Public Comment

A Modest Proposal for the Berkeley Housing Crisis

Harvey Smith
Thursday June 20, 2019 - 03:52:00 PM

The grassy open space of People’s Park experienced its only murder recently. This incident has become another justification for the University’s plans to build student housing on this much maligned location. With the exception of a police killing of a protester at the park’s creation, the park has experienced just this one murder in its entire 50-year history. However, another nearby area of Berkeley - fraternity/sorority row - has experienced at least four in recent memory. Why not apply the same development logic to that area?

The unsightly median strips and traffic circle between Bancroft and Haste surely must harbor a breeding ground for drug and alcohol abuse and violent crime. There could be something in the unkempt tall weeds that encourages overindulgence, as well as shootings, stabbings and sexual violence so prevalent in the neighborhood. This could be easily solved by filling the unsightly and underutilized space with student housing. 

The current formula of a private-public partnership would support construction costs, realizing that it would be a design challenge for a firm like the one hired to build on the northeast corner of the campus. The firm would have to go beyond its usual cookie cutter designs applied generically here and to five other campuses in different parts of the country. Probably the biggest challenge would be the traffic circle. How do you fit a banal multi-story, square glass box in a round hole? 

Students occupying the new housing would be warned during campus orientations not to walk past the dangerous fraternity houses. Taking east-west streets instead of going north-south on Piedmont Avenue would be would good counsel because of a violence rate so much higher than People’s Park. 

Some would say this infill development would increase traffic during commute hours on already busy Piedmont Avenue. Probably the same people who complain about the reduction in parking at the proposed high rise development planned for the North Berkeley BART Station. Berkeley should respond to these detractors with a new chant, “With Uber, Lyft and Scooters, That’s All for the Commuters.”