Archive for September, 2006

Other Walkers, Part 3

I had seriously hoped to have many posts about people walking every street of cities in different parts of the world, but this may not be the case. I found plenty of every-street walkers in New York and California, but not many in other places. In the U.S., Francine Corcoran walked every street in Minneapolis. In New Mexico, Suzanne is walking all 400 miles of Catron County.

Outside of the U.S., Bob and Linda are walking the streets of Dunedin, New Zealand. In Australia, Alan Waddell is walking every street of the Sydney suburbs (over 200 suburbs as of this writing). Also in Australia, Spike — who maintains the blog This Isn’t Sydney — walked the streets of Woy Woy and is continuing on with the towns and suburbs in Brisbane Water (north Broken Bay, in New South Wales). Spike’s walking plan has been inspirational in terms of thinking about my own walking. After I finish walking all of Berkeley, I would like to continue with neighboring communities and other towns in the Bay Area. Spike has a nice set of maps that show his walks, which — like Berkeley and its environs — are situated on a bay.

Although I did plenty of it earlier in my life, I really began to appreciate walking when I went to London for a semester in college. When I didn’t have classes or other activities, I spent hours walking everywhere in the city, either directly from my flat or by picking a random Tube stop and getting off and walking from there. It was winter, and an unusually cold one for London, so I had a hard time convincing my friends and classmates (who were from California and Hawaii) to go on walks, even with promises of stops at pubs along the way. It was their loss — it really was a great way to get to know the city. In the 1930s, Phyllis Pearsall walked all of London’s streets and went on to found the A-Z Map Company. I have not been able to find any information about anyone else doing this since then, in London or elsewhere in the UK. There is, however, a novel (which I have not read yet) by Geoff Nicholson called Bleeding London that features a character who walks every street in London.

I have not yet found instances of every-street walkers in other parts of the world. Of course, there may well be others that I have missed because I have only searched for material in English.


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Community Gardens Along the BART Tracks

A walk past a community garden in the Bay Area is pleasant at any time of the year. Even in the middle of winter, the weather is mild enough for greens and root vegetables to survive and grow a bit. But fall is an especially fun time to see what is happening in the gardens. Pumpkins are still on the vine, tomatoes and peppers are making a final push, and some of the other vegetables are starting to die down to the ground. There are several community gardens in Berkeley, many of which are part of the Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative. The gardens are open to the public for several hours each week, and most welcome volunteers at garden workdays.

The once barren piece of land on the BART right-of-way at Hopkins and Peralta streets is now the site of a trio of community gardens — Peralta, Northside, and Karl Linn. Thanks to landscape architect and community activist Karl Linn (who passed away in 2005) and a host of volunteers, this land is now filled with vegetable plots, herbs, fruit trees, and native plants.

A 10th anniversary party was recently held at the Peralta Community Garden, which — in addition to garden plots and an herb and native plant circle — showcases a variety of sculpture, paintings, metalwork, and other pieces by local artists. The documentary film A Lot in Common tells the story of the garden. Connecting to Peralta is the Northside Garden, which features a beautiful straw bale toolshed. Across the street is the Karl Linn Garden and the EcoHouse, with a permaculture demonstration garden. And outside the gardens, California Habitats Indigenous Activists (CHIA) has been restoring a section of the Ohlone Greenway with local native plants.

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Berkeley Hills

Photo by Joe Reifer

The contrast between the hills and the flatlands of Berkeley comes up often in historical accounts of Berkeley and in current-day conversations about Berkeley. I have talked to a number of people who own homes in the flatlands of Berkeley but hope someday to “trade up” to a house in the hills. I have also encountered some envy and even a few disparaging remarks about the “hill people.” For the most part, though, people seem to appreciate the variety offered by the different parts of town. After a number of walks in the hills, I began to notice that the Berkeley hills are somewhat different from the affluent hilly neighborhoods that I have encountered in other parts of the Bay Area and beyond. There are plenty of large homes with sweeping views of the Bay, but there are also some modest homes mixed in. The photo here (taken earlier this year — I just remembered it after a recent and surprisingly difficult search for a notary) shows a view of a small, one-story ranch house up in the hills. The other houses on the street were much larger, but this one sat amongst them appearing to be untouched by any remodeling.

Another characteristic of the hills is very apparent to a walker is the lack of businesses. Most other neighborhoods have a commercial strip of some sort in the vicinity. It would definitely present a challenge to the walker or cyclist, but I have not doubt there are at least a few people who live in the hills without a car and find ways to haul their groceries up the streets and stairways. One day on a Sunday morning walk on a street bordering Tilden Park, a woman walking out of a house asked me if I knew where she might get some cigarettes around there. It appeared as though she had been at a party up there and stayed the night. I had to break the news to her that she was a long way from a corner store.

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Gary over at runs brooklyn/brooklyn runs asked to hear more about the planning process for my walks, whether I carry a map, etc., so I thought I would explain it for others who might be interested. Gary, who is in the process of running every street in Brooklyn, documents all of the details of his runs (distance, time, temperature, etc.) in addition to providing interesting commentary on the neighborhoods.

Before I go on a walk, I pull out my map and decide which neighborhood I want to visit that day. I try to vary what part of town I pick with each walk or with every other walk, so that I can compare and contrast different areas. On a small piece of paper I start writing out directions for a walk, with the distance based on how much time I have to walk that day. Sometimes I will write in an optional addition to the route to walk if I end up having more time. With any luck, I can follow the directions without having to pull out the map during the walk. I carry the map with me in case I need to use it, but generally try to be discreet about it. When I am walking alone in neighborhoods that tend to have higher incidences of crime, I never pull out a map or give any indication that I don’t know where I am going. It would be nice to not have to worry about these things, but as woman walking alone I have to be realistic about the potential dangers of appearing hesitant or lost.

Generally on my walks I take notes in addition to photos. When I get home, I mark the completed streets on the map, and transfer my notes into a master notebook for the walk. I do not record details like distance, time, weather, etc. Normally, it would be more appealing to me to keep a detailed journal or spreadsheet, and this is precisely the reason I have not done it for this project. I tend towards more scientific, goal-oriented methods for my other projects and interests, so I thought it would be good to break out of that habit and try to be okay with a more free-form approach once in awhile. Sometimes it is difficult. This weekend my walk was going smoothly until I could not find the street where I was supposed to turn next. It was not a good area to be pulling out the map, so I had to keep going and hope to eventually get back on track. I was frustrated that something had gone wrong, but in fact it turned out okay in the end. I got back to the route and, though I missed a couple of streets I wanted to walk, I walked a couple of other streets that I had planned on leaving for another time.

Of course if I had a limited amount of time to walk (or had to contend with a much larger area and more harsh weather conditions), I would be much more precise about my planning. And as I approach the end of walking every street, I imagine I will be a bit more careful to avoid going back to an area to get one or two streets I missed.

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Mechanical Mysteries

Photo by Joe Reifer

One mystery solved (banana trees), two more added to the list: a strange tram and a pulley device. The trolley pictured above might seem perfectly normal in a park or in front of a historical museum. But no — this very short tram is in someone’s front yard in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood. Grocery transport system? Part of a railfan’s collection? Fun for the children? Hard to say.

Across town, not far from University and San Pablo, is a strange weight/pulley system attached to the side of an apartment building. The weight (at least that’s what I think this is) is just hanging from the cord attached to the balcony at the next level up. I have seen all sorts of laundry lines, dumbwaiters, fire escape systems, etc., but I could not immediately see the purpose of this object. Perhaps something is missing from the system. Any clues about this device would be greatly appreciated!

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Fruit Tree Follow-up: Bananas in Berkeley? Yes!

I received quite a few messages in response to my fruit trees post last month, including a couple of tips about fruiting banana trees in the area. The first one is near San Pablo, several blocks south of the north Berkeley border. It difficult to tell from the photo, but this is a very big banana tree. It seems hard to believe that got to be that size in outdoors in Berkeley, which is far from a tropical environment. Just over the Berkeley border on San Pablo is another tree in front of Ruen Pair, a Thai restaurant. I am familiar with the seasons for most fruit, but have no idea when bananas would be growing, so I was pleasantly surprised to find actual bananas growing on the tree! My next task will be to find out if any nurseries carry these trees. Interestingly, I recently wandered through Berkeley Horticultural Nursery (a favorite nursery of many Berkeley gardeners) on a recent walk and noticed that they had a few tropical fruit trees such as mangoes and guavas. I asked an employee whether they would really fruit here, and he said it was unclear whether they would; you really have to have to find the right spot and protect it from frost (not usually much frost here) and maybe in several years, if you are lucky, you will get a fruit or two. I may be willing to take that chance if I find a banana tree.

Also related to the fruit trees post, I found that Michael Pollan‘s recent book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” includes a brief description of looking for fruit from neighborhood fruit trees in Berkeley. Actually, there are a few mentions of Berkeley in the book (Pollan is currently teaching at the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism), most notably his commentary on a visit to the Berkeley Whole Foods Market, which generated a response from the Whole Foods CEO. In one of the meals he prepares as part of this book, he includes bing cherries from a tree in Berkeley and chamomile gathered in Claremont Canyon.

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A Good Idea at the Time

Though I understand the reasons why some people prefer to walk indoors at the gym on a treadmill, I would be bored out of my mind in under 5 minutes of walking on that giant conveyor belt staring outside where I could be walking. Of course most gyms have many more options for exercise, but they are also fairly expensive. One of the nice benefits of walking outside, in addition to all of the interesting experiences, is getting a bit of exercise along the way. No sign-up fee and monthly charges. If I wanted more exercise on a walk and was creative, I could come up with other ways to exercise for free. Walk to a local track for some laps. Run up stairs. Stop at a park and do some stretching exercises on the lawn. But the option that intrigues me the most is the outdoor fitness course (commonly known by the brand name Parcourse). The Parcourse is a set of exercise stations set along a path or trail. There might be sit-ups, pull-ups, a balance beam, and others, along with instructional signs. You would do an exercise, walk or jog to the next station, and so on until the end. Growing up in the suburban Bay Area, I remember the popularity of the Parcourse. As this article from Outside magazine notes, the Parcourse peaked in the mid-1980s and then faded from popularity.

I still think the Parcourse was a great idea, but it appears to have faded here in Berkeley as with other places. I have seen Parcourses out at the Berkeley Marina, at the Aquatic Park, and along the Ohlone Greenway. I tried on a few occasions to do the Parcourse circuit, and failed mostly because the stations were damaged. The station I show here is actually still usable despite the missing sign, but in other cases crucial parts of the equipment were missing. On the Ohlone Greenway, there are at least two, if not more different Parcourses, and I got really confused trying to find the next station in a particular course. My best guess is that they were funded and installed by different cities along the Greenway. Also (thought while doing jumping jacks alone, as cars and people passed by), many people would probably be less self-conscious and more motivated to do the Parcourse if others were doing it along with them. Berkeley has many “Friends of” groups for parks, trails, creeks, etc., but it does not appear that anyone has yet organized a “Friends of the Berkeley Outdoor Fitness Courses” group.

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