Well, it's been a minute since I've been in this space. Actually, it's been more like six years. That's hard to believe.
Hello again to my old readers. I've missed you, even those of you who loved to give me a hard time. Introductions are in order for those of you wondering what the heck I'm talking about. I wrote a column about Oakland for the Tribune, three times a week, for 25 years. That's kind of hard to believe, too.
I'm back for the next nine months, filling in twice a month for Tammerlin Drummond, who won a prestigious Nieman Fellowship to study issues of public safety and public health at Harvard University.
For my first column, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at what's changed in Oakland in the past six years -- and what hasn't.
No. 1 on the list of what has changed has to be the explosion of critically acclaimed restaurants around the city. There definitely are lots more places to eat all kinds of fancy dishes you probably never dreamed of. The proliferation even attracted the attention of The New York Times, which in 2012 listed Oakland as No. 5 on the list of 45 most desirable places in the world to visit -- after London and before Tokyo. That's what sophisticated restaurants and trendy bars will get you.
The Art Murmur has turned into First Fridays; despite some challenges, it continues to be a major draw for downtown.
That's another change: Downtown, or at least part of it, has become Uptown, realizing the vision of former Mayor Jerry Brown.
The renovated Oakland Museum, in a master stroke of community outreach, launched the weekly Off the Grid gatherings that attract diverse crowds to sample a range of cuisine at upscale food trucks and listen to live music.
The arts scene, rich and thriving for decades, has exploded. Oakland has been discovered by the young and creative.
What else has changed? Several neighborhoods have hired private security firms to keep them safe because of the understaffed police department and increasing number of residential robberies. Let's hope the $4.5 million in federal funds the city recently received to hire 10 additional police officers changes that.
While the east side of the city hasn't seen the proliferation of fancy restaurants, International and MacArthur boulevards are showing signs of commercial revitalization. You can find more groceries and restaurants -- many with Spanish names -- and a greater variety of businesses, not just nail shops and liquor stores.
There's a spanking new public library on 81st Avenue and an impressive East Oakland Sports Center with a natatorium.
There's more graffiti around town, at least to my eye.
Another change: African-American residents are leaving, as in several other urban centers, including Chicago and Washington, D.C. According to the 2010 census, Oakland's African-American population declined by 25 percent from 2000 to 2010.
We have a new mayor and three new members of the City Council.
What hasn't changed?
However, Oakland continues to be a mecca of diversity where people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds mix comfortably. I've always thought that Oaklanders, so accustomed to the easy racial mix, are mostly oblivious to it.
Unchanged: the violence that stalks the city's poorer neighborhoods. Last year, there were 131 homicides, up from 110 of the previous year, approaching the high of 148 in 2006. This summer we've seen the horrific killings of 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine and 1-year-old Drew Jackson. It's not just the homicides, however. This year, more than 3,025 gun crimes have been committed, making Oakland the most dangerous city in California. Residents are routinely terrorized by gunfire. Just last week, a 5-year-old was hit in the neck by shards of glass from a window in a passing car after shooters in two cars fired on each other.
There was a change in the demographics of last year's homicide victims. Looking at their faces, I counted more women, more Asians and more older men than the usual collection of African-American and Latino males ages 18 to 25. Still, the majority of homicides involve young African-American and Latino men killing each other.
What hasn't changed? The poverty, broken families, lack of opportunity and nihilism that define the lives of these young men who don't value their lives or anyone else's.
Unchanged: The city's leadership continues to be hamstrung, seemingly unable to manage the basic issues involved in running a city.
Six years later, the Oakland A's are threatening to leave Oakland.
The city will always be strikingly beautiful, with the newly landscaped Lake Merritt at its center, a redwood forest in Joaquin Miller Park, Victorian architecture in West Oakland and Art Deco buildings downtown.
Allen Michaan is still raising hell with the marquee on his Grand Lake movie theater.
What hasn't changed? Oakland's tremendous and continually unrealized potential. It has the elements to be a truly unique city that is a model of diversity and the resulting creativity. It has the elements that undermine its promise.
The more things change ...