Fruitvale: Transit and Community

More than just a BART station.

metro or subway station may seem one-dimensional, a jumping-off point from one place to another. But some stations are destinations, drawing in visitors on the basis of their own merits. They may be architectural gems, like Grand Central Terminal in New York City or shopping meccas like Shinjuku in Tokyo. A few go beyond attaining this status and have become communities unto themselves.

Fruitvale Station is one such place. It’s a thriving transportation hub that also possesses the elements of a long-standing community.

I commute to the city from Fruitvale Station every day, witnessing this tangible sense of community up close. My daily journey here began in January 2009, just a few weeks after Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a BART police officer in the early hours of New Year’s Day. The tenth anniversary of the tragedy happened on January 1 of this year, marking a milestone that has largely defined the identity of the station.

Fruitvale ingests passengers not only from its namesake neighborhood but also from other areas of Oakland and adjacent towns — as evidenced by the busy AC Transit buses and the jam-packed parking. The ongoing stream of humanity begins in the early morning with commuters and school kids and continues until the last train departs for Warm Springs at 1:00 a.m.

The first clue that more is afoot than simply moving people is the Fruitvale Village sign that stands next to the station entrance. Fruitvale Village was developed in the early 2000s by the Unity Council, a nonprofit Oakland group, and became an early model of transit-oriented development.

The development is home to housing and multiple community organizations, including institutions that are hallmarks of any civic community: a health clinic, a public library branch and a school. It also features shops and restaurants, most of them locally owned, like neighborhood Mexican food fixture Obelisco (formerly the Taco Grill). In 2017, Reem’s, an Arab bakery, opened to much acclaim. Owner Reem Assil has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation and major food publications. Equally notable, Assil has made social justice a core value of her business by hiring local workers and providing a living wage.

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