For decades, the East 14th Street corridor in unincorporated Ashland has been the opposite of a “home town downtown.” With high concentrations of liquor stores, payday loans, auto parts shops and and vacant lots, the four- to six-lane artery lacks an identity and visual appeal. One first time visitor commented that the street was so nondescript that a new gas station and McDonald’s combo on the corner looked like a beacon. Even more, though, the corridor lacks a space where people can gather and relax, listen to live music in the cool Bay Area breeze, or eat barbeque and watch their kids play in a safe space.
In 2016, Alameda County DSAL launched Eden Night Live, a free popup community festival that combined music, dance, sports and activities for kids, local food and vendors and a festive, neighborly vibe.
A federal Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant provided the seed money for our team to convert a vacant lot on the border of Ashland and neighboring unincorporated Cherryland. With support from the Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Unit, Public Works, and the Eden Area Chamber of Commerce, we built a plaza on the lot with permission from Alameda County Community Development Agency, which had struggled for years to find a developer for the site.
For the 2017 Eden Night Live season, the County needed us to move the festival to accommodate a market-rate housing development. The Community Development Agency gave us the use of another County-owned parcel on East 14th, further into the heart of Ashland. One of the challenges of this nomadic creative placemaking was that it’s labor and cost-intensive to grade and prepare another site, with no guarantee that we will be able to use the site next year.
On the plus side, this section of East 14th also needs a sense of place, and the new location is walkable for hundreds of residents in nearby low-income housing complexes. To help provide a focus for the site and create more recreation space in this park-starved neighborhood, Sheriff’s Deputies, DSAL staff and community volunteers put in two futsal pitches, small scale soccer fields using man-made materials, that can be reused if ENL has to move again.
During Eden Night Live evenings, the pitches are full: younger kids on one pitch; older youth and adults on the other, playing lively pickup games, with lots of laughter and commentary from onlookers. The pitches are also used for DSAL youth soccer practices. Starting in August, the pitches will host a four-team adult futsal league, which will bring in some revenue to help offset site operations expenses. After this pilot, DSAL will run year-round adult soccer on weekday evenings -- another excellent community-building opportunity as well as a much-needed source of revenue to help sustain our work.
It’s a thrill to drive down East 14th toward the site and see the lights and bustle of hundreds of people hanging out. We can see a synergy between the need for play space for kids, chill-time for adults, and the economic opportunities for businesses to sell food, drinks, ice cream, soccer supplies, and locally crafted products to people who come by for recreation and relaxation.
DSAL and its partners are meeting and talking to residents, community developers, and public agencies about how to make some sort of permanent space along the corridor that can build on the energy and growing sense of community around this “pop up town square.” We’re looking for ways to activate the site on days that don’t host an Eden Night Live festival, such as hosting a National Night Out crime prevention event, organized by the four nearest low-income housing complexes; or fundraising events hosted by local residents.
Eden Night Live: Season Two is an ongoing lesson in opportunity and persistence. There is always struggle; there’s never enough money, and the paths of public-private partnerships require patience and creative problem-solving. But watching dozens of kids and adults taking over the futsal pitches, or a young Muslim woman in a headscarf cheering at the top of our mobile climbing wall, or uniformed Deputies joining in to dance the Cupid Shuffle with the crowd -- these moments inspire us and let us know we’re on track.