Deadly Oakland Fire Tragic Symbol of Bay Area’s Identity Crisis

Oakland fire (Elijah Nouvelage / Getty)
Elijah Nouvelage / Getty

The massive Oakland fire that killed at least nine and perhaps dozens more people Friday night at a warehouse artists’ collective known as the “Ghost Ship” symbolizes the Bay Area’s internal struggle with its own success as a creative hub.

On the one hand, the tech industry has brought massive wealth to the region, which has attracted creative young people and revived many decaying neighborhoods. On the other hand, the Bay Area’s economic success has created inequality and a prohibitive cost of living.

The artists living and working inside the building that was destroyed on Friday were apparently willing to accept the risk of an unsafe space in order to remain in the Bay Area, and to meet other creative people. Such warehouses are common among artists in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. For the electronic music industry in particular, “Spaces like this are the only way we have any sort of viable scene where anyone is making any money,” one band member told the Chronicle.

The Bay Area’s bohemian lifestyle has attracted young people from across the country and around the world since the hippie era. Then, as now, many were prepared to live in marginal conditions to be part of communities that were on the cutting edge of cultural innovation and utopian politics.

Today, however, the high cost of housing — thanks in part to the tech boom of the last two decades and restrictive local planners — has made that cultural and political lifestyle more difficult for many to afford.

Unwilling to give up on the Bay Area, artists and innovators continue to make the region their home — migrating, in recent years, from San Francisco to Oakland, where the tide of gentrification is only a few years behind. But the social upheaval has created new challenges, including a growing problem of homelessness in San Francisco and political unrest in Oakland.

The horror of Friday night’s events highlights the dangerous edge that the Bay Area has begun to walk as it holds onto its dreams.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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