already on its way to a renaissance.

Old Oakland, near the city's downtown, has been slowly emerging as a hot spot for warehouses-turned-condos and hip restaurants. But it needs a bit more energy to tip the scales and really land on the social and commerce radar for the city.

Its location, very near City Hall and the site of the Occupy Oakland protests, is an asset, says Sarah Filley, an artist and one of the creators or Popuphood, an experiment in urban renewal. She says the OWS movement has infused the area with new energy and a sense that people can make something happen if they believe in it.

But how does one reinvigorate a neighborhood and also ensure that it will not only grow quickly but also have longevity?

Filley and her Popuphood partner Alfonso Dominguez believe they can do this by establishing these six small startups as an incubator. But an incubator needs a spark to start. For that, Filley and Dominguez struck a deal with a real estate management firm that manages a number of vacant stores in the Old Oakland neighborhood.

The deal is free rent for six months for five of the Popuphood businesses: Manifesto bike shop, Piper andJohn's General Goods, Sticks + Stones art gallery, Crown 9 jewelry shop, and Marion and Rose's art and craft store. Once the six months are up, the businesses that feel they can make a go of it will be able to negotiate for a reasonable lease.  (The sixth business will set up shop in a converted shipping container nearby.)

"Businesses don't have to be outposts where they just wait for people to come to them," says Filley. The idea behind Popuphood is that the six merchants that are setting up shop will all benefit from the exposure that Popuphood generates (which has been sizable already, with stories running in the New York Times and many local papers).

Filley knows there's no guarantee that all the businesses with thrive, but "even if just one or two of them sign a lease, there's value in that," she says. "We have rebranded the neighborhood."

Images: Mary Catherine O'Connor

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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