Once a vibrant center of Berkeley life, Telegraph Avenue now hosts a number of vacant storefronts and struggling businesses. But many of the city’s designers, engineers, architects and city planners hope that this will not be the case for long.
The Berkeley Design Advocates — a group of planners, architects and designers who promote planning in Berkeley — hosted a design conference to sketch out and present ideas for improving the area’s built environment. The event involved a Friday night information session to provide background on the status of Telegraph Avenue and a planning and presentation session on Saturday.
About 20 to 30 people attended Friday’s session, while approximately 40 attended the presentation on Saturday.
Among the design ideas the participants presented were making all the streets surrounding Telegraph — as well as Telegraph itself — two-way streets. Some planners said this is a good way to make the area an attraction as well as make it easier to travel on a bicycle.
As for the buildings themselves, most of the designers and planners voiced their desire to see more spaces dedicated to nightlife, high-end dining and regional attractions such as museums and theaters.
Architect Ryan Call emphasized the need to cater to the large student population with more student-oriented retail, such as putting in places to sell bedding, lighting and discount furniture in some of the larger retail spaces.
Also discussed at the meeting was the concentration of homelessness around Telegraph. Urban planners Jay Claiborne and Matt Taecker emphasized the need to provide services for the homeless in the area, since Telegraph is home to many homeless. They encouraged putting in supportive services, including places to provide help with job and life skills and mental health.
They also suggested the possibility of subsidized housing and a well-managed youth hostel for homeless and migratory youth in the area.
The Telegraph area has not always been so desperate for a revival. In the 1960s and 1970s, said Dave Fogarty, the city’s economic development coordinator, the avenue and surrounding streets provided the center of civic life in Berkeley.
According to Fogarty, even in 1990 Telegraph was the city’s largest business district, but there has since been a major decline in sales tax and retail.
“If you look at Telegraph as a whole and compare it with other districts, the problem is it hasn’t adapted,” Fogarty said. “All retail districts face problems. Some managed to reinvent themselves, and Telegraph hasn’t yet managed to do that.”