The South Berkeley Blues
Goin’ to South Berkeley
Sorry but I can’t take you
Said I’m goin’ to South Berkeley
Sorry but I can’t take you
‘Cause deep down in ole South Berkeley
There just ain’t nothin’ for nobody to do...
So, great, along with our bookstores, delicatessens, banks, boutiques, art galleries, museums, parks, Peet’s and Starbucks, we’re getting a “transit village” too? After our fair city allowed BART to rip apart our neighborhood while ‘60s hippies and Berkeley-style liberals quietly watched—I’m sure there were more important issues at the time—we got split in two so that north Berkeleyans could and still do speed through our used-to-be neighborhood to get to the freeway flyin’ down MLK not stopping for pregnant/elderly/our children with no pedestrian crossing/double the fines/school ahead/humans walking signs or stripes or lighted walkways like on College Avenue, Solano Avenue in the north east any place but here to prevent us from harm injury death ... the pleasure of calling out to our neighbors swallowed up by the constant din making us deaf to each other but not to the screeching of tires the blaring of horns our main street turned pollution filled highway so others can go go go as fast as you can to get to anyplace but here and their noise and the smell dust particles from their cars on our window sills our fruit trees settling into our lungs our children die younger in South Berkeley our elderly die younger our men our women I bet even our pets—would you care then if our dogs were dying because of the car exhaust you dump into our neighborhood would you care then if it was all about our dogs would you care then?
So now we have what was a Transparent Theater now an Ashby Stage and an Epic Arts and young white kids moving in creatively trying to live where the rents are lower and there’s some hope some room for their kind of creativity and daddy’s money whose money their hard working money is this city money? Hey, are there any black owned stores in South Berkeley in north east West Berkeley any black owned businesses yes we do our own hair so we do have those and one shoe repair shop and and and and —
We eat we wear clothes and read books and where are our stores? Will any of these new transit village homes shops creative ideas have room for us will we own anything create anything show our art, sell our food, your cheeses anybody’s coffee? Will we sing in this transit village will we recite poetry perform plays sew clothes paint pictures sculpt, play read sleep talk with other humans as though we were human too in this new village? Or will we weep? Will this transit village be just another transit be just another way of going through without seeing transversing without the village part just a going through to get to never mind who was there before and still might be now, they’re just remnants of what was anyway.
And what of our beloved flea market our landmark truly the center of our village the village that is not in transit does not need funding or redesigning or building but the village that already is and has been?
We gather at our flea market every weekend for communion for exercise we walk talk dance to our own made up music we laugh we share not just buy it’s not about the money.
Do you really need another playground?
End of Rant
When I was growing up and spending my summers in South Berkeley with Grandma and Granddad (we just called it Berkeley then; it was all just plain old Berkeley) you could actually engage in a conversation with the Cottons across the street and you could walk across Grove Street without taking your life into your hands.
What we did in South Berkeley was spend time with our families. It wasn’t about going out and shopping. We ate, we laughed, we walked down to the park, we played in the sand while our parents played tennis, we walked home, gathered together and shared our days. Now, the old black and Asian folks are mostly gone, their offspring as well. Many young black families cannot afford their own parents’ homes so they’ve moved to Oakland, Richmond, El Cerrito and further. Look around you. Where are Berkeley’s middle-class black families? Few and far between.
My questions are these: Is it the plan for this transit village to be wholly self-contained? So that folks arrive on BART, shop and then leave? So there’s no interaction with the aborigines in the outer village at all? If so, what do the rest of us villagers get besides the loss of our beloved flea market? It sounds eerily like what’s being planned for our Derby Street Farmer’s Market. Destroy our landmark—one of our primary centers for nourishment and communion—to make our neighborhood more desirable for whom? For how many hours?
If there is to be a South Berkeley Transit Village, we need some guarantees demonstrating inclusiveness. And while we’re waiting for our paid representatives to supply these guarantees, why don’t you people do something about the speeding down MLK, the lack of protection for pedestrians, the noise and pollution people in transit create while transiting through our used-to-be neighborhood and fill some potholes, smooth some sidewalks and plant some trees while you’re at it.