San Francisco-based MKThink Group presented an initial needs assessment plan for People’s Park to the park’s Advisory Board on Monday.
The two main goals identified by MKThink—represented by planner Mark Miller, Art Taylor and Alesha Kintzer—centered on making the park a safer and more attractive place for a diverse crowd.
“People’s Park is an underutilized urban setting,” said John Selawsky, People’s Park Advisory Committee co-chair. “I don’t see any vibrancy there most of the time. Look at some of the great parks of the world. Golden Gate and Central Park have young people flocking there all the time. We have 20,000 to 30,000 students within half a mile of the park and no one goes there. This has got to change.”
Selawsky added that he was impressed with MKThinks presentation.
“They are sensitive to community needs,” he said. “This is a challenging concept but if anybody can pull this off, it’s them.”
“We are looking at a lot of outreach right now,” said Irene Hegarty, director of Community Relations at UC Berkeley. “Besides planners, the team also has sociologists and behavioral psychologists.”
She added that MKThink would be implementing their plan for the needs assessment by partnering with a UC project manager.
“We have to try a mixture of approaches. A lot of people won’t come to the meetings because of the different controversies surrounding People’s Park, so we will have to go to them,” she said.
Discovery—the first step outlined in the plan’s flow-chart—is scheduled to go on until May. It involves exhaustive research into the history of the park by digging up relevant archives, newspaper clippings, interviewing park users and student groups as well as visiting the park itself.
“The discovery phase will include confirming goals, doing historical reviews, conducting interviews and observation of the physical uses of the park,” said Selawsky.
Board members have also come up with a list of stakeholders which includes residents and merchants on Telegraph Avenue, the City of Berkeley, constituents, student groups and non-profits.
Selawsky suggested a historical review of the park.
“You don’t go into a place without going into the history of the place,” he said. “MKThink needs to understand the richness, diversity and depth of People’s Park. Speaking to park activists who took part in demonstrations there will help to get an idea of the agreements and disagreements over the park. We want to go into this with eyes wide open and with as few preconceptions as possible.”
He said there was also talk of holding an online survey.
The second step would be a needs assessment process which would take into account all the information gathered. It would help identify conflicts, patterns, best practices and common principles.
“There is some debate about how MKThink would make use of summer, but they hope to finish phase one before then and start on phase two by fall,” said Hegarty.
Phase three is the conceptual phase which would articulate and evaluate options for a physical design based on the needs assessment.
Selawsky told the Planet that he was skeptical about whether the $100,000 budget approved by UC Berkeley for the current process would get past phase two.
The final two steps are planning and design and implementation.
The planning and design phase includes concept advancement, landscape, universal and sustainable design and cost analysis. Details of the implementation phase have not been provided yet.
Terri Compost, a community gardener at People’s Park, told the Planet that MKThink seemed genuinely interested in trying to hear all the concerns and learn about the significance of the park.
“I am cautiously hopeful,” she said in an email to the Planet. “I believe the Park can benefit from attention and collective visioning.”
Though hiring outside paid experts might go against the nature of the park, Compost said, “In some ways it is refreshing to have an outside entity's perspective searching out what really are the core issues of the park and what may be some common ground for improvement.”