Measuring the Soul of Berkeley

Why is Berkeley our home? Why do we live here? Each one of us is going to have our own reasons for being a part of this community, and most believe those reasons are unique and subjective. However, recent research shows our love of place might stem from common, maybe even universal priorities. The Knight Foundation in coordination with Gallup recently conducted a survey to quantify exactly what makes people love the place they live. Their theory is that those who feel more attached to the place they live are more productive members of society. According to the report, residents with a better sense of attachment to their community are more successful socially, financially and more engaged in civic society. The survey attempts to help cities narrow in on what they can actually do to create more attached citizens. The elements that inspire attachment are categorized and ranked according to which ones residents value most heavily in their city.

There findings across the board were that the top three elements which create strong attachment between residents and their city are as follows:

  1. Social Offerings: "Places for people to meet each other and the feeling that people in the community care about each other."
  2. Openness: "How welcoming the community is to different types of people, including families with young children, minorities, and talented college graduates."
  3. Aesthetics: "The physical beauty of the community including the availability of parks and green spaces."

If increasing these elements can justifiably produce more successful people that are more engaged in their community then isn't that what every city should long to accomplish. Let us orchestrate policies that strengthen these very elements. What would these policies look like for the City of Berkeley?

Openness - If it wasn't for my perfectionist side I would say Berkeley has this one in the bag. We are one of the most diverse cities in the nation. Many consider us tolerant to a fault, yet still more in our community call for more tolerance. For the sake of discussion lets focus in on how we can improve our openness as a community. My thoughts are as follows:

  • Physical Openness - Ample public space, reduction of walls and unnecessary security barriers, open up vacant spaces for temporary use
  • Accessibility - economical intercity transportation options, exceeding federal requirements for accessibility commendations for the handicapped, absurdly easy navigation
  • Desire for Diversity - Recognition of ethnic neighborhoods, push for social and geographic integration of economic classes, embracing foreign visitors and immigration, diversity as part of the branding of Berkeley
  • Civic Engagement - Visible platform for civic discussions, publish and broadcast resident accomplishments, modernization of government communication with the public
  • Economic Openness - Easily fulfilled regulatory requirements for business, accessible market information, opportunity to access investment/resources, celebration of business success, pushing for a median housing price that matches median wage

Aesthetics -  Aesthetics encompasses a  variety of concepts within the general idea of beauty. I have broken them down into a few primary categories and listed my first thoughts on each subject as it relates to urban design and policy for Berkeley.

  • Visual - Modern design guidelines, unique use of vegetation, event decoration, use view corridors, continuous facade improvement, signage guidelines, street art, encouraging the presence of people, investigate use of a city font, build and renovate landmarks, cleanliness, comfortable lighting, unique use of color
  • Auditory - Reduction of traffic noise, inviting background conversation noise, construction noise dampening, public music, design inspired audio experiences
  • Feel- Creating spaces of comfortable temperature, proper firmness for sitting, appropriate lighting and shading, varying  textures, purposeful use of wind corridors
  • Smell - flowering vegetation, proper sealing of garbage containers
  • Taste - Unique restaurants, availability of street food, encouraging unique start-up food/beverage businesses

Social Offerings - Social Offerings are opportunities to interact and communicate with neighbors and visitors. This means providing reasons to get out of your house or reasons to visit Berkeley. Below are some elements that currently or in the future add to Berkeley's Social Offerings potential.

  • Public Events - farmer's markets, public music performances, Sunday Streets, How Berkeley Can You Be, cultural festivals, public discussion forums/speakers, government requested volunteer projects
  • Entertainment/Night-life - Create a feel of city pride in the bar & nightclub scene,  provide incentives for unique arts experiences, develop the arts district, embrace the street art culture in the bay area
  • Business Networking - host niche trade shows, upkeep a Berkeley Business database, encourage a business mentor-ship program for local businesses

It is true that many of these ideas are not new. For many of the ideas Berkeley has already taken admirable steps toward achieving. However, there is value is thinking of these ideas as part of the policy discussion to improve the attachment level of Berkeley residents.

Urban Berkeley Begins!

Berkeley is an icon for the iconoclast. Our city is the bastion of unbarred speech, democratic politics, cutting edge academics, pioneering artwork, free love, open skepticism, and freedom for all beliefs. We work differently, we live differently, we are different in countless ways. Berkeley has a worldwide reputation to uphold and Urban Berkeley believes our city should embrace that reputation and once again show our love for the potential our city holds.

Urban Berkeley seeks to provide a platform for advocacy, and education that inspires better planning, better governance, and better civic engagement in Berkeley. We follow in the footsteps of advocacy groups such as Livable Berkeley, SPUR, and Berkeley Design Advocates who have worked for years to create a better urban environment for the residents of Berkeley. Our mission is to take this work to the next level by bringing innovative ideas in planning and economic development to the residents of Berkeley. We want to debate the merits of these ideas and more importantly build strategies for adopting the ideas that will form Berkeley into the city the residents envision.

Please join us in proposing new ideas, debating development strategy, and rallying for the creation of a better Berkeley!