I am a voter who has lived in Berkeley for the past 10 years and care deeply about this great city. A am particularly excited about two recent developments that have emerged in discussions of rejuvenating downtown.
First is the David Brower Center. To be build on the site of the Oxford parking lot (and putting the parking underground), the Brower Center would serve as a monument to David both by its ecological design and also by its function – as a center for environmental education,advocacy and policy-making – would be the most exciting thing that has happened to this city in a long time. Creating a home for 10-15 Bay Area environmental organizations in downtown Berkeley, along with environmentally-themed retail and conference facilities, would be a tremendous asset to the city in general and downtown in particular. The Brower Center has raised significant funds to develop the site and is simply waiting for a response from the city.
The second issue is the proposed Eco-City Amendment to the city’s General Plan. I first heard about this idea several months ago when I attended a workshop put on by the Ecocity Builders organization. I think that adopting the policies in the Amendment would make our great city infinitely more livable. I especially like the idea of allowing for a diversity of densities in urban core areas and opening up Strawberry Creek along Center Street. If you have ever been to Boulder, Colo., you know what having a living water body running through town can do to transform the urban landscape.
With regard to taller buildings, I don’t think they are a bad idea as long as we don’t create a mono-wall of 12 story monsters in downtown. But, a few tall buildings, especially if they are built using ecological design principles would make the city both more interesting and would help me feel like we were doing our part to reduce urban sprawl further east. When I went to UC Berkeley in the early 90’s, I remember having friends who commuted from Walnut Creek because they couldn’t find decent housing in Berkeley.
Let’s build it in downtown. Vertical real-estate here is probably the most valuable in the Bay Area. Panoramic Interests charges $2,700 for a 750 square foot two-bedroom apartment in the GAIA building. Not taking advantage of higher density and taller buildings in downtown seems like both a environmental shame and an economic one.