Archive for December, 2006

Back in 2007

My first post after introducing this project and blog was about abandoned couches, so it seemed fitting to end the year with a photo of another one. (Which wasn’t difficult, by the way, because it is the end of another college semester at Cal).Walking Berkeley will be back again at the beginning of January.  Hope the rest of your holiday season is enjoyable and involves some walking!

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Grocery Stores

So much has already been written about food in Berkeley that I have put off writing about it here for a long time. And — unlike many other topics related to walking in Berkeley — I find it very difficult to see anything food-related without letting all of the other information I have work into my impartial observations. I do have some thoughts to share, though, so I will start with grocery stores. Unlike parts of Oakland to south, Berkeley has a fair number of grocery stores in most neighborhoods. Most stores are concentrated in the flatland areas throughout central and south Berkeley. No grocery stores exist in the Berkeley hills, a part of town that is pretty much devoid of businesses. The stairways and pathways would make it a little easier to carry groceries up the hill, but this part of town does not seem to be the easiest place to walk with heavy bags or packages.

There are currently no standard grocery stores in West Berkeley, although there is a Grocery Outlet (with dented, overstocked, almost-expired items) and several ethnic markets on San Pablo Avenue. Fourth Street has small gourmet pasta and meat markets. A second Berkeley Bowl store is planned for southwest Berkeley, and has been the subject of controversy throughout the time since I moved to Berkeley and started this walking project. The current Berkeley Bowl Marketplace, in South Berkeley, is very well known in the Bay Area, mostly for its large selection of inexpensive produce. The feelings about the store from those who have shopped there often fall into the extreme ranges of the love-hate spectrum. A good way to get an idea of what I mean, if you are not familiar with Berkeley Bowl, is to read the Yelp reviews for the store.

Elsewhere throughout town, the grocery stores include Safeway, Andronico’s (a local chain), Whole Foods Market and Berkeley Natural Grocery (natural food stores), Monterey Market (similar to Berkeley Bowl but smaller), and many smaller specialty stores (Indian, Thai, Japanese, Mexican, cheese, meat, fish, bread, and many more). In addition to Berkeley Bowl, a recently-approved Trader Joe’s in central Berkeley has sparked a fair amount of controversy particularly due to concerns about parking and traffic in residential neighborhoods. On one walk past the planned site of the Trader Joe’s, I noticed that the posted public notice was scrawled with notes expressing concern that a store that sells alcohol would be so close to the Berkeley campus.

Along with my observations about the locations of grocery stores, I have two other major observations resulting from my walks. First is that grocery store parking lots have generated some of the biggest dangers for me as a walker, especially on walks at peak shopping hours. Walks near Berkeley Bowl have been particularly hazardous, with Whole Foods following closely behind. I think this is mainly due to Berkeley being somewhere in-between a dense urban area and a spread-out suburb. Stores in large cities often have no parking lot at all, whereas those in outlying areas often have enormous lots with plenty of parking spaces. The lots at most Berkeley stores are fairly small, and on many walks I have seen lines of cars backed out of parking lots waiting for a spot to open up and other cars circling the surrounding neighborhoods looking for a spot on the street.

Based on what I have seen on walks, I have also been thinking about the overall picture of food availability in Berkeley. So far I have concluded that the range of food available here is very wide, and it would be very easy to get pretty much any food ingredient that one needed without leaving town. This all seems good from perspective of a walker. On the other hand, there appears to be much more in the way of choices for those who have plenty of money to spend on food. There is a huge emphasis here on “sustainable food,” which can include organic, locally-grown or produced, fair trade, minimally packaged, and other qualities in food. I have been wondering just how possible it would be to eat sustainably on a more modest budget, and partially as a result of observations on my walks — I have been pondering some sort of project to test this out. This will have to wait until I finish walking every street in Berkeley, but in the meantime I did have one experience that did somewhat confirm my thoughts that there is the desire for reasonably priced food in Berkeley. A group of people are attempting to start a cooperative grocery in Berkeley, modeled after the Park Slope Cooperative Grocery in Brooklyn. A cooperative grocery did exist and ultimately fail in Berkeley under a much different model. What Happened to the Berkeley Co-op? (available at the Berkeley Public Library), proved to be an interesting read, and provided quite a bit of insight into the history of the old co-op. I went to a crowded introductory meeting for the cooperative, and one of the first things that happened at the meeting was for everyone to say why they were interested in the cooperative. The majority of people who attended, who were mostly from Berkeley, were very interested in a source for high-quality, sustainable, but affordable food. As of this writing, the cooperative has over 300 members, and I imagine based on my experience at the meeting and my observations on walks that there may be room for more affordable grocery shopping options.

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Lots of excitement here over the past few days. First of all, the traffic light is now functioning at University Ave. end of the newly paved section of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way. I happened to be there during the morning commute and school drop-off time, when University (a major thoroughfare) was busy and it was raining a bit. I pushed the button, and sure enough the light turned and traffic stopped. I was anticipating some surprise due to the newness of the light and its placement between intersections, but no cars came skidding to a stop. And if this wasn’t exciting enough, a few days ago I finally saw someone using the Parcourse along the Ohlone Greenway. I refrained from asking the man questions about whether this was a regular routine, how he dealt with the broken exercise stations, etc., because he looked intent on exercising. This reminded me that I had a couple of other things I wanted to point out recreation-wise in Berkeley.

Photo by Joe Reifer

Recreation facilities in Berkeley include the typical soccer fields, basketball courts, baseball and softball diamonds, as well as skateboard parks, Frisbee golf, and a lawn bowling green. I have seen other lawn bowling greens in the Bay Area and elsewhere, but I particularly like the one in Berkeley. I was looking for a website for the lawn bowling club, which I did not find. However, I did turn up an interesting page on the club from an activist website. It seems that a bit of controversy surrounded the green in the 1970s regarding the use of some of the bowling green land for construction of a tot lot. Quite a few references were made to clashes between the rich “hill people” who used the greens and the lower and moderate income “flatlanders” in the neighborhood of the bowling green. I haven’t heard of any issues with the greens these days.

A couple of months ago I was cutting through the old Berkeley Adult School campus and heard some music off in the distance. Turning the corner, I found a water aerobics class in session! It looked like a lot of fun, and I was all ready to sign up right there until I found out that it was for seniors only. Berkeley has a few pools and aquatics programs, and offers lessons, lap swimming, and programs for disabled swimmers. And speaking of disabilities, I spent some time recently looking at Ann Sieck’s wonderful website for wheelchair accessible trails in the Bay Area. Her website includes listings for Berkeley, describing wheelchair accessibility at UC Botanical Garden, Cesar Chavez Park, and Tilden Park. A very useful resource!

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Why People Walk, Part 1: Art

As promised in a past post, I hope to devote a few posts to the varied reasons why people walk. Although there appears to be a relatively small number of people who have taken on walks such as mine to walk every street of a city or region, I have found all sorts of other interesting walking projects and motivations for walking. Some that I plan to talk about include exercise, psychogeography, academic explorations of walking, walking meditation, etc. Some of the most interesting and varied walking projects I have encountered have been done as art projects. Now one might ask what makes a walking project “art.” As with the observations on my walks, I am not going to make too many judgments about this question. I also do not feel a need to delve into the “what is art?” discussion; there are plenty of forums for this elsewhere. By no means is my coverage of this topic comprehensive; this is just a sampling of some of the artists and projects I have run across. Note that some of these websites are graphics intensive:

Artist Richard Long has created sculptures by walking in the landscape, walks as “textworks”, and other art resulting from walking.

Artist Hamish Fulton‘s website notes “only art resulting from the experience of individual walks.”

Janet Cardiff is know for her multisensory audio walks.

In One Mile From Home, Julie from the UK has this challenge: “Walk a minimum of one mile from home. Record where you’ve been with a drawing, sculpture, photo or painting and then walk back. Every day for a year.” She posts the art on her blog, and includes links to others who she has inspired to take on similar challenges.

Among the projects of the group of artists Wright & Sites is their series of Mis-guides that suggest “a series of walks and points of observation and contemplation within a particular town, city or landscape.”

The Los Angeles Urban Rangers have offered guided hikes in Los Angeles, including projects at the L.A. County Fair and on Hollywood Blvd.

Also see my post about Kate Pocrass’ Mundane Journeys book and tours.

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House Colors

When I finish walking every street in Berkeley, I am thinking about posting a list of the “best ofs” and “mosts” from my walk. As I have been looking at the Berkeley map, I am estimating at least a few more months of walking (expect more on this in an end-of-the-year wrap-up) before this happens. I do not want jump the gun by making any proclamations, but have found a very strong contender for the brightest and most unique house colors. Berkeley has some Victorians; not nearly as many as San Francisco, but even so I had expected to see many more unique “painted ladies.” It has more often been the Mediterranean-style homes where I have seen interesting paint schemes. Berkeley readers, feel free to suggest other contenders!

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Some Thoughts on Satellite Dishes

Photo by Joe Reifer

Something else that has been on my mind along with the TV house that I talked about a few days ago is satellite TV dishes. As you know, I try very hard to notice everything around me while I am walking. I do not have to try very hard to notice these dishes. They are everywhere, from the most run-down of apartment buildings to pricey homes. Why is it that they stand out so much? The obvious response (other than the not-so-objective one of them not being particularly aesthetically pleasing) would be that they do not blend with the architecture of most homes. But one could say that they about many modern things that sit in front of houses — cars, plastic planter boxes and pots, many garden lights and ornaments. Really, I have not seen too many cases where everything one sees in front of a house is authentic to the house’s period.

Probably it is also a case of the dishes being relatively new compared to the other things we are used to seeing on or next to houses. So if that is the case, will I eventually just get used to seeing those dishes and not notice them as much? I wonder if people had the same reaction to some of the monstrous TV antennas that were so common before the rise of cable TV. I do notice that there are still some of these antennas around, in some cases appearing to be in danger of blowing off the roof in a big storm.

Despite the prominence of architectural heritage and preservation in Berkeley, there at the same time appears to still be an attitude of “be and let be” in terms of the appearance homes. Of course this is only gathered from my observations on walks, and I have no doubt that there are (as there are everywhere) people complaining about unsightly neighboring properties. But so far I have not seen any cases where there appears to be rules about the appearance of properties — e.g., rules that say which trees and plants, house colors, decorations, etc. are acceptable — as one might find in communities where there are homeowners associations governing these sorts of things.

Most publications that advocate regular walking mention benefits such as a healthy heart, improved mental health, decreased automobile use, etc. I definitely agree with these, but I would add that walking also has the potential to allow us to be more understanding and tolerant of each other. I don’t want to sound too idealistic (I’m not saying walking is going save the human race or anything), but I do find that walking and consciously observing has increased my ability to see that there is always more than one side to a situation. My judgmental response to the satellite dishes might have previously been: “Ugh, those things are so ugly, and why do so many people have them anyway; they are just wasting away their lives in front of the television.” But now instead I find myself having the observations and questions that I listed in this entry, and also thinking: “Those satellite dishes are not very pleasing to my eye, and I am certain that there are some homeowners who don’t like the look that this creates in their neighborhood. On the other hand, I appreciate the variety of things I get to see when I am out for a walk, and I am glad that people are not prohibited from having satellite TV or from expressing themselves by decorating the front of their house.” And so on.

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