Public Comment

1000 People's Park Tropes Still Bloom

Carol Denney
Sunday November 10, 2019 - 11:08:00 AM

On my recent trip to West Virginia I asked people if they'd ever heard of People's Park. All of them said of course. But that's not all. Their faces lit up. I asked why they were smiling, and they'd say the sixties, music, dancing, free speech, freedom of speech, thought, the "movement", adventurous clothing, freedom, poetry, people-centered thinking. This was in West Virginia.

So imagine my surprise when after a vigorous pro-People's Park rally on UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza Wednesday, November 6, 2019, a debate-style discussion group about People's Park at Wheeler Hall took a hard right turn into the university's two favorite tropes used to excuse any proposal to destroy the park: crime and the housing crisis.

While facts indicate you're much more likely to be raped, robbed, die of an overdose, die of alcohol poisoning, commit suicide or just be murdered up on fraternity row, facts never seem to stop even young inquiring minds from a Reaganesque embrace of fifty years of UC chancellors' favorite stereotypes.

Even if both of these curious non sequiturs were actually true, it baffles the mind how anyone could imagine that crime is eliminated if you blow up the location it happened, or that the existence of a housing crisis means parks must be destroyed. It doesn't take much imagination to make room for the possibility that crime and housing needs could both be addressed without being in opposition. We can have safety and parks, housing and open space. 

If you suggest that the Reaganesque embrace is no accident, given the convenience of this mythology for UC's constant expansion plans, you'll get accused of being unfair, as if 150 years of historical record was unseemly to observe at all. And if you're an alumna you'll be accused of disloyalty to what is, after all, both your alma mater and one of the largest nuclear weapons contractors in the world. 

It's complicated. At least one's sense of loyalty, in such a case, would seem entitled to complexity. But there's nothing complex about housing or crime. More crime, especially serious crime, is committed on frat row, but nobody's arguing to have it bulldozed. And more housing, especially non-controversial housing, could be accommodated on any of the other eight sites the university itself designated as available. The university has yet to meet the community to discuss the matter, although according to its spokesperson Dan Mogolof, small student groups will soon be invited to private discussions. 

It's a puzzle only if it's left hip deep in ignorance about the city's history, the park's history, the university's history, poetic movements, social justice origins, the intricacies (legal and otherwise) of free speech, open space, and landmarks to name a few. I asked one presenter as respectfully as possible why he would voice an opinion without any foundation in research, and he said he was just riffing on behalf of a friend. 

This is a valuable skill. But so is researching a topic before one commits to a perspective. So is making sure all considered community and ecological perspectives are represented in plans which could cost so much, not just in money but in creative possibilities, opportunities for cooperative community potential, and in lives. People's Park's