To the Editor:
Howie Muir's latest opinion piece repeats a point he has made many times: He opposes new housing in Berkeley because we are denser than Oakland and most other California cities. He has read the latest census figures, but he obviously has never looked at density in historical perspective.
Berkeley is lower density than any nineteenth century American city or town. Densities went down dramatically during the last century, as America was rebuilt around the automobile. During most of the twentieth-century, California was famous world-wide for building low-density cities where you could not live without an automobile. For balance, if we compare Berkeley's density with automobile-oriented California cities, like Los Angeles, we should also compare it with pedestrian-oriented European cities.
Berkeley is only 15 percent to 25 percent as dense as traditional European cities, which were built when walking was the only form of transportation. I'm sure that some of our anti-density extremists enjoy vacationing in Paris, which is almost seven times as dense as Berkeley. Some European visitors are shocked when they see Berkeley. They say that they expected it to be a city, but it is actually a suburb. So, Berkeley looks high-density compared to auto-oriented suburbs, and it looks low-density compared to older pedestrian-oriented cities.
The question is: Do we want to keep our current auto-dependent densities or do we want to move toward higher densities that support walking and public transportation? We do not have to follow the European model. If we just develop major transit corridors with housing above shopping, that would be enough to make walking an option in most of Berkeley. Currently, most parts of Berkeley are so low density that people have no shopping within walking distance, so they drive every time they leave the house.
Howie Muir has become more of a politician. In the past, he used to say that Berkeley was already dense enough, and we should not build any new housing here. Now, he is trying to put a more positive spin on his initiative, by saying it would allow some development. In fact, if Berkeley's new housing were scaled down to the densities the initiative requires, most of it would no longer be economically feasible.
The real goal of the height initiative is to stop new housing from being built. Yet if we build housing over shopping on streets that are now ugly strip malls, it would strengthen neighborhoods by providing local shopping that people walk to. It would reduce urban sprawl and preserve open space. It would conserve fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.