Plan to Daylight Creek in Downtown Berkeley Hits Roadblock

Berkeley's popular plan to turn a section of Center Street into a pedestrian walkway with a stream and wetlands has been slowed by the fight over downtown development.

A popular project to daylight Strawberry Creek in Berkeley, California and divert to the surface at Center Street is on hold. The project is tied to a larger Downtown Plan that is highly contentious.

Johanna Hoffman reports, "Although the Center Street Project is currently tied up with the downtown plan, there is a possibility it could move forward on other avenues. The project could be approved through Berkeley's Streets and Open Space Improvement Plan, which will come up for consideration later this year, or via sponsorship by a specific council member. However, neither possibility has yet been realized."

Thanks to Greg Elenbaas

Full Story: Eco-Plaza Needs a Green Light



Berkeley's SOSIP

Even apart from this creek restoration, Berkeley's SOSIP is very interesting.

UC is demolishing the State Health Dept. Building, a highrise surrounded by a parking lot that represents everything wrong with modernist urbanism.

SOSIP gives us an opportunity to replace the area around this destructive piece of modernist urbanism with a network of pedestrian friendly streets with extra-wide sidewalks and cafe seating.

For pictures with descriptions, see

Charles Siegel

Berkeley Should Walk the Talk

Fortunately Berkeley has an opportunity to actually show that it can walk the talk. The City is finishing up a Downtown Plan process that culminates a five year effort to focus land use intensity (and residential density) where it matters most - its downtown. Downtown Berkeley has a rich transit and service infrastructure and a relatively large downtown area that can support new development, especially high rise residential. The land use and transportation connection is, of course, the most environmental statement that the City can make. The public plaza proposal with its water feature would be an interesting additional component to help raise environmental consciousness. Unfortunately, such a demontsration project is an empty gesture if Berkeley fails to make the real sustainability difference by significantly increasing its downtown land use intensity.

If we don't wake up to the fact that all of our infill cities must grow up (not out), how will we help groups like the Sierra Club and Greenbelt Alliance demonstrate the ability to actually protect our open spaces? How do we tell edge suburbs and farmers that they can't develop greenfields, forests and the like if we are not willing to accomodate our growth where we have already "destroyed" nature? Last I checked our population was increasing. If I am wrong, please let me know.

Mark Rhoades, AICP
former Berkeley City Planning Manager

Berkeley Debate Dominated By Extremes

It is unfortunate that the debate over Berkeley's downtown is dominated by two extemes.

There are the NIMBYs, who want no new development at all and who actually say they want to preserve surface parking lots in downtown.

And then there are the high-rise advocates, who want development even if it is out of human scale and out of keeping with its context.

"I am a long-term smart-growth advocate. I have supported every mixed-use project built in Berkeley in recent decades. And I oppose these high-rises precisely because I think they would discredit smart growth. Instead, Berkeley should build human-scale smart growth, attractive enough to be a model for other cities.

"We could create a downtown with a traditional European scale by building five-story rentals and seven-story condos on sites that are now under-used. This scale could give us a downtown as vital, as pedestrian-oriented, and as attractive as a traditional European city.

"American tourists flock to Europe because they enjoy the experience of walking on the streets and sitting in the cafes of this sort of human-scale neighborhood - a sign that it could be popular here in America. But tourists don’t seek out the experience of sitting in a cafes with high-rises looming over them.

"The first high-rise downtown could lead to a backlash against smart-growth like the backlash that followed construction of the Great Western Building on Center and Shattuck, which give Berkeley its NIMBY-dominated development politics of the 1970s and 1980s.

"But if we build five- and seven-story infill projects, we could make downtown a model imitated around the Bay Area and even around the nation. High-rises would give downtown a relatively small number of added residents, not enough to have any impact on global warming, and we could have a much greater impact by providing a model that others would imitate."

"If American suburbanites get the idea that smart growth means traditional, European-style neighborhoods, most will react by thinking: “That is the sort of place I would enjoy going to. I would like to see something like that in my town.”

"But if American suburbanites get the idea that smart growth means high-rises, most will react by thinking “That is just what I moved to the suburbs to get away from—overwhelming buildings that make you feel insignificant when you go past them. I want to keep that sort of thing as far away from me as possible. And I’m sure we can deal with global warming by buying electric cars.”

from my op-ed "Human Scale Smart Growth for Downtown" at

Charles Siegel

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