This city planner did not give “thumbs down to closed Center Street” at the Feb. 4 city Planning Commission. I have desired the creation of a major public gathering space in the heart of our downtown since working on the citizens’ 1984 Outline for a Downtown Plan and the City’s 1990 Downtown Plan. Now, more than ever, I believe that with the new downtown plan, the creation of such a wonderful urban space is inevitable. And consensus from both the DAPAC and Planning Commission is that it will be on Center Street between Shattuck and Oxford.
What I believed was needed last Wednesday, and what transpired, was to champion what we wanted on this stretch of the planet rather than to continue a discussion about traffic and the extent of street closure. The entire commission unanimously approved the powerful idea of creating an urban space that would allow for concerts, festivals, political rallies, exhibits and outdoor events. Prior, the conversation was fractious and bogged down over traffic issues without any agreement as to what would take place once the traffic was modified. It is not a lost opportunity to drop the street closure idea from the public discussion. It is an acknowledgement that it is premature and corrosive to the body politic to continue a limited discussion.
We now have that agreement on purpose, and if approved by the council, could proceed to design the space. It will be a big effort. It will take place at another time. It must have City Council, merchant, DBA and citizen participation and acceptance. And it will only occur through another public forum that the council would need to establish, whose specific mission would be to program and design the space. At this time, let us talk of what events and activities we desire as a citizenry at the heart of our city. I hope that others join with me in looking forward to attending a Country Joe MacDonald concert, a beer festival, President Obama giving a speech, a how-Berkeley-can-you-be car exhibit, the grand opening celebration for the UC Art Center and the Thursday music events currently at the BART Plaza.
As for the Walter Hood’s design effort, it must be understood that he has been commissioned by a private group whose original desires were to open Strawberry Creek and/or to pay homage to a Creek element. In my opinion, he has drawn some beautiful and inspiring ideas. In all of his proposals, there is not a significant public gathering space for what the Planning Commission has now endorsed. I would expect and hope that his continuing work to illuminate what his clients have commissioned will respond to the Planning Commission position.
Jim Novosel is a member of Berkeley’s Planning Commission.