Thumb Wars: The Great Divide

Is Northside or Southside a better place to live in?

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Team Northside

The immediate response for many people when faced with Northside as a living option is that it’s too far from everything else, i.e. Southside.

I’ll admit that was my original stance. But after living in the nether region north of campus for the past nine months, I’ve come to find that Northside has perks that far outweigh its distance from the familiarity of Southside.

Let me start with a disclaimer: I love Southside in a lot of ways. After spending my freshman and sophomore years down there, I appreciate the certain anti-establishment charm Telegraph radiates into the surrounding area. In fact, that grunginess was one of the main things that set Berkeley apart from other schools for me. It seems somehow more honest about the way things are, rather than taking the approach of most college campuses by covering up reality with layers of brick and pretty flowers.

But after two years watching my step on my way to class and holding my breath while passing through Sather Lane, Northside was a welcome — and literal — breath of fresh air. It’s not just about cleanliness, though. Whereas Southside has the feeling of being somewhat broken up — Telegraph, the Units, Frat Row and everything south of Dwight — Northside has the feeling of one unified neighborhood, where walking down Euclid in the morning means passing people sitting at tables outside of cafes with cute names like Hummingbird Cafe and Brewed Awakening instead of being harassed by proselytizing hippies and panhandlers the moment you walk out your door.

Dining options are just as varied as on Southside. In the span of the single block of Euclid leading up to campus, you have options ranging from Thai, Indian, Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine to burgers and pizza. And just around the corner, you’ll find the Hearst Food Court a considerable step up from Southside’s Durant Food Court/Asian Ghetto. And, of course, Berkeley’s famed Gourmet Ghetto is less than a 10-minute walk away, rather than the hike it takes to get there from Southside.

In keeping with Northside’s laid-back vibe, friends can kick back with a pitcher of beer and a game of pool at La Val’s. If you simply can’t be separated from the stimulating nightlife offered by Southside haunts like Kip’s, Triple Rock is just down the road.

Northside also offers a sense of security that’s glaringly absent from Southside’s crime logs. Whereas leaving the library late at night used to mean tightly gripping my keys in my pocket the whole way home, I no longer dread walking home after dark.

Then there are the co-ops. There’s no denying my bias toward the Berkeley Student Cooperative, as I’m a resident, but its members really are a community unlike anything else in Berkeley — or most places, for that matter. If you’ve never visited a co-op, check them out. (Not necessarily during a party, although I think you may find they are a great alternative to the Greek System variety.) Instead, try stopping by for dinner sometime. Any co-op will welcome you, and while there is sometimes a noticeable lack of meat, there’s always something delicious cooking in any co-op kitchen.

The co-ops are not for everyone, but a lot of people would be surprised by how easily they can adapt to living in a large, diverse household in which residents make decisions and contributions together for the good of the house.

For freshmen and sophomores, Southside may be the better option in order to be near friends and familiar places. But once you’ve made strong enough connections here at UC Berkeley, Northside offers a more laid-back alternative to the college lifestyle.

Adelyn Baxter

Team Southside

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a senior living on Southside must be in want of good sense. It’s a pit, after all — crowded, dirty and noisy — what my friend’s dad, a longtime resident and a former Berkeley student, calls “Der Studentenland.” At some point, the prospect of another year of sleeping in the living room of a one-bedroom apartment owned by a disinterested, predatory landlord or the idea of navigating late-night crowds coming home from bars or parties simply becomes exhausting.

I’m a bit different from many of my fellow seniors. I started college and left before I finished my degree. Almost a decade later, I returned to finally get my B.A. Some things are drastically different, like the size of my tuition fees. The faces of the shops on Telegraph Avenue have changed, along with the physical landscape, like the hole where Raleigh’s used to be, the place I used to go with my friends and classmates for beers, burgers and shuffleboard.

But some things haven’t changed in almost half a century. In his 1966 novel “The Crying of Lot 49,” Thomas Pynchon describes his heroine, Oedipa Maas, crossing campus:

“It was summer, a weekday, and midafternoon; no time for any campus Oedipa knew of to be jumping, yet this one was. She came downslope from Wheeler Hall, through Sather Gate into a plaza teeming with corduroy, denim, bare legs, blond hair, hornrims, bicycle spokes in the sun, bookbags, swaying card tables, long paper petitions dangling to earth, posters for undecipherable FSM’s, YAF’s, VDC’s, suds in the fountain, students in nose-to-nose dialogue. She moved through it carrying her fat book, attracted, unsure, a stranger, wanting to feel relevant but knowing how much of a search among alternate universes it would take.”

There’s still soap in the fountain sometimes, students still in nose-to-nose dialogue, and Berkeley — the campus and the city — contains many alternate universes. Southside is an alternate universe for me, a place where life happens for my classmates but one that I’m no longer directly a part of. Leave for sedate Elmwood, or sleepy Northside, or join the families shopping and eating on Fourth Street or Solano Avenue, and you’ll be surprised at how different things are, how the energy in the air changes when you aren’t surrounded with the press of students striding from class to class and between cafes and lunch spots.

I miss it, though. Living on Southside is more than just the ability to roll out of bed 10 minutes before your 9 a.m. class: It’s packing into the Durant Food Court at midnight for a late, late dinner at Gypsy’s, snacks at Sweetheart’s or a doughnut at Kingpin. It’s movies at the PFA and basketball at People’s Park. It’s Moe’s, the best bookstore in town. It’s late-night studying at Cafe Milano, coffee on the terrace at Cafe Strada or the chance to dance the tango at Caffe Med. I even miss the raucous herds trooping past my old Dwight Way apartment at 2 a.m. on their way back from the bars. I can still go to Remy’s on Thursday evenings for tacos and beer, wander through the food trucks at Off The Grid and step into that other universe for an hour or two, but I’m only a visitor.

I’ll be leaving this university soon, but for everyone else, there’s still plenty of time in the future to move to a neighborhood where the shops are closed and the streets deserted by 9 p.m. There’s something vital about being in the midst of a place as inchoate and contradictory as yourself, to be unsure but attracted, like Oedipa Maas, living over, under and around your community of fellow students.

Gautham Thomas