I first heard the term NOBE (pronounced No’ bē) a few months ago through an Emeryville news alert for this article. The recently produced video below (since removed by its creators) and accompanying website produced by local Realtors declaring the geographic area as “NOBE” ticked off some local publications and community organizations once again drawing the battle-lines of “Gentrification”.
Phat Beets ‘subtitled’ version above.
Oakland Local recently published this article admonishing the term and a well-intentioned community organization called Phat Beets has further stoked these flames by implying that this neighborhood nickname is a subversive form of racism by comparing the boundaries of NOBE to a that of an imposed gang injunction. “The NOBE folks are branding the neighborhood geographically based on who’s now being criminalized there and who isn’t allowed into that neighborhood,” according to collective member Josh Cadji. Phat Beets goes on to declare “Obviously they’re not including black-owned businesses and really, they’re not including restaurants owned by black folks.” Phat Beets produced their own subtitled version of the video drawing attention to their plight. Curiously, the segment with James and the Giant Cupcake proprietor Eurydice Manning was omitted.
The video and fallback from it has placed Realtor Linnette Edwards in the crossfire of this sensitive issue and made her the poster-child for this debate. I wanted to give Linnette an opportunity to respond to this criticism and she graciously agreed to an email interview with The E’ville Eye about the NOBE controversy and her thoughts on the direction of Emeryville and its surrounding communities.
What does the name NOBE mean, who came up with it and how long has it been in use?
NOBE is an acronym for North Oakland/Berkeley/Emeryville. NoBe also has been used as shorthand for the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. It’s important to note that NOBE is not being used in place of any of the individual neighborhood names. It is a name that describes a much larger area that includes these smaller individual neighborhoods. As for who coined it, nobody I’ve spoken to knows for sure. What I can tell you is that I first used it last February in conjunction with a listing on 39th Street, and I was not the first.
Why did you start using the name?
From a purely practical standpoint, advertising a property that is for sale as being at the junction of North Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville is cumbersome when you only have a few hundred words to call attention to the unique features of a particular property. NOBE communicates that information in abbreviated form.
So why not use the existing neighborhood names?
Over time, as people come and go from neighborhoods, some of these legacy names fall into disuse for a whole variety of reasons, and I think that is what has occurred in this case. Whether that is a good or a bad thing depends on your viewpoint. Clearly, some people have a very strong emotional attachment to these traditional neighborhood names. That’s something I certainly have become more aware of in recent days, and I want people to know that I appreciate and respect the storied history and unique qualities of neighborhoods such as Golden Gate and Longfellow. That’s why whenever possible I use both the neighborhood and NOBE to describe a property’s location.
Why do you think people have reacted so strongly to the use of NOBE to describe their neighborhood?
I think the real issue may be that people dislike that their neighborhood is changing for reasons they feel are out of their control. They are angry that many of their friends and neighbors have lost their homes to foreclosure, and they become anxious when what once was familiar no longer is so.
What would you say to a resident of one of these neighborhoods who objects to the new name?
The first thing I want to say is that I respect and value their opinions and that I am listening to what they have to say. If I have offended anyone in my enthusiasm for doing the very best job I possibly can for the home sellers and homebuyers who live and work in these neighborhoods, I sincerely apologize. That certainly never was my intention. I also want to reiterate that NOBE is not intended to refer to a specific neighborhood. Rather, it describes a much larger area that includes a number of smaller communities.
Several community groups have questioned your motives and suggested that you and other Realtors are part of a grand scheme to profit from the gentrification of these neighborhoods? How do you respond?
I am extremely disappointed that certain individuals and groups who may or may not represent the opinions of the people of this community have chosen to voice their concerns in an extremely negative and, in some cases, offensive manner. I do not intend to lend credence to their conspiracy theories by commenting on them. What I will say is that I am proud to represent homebuyers and home sellers from all over Bay Area – not just in North Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville. When I work with a home seller, no matter where they live, I am duty-bound to help them sell their home to a ready, willing and able buyer for the best possible price. By the same token, my job when I work with a homebuyer is to help them evaluate their needs and select a home that is within their budget and which meets their lifestyle and other needs. For many Bay Area residents, affordability and proximity to transportation and lifestyle amenities are No. 1, 2 and 3 on their list of priorities. NOBE addresses all three of those priorities. That is why new people and new businesses are moving into the area.
Do you think Realtors will continue to use NOBE to describe the greater North Oakland/Berkeley/Emeryville area?
I believe so. Hopefully, people will understand that no one wants to change the name of their neighborhood.
How instrumental is the construction of the Berkeley Bowl Grocery store to fueling the growth of this neighborhood and what are the other important catalysts?
The Bay Area in general is very food-focused, and great markets and cafes seem to be the anchors within the neighborhoods where people really want to live. I don’t know whether or not Berkeley Bowl specifically fueled growth in the area, but I do know that residents and people looking to move here certainly enjoy the proximity to great food. I also think that the proximity to both long-time and newer restaurants and cafes is spurring more interest in all of the neighborhoods within the greater NOBE area.
What do you find appealing about these neighborhoods and what projects are either in the works or ones that you would like to see happen that would further the progress of the area?
I love what everyone else seems to love about these neighborhoods – the cultural diversity, urban flavor, walkability, access to public transportation, the mom and pop eateries, the art and the affordability relative to many other areas. I hear a Victory Burger is slated to open up on San Pablo [UPDATE: Victory Burger is now open], and I’m sure other restaurants, cafes and small businesses will continue to pop up.
Are there any projections to the growth of this neighborhood in the next 5-10 years?
I haven’t read any projections specific to this area, but affordability, access to public transportation, walkability and access to neighborhood amenities are among the biggest factors right now when people choose where to live. I believe this area will continue to be very appealing – especially as San Pablo’s retail scene continues to develop.