Oakland Interpreter Birdzine

Analysis of qualitative survey results from 100 Oaklanders on their ambitions and observations living in a place of rapid change. A dozen respondents were translated into avatars, as various birds who currently frequent Lake Merritt.



Lake Merritt is home to the oldest wildlife refuge in North America. Dozens of resident and migratory bird species thrive here – in the heart of downtown Oakland – including the town’s unofficial mascot, the black-crowned night heron.

The bird species that visit the lake have shifted over the years. Relative newcomers like the double-crested cormorant and the snowy egret had been displaced by disruptive forces elsewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area (Carquinez Bridge construction and raccoons, respectively). Other once-prominent species, like the wigeon and the pintail, no longer have a presence here. And then there’s the tufted duck – a single tufted duck – that has been spotted off and on since the 1970s.

Oakland and its gem, Lake Merritt, are each ecosystems of interconnected residents, reflecting the struggle and beauty of living in – or passing through – this unique corner of the world.


Despite the broad range of voices, a web of common needs, values, concerns, aspirations, and pride can be seen woven through each Oaklander’s appraisal of their town. Qualitative analysis of 100 Oaklander stories identified grassroots mandates for six broad civic attributes….

Q8: What are you looking for from your city?

  • Solidarity. A sense of close-knit communities whose residents stand up for one another, are engaged, and promote tolerance, warmth, healing, and respect.
  • Availability/Access. Capacity to provide resources sought: housing, jobs, shopping/commerce, open space, services – all that we need to thrive, accommodating those long here and those newly drawn to Oakland values.
  • Culture/Diversity. Oakland’s signature offerings of diversity, food, art, creativity, that create an environment conducive to exploration and expression of ourselves and our heritage.
  • Opportunity. Access for all to education, housing, health/care, connection to one another, variety, and enriching experiences.
  • Leadership. The structured policies and decision-making that affect our lives must be responsive, fair, just, and act in our best interest and well-being.
  • Resilience. The ability for stability – communities, housing, environment, infrastructure, etc. – and preserve Oakland’s cherished identity.

Coincidentally, earlier in the year, Oakland Public Library announced their values of Diversity, Equity, Community, Responsive service, Adaptability, Empowerment, and Joy. These seem to echo closely the Oakland Interpreter’s six grassroots attributes, suggesting OPL’s strong community alignment and preparedness to address the most prevalent issues facing the community today.



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