The consultant who will help improve People’s Park in the coming months will be selected from a list of three finalists at a closed panel interview session on Friday (today).
MKThink (San Francisco), Campbell & Campbell (Santa Monica) and The 106 Group (St. Paul, Minn) were the three consulting firms selected from a list of seven.
“We will be looking for someone who is interested in the rich history of the park, is familiar with its documents and who can combine construction and design with community outreach,” said Irene Hegarty, director of community relations at UC Berkeley.
At the People’s Park Advisory Board meeting on Monday, a People’s Park Advisory Board Selection Subcommittee, comprising of board members John Selawsky, Sam Davis, Joe Halperin and Ionas Porges-Kiriakou (a UCB undergraduate), selected the top three finalists along with a few other members and UC Staff.
Speaking to the Planet, board member and School Board Director Selawsky said that he was happy with the way the process of selecting the main consultant was going so far.
“I think we have three viable candidates,” he said. “Friday’s interview will play an important role in deciding who will be the most capable in coming up with ideas that will benefit People’s Park and the community.”
Friday’s interview will go on for most of the day and will be closed to the public. Apart from the People’s Park Advisory Board Selection Subcommittee, two other advisory board members—George Beier and Lydia Gans—as well as Hegarty and a few other UC Berkeley staff members will be part of the panel.
“There will at least be 10 to 12 people on the panel. And it’s a job interview, therefore it’s closed to the public,” said Selawsky, adding that the panel was scheduled to meet at a university-owned facility on University Avenue.
“I would like to see how they would take into consideration current and potential uses of the park,” said Selawsky. “How they would make it more open to neighbors, families and UC students. I think most of us agree that the park is underutilized by residents. I would like to see it become a place for the community, a real urban center.”
Both Hegarty and Selawsky said although the panel would come to a consensus Friday on which consultant would be hired, the decision would not be announced right away.
“There are background and reference checks that need to be done and that would take some time,” said Hegarty, adding that the consultant was scheduled to start work from March 2007.
People’s Park user and community gardener Terri Compost expressed her displeasure with the selection process.
“It’s very disappointing that the advisory board gave up the decision-making and it was narrowed down to a sub-committee and a few UCB staff. A broader committee and community input would have been welcomed,” she said on Thursday.
“It’s discouraging that they are hiring a landscape architect instead of a community person to decide about the future of the park,” Compost said. “It’s already atypical to hire an expert for People’s Park. They are saying that they are hiring an expert to see what the community wants, but there’s no broad community input in the selection process itself. I hope this process will involve all the voices and not pit people against one another. I am not sure it’s going to do that. We require vigilance to see that it doesn’t turn out be just a corporate design.”
Selawsky told the Planet that the board had been narrowed down to a subcommittee as the process of having each of the ten advisory board members go through all the proposals would have been unnecessary and time consuming.
Among the criteria that the People’s Park advisory board used to review proposals and evaluate prospective planning consultants were professional experience (which includes landscape architecture/design, community planning, sustainable design, urban parks and environmental approach to social issue), political process experience (which included controversial issues, diverse stake holders, widely divergent viewpoints and facilitation), creativity and appreciation of park history.
The criteria for evaluation during interview included objectivity, patience, and a sense of humor.
Porges-Kiriakou, a cognitive science and computer science major at UC Berkeley, and a homeless activist who helps run the Suitcase Clinic, described the selection process as “good.”
“I’d like to see the park be something more than a landscape project,” he said. “It’s important for it to have a good image. More students should be using it. I will be looking for a consultant who can open up a dialogue between the different groups in the community and who can bridge the gaps. I think communication between people will play an important role in making this project successful.”
Hegarty also told the Planet that at the last meeting, the board had brainstormed and identified a list of People’s Park planning community stakeholders, which includes just about every community group or subgroup who would have an interest in the planning process for People’s Park.
The first draft of the list included current park users (students, regular participants of park events, gardeners/activists and homeless service providers), UC Berkeley faculty, staff, and related departments, city officials, neighbors, nearby merchants and property owners, nearby churches and institutions, alumni of the late ’60s/park founders, students from Berkeley and Maybeck high schools, the Berkeley Historical Society, members of the Ecology Center and many others.