Commentary: Underneath the Shady Tree By WINSTON BURTON

Friday December 16, 2005

I was sitting alone in downtown Berkeley, lost in thought, when my friend Martin the mailman approached.  

“Hey Winston what are you doing?” he asked.  

“I’m sitting here under this shady tree watching the kids playing in the fountain in front of the hotel and convention center,” I responded.  

“I don’t see any tree. What hotel, what fountain?” he replied.  

“Over there (pointing), next to the new university art museum and film center. Since they daylighted Strawberry Creek, and all of those new sidewalk cafés have sprung up, downtown has become a real jewel. I especially like the foot bridges that span Oxford Street, connecting the university with the city. It makes me feel as if we’re all one community. See the lighted dome, hanging vines and flowers at the BART Plaza? It’s a wonderful place to read while you’re waiting for friends. Now that they closed Addison Street to vehicles the arts district has truly come to life. There’s live outdoor music almost every night, sidewalk art shows and free workshops for children every weekend. You can enjoy yourself without spending any money, except for food. Smell that? (Sniffing) Ummm, barbecue. There’s finally a rib joint downtown!”  

Martin looked at me like I had lost my mind.  

“Winston you’re sitting on a Berkeley Farms milk crate, in an empty parking lot by yourself. What are you talking about?”  

“The future! The future of downtown Berkeley,” I explained. “Before you can enjoy some things you have to imagine them. Next comes planning, construction, permits, City Council meetings, environmental impact reports, commissions, public hearings and so on. I often like to eat dessert first because I’m impatient! Sometimes imagining things is as far as I get—so I’m enjoying it now.”  

“By the way”, said Martin. “Why is this parking lot almost empty on a Saturday afternoon when people always complain about not enough parking downtown?”  

“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask someone else. That’s too much in the now for me,” I answered impatiently. My imagining interrupted, I started walking away.  

“”Where are you going now?” Martin asked.  

“I’m walking over to the gift shop in the Berkeley Community Theater to buy some tie-dye shirts and scarves,” I replied.  

“Where’s that?” he asked.  

I told him, “Next to the statue of Jimi Hendrix, where else?!” 


Winston Burton is a member of the Downtown Area Planning Advisory Committee.