Something To Look Forward To
By Winston Burton
When I went to the first meeting of the Alameda County Base Conversion Homeless Collaborative my wife was pregnant with our first child. I kissed her on the forehead as I was leaving and said, “Honey, I’ll be back in a couple of hours, this shouldn’t take long.” When I went to the last meeting of the Base Conversion Collaborative, where we finally received a settlement to help homeless providers, I had just finished dropping off our 10 year old son.
In November 2007, I completed a two year (twice a month) commitment on the DAPAC to help develop a plan for new projects and construction in downtown Berkeley. I served on the subcommittee to come up with a plan for Center Street that would include a new hotel, the UC Art Museum, and the possible day lighting of Strawberry Creek. I was a blank slate when the meetings started. Eventually I agreed with the other subcommittee members that the idea of day lighting the creek or some other water feature should be considered, but trained professionals needed to work out the details. After seeing the past two presentations by Walter Hood, hired by EcoCity Builders, I think that we’ve got the right person on the job.
Think outside the box? His first presentation was out of this world – literally. He presented a series of blown up photos from outer space first showing California, then the Bay Area, Berkeley, and finally focusing on the 2100 block of Center Street. He described the type of soil under the street, degree of pitch, water flow, ecosystems, native foliage, and how much you would actually have to detour the existing creek to run down Center Street. He showed examples of other successful plazas around the world that combined people, traffic, and buildings with a creek or water feature.
In the second presentation I went to, March 19th, Walter unveiled over 25 different options for Center Street. Some options did not require moving the creek but rather involved creating a water feature such as terraced fountains that would run the length of the street. I also liked the fact that his concepts extended across Shattuck and included the BART plaza. I think he addressed merchants’ concerns and traffic options, while offering designs that were appealing and aesthetically pleasing. Comments from those in attendance included words like “inspiring,” “innovative,” “creative,” and “unique.” Except for a few people who thought the designs did not accommodate a large enough public meeting space or a Jimi Hendrix statue (which in my opinion both should be located someplace else), there’s something here for everyone. What’s not to like?
One of my life-coping mechanisms, when I’m stressed out, experiencing back pain, exercising, or doing something else I don’t like is to think of something positive in the future. Since that last presentation my thoughts keep returning to Center Street. It’s destined to be the Crown Jewel in the new downtown plan. I’m optimistic that if Walter is allowed to proceed at the pace that this project is moving ahead, we will not need to wait for 10 years before something actually happens. I think my son, who is now 14, and I will both have something to look forward to much sooner rather than later.