They Simply Don’t Get It

Letter to City Council by Landscape Architect John N. Roberts, June 15 2022:

Dear Mayor and City Council,

I have reviewed the plans for the Berkeley Waterfront by Hargreaves Jones, and in particular the proposed plans for Chavez Park.  Unfortunately, the plans reflect only a superficial, detached, and narrow understanding of the Berkeley community and the history behind the creation of what is now known as Cesar Chavez Park.  Beyond the fundamental misunderstanding of the seminal and ongoing community attitudes about the park, the plans appear to be a crude formulaic response by a disinterested design team to the underlying interests and values of the community as clearly and consistently expressed since the first plans  for the park were developed in the late 1970’s.  It is not at all clear who the design team has been listening to or if they have even bothered to do any serious research into the rich heritage of thinking about this park, first as North Waterfront Park and subsequently as Cesar Chavez Park.  When the filling of the bay was stopped, the garbage dump was closed, and the park was created this was to become a place of nature and an informal community gathering and recreational space open to all in a unique waterfront setting, not a commercial enterprise.  

The retrofitting of the landfill into an open space seamlessly connected to the bayfront setting to be enjoyed by all members of the community has been the highest priority for the place since the day it was declared a public park.  We, as a community, have a sacred responsibility to those who made this public park a reality.  Any plans that are developed must acknowledge and build upon the clear vision articulated years ago and reinforced multiple times over the ensuing decades.  Changes to that fundamental vision must be well reasoned, fully vetted, and build upon the values that lie behind the park’s creation.  Similar uses to those in the Hargreaves Jones proposals have been made and routinely rejected over the years, for good reason.  They do not reflect fundamental values behind the creation of this park.  Nor do they reflect a new community-supported public value-based vision for the renovation of the park that enhances our commons.  This is not a place for commercial exploitation and private profit, an essential point established upon its creation as a public park when its use as an extension of the city grid was soundly rejected and then strongly reinforced in each subsequent park planning process.  This is a place for everyone to simply experience and enjoy nature, to celebrate our place in the larger landscape of the SF Bay region (and the cosmos) slightly separated from the city, and to meet friends informally.  There are other opportunities elsewhere throughout the waterfront for commercial activities, not here.

As a long time Berkeley resident who contributed his share of the garbage beneath Chavez Park, who prepared plans for the park on behalf of the City in the 1990’s through an extensive community outreach process, who has worked collaboratively with Santiago Casal in the creation of the Solar Calendar, who is a frequent user of the park, and whose children grandchildren and grand-nieces and nephews have all benefited immeasurably from the park as well as the nearby Adventure Playground, I believe the Hargreaves Jones plans should be unequivocally rejected outright.  They simply don’t get it.  This project certainly paid the bills for them, but they have contributed very little in return to our community.  It is not at all clear where their values lie, or the values of those who hired them and managed the design process.  In any case, the whole group really missed the mark on this one.

John N. Roberts
John Northmore Roberts & Associates, Inc.
Landscape Architects
2927 Newbury Street, Suite B
Berkeley, CA  94703
O  (510) 843-3666
C  (510) 908-2066

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