By Orson Aguilar
Tech-based companies from Apple to Uber generate great wealth while turning whole industries upside down. Today, my town, Oakland, Calif., worries that this is what Uber will do to our community.
Uber will soon move into an enormous new headquarters in a former downtown department store. The hope of many in Oakland is that the city and Uber can create a model for how companies and communities can work together to benefit all. Many of us in Oakland hope the company will work with us to create a true “Uber Oakland” — diverse and vibrant.
Unfortunately, it’s not clear that Uber wants to bother.
In every city that becomes a tech hub, we see the same pattern: Some make piles of money, but working people get squeezed. Rents soar for families, local small businesses and community nonprofits. Newly wealthy tech workers and companies move in while longtime residents and community groups get forced out, leaving a city superficially wealthy but hollow.
This odd combination of wealth and devastation, which already rolled through San Francisco and Silicon Valley, is now taking root in Oakland. Already, housing is unaffordable for working people, while commercial landlords jack up rents in anticipation of the tech wave.
So leaders of 20 community groups came together to say, “Enough. Let’s find a better way.”
What might that look like?
First, it must start with dialogue between Uber’s leaders and the community. That dialogue should lead to concrete commitments from this wealthy company to act in ways that will ultimately benefit both it and its new neighbors.
For example, Uber can commit to training and hiring local workers. It can work with local public schools and community colleges to ensure that local residents have a fair shot at jobs with the company — not part-time driving gigs, but the full-time jobs that power Uber’s growth and pay good salaries.
It can commit philanthropic dollars to support local nonprofits and help them stay in a city where many still need the services they provide.
It can work with the local and regional transit systems to ensure that Uber’s services enhance that vital network and don’t sabotage it.
It can commit to contracting with local businesses for the goods and services its new headquarters will require. These local businesses form the heart of our economy and maintain Oakland as a vibrant town with rich ethnic and cultural diversity.
As Richard Marcantonio of the nonprofit group Public Advocates said recently, “The question is: Is Uber willing to drive people, and black people in particular, out of Oakland, or are they going to sit down at the table with the community and try to be part of the solution?”
Keep an eye on this. Your community could be next.