MKThink to Hold First Community Workshop for People’s Park

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday July 03, 2007

A discussion and visioning workshop on the future programs and design of People’s Park will be held next week by MKThink, the San Francisco-based consultants hired by UC Berkeley to develop a plan to improve the park. 

The workshop is part of the “needs assessment” phase which follows the completion of the “discovery” phase. 

MKThink has been part of more than 40 meetings with individuals and groups which have included park founders, community gardeners, neighborhood organizations and UC Berkeley staff. 

A workshop held on Sunday will feature discussions of the people, programs, places and design concepts that will make the park safer, welcoming and more widely used by community members. 

“So far we have only had smaller group meetings and interviews,” said Irene Hegarty, director of community relations for UC Berkeley. “This is an effort to bring the community together to understand what they want. We will definitely have more workshops later if there is a demand for it.” 

Although some park users remain skeptical about the workshops, they are willing to attend them. 

“While paid architect consultants to the university can hardly be considered unbiased nor in the spirit of People’s Park, I believe it will be good for those of us who use and appreciate People’s Park to participate in these sessions,” said Berkeley naturalist Terri Compost in a e-mail to the Planet. 

Compost will be organizing a grassroots visioning day along with community members during the beginning of September. 

“That will be open to all without having to RSVP,” she said. “If anyone wants to help organize this event, please contact me.” 

Thursday’s workshop is scheduled to be held at the Berkeley YMCA (2600 Bancroft Way) from 7 to 9 p.m. The Sunday workshop be held from 1 to 3 p.m. at the First Church of Christ Scientist (2619 Dwight Way). It requires registration at MKThink, but community members can also sign up at People’s Park itself. 

“It’s on a first-come first-served basis,” Hegarty said. “We would ideally like to have groups of 20 to 25 people engage in some hands-on discussion. If more people want to attend, then we could try to sign them up as well. We want to hear about the changes people want. Some want more public performances and others want better facilities for children.” 

Hegarty added that most of the members from the People’s Park Advisory Committee had signed up. 

“We are not getting into anything specific at this time,” she said. “It’s only at a conceptual stage.” 

“For example, we will not be talking about putting a fountain in the middle of the park,” said committee co-chair John Selawsky who plans to attend the workshop. “What’s important is to get input from folks. To identify what people want to see or not see there. I know a lot of people want to see an increase in activities for children and students.” 

The entire process is scheduled to wind up by the end of October.  

“Even if the university decides to move forward at that point, more work would have to be done. We are not moving forward with any preconceived notions. It’s pretty open-ended.” 

Initial findings from the “Discovery” phase indicate a universal desire for the area to remain a public park as opposed to redevelopment of any kind, even in the public interest. MKThink’s project progress report states that community members are keen to preserve the park’s history and celebrate the more “unique spirit of human nature and expression.” 

According to Hegarty, the planning process has proceeded well so far. 

“People have participated in the meetings so far. There has been interest, but not wild interest,” she said. “Sometimes, we have had to seek out people. I guess it’s because it’s summer and a lot of people are away.”