UC: People’s Park Plan Lacks Student Input

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday September 21, 2007

At a People’s Park Community Advisory Board meeting held last week, community members listened to San Francisco-based MK Think, the firm hired by UC Berkeley to plan improvements for the park, and Emily Marthinsen, assistant vice chancellor, talk about conceptual designs for the park. 

The only student representation came from board member Ionas Porges-Kiriakou, a UC Berkeley undergraduate.  

Irene Hegarty, director of community relations for UC Berkeley, complained that the planning process for redeveloping People’s Park lacks student participation. 

“We need more participation from students,” Hegarty said in a telephone interview after the meeting. “That’s one of my concerns. I understand that the planning process didn’t get well under way until May when students were away for summer, but thousands of students don’t even know about it. We need more outreach.” 

Ionas Porges-Kiriakou said that MK Think hasn’t outlined any plans to involve students or the community in the planning process. 

“They haven’t had any large community meetings except for the one at the church,” he said. “I have a lot of questions they haven’t answered yet and one of them is how are they going to get more students involved.” 

MK Think did not return phone calls from the Planet for comment. 

“One of the first thing freshmen at Cal are told is to stay away from People’s Park,” said Jason Overman, a former member of the People’s Park Advisory Board and a UC undergraduate. “I think it’s a shame that [students] now have the chance to give input on how to redevelop the park, but haven’t become engaged in the process.” 

University student leader Igor Tregub echoed his thoughts. 

“There is quite a bit of frustration on the part of students because of that,” he said. “A more good-faith effort by the university to involve students in the discussions would be a start. The remainder of the work is up to us, the students.” 

Park uses 

At the meeting, MKThink gave an update about the community workshop held during summer and outlined park uses. The four main zones identified in the park were the common grassy area, the basketball court, the community garden and the grove. 

Representatives from MK Think said that current entrances to the park looked accidental and disconnected. 

“You can stand half a block away and not know about the park,” Hegarty told the Planet. “We want to make the entry points to the park more welcoming and visible to the surrounding residential, business and religious communities. Closer to Telegraph, one of the entry points has dense vegetation and that doesn’t appear very welcoming. There is also a low railing that goes around the three sides of the park which in a way fences off people. Landscaping and wider pathways would help to invite people into the park.” 

Board member John Selawsky said that the lack of a definite entrance to the park needs to be addressed. 

“You go up the steps of Bryant Park in New York and you know you are there,” he said. “We need to have some kind of an archway or some kind of portal to feel the same way about People’s Park. Right now the park is not a destination area. People pass through it on their way home or to the dorms.” 

The board also agreed that more signage was necessary to direct people to the park and make them aware of park rules. 

Hegarty added that the lack of intermingling be-tween the different zones was a big problem. “People often define the park by territories and turf,” she said. “That needs to be changed.” 


Park safety 

The board also discussed safety in the park, which has seen a spike in crime since summer.  

“How is it that some people feel safe while others don’t?” Hegarty asked. She added that the recent crimes in the park had not been random muggings. 

“They were between people who knew each other,” she said. “The campus becomes a target-rich area over summer and crime tends to increase during this time. Students have often talked about neighborhood watch groups in group-living areas but the problem with things like that is students tend to come and go continuously.” 

Last month, UC police were called to the park when a fight erupted between two men. One of them, who was knocked unconscious, was taken to the hospital, while the other was ordered to stay away from UC property for seven days and later arrested. 

UCPD is also searching for a woman who stripped a bathing suit off another woman and left her nude in the park in July. A couple of strong-arm robberies also took place around the same time.