(The Hargreaves Jones firm is behind the Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan (BMASP) that would destroy Chavez Park as we know it.)
The Hargreaves Jones landscape firm has done some outstanding projects, but its current efforts in Berkeley must be the work of its B team. The firm boasts on its website about creating “dynamic, interactive and exultant landscape,” but what it’s doing in Berkeley is destroying beautiful existing landscapes to promote commercial development. For example:
- HJ proposes to convert an existing historic Native Plant Area into a commercial zip line and ropes course.
- HJ proposes to bulldoze a verdant meadow rich in wildlife to build a concert stage and concert seating.
- HJ proposes to shut forever and pave over a free Adventure Playground that has served and educated several generations of Berkeley children.
Berkeley’s Cesar Chavez Park at 90 acres is Berkeley’s largest and is a regional attraction for its spectacular views, its bird life, its freeform recreation, and the peace and quiet that individuals and families find here.
HJ boasts of doing “rigorous research” but apart from issues of jurisdiction and zoning, its work on the park reveals utter ignorance about its history. This is not a post-industrial brownfield of the kind that HJ is experienced at reshaping. Chavez Park is the product of 40 years of previous landscape architecture and management and is an established urban oasis with well-developed constituencies.
HJ speaks broadly about respecting “site specificity,” but pays not the slightest respect to the legacy of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, who are honored in a notable solar calendar, one of the chief attractions in the park. It may be that the scarcity of minority senior staff at HJ has something to do with this lack of sensitivity.
George Hargreaves’ mindset was formed in the 1970s when few people thought about native plants. Maybe that explains why his firm is ready to destroy the Native Plant Area in the park, a pioneering ecological effort supported by the California Coastal Conservancy and the Berkeley City Council, and established by local environmental heroes. HJ reveals itself as tone deaf to today’s public concern with native plant gardens, pollinator insects, and protection of bird species. Those are not part of the HJ design plan for Berkeley because they don’t produce revenue.
HJ boasts on its website about how it listens to and engages with local communities. It has done nothing of the sort in Berkeley. HJ never reached out to the Chavez Park Conservancy, nor to the Cesar Chavez/Dolores Huerta Homage Solar Calendar organization, nor to the Chavez Park Off Leash Area dog owner group, all based in the park and readily discoverable. No one at HJ contacted the Golden Gate Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the California Native Plant Society, or Citizens for Eastshore State Parks, all of whom have long and documented records of engagement with Chavez Park. Hundreds of volunteers have donated thousands of hours of labor to maintain and improve Chavez Park.
Instead of community engagement and democratic process, HJ has been operating a “public opinion” charade that offers fake alternatives, slanted questions, unsupportable suppositions, and censored discussion summaries, all engineered to produce a facade of consensus where there is deep and widespread opposition.
George Hargreaves pretends to create “innovative design of gardens, parks, and urban landscapes that are free from the extensive range of activities that support the city.” What HJ actually proposes for Berkeley’s Chavez Park entails the destruction of its existing landscapes. HJ brings no landscape design ideas. All it brings is commercial development ideas. HJ’s only project is to monetize the park. This is not landscape architecture. It’s pimping for moneyed interests.
A sure sign of B level work is that HJ didn’t spellcheck its Powerpoint presentation; you can read there about “IMRPOVED PATHWAYS, SEATING, LIGHTS, ETC.”
Hargreaves Jones should be ashamed of its Berkeley efforts. The firm should withdraw from the project before it suffers an ineradicable stain on its reputation in the landscape architecture community.