Creating playing fields in Berkeley has proven to be a drama with no end in sight. As the issue unfolds, everyone in our community loses over our inability to fulfill the simple, basic need for more playing fields for our young people. Our city is dense and small, but people, young and old alike, have a real need for stretching their bodies in the joy of an informal game of touch football, for girls breaking from old stereotypes by functioning as a soccer team, or for having a hard-fought competition between high school baseball teams. After years of studies and meetings, people are still saying in public hearings that playing fields are needed, but put them somewhere else. Berkeley clearly does not have fields of dreams, but rather can only offer inadequate dreams of fields.
It is time for this picture to change. We cannot continue to ignore the facts:
n Berkeley is 80 percent below national norms for recreational space.
n Has less than 3 percent of its land area in city parks.
n Playing field space is about one-fifth that of the average for U.S. cities of our size.
n Turns away about 500 children every year from outreach sports programs for lack of space.
n Is projected to turn away nearly 900 youth and 300 adults by 2005 for lack of space.
n High school and UC campus both lack adequate playing fields.
n Public and private sports organizations, including programs which serve disadvantaged youth, must compete with Berkeley High and UC Berkeley for use of field space.
Grim facts indeed when research confirms over and over that participation in youth sports brings substantial benefit to both girls and boys. Active sports participation is one response to the epidemic of obesity now being reported. Youth participation in sports also encourages constructive interaction among young people of diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds and strengthens an individual’s self-esteem, self-discipline and motivation for achievement. Most importantly, sports participation has been shown to improve attendance and performance in school. Current television ads are pointing out that the future careers of women are enhanced by opening up opportunities to young women traditionally discouraged from sports.
These significant benefits should make people think when they read about the tragedy of so many young people becoming the victims and perpetrators of crime on our streets. I’m not saying that more playing fields is a magic cure. I am saying it is one of the things that a concerned community can do to help our young people find constructive outlets for their considerable energy.
Today Berkeley has a rare opportunity to support playing fields in an appropriate place or places in the new Eastshore State Park. It is of the utmost import that wildlife in that special park be protected, that places be set aside for the quiet contemplation of nature and that places be created to learn about the wonders that we are so fortunate to have in our very own front yard. All of that must be done, but that doesn’t mean we must exclude a few playing fields. No question, these playing fields must be built and maintained without using pesticides.
So, planners and citizens, how about supporting playing fields within the new park? We might start by looking at eliminating some of the huge parking lots that are planned. Let’s also re-open the discussion around the closing of Derby Street to address the crisis of the lack of playing fields for Berkeley High students.
For everyone’s sake, let’s get together and turn our dreams of fields into some real fields of dreams.
Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean