Opinion | Fancy high-rises have nothing on Central Oakland

By Ben Mankowski, Staff Columnist

Luxury apartment complexes like One on Centre and The Bridge on Forbes may offer residents pools, fancy study rooms and beautiful views, but there are better options as an undergraduate student in Central Oakland.

Life in college should be about learning how to live on your own, which comes with making lots of mistakes. Having to cook, clean and do laundry on your own for the first time since leaving home makes students appreciate things often taken for granted. Dorms for first-year students offer this rude awakening for many, but some choose to climb right to the top after this experience by moving into luxury apartments the following year. This move may come with perks, but other housing options are much cheaper and offer a more genuine “college experience.”

This is by no means an undervaluation of luxury apartments in the Oakland area. Most boast units with stainless steel appliances and spotless facades, a far cry from a typical Central Oakland home. Due to this stark contrast, many students are understandably attracted to this living experience, but there are notable benefits to life in more modest Central Oakland housing.

Generally speaking, rent in a one-bedroom luxury apartment costs anywhere from the low to high $1000s. Total cost for a year lease in one of these complexes runs higher than an academic year in Pitt’s on-campus housing options, and renting in Central Oakland can come at half of the cost of these complexes in many cases. For most students, saving money on housing should be a clear goal, especially with constantly rising tuition prices.

Living in the heart of Central Oakland, rather than the outskirts of the neighborhood where many of these luxury apartments are located, gives students the opportunity to learn how to contribute to a community. You’re not living high above the streets with your front door opening up to a carpeted hallway — instead, you’re in the thick of the neighborhood. This allows residents to walk short distances to see friends or experience the hidden gems Central Oakland offers, such as Gene’s Place or the always delicious Groceria Merante. As a resident, you start to become an active member of the community by investing in these local spots. Most importantly, these experiences start right outside your front door, not down an elevator to a fancy lobby.

Learning how to live and take care of your own home is a tough, but rewarding piece of living outside of high-rise apartments. If a lightbulb goes out or your sink won’t stop dripping, maintenance in a place such as One on Centre is just a short phone call away for a quick fix. Life in the heart of Central Oakland is much more do it yourself. Landlords tend to be unresponsive and leave much of the fixing up to the residents themselves. Bad landlords have been an issue in Oakland for many years.

However bad these experiences may be, they do have a bright side — allowing students to develop essential skills. Quick-fix maintenance crews aren’t always available throughout life. Learning how to take on simple tasks such as unclogging a toilet or stopping a shower from leaking can be very beneficial. These tasks may not be fun to deal with as a busy student, but lessons only have to be learned once to be applied forever, especially when it comes to home maintenance.

These lessons and other aspects of Central Oakland teach students how to have an appreciation for the small things in life. Beautiful views aren’t right outside your window like they may be in a high-rise apartment. Instead, you have to search them out. Having fun isn’t as simple as riding the elevator to the pool or game room floor. Instead, you have to get creative with what you can provide yourself. Central Oakland encourages an active community in this way, challenging students to look outside the four walls of their home to find rewarding and novel experiences. 

Life in Central Oakland promotes an environment of learning how to live on your own. You are in control of your own home, which is both overwhelming but immensely freeing, challenging you to learn through experience. That is the essence of what college living should be.

Central Oakland, even with all its flaws, will always offer more than money could ever buy.

Ben Mankowski primarily writes about politics, economics and personal advice. Write to him at [email protected].