As a city evolves: Accepting Berkeley’s physical transformations

blackwell hall
David Rodriguez/File

When you returned to Berkeley sometime this past week, you were probably eager to find a familiar home — the same Campanile that relentlessly chimed each hour, the unchanged shops, bars and restaurants you could rely on for the cheapest eats and best study spots, the recognizable faces that roam around People’s Park and campus. And I think it is this quality about college — the home away from home you can depend on — that makes us flee back to school despite the stress and anxiety it elicits from us.

Yet you probably also noticed the recent changes that have occurred: Super Duper Burgers replaced the beloved Smart Alec’s, the new, giant and gleaming David Blackwell Hall opened, Woo Hon Fai hall is becoming a new research center, a good coffee shop closed, a new one replaced it, a building was torn down, a new structure is already being built. It seems as though there were countless changes, an observation that reveals our home away from home as susceptible to drastic transformation — as a place that may gradually become one that we no longer recognize.

I think it is this quality about college — the home away from home you can depend on — that makes us flee back to school despite the stress and anxiety it elicits from us.

Although I am well aware that the continuing expansion of Silicon Valley has contributed to dramatic changes in neighboring communities, when I returned to my hometown in the Bay Area for the summer, I was disheartened to find how rapidly it had transformed. Seeing my neighborhood become a town catered to yuppies and bougier tastes, I loved that I could return to Berkeley — my reliable home — and thought naively that the city’s culture — one that supports small businesses and defends its pieces of history — would preserve its special qualities.

Yet, when I moved back to Berkeley after being gone for only two months, I could see similar evidence of Silicon Valley change. And I hated it.

I realize I sound like the grumpy old town local who complains about young people and big, modern corporations coming in and imposing on the small, familiar parts of Berkeley — but is it wrong to appreciate and uphold all that we love about our city, our home?

I think the answer is yes. Yes, it is wrong if it acts as a hindrance to necessary evolution. Coming from someone with an attachment to tradition and a strong sense of sentimentality, I see how difficult it is to accept change. But I’ve learned that the constant physical changes we’ve observed do not necessarily threaten the inherent, intangible nature of Berkeley.

Despite acquiring the title of “University of Construction,” Berkeley has maintained its offbeat culture and and spirit of activism, progress and ambition throughout decades of transformation and growth.

I’ve learned that the constant physical changes we’ve observed do not necessarily threaten the inherent, intangible nature of Berkeley.

I recall a moment when I was working my job at the security desk of the Bancroft Library and an elderly man walked in. He began chatting to me about how he attended UC Berkeley in the 1950s and hadn’t been back since he graduated. I asked him if he still recognized campus and if anything looked familiar to him.

He replied that there were obviously a lot of new buildings and he had gotten a little lost wandering around campus, but he didn’t feel out of place. It was still an old home to him.

I found this oddly comforting, reminding me that when I go back to the house I grew up in or drive past my high school — places that have been altered and continue to rapidly evolve — these places will nevertheless remain unchanged in their significance to me.

So, in spite of the perpetual transformations our homes may undergo, we can be reassured that our little hub of a campus will persist in the same character and principles.

Contact Katrina Fadrilan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katfadrilanDC.