Archive for Neighborhoods: Campus

Signs of Spring, Part 2: Spring Cleaning

Here we are at the end of May, and I don’t know how Spring passed so quickly. I had hoped to have a longer Signs of Spring series, but it will just end up being a double feature. I don’t have too much to talk about in this post; I really just wanted to share my favorite items left on the sidewalk from the traditional spring purging of the closets and basements of Berkeley. The most fascinating thing about these roadside collections is the display that goes into some of them; they are often laid out as if they were for sale in a store, rather than piled in a box for people to sort through. I was especially perplexed by the scene in the top photo. The items — three bicycle wheels, a security gate, and security window — were strapped to a dolly that had obviously been used to transport the items to its spot along the Ohlone Greenway. It almost seemed as though someone was transporting the items somewhere and had just given up. Why wouldn’t the owner have left the items and taken back the dolly? The items were there for a few more days and then disappeared.

Spring cleaning blends into college classes ending, and the items left by the road have shifted a bit from small objects to larger furniture. Last year, I wondered where all of the furniture went; this year posters are up in the campus area warning people about furniture dumping. As Georgia documents on Local Ecologist, the furniture is still there.

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Street to Trail

After first moving to Berkeley, a friend gave us a copy of East Bay Out, a guide to the East Bay parks written by Malcolm Margolin. The book was published in 1988, so it is probably not the best guide to use on its own when hiking in one of the parks, but I highly recommend it nonetheless. The writing is great, and it provides quite a bit of interesting natural history of the area. Although I wanted to eventually explore all of the parks listed in the book, the description of Claremont Canyon stood out to me because of its proximity to the streets of Berkeley. A couple of months later I walked behind UC Berkeley’s Clark Kerr campus and found the entrance to the steep trail up the hill. Not having a map of the area, I wasn’t sure how far the trails went, but I could see that there was more out there that I hadn’t explored.

This Sunday, after a short but strong rainstorm the night before, I set out to walk some of the streets at the back of the Berkeley campus that I had not yet tackled — Stadium Rim Way, Centennial Drive, and some of the surrounding streets. Sunday turned out to be a big sporting event day at the campus; there was a rugby game, soccer, people using the sports fields and facilities, lots of people and loudspeakers. Usually my Sunday mornings are pretty quiet, so I was a bit surprised by all of the activity, and it was a little bit of a relief to suddenly jump onto a dirt fire road off Centennial Drive. The trails here run along and then away from Strawberry Creek, and intersect with the Claremont Canyon trails. Eventually I was popped out on the street again, near all of the fraternities and sororities and lots of activity again. It was sort of a shocking and fun experience to go from lots of noise and activity to trees and water, then back to all of the activity again.I really like the idea of being able to access trails easily just by walking off the city street and onto the trail. If you live in the Berkeley Hills, Tilden Park can be accessed easily from the street, as I mention in my post about Tilden a couple of months ago. However, the Strawberry Canyon and Claremont Canyon trails are even more available because of their proximity to Downtown Berkeley BART. In fact, I found a very nice self-guided tour of these areas written by the Greenbelt Alliance. I plan on going back soon with to do their variation on the walk with the added historical details.

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Campus Housing

I seem to find myself walking over by the Berkeley campus at the beginnings and ends of semesters, when many of the students are gone for the breaks. A few blocks just south of the campus and east of Telegraph Avenue have a high concentration of student housing — dormitories, housing coops, and fraternities and sororities. It seems during the semester breaks (and on early weekend mornings when I have also walked there) that the area is almost completely uninhabited. During the past weekend’s walk I saw one student getting dropped off by his parents at a fraternity house; the student seeming eager to get back and the parents looking around warily at the trash on the ground (beer bottles, food wrappers, etc.). Usually I don’t do walks in the evening, but I am sort of curious if this area looks like a stereotypical fraternity row on a Friday or Saturday night. It made me realize that I don’t know that I have ever seen a fraternity party in real life; I think that the school where I was an undergraduate might have had black and gay student fraternities and that was it.I had seen quite a few housing units labeled as “cooperative,” and I was curious about what this was all about. There are 20 coop houses and apartment buildings for UC Berkeley students. The University Cooperative Students’ Association has descriptions of the coops, which include African American and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered themed houses, a vegetarian house, a women-only hall, and several other coops where the members share work, meals, and decisions about the house. Amenities and events included in some of the descriptions include hot tubs and saunas, electric organs, climbing wall, darkroom, bike repair equipment, disco parties, wine and cheese nights, open mics, talent shows, and more. The UCSA website also has a short history of housing cooperatives at Berkeley, starting in 1933.

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Telegraph Now & Then

The recent closing of Cody’s Books on Telegraph Ave. sparked a flurry of responses about the commercial strip going downhill and opinons about what should be done to improve the area. One of the topics of discussion has been what to do about the numerous homeless youth who hang out on the street. Right after Cody’s closed, I went for a walk down Telegraph with a woman (I refer to her as J. througout this post in the interest of her privacy) who had come to Telegraph Ave. in 1970, as a runaway teenager. She gave me some newspaper clippings from the time, one of which (Berkeley Daily Gazette, July 17, 1970) carried the headline “Police Begin Crackdown on City’s Summer Runaways.” Much as today’s articles have stated, this article mentions the city’s desire to get a handle on “transient-caused problems.”

Our walk started at the student union building at Sproul Plaza at the edge of the U.C. Berkeley campus, which is where J. first met up with a young man who helped her and some of the many other young people who came to Berkeley during this time period. As we walked south on Telegraph from the campus, J. pointed out where the many craft-oriented businesses existed on Telegraph at the time, many more than the few tables along the sidewalks now (some of which sell bumper stickers and other non-handmade items).

We stopped around the corner from this photo supply store on Telegraph, where a door to what was once a separate part of this building has now been closed off. At the time that J. arrived on Telegraph, this door was the entrance to the Berkeley Free Church, which got involved in the political issues of the time and helped people living on the streets. She still had a copy of one of the group’s newsletters from the time, which I looked through. The Graduate Theological Union at U.C. Berkeley holds a substantial collection of materials from the Berkeley Free Church, which I hope to get over to see one of these days.

When J. arrived on Telegraph, her new friend took her down Telegraph to a house that, at the the time, was abandoned. She and a number of other youth lived there for a time, until the police eventually raided the house. J. was not at the house at the time, but some of her belongings were there. A letter she had written to her parents and not yet mailed was taken by the police and released to the newspaper. Her letter, which tells her parents that she made it safely to Berkeley and describes her new puppy and her friends, was printed in the Gazette. Eventually, J. was persuaded to leave Berkeley and head up to one of the communities in Occidental, in Sonoma County. She has since lived in Berkeley at other times (a story related to another of her residences will appear in a future post), and was packing up to leave town at the time of our walk. The house still stands in the same location today, but is neat and painted and appears to have been split into a couple of residences sometime since then time that J. lived there. J. left some flowers at the house, as she had done several times in the past, and we made our way back on Telegraph.

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Corn and Connections

As I work on my initial walk of the streets of Berkeley, I keep in mind possibilities for thematic walks that I would like to do in the future. Right now I have not been consciously linking together locations, but sometimes connections just happen anyway. Last Thursday I was on a short walk in North Berkeley and north of campus, with a stop at the North Shattuck farmers market. I picked up some ears of corn at the market, and then walked a few blocks down Oxford Street towards the campus when I came across this corn growing on the UC land known as the Oxford Tract.

The Thursday Berkeley farmers market, which is the newest of the three markets, consists entirely of vendors selling organically grown produce. Just a few short blocks away plant genetics research is taking place at UC Berkeley. The Oxford Tract has been in the news in the past, including destruction of maize crops by a group that believed that the plantings were transgenic corn. Holding my bag of corn, I stood for awhile looking through the fence at this field, thinking about the diversity of efforts and interests and activities of groups and people here in Berkeley, the relationship between the campus and the community … and how next year I might attempt to grow some corn myself.

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Living In a College Town

As I mentioned previously, I have been working on this walking project for several months now, but did not think of documenting it online until now. But when I started looking around online, I could not find very many active blogs or websites about Berkeley. Why is this? One clue I found was that some of the abandoned blogs were written by college students. They wrote for awhile but then left town after graduation.

Sometimes I forget that I live in a college town, mainly because I live pretty far away from the UC Berkeley campus. But at the end of a semester, it becomes very apparent by the large quantities of furniture and other belongings left out on the street. A couple of weeks ago my walking took me to the edge of campus near all of the dormitories and fraternities. It was right after graduation, so most students had left already but there were still piles of furniture everywhere. And then it all disappears, even the ugliest couches. Where does it all go?

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