The City of Berkeley is approaching the point when the long-held vision of a spectacular urban plaza featuring a daylighted Strawberry Creek can at last become a reality. Since the early 1980s, hundreds of Berkeley citizens have come forward to express their hope that the City would unearth Strawberry Creek which currently flows under several downtown buildings and streets. This long-buried waterway could become the centerpiece of a world class destination, the first example of environmental restoration in such a highly urbanized location.
With Berkeley Art Museum and the first LEEDS certified hotels to be built in the country moving onto Center Street, Berkeley has the opportunity to continue the pioneering role it has played in the now thriving national movement to restore our urban creeks. Despite vocal opposition and skepticism at the time of its proposal, in 1983, Berkeley became the first city in the country to “daylight” an urban creek when it brought a section of Strawberry Creek back to the surface. The landscape design for Strawberry Creek Park received the highest Environmental Planning Award from the California Parks and Recreation Society in 1984.
Berkeley now has the opportunity to take the lead in the Green Cities movement by doing more than planting trees, more than certifying its new hotel as energy efficient, more than increasing its density to promote transit. While all of these efforts are important, a truly “green” city cannot be built on top of a buried natural resource; part of a deteriorated watershed that needs to be brought back to better health.
The current planning process for the downtown which is being carried out by the DAPAC (Downtown Area Planning Advisory Committee ) has recommended full pedestrianization of Center Street, allowing access for deliveries and emergencies, a public open space on Center Street, and possible inclusion of a creek water/feature. This is in full accordance with the recommendations of the Hotel Task Force. Citizens for a Strawberry Creek Plaza has formed to ensure that this approach, including the option of daylighting Strawberry Creek, is fully explored.
Contrary to misinformation we’ve seen in recent letters and articles on the topic, the creek would not require elevation and pumps at the proposed Center Street location between Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue; rather, it would remain at a depth approximately eight feet and flow down the block naturally. At the end of the block, the creek would be channeled back into the culvert. This design offers the benefit of providing additional flood protection in case of failure of the aging and seismically vulnerable downtown section of the existing culvert.
Featuring Strawberry Creek as part of a new green urban plaza presents Berkeley with an opportunity to move downtown toward a real renaissance, the likes of which have resulted from investments in water oriented plazas like those in San Antonio, Texas, San Luis Obispo, California, and Little Rock, Arkansas. A Strawberry Creek Plaza in the heart of downtown Berkeley would provide a wealth of aesthetic, social, economic and environmental benefits to the city. It would be an inspiration to those who believe cities can be leaders in restoration of a healthy relationship between society and nature.
Elyce Judith is a member of Citizens for a Strawberry Creek Plaza.