Friday, April 25, 2008

Regarding North Shattuck Plaza

A Response to Laurie Capitelli
and his commentary in the Berkeley Daily Planet, April 18-21, 2008.
by Linda Trujillo Bargmeyer

Laurie Capitelli begins his commentary standing at Vine looking south “down a vibrant Shattuck Avenue thronging with pedestrians…spilling out across traffic to claim and use the grass median strip.” What he does not say, is that this thronging mass of pedestrians does not continue down Shattuck Avenue or continue into the real downtown of Berkeley.

When I disembark at the downtown Bart station and walk home via Shattuck Avenue to North Berkeley I see a more complete picture. Getting off the train, it is hard not to notice that downtown is shabby and worn and needs to be revitalized. The buildings that have recently been built downtown lack inspiration and have done little to reinvigorate the area with the positive energy we would like in a city center. As I cross University Avenue and walk north, I notice that blocks of new five- story buildings, painted artificially Tuscan to cover their inherent blandness and lack of character, stand like cloned soldiers on the east side of Shattuck Avenue. Apartments are apparently on the top floors of the buildings and offices on the ground floor. Many of these ground floor offices are empty or perhaps not even completed. There are few people walking the sidewalks in this area. As I cross Delaware, I walk into what I call my neighborhood. The one or two story buildings are more human scale, the architecture more interesting, and the area more friendly with people busily walking the streets. The shops and restaurants are busy because they are local businesses in tune with the local populace. I feel lucky to call this part of Berkeley my home.

It is predominately an area of owner -occupied homes. The area is dotted with parks to provide tranquility in an urban environment. There are walking paths that crisscross the area leading to other commercial areas or to other neighborhoods within the area. I like the sense of place, the personality and the community I have found in this part of Berkeley. I like the quality of life that the local, the small, and the individualistic produce. Apparently, others feel the same way, because even though there are some things that can be improved, the North Berkeley area essentially works.

Before any improvements in this area are planned, it would be wise to ponder what makes the “gourmet ghetto” one of the most vital parts of Berkeley, for it is very easy to kill what we love in North Berkeley. The Vision Committee, a subgroup of LOCCNA, set upon this task when we wrote our Vision Statement in response to David Stoloff’s plan. Although there was some disagreement within LOCCNA (as stated in the Fred Dodsworth article), we united around the concepts behind the Vision Statement. It was endorsed at a well attended meeting of LOCCNA members and it was endorsed by the Northside Neighborhood Association. It would be well for Laurie Capitelli to respond to the issues contained within that document and answer truthfully the fear of many North Berkeley residents: Is this movement to enhance North Berkeley with green and pedestrian space only a ruse or a prelude to building the dead architecture and high rise apartments that are now creeping up Shattuck Avenue? I question the sincerity of Capitelli’s statement that we should work together with a “shared commitment to bring improvement to our neighborhood.” When I am on Vine looking south on Shattuck, I like what I see up to Delaware, but looking further south on Shattuck I dread what might be coming north.

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