More on Parks


A couple of weeks ago I finally started reading a book that had been on my list for years now, Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. If you read anything related to city planning, neighborhoods, community, and the like, it will likely contain quotes from this book. I am only about a third of the way through, mainly because it so though-provoking that I am finding it easier to read it in small pieces. Now this book is about large cities, but it is still interesting to think about Jacobs’ ideas and how they apply to a smaller city like Berkeley. After reading the book’s chapter on parks, I spent some time thinking about all of the parks I have visited while walking throughout Berkeley. The first thing I had observed while walking is that Berkeley has quite a few parks for a small city; I think most of my walks ended up passing at least one park, if not a few. Second, Berkeley has a mix of general use and specialized parks. Some of the specialized uses include the Adventure Playground (tools and building experiences for children), boating at the Aquatic Park, kite flying at Cesar Chavez Park, bouldering and rock climbing at the rock parks, skateboarding ramps at Harrison Park, and off-leash dog areas at Cesar Chavez and Ohlone parks. Playing fields and courts for various sports are available at several parks.

Despite my observations about lots of people being out and about at all times of the day in Berkeley, I have found that most of the parks are not filled with people all day long. The city has several “tot lots,” which are small parks with playground equipment, but many are fairly empty during the daytime hours. One exception is Virginia-McGee Totland, which has a huge selection of toys and play equipment and seems to be packed with children and parents all day long. Totland may explain part of the absence of crowds at the other parks (it definitely appears that people come to Totland from other neighborhoods to for the social and play opportunities), as does the great number of children who go to pre-school these days. Adults who have leisure time during the day are more likely to be at the numerous cafes around town. Would this change if wireless Internet access where available throughout town? And what if there where coffee carts located at or within a block of some of the parks? The Sea Breeze Market/Deli is a good example of this in Berkeley, as it is a nice coffee and snack stop for cyclists and walkers coming over the bicycle bridge and to the Berkeley Marina, (although many people also stop there in their cars getting off the freeway, and then drive the rest of the way to the Marina). In San Francisco, I’ve witnessed many people picking up some coffee at the Blue Bottle Coffee kiosk in San Francisco and taking it over to the Hayes Green (which I highly recommend visiting if you are interested in successful parks/public commons).

I don’t walk through parks at night, but during the day most of the Berkeley parks I visited seemed safe. One park, Greg Brown, has limited hours and has been locked up when I have walked in the neighborhood. It is pretty secluded, and I imagine the closing is due to concerns about drug dealing and other illegal activity in the park after dark. Previously I had mentioned my concerns about safety at the Aquatic Park. After reading Jacobs’ writing about parks, I realized that the location of the park has much to do with this. Because it is at the waterfront near the edge of the city, you don’t walk through the park to get to anything else. The railroad tracks further isolate the park because it cannot be accessed at every east-west street it intersects. It will be interesting to see what happens at the south end of the Aquatic Park once the West Berkeley Bowl opens a few blocks away and brings lots of people to the area at all hours of the day. Will more people visit or will they not even realize there is a park a few blocks away?

If you are interested in learning more about some of the parks I have mentioned here and in past entries, Berkeley Partners for Parks has organized a series of events to celebrate the centennial of the city’s parks. This Sunday, a fundraiser will be held at the Aquatic Park, and there will be an opportunity that day to walk at future site of the labyrinth that the East Bay Labyrinth project hopes to build, and a fall equinox celebration at Cesar Chavez Park’s solar calendar. Other park events will be happening through mid-November and are listed on the website’s calendar. Another fun project for learning about the parks and city would be to visit a different Berkeley park each week; conveniently Berkeley has 52 official parks! Even if you have been to all of the parks, I recommend visiting them again and at different times of the year. You never know what interesting things you will find, such as the strange scene (pictured below) that I came upon last year, at Oak Park, with a felled oak tree!

Photo by Joe Reifer



  1. Georgia said

    Great post as usual. Jane Jacobs’s Death and Life is a standard in landscape architecture and planning courses.

    I am glad you mentioned WiFi in parks. The newly restored Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh offers WiFi among other amenities attracting a large and diverse demographic. NYC Parks has partnered with Nokia and WiFi Salon to offer the services in selected city parks ( I am not sure if Berkeley desires anything so formal, but if a cafe or other eatery offering WiFi happens to be adjacent to a park…. Does Cafe Zeste (adjacent to Strawberry Creek Park) offer WiFi?

    I’m also glad you mentioned visiting a Berkeley park a week throughout the year. East Bay Regional Parks District hosts an annual trails challenge and participants receive a trails guidebook and a t-shirt. In terms of Berkeley parks, possible events could include foraging tours (mushrooms in the winter or other edibles) or plein air painting classes similar to the one offered by ASUC at the Blake Garden. Earlier this year, yoga classes were held in Willard Park.

  2. Spike said

    You’ve inspired me to do a parks map of Woy Woy just to see how many parks there are.

  3. neath said

    Jacob’s book has been on my list forever too. This post makes me want to do it!

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