Student attitudes must shift as People’s Park housing development continues

CITY AFFAIRS: Respecting history, community of People’s Park must be prioritized by UC Berkeley, students

Illustration of People's Park in Berkeley, with a hologram of potential housing overlaid to signify future development
Rachel Lee/Staff

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On Tuesday, UC Berkeley began the next step in developing housing on People’s Park, partially closing the area through February to allow for soil sampling on-site prior to construction.

The process of building housing on People’s Park has been decades in the making, ever since campus acquired the land in 1967. For just as long, there’s been public outcry that People’s Park — a small patch of green with a looming history as a center for community activism, a bastion of free speech and a refuge from forced displacement — should not be developed. For many, fences erected in recent days are not a welcome sight.

The Daily Californian’s editorial board has argued against this housing project, acknowledging the importance of supportive housing while decrying any further gentrification at the hands of the university. Our position stands. But the most recent development in the housing project has made it clear that, despite continued calls to abandon the effort, campus shows no signs of stopping.

Now, it is time to turn our attention to maximizing the benefits the housing project can have on unhoused folks in Berkeley.

UC Berkeley has made an effort to hear community feedback throughout the development process so far. But the wildly uneven number of beds reserved for student housing versus supportive housing — a ratio of about 10 to 1 — makes it clear that unhoused folks are not the first priority of this project. There is also no guarantee that both parts of the project will be funded and completed at the same pace or according to the same standard.

It is crucial that campus ensures the same individuals who are displaced by the project benefit from it. But perhaps just as important is student investment in the well-being of those in the community who will be impacted by increased student housing. Attitudes of students — who, likely in a few years’ time, will be living alongside formerly unhoused folks at a proximity yet to be experienced by many — must change.

In recent days, chatter has spread across the student body about the temporary closure of People’s Park and the future development that will sit there. Students must begin to reevaluate how we treat our Berkeley neighbors as well as talk about and perceive People’s Park.

The city, and People’s Park especially, does not belong to students. If, or when, students move into the housing at People’s Park, we will be occupying appropriated land — land belonging in spirit and symbol to the Berkeley community. Not only must students hold the university accountable, but we must also keep one another accountable in our continued interactions with our fellow Berkeleyans.

The park’s history and community must be preserved. As UC Berkeley continues planning and preparing for construction on People’s Park, eyes will be on the campus and all those who populate it.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2021 opinion editor, Jericho Rajninger.