The university recently unveiled its plan to bulldoze the berms (mounds) on either side of the Community Garden in People’s Park. In an effort to allow police to see through the park without getting out of their cars, they want to sacrifice the natural boundary that separates the park from traffic and city bustle. People’s Park, already much less green space than we need in such a populated area, is an important refuge for our collective psyches to reconnect with nature.
At the People’s Park Community Advisory Board meeting on Monday, the chiefs of police from both UC and Berkeley police departments showed up with practically matching letters, written at the request of the university, explaining that they need sight lines clear of “vegetation” to police from the streets. While that may help in patrolling prison yards, our parks and neighborhoods are not prisons and should not be treated as such. We reap much social benefit from common meeting spaces, quiet meditation nooks, romantic benches for new loves, and opportunities for chance meetings with hummingbirds or blossoms. We mustn’t turn our places of beauty and freedom into desolations because of fear.
People’s Park is not a dangerous place. I’ve gardened there most every week for years. It’s got a bad reputation. Everyone talks about all the drug dealing there which I’m convinced is the advertising that actually creates it. I don’t like drug dealing in the park, it should be legalized and sold elsewhere. In the mean time though, it is kept down by the presence of people and by police on foot and bikes that actually enter the park. And even still drugs are victimless crimes and don’t threaten you.
But in People’s Park you may encounter people different from yourself. Real people with real problems that really exist in our society may be present. This is an opportunity. People’s Park is our social experiment in sharing, in tending common land, in integrating races and classes and philosophies.
The Park can surely be improved. We welcome efforts in the future, like those of the past, that create and add to the park. Events, gardening, picnics, art projects, fix it up days, etc. all improve our neighborhood. And the berms themselves can be recreated. The “berms” are the piles of asphalt torn up from the parking lot and put on the edges of the garden. They now miraculously host a variety of plants and trees including mature oaks, plums, maple, apple, agave, roses, manzanitas, and many small plants. They are a lesson in how to transform our urban concrete cancer back into productive living land. Imagine students of Permaculture Gardening recreating the berms retaining their ecological, historical and social value.
I’d like to believe that our human consciousness is finally awakening to our innate connection and need for nature. Berkeley’s schools have all started gardens. Our own Joanna Macy talks of “The Great Turning” as the “essential adventure of our time: the shift from the Industrial Growth Society to a life sustaining civilization.” People’s Park was a step in that awakening to the importance of the environment and remains a living urban oasis.
It is all wrong for the university to think they can bulldoze this relevant and large portion of the park. Time and again we are called upon to stick up for our history, our volunteer creations, our right to land and community. How things are done in People’s Park is very important. If the university comes in some morning with bulldozers, no public process and destroys the trees, history and calm in the park, it will create a disaster like the 1991 volleyball court debacle that cost two million dollars and threw our neighborhood into a crisis.
Stop the bulldozers. Speak up at the next meeting of the Community Advisory Board, Monday Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Trinity Methodist Church, 2362 Bancroft Ave. (below Dana). Defend People’s Park. Planning meeting in the park Sun Nov. 19, 4 p.m., Council Grove (northwest corner of the park).
Terri Compost is a Berkeley resident.