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10,000 reasons to love Gaia?

Wednesday August 15, 2001


Re: Hank Resnik’s operatic claim that the “enormous...Gaia Building...has immediately become one of the best buildings anywhere in Berkeley,” and that “low-rise structures nearby should be bulldozed – or shipped out to Walnut Creek.” 

(Letters, Aug.11): Anyone who values Berkeley’s sense of place and its walkability should beware this destructive attitude, which I think Hank is deliberately exaggerating.  

To promote a healthy downtown that doesn’t choke on traffic, our task is clear: to carefully preserve, and reuse, our early-20th-century structures and streetscapes that were built around the needs of pedestrians, rail commuters, and bicyclists. The last thing we want to do is bury these assets under newly-built dark Satanic malls. 

For vivid examples of how preservation-based revitalization has benefited other American downtowns, check out Richard Moe and Carter Wilkie’s fascinating book, “Changing Places.” 

I had the privilege of serving with Hank for several years on the board of the Bicycle-Friendly Berkeley Coalition, which Hank co-founded. I know Hank as one of the kindest, most open-hearted people in town – but I can’t agree with his take on the Gaia Building. The latter is a monstrous, Stalinist-style monument to civic corruption.  

Could we put the black shroud back on it? 

Shortly after I left BFBC’s board, BFBC accepted a $10,000 grant from the Gaia Building’s developer, Patrick Kennedy.  

I thought that was a bad idea: I feared the money would come with strings attached, and would compromise the credibility of what was then Berkeley’s leading bicycle-advocacy group.  

And indeed, you might say that the Gaia Building now looks about $10,000 more valuable to Hank than it does to me and to other neutral observers. 


Michael Katz