Sunday Streets Berkeley transforms Downtown Berkeley to promote community

Timothy Dawson/Staff

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Under a tent set up on Shattuck Avenue in front of French cafe Le Petit Cochon, the kitchen manager mans a barbecue. His name is Charles Ruwet, and he likes “funk, soul and long walks on the beach.”

A few blocks away, a beekeeper, a local school and a band present various activities on the street in front of M. Lowe & Company, a local jewelry store. Several children push large chess pieces across a board as bikers ride by.

Sunday Streets Berkeley, now in its fourth consecutive year, transformed 2 miles, or 28 blocks, of Shattuck Avenue between Rose and Haste streets into a “playground” Sunday.

I’m usually not out on the street serving barbecue to people, so I think this gives (businesses) a lot of exposure to Berkeley,” Ruwet said. “People get to come out and see what the community has to offer.”

Hundreds of activities — including live music, beekeeping, face painting, bubbles, yoga classes and wine tasting — lined Shattuck Avenue. Merchants and eateries also offered special sales.

This year, the event was co-presented by the Downtown Berkeley Association, the North Shattuck Association and Livable Berkeley, and was organized by Oakland nonprofit organization East Bay Open Streets.

According to Heather Hensley, executive director of the North Shattuck Association, the goals of Sunday Streets Berkeley were to encourage people to go outside and to promote health, sustainability and alternative modes of transportation.

“It’s a great opportunity for folks to leave the cars behind and walk up, skate up, bicycle up and get to know these businesses more intimately,” said Samee Roberts, co-director of East Bay Open Streets.

Julia Roll, owner of Sun and Rain Beekeeping, brought bees out to the event. She said that by closing off the streets for the event, her business could more easily spread information, including about her beekeeping class at Merritt College, to the public.

According to Roberts, most residents were on board and supported the event despite any inconveniences.

One difficulty derived from the event’s focus on the local community was that there were no vendors to fund the event. Instead, corporate sponsors and the city helped out, while the associations gave time and money, according to Hensley.

The event’s emphasis on clean transportation has also had a tangible effect on the city, according to Sandra Hamlat, chair of the Berkeley Climate Action Coalition Transportation Working Group. Two years ago, the group conducted a study, finding that participants in Sunday Streets Berkeley emitted 5.9 pounds less carbon dioxide per person by attending Sunday Streets and not driving for the day.

“It’s an opportunity, I think, to bring out the best of Berkeley,” said Stefan Elgstrand, chief of staff to City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin.

Contact Michelle Leung at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @michellesleung.