John King’s review of Jane Jacobs in the May 20 San Francisco Chronicle concluded with a swipe at the UC Hotel Task Force.
“[A]s Berkeley activists call for creation of a car-free zone alongside the block of Center Street where UC Berkeley wants to build a downtown conference center,” wrote King, “consider [he then quotes from Jacobs’ 1958 Fortune magazine article, “Downtown is for People”]: ‘There is no magic in simply removing cars from downtown ... the whole point is to make the streets more surprising, more compact, more variegated, and busier than before—not less so.’"
Objection: Even the scant information provided by King makes it clear that “Berkeley activists” would like to make just one block, not all of downtown, car-free.
Moreover, what King either doesn’t know (hard to believe) and at any rate fails to mention is that with or without cars, this block is and will remain the area with the highest foot traffic—10,000 people a day—in town, simply because it’s the most direct route between downtown Berkeley’s transit center and the University of California campus.
In the past few years, the city has upgraded the south side of the street by widening the sidewalk, installing street lights and attractive, well-scaled trees. Merchants have set out tables for dining. The other (sunny) side of the street is now inhabited by an oversized Bank of America, the bank’s underused surface parking lot, and the university’s printing plant. UC plans to relocate the plant offsite and put three museums in its place. The university also plans to buy the bank’s property and has signed an agreement with a hotel developer (Carpenter & Co.) to build a hotel/conference center there.
When news of these plans became public last fall, the Planning Commission convened a citizen task force to make recommendations regarding the project. The 26-person task force just filed its report with the commission. One of the chief recommendations was that developer “create a public pedestrian-oriented open space or plaza,” closing the street “to cars, trucks and buses in a way that does not degrade transit service quality.” The report also recommends that all surface parking be removed, and that the current bank and curbside parking be relocated under the hotel/conference center and museum sites.
It’s hard to imagine why King would want to take a cheap shot at these proposals.