Oakland crowded but loved by students

By Emily Riley

Whether looking for a new place to live or visiting a friend, Pitt students taking their first… Whether looking for a new place to live or visiting a friend, Pitt students taking their first walk through off-campus Oakland neighborhoods will notice some sharp contrasts in appearance.

Around Oakland, many areas that house businesses, restaurants, apartments are clean and well-maintained. On other streets, it’s common to find shattered glass littered between cracks in the sidewalk, and the buildings lining those streets aren’t always in the best shape.

Wayne Bossinger, field operations manager with the Bureau of Building Inspection, said that residents had submitted more than 200 complaints about building code violations in 2010, many of which resulted in citations. The BBI inspects homes for city zoning law issues like maintained fire escapes and fire exits and construction code violations.

“Oakland is perfect for us college folk,” senior Nick Brink said. “It has more pizza places than anyone could possibly enjoy and a park nearby to run off all the pizza. If all else fails, there is always a hospital just up the street.”

The diverse urban atmosphere that excites students like Brink also excited City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, whose district includes parts of South and West Oakland.

“Oakland is not just an extension of Pitt or any other school’s campus, it is a home to many long-term residents and young professionals as well as a region of strong business development,” Lavelle said.

This diversity sometimes results in surprising sights.

Sophomore Kelly Lakis shared an example of odd behavior in South Oakland seen from her porch on Ward Street.

“Honestly, I swear several times a week, there is this one kid who walks up and down the street playing his banjo and singing show tunes. Sometimes he is barefoot. Sometimes not. You never know. That’s what makes it exciting,” Lakis said.

Local landowners find positives in the diverse area as well.

Nick Kefalos, of the real estate company Kefalos & Associates, owns units in both North and South Oakland. To him, Oakland provides an ideal area for landlords and tenants alike.

“We refer to Oakland as the golden coast of real estate. It has so much to offer with the various universities, hospitals and people. We love all of our buildings in Oakland,” Kefalos said.

Whereas the eclectic nature of Oakland draws much appreciation, there are other factors that evoke less positive remarks. Some 20,000 people live in the 1.5 square mile area of Oakland’s four neighborhoods ‑- more than four people for every square foot — according to the most recent census data.

“The overcrowding causes discomfort at times in Oakland. There is constantly a heavy flow of traffic and entirely filled space,” Lavelle said.

Kefalos agreed.

“My units on Bates, Meyran, and Semple cause me more problems than those in North Oakland, but the problems are few. We usually credit this to the general overpopulation in that area,” Kefalos said. “[South Oakland is] far more dense, more exciting. Little issues are bound to arise.”

Some of these problems include overflowing trash recepticles and noise complaints. But even with the heavy population, Lavelle said crime does not tremendously affect Oakland, adding that few reports come to him concerning crime.

“If a report does come in, typically it is because some car is over-parked or something,” the councilman said.

Crime statistics reported by the city seem to verify Lavelle’s claim. Last year violent crime fell city-wide by 8 percent, and all reported crime fell by seven percent. In North Oakland, residents reported 29 violent crimes during the year. South Oakland residents reported only 9 violent crimes. Violent crimes include homocide, rape and aggravated assault.

Despite the overpopulation, landlords in the area take some sort of pride in providing a quality place for the young people of Oakland to live.

Perlick cites the garbage and overabundance of cigarette butts that litter the streets of Oakland as some potential areas of improvement. Lavelle agreed that the students have a responsibility to take care of Oakland.

While the majority of Oakland’s residents are between 15 and 24, about 40 percent of the area’s residents are older that the typical college age. Also, about 2,000 of the residents own their own homes rather than rent.

Other organizations, like the Oakland Planning and Development Corp., currently have plans that focus on rehabilitating vacant areas and abandoned buildings throughout Oakland. More than 800 homes — almost 10 percent of Oakland residences — were vacant in the most recent census information.

Wanda Wilson, the director of OPDC, said that achieving a ”peaceful and cooperative” coexistence between all Oakland residences remains a preeminent topic of discussion among members of the corporation.

“I would like to see students more involved in the planning process. I would like to get a discussion group with the neighborhood together to discuss behavioral problems, and what the actual residents of the area would like to see developed,” Wilson said.

The Pittsburgh City Council, landlords in the area and organizations such as OPDC all work to improve the living conditions in Oakland.

“I didn’t fall in love with Pitt until I moved to South Oakland,” said junior Brooke Wieczorek. “It has pockets of different ethnicities, creeky, cramped and cozy housing and around the clock energy that is even more apparent when it disappears in the summer time. I wish I moved here sooner.”