A vision for People’s Park

Illustration of a farmer's market next to People's Park
Fifi Berman/Staff

This proposed plan for the preservation and enhancement of People’s Park is based on respecting the cultural, historical, environmental, architectural, recreational and public health assets of this irreplaceable open space and its surrounding buildings. 

People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group has gathered information from many in the community concerned about its preservation as a much-needed, user-developed open space in Berkeley. Now is the time to move from the park being a volatile point of controversy to developing a feasible plan of action based on cooperation between the University of California and the people of the city that hosts its flagship campus.

For more than half a century, the park has held a legacy of cultural events; town, gown and political events; a bio system of flora and fauna; a surround of highly significant architecture; a role as an everyday community recreation site; and a sanctuary in times of earthquakes, fires and pandemics.

The value of People’s Park has been recognized by its being listed on the National Register of Historic Places following its being nominated unanimously by the California State Historical Resources Commission. However, UC Berkeley has decided to ignore the historic significance of the park, and in its own commissioned report has recognized that “the proposed changes to People’s Park would remove its ability to convey its historic significance” once construction is initiated.

The ill-considered plan of UC Berkeley to build on the park should be dropped since the university has many alternative sites for student housing. Chief among them is the Ellsworth Parking Structure, which is one block away from People’s Park and designated by campus as seismically inadequate. 

UC Berkeley claims the alternative is unfeasible. However, keeping a parking lot and destroying a park is a totally irresponsible action in the age of extreme climate change. Its plan to demolish Evans Hall to create open space on the campus should be matched by maintaining the open space of People’s Park in the community.

The proposed future of the park should include:

  1. Ongoing maintenance so that its appearance and infrastructure is no different than any other park within the city of Berkeley or any green space within the UC Berkeley campus.
  2. The native plant garden, formerly a joint project between the community and UC Berkeley, should be reestablished.
  3. The surrounding sidewalks should be reconstructed and include embedded plaques to point out the historically and architecturally significant buildings that ring the park.
  4. The free speech stage should be reconstructed in the same location, and arts, musical and political events continue as they have throughout the history of the park.
  5. A farmers market on Haste Street next to the park should be offered one day per week to serve the Southside neighborhood.
  6. An interpretative center should be established in a nearby building to provide Berkeley residents and visitors with background exhibits and information on all aspects of People’s Park — the neighborhood’s town and gown history, Berkeley’s incredible architectural legacy and the political and cultural history of activism on the Southside from the ’60s to the present.

Financing for this vision could be through federal or California state funds for parks — the Land and Water Conservation Fund, California Proposition 84 and/or California Department of Parks and Recreation funding. Just as the 50-acre campus of the California Schools for the Deaf and Blind was given to UC Berkeley, the 2.8 acres of People’s Park should be given to the community and managed by the state of California as a state park.

Lack of affordable housing has become deliberate public policy at all levels of government in the U.S. The richest country in human history clearly has the resources to keep people from having to camp on the streets. Politicians wringing their hands about homelessness or pledging to solve it if elected are only empty gestures. The city of Berkeley and UC Berkeley are providing temporary housing for the unhoused people now living in People’s Park. They should be working together to provide permanent housing for anyone facing homelessness.

For more than 3o years, Food Not Bombs and other social justice groups have provided food for the unhoused and hungry people in the park. At times, these services have been supplemented by nearby churches. These services should continue as long as there are unhoused and hungry people. The park should become a welcoming recreation resource for anyone in the community — housed or unhoused city residents, students and visitors of all backgrounds and income levels.

This proposed peaceful and rational alternative to conflict over the historically significant open space of People’s Park would avoid another standoff at the park between its dedicated protectors and the police and crews with chainsaws and bulldozers.

Both the city of Berkeley and UC Berkeley celebrate the Free Speech and ‘60s history of the Telegraph Avenue corridor. It is an asset to both the city and university, and among the reasons visitors from all parts of the globe are drawn to Berkeley. Recognizing People’s Park for the asset that it is and then preserving and enhancing it can only add to its value as a treasured Berkeley attraction.

People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group brings together historians, preservationists, students, neighbors and concerned citizens to document and preserve the open space of People’s Park and the historic resources encircling it. 

 

Concepts for the future of People’s Park were collated by People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group.