Imagining a future for Telegraph Avenue, without blinders

Telegraph Avenue: business owners and Berkeley residents would like to see improvements. Photo: Nancy Rubin

This weekend a group of design professionals, architects, urban planners and engineers will come together to dream about possible futures for Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue.

The initiative, which will take the form of a “charrette,” topped and tailed by input from members of the public, is being orchestrated by Berkeley Design Advocates (a membership organization of planners, architects and engineers that works to support good planning and design in Berkeley) working with the Telegraph Business Improvement District.

The effort aims to prompt a discussion of what the community wants Telegraph Avenue to become, says Matt Taecker from urban planners Dyett & Bhatia, who is helping organize the event. City officials will attend as well as experts such as urban economist Dena Belzer, architect Ryan Call and planner Jay Claiborne.

A charrette is a brainstorming and drawing session where architects and other designers work to sketch out ideas for buildings, streets and other pieces of the built environment.  It allows the designers and other stakeholders to visualize concepts and ideas.

Telegraph Avenue, as any Berkeley resident will tell you, has had, and continues to have, its share of problems. Its proximity to People’s Park has caused recurring issues for merchants and visitors, the recession took out many businesses on the street, and the intersection at Haste has looked particularly bleak for years with a blighted vacant lot on the north-east corner facing the abandoned Cody’s retail space. Last year’s devastating fire which destroyed the Sequoia Building on the north-west corner was a brutal blow and has left that section of the street looking even more destitute.

In a survey conducted last year, many of the UC Berkeley students whose campus gives onto the street expressed distaste for the area. Half the respondents said they visited the street less than once a month to shop, work, or get personal or professional services preferring to go to Emeryville or San Francisco.

Focusing on the built environment of Telegraph Avenue from Dwight Way to Bancroft Way the charrette will consider questions such as:

  • How can Telegraph regain its strength as a commercial destination?
  • What role can development play and what form should it take?
  • How can improvements to street and other public spaces accelerate Telegraph’s positive transformation, while retaining Telegraph’s spirit?
  • How can Telegraph enhance the livability of the surrounding neighborhood?
  • Can Telegraph benefit from unrealized synergies with the University?
  • How can change promote Berkeley’s tradition of tolerance and social justice?

To inform the designers, BDA will host a briefing on “conditions and considerations” on Friday, April 13 starting at 5pm. BDA will host a presentation of design ideas on Saturday, April 14, starting at 1:30pm. Members of the public can attend Friday’s briefing and/or Saturday’s presentations, but there is limited space. If you would like to attend, please email telegraph.project@yahoo.com by the end of Thursday April 12, and indicate which of the two public events you wish to attend.

The email should indicate your affiliation and your address.  If space is available, BDA will respond to you and provide the venue location.

BDA also plans to publish a “white paper” for The Telegraph Project, and it will showcase the charrette designs in a Telegraph storefront. Berkeleyside will keep readers posted.

Related:
Telegraph fire site owner plans for temporary resurrection [02.06.12]
Urban think tank: Student visions for blighted Telegraph lot [10.03.11]

City hands ultimatum to Sarachan on vacant Telegraph lot [09.07.11]
What about that vacant lot on Haste and Telegraph? [08.11.11]
Berkeley students want better stores, fewer street people [05.31.11]
City says it is addressing Telegraph Avenue rats problem [02.10.11]
The rats of Telegraph Avenue (video) [01.28.11]

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, check out Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.

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  • The Sharkey

    EDIT: Oops, Disqus threading error. This was supposed to be a reply to Tom Miller.

    I’d never heard of Tenderloin National Forest before. What a cool idea!

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/tenderloin-national-forest-san-francisco

  • Bill

    My observations based on the few times a year I visit and shop on Telegraph are that the now two big vacant lots need to be filled with housing, that the street needs to become more pedestrian friendly by widening the sidewalks, and consequently traffic needs to thinned to buses and with pull outs for delivery and unloading. 
     Where does the through traffic go? Well, certainly not College. Berkeley also has to acknowledge the parking will be an issue for people who live more than 1 mile away. I wonder what the garage utilization is for the area? So how all of this could be achieved I leave to more knowledgeable people than I. 

    I wonder if one factor in the decline in student shopping may have been the introduction of student bus passes that allow them easy access to the whole AC system or whether it’s the mix of retail on the street that matters most?Peoples Park, well it’s not my park, I never go there and I never walk through it because I live on the west side of town and have no need to.  But I walk through downtown almost everyday and the “homeless” and “panhandling” (I expect they’re not always the same population population) ebbs and flows with the weather and season along with the signature gatherers and donation seekers.   I wonder if Telegraph is the same population?  I look forward to your reporting on the outcome of the charrette.

  • Bill

    I can’t say that this is the reason why we are where we are today but my experience certainly bears out your point on brainstorming.  

    If a charrette works as described and if solid well thought ideas have a chance to come forward it would be an improvement

  • Charles_Siegel

    “My approach would be to turn Telegraph into a walking mall as suggested
    earlier, and on People’s Park, allow a more moderate University
    structure, with a large open space”

    Those are good ideas, but long experience with Berkeley politics has convinced me that they are both absolutely impossible things to do. 

    There is a huge outpouring of merchants and vendors whenever there is any proposal to limit automobile access to Telegraph, and there is an even bigger outpouring of opponents when there is any proposal to change People’s Park.  We will have to wait for a new generation before these changes can possibly happen. 

  • Charles_Siegel

    After carefully analyzing the legal issues involved, I have concluded that you can exclude Comment section violators but, unfortunately, you cannot fine them. 

  • Bruce Love

    Totally agree. Vibrant telegraph business and many homeless are mutually exclusive.

    It seems to me that when the hyper-local economy was stronger, the number of street folks (only some are “homeless”) was comparable — even while Telegraph was pulling in money hand over fist.

    The business history story as I’ve received it:  Post-Nixon, Telegraph entered a business cycle where funky local businesses started again to thrive.   This was at a time with the anti-war, FSM, and People’s Park major strife mostly subsided but in recent memory.

    Moe Moskowitz somewhere, as I recall, wrote the story of how in the 1980s some consultants came in to do market research.   They measured foot traffic over those few blocks.   I forget how he put it but it was something to the effect of the foot traffic, at that time, being some of the highest in the nation.  It was comparable to the highest value retail corridors on Manhattan, for example.

    That information brought a lot of national chains to town, wanting to rent stores on that street.   Rents skyrocketed.   A lot of local businesses were forced out.   The GAP moved in (along with others). 

    For the most part those big chains did not thrive.  The economic equations had changed:   rents went way up and the products and services on offer became a lot more generic, a lot less interesting.  

    The chains still aren’t gone but they did begin to subside by attrition.  The rents didn’t go down.  These were the first signs of trouble.

    Nevertheless, the late 1990s were pretty hoppin’ on Telegraph.  Restaurants and live acts were regularly packed.   There was often a line at the register at Cody’s — and you’d see a lot of the people in front of you not buying just the latest best seller but, instead, buying 3-figure stacks of books.   You know, cause it’s Saturday, so, let’s go shopping!   The street fairs were epic.

    Street people were sometimes an annoyance back then — for example the bathrooms at Cody’s were a constant battle ground — but it didn’t stop the money flowing.  Might even have been part of the attraction.

    Then:  (1) The dot-com boom created Amazon, et al.  (2) The dot-com boom crashed.  (3) The housing bubble started to inflate.  (4) Tuition began to skyrocket.   So long, Codies.

    Oh, and that foot traffic?   New development helped spread the student population around town and further away.

    So there’s a bunch of “factors” in the sorry state of Telegraph:

    - Speculative rent increases.
    - Cultural loss due to displacement by corporate chains.
    - Technological displacement of a key anchor business.
    - The dot-com bubble and crash and real estate bubble and crash.
    - Shifting population and population demographics.

    The street folks have been here all along through good times and bad.  

    It’s so complicated and beyond my ability to know the right answer or solve the problem., it makes my head want to explode.

    I suggest that the problem there is that you are wrongly assuming that, to fix the business problems, the street folks must be displaced.

  • EBGuy

    I went by yesterday and it appeared like they had poured concrete for a mini-amphitheater (perhaps for outdoor seating)?

  • avriel

    The concept of a “secret charette” is ironic, since urban planning charrettes are supposed to involve ALL stakeholders. (See definition below). So why have they chosen to hold it in a space that’s  too small to accommodate many stakeholders? The invitation reads:

    “Members of the public can attend…but there is limited space. If you would like to attend, please email by the end of Thursday April 12, and… indicate your affiliation and your address. If space is available, BDA will respond to you and provide the venue location.”
    http://www.berkeleyside.com/2012/04/11/imagining-a-future-for-telegraph-avenue-without-blinkers/

    ARE STAKEHOLDERS BEING SCREENED?

    from Wikipedia:

    In planning, the charrette has become a technique for consulting with all stakeholders. This type of charrette (sometimes called an enquiry by design) typically involves intense and possibly multi-day meetings, involving municipal officials, developers, and residents.

    A successful charrette promotes joint ownership of solutions and attempts to defuse typical confrontational attitudes between residents and developers. Charrettes tend to involve small groups, however the residents participating may not represent all the residents nor have the moral authority to represent them. Residents who do participate get early input into the planning process.

    For developers and municipal officials, charrettes achieve community involvement, may satisfy consultation criteria, with the objective of avoiding costly legal battles.

    OK, well maybe even this definition allows for inviting select representatives of the community that don’t speak for everyone. Personally, I’ll be ecstatic if they do something constructive/cohesive with Telegraph Ave. to serve the current century. (And I’m an old hippie at heart.) I’m seriously sorry I missed the 60s & 70s in Berkeley, but they’ve done it on Haight Street, after all…

    Le Conte Neighborhood Resident

  • Charles_Siegel

    The reason for this has already been discussed.  Read all the comments, and you will see.

  • Colin

    I actually had an idea for this:  you can’t really modify that park until it no longer has a reputation as a place to crash and do drugs and panhandle.  Sadly, it’s gotten to the point where you have to replace it with something.  Now most don’t know this, but the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology has a vast collection of artifacts that is as big as the Smithsonian’s, but they don’t know where to put it, so it’s stored in several warehouses throughout the East Bay.    What if you got the university to draw on the best artifacts from that collection, and to use the land that is People’s Park as the site of a new museum of anthropology?   You kill several birds in 1 stone by

    a) housing and displaying the collection, which they’re having trouble figuring out how to do
    b) stimulating the local economy with a museum and drawing tenants/merchants to Telegraph Ave
    c) restoring foot traffic between the University and the opposite end of Telegraph
    d) still honoring the “People” in People’s Park by opening a world class museum concerning diverse cultures

    I mean, they own this collection they don’t know what to do with, they own the land that they eventually have to do something with, it just seems like a way better alternative than a parking lot or student housing.  Just throwing it out there. 

  • Colin

    I actually had an idea for this:  you can’t really modify that park until it no longer has a reputation as a place to crash and do drugs and panhandle.  Sadly, it’s gotten to the point where you have to replace it with something.  Now most don’t know this, but the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology has a vast collection of artifacts that is as big as the Smithsonian’s, but they don’t know where to put it, so it’s stored in several warehouses throughout the East Bay.    What if you got the university to draw on the best artifacts from that collection, and to use the land that is People’s Park as the site of a new museum of anthropology?   You kill several birds in 1 stone bya) housing and displaying the collection, which they’re having trouble figuring out how to do
    b) stimulating the local economy with a museum and drawing tenants/merchants to Telegraph Ave
    c) restoring foot traffic between the University and the opposite end of Telegraph
    d) still honoring the “People” in People’s Park by opening a world class museum concerning diverse culturesI mean, they own this collection they don’t know what to do with, they own the land that they eventually have to do something with, it just seems like a way better alternative than a parking lot or student housing.  Just throwing it out there. 

  • Guest

     Great idea; I hope someone at UC is paying attention.

  • Guest

     Actually, that stretch of Telegraph DOES look destitute.  It’s hardly desolate — there are people all over the place (unfortunately, that’s part of the problem).

  • Guest

    The sidewalks are wide enough, thank you very much.  Even with the vendors and the disaffected middle-class youth lying on the sidewalk with their pit bulls and pretending to be homeless, there’s still enough room to walk three abreast.

    College students mostly shop elsewhere because they don’t like being harassed, spat on, followed by crazy people, and asked for money in a hostile tone of voice by some near-contemporary from Walnut Creek with a ragged bedroll and a pit bull on a piece of twine.  Oh, and most of them are not in the market for a Tibetan devotional statue or a really colorful bong.

  • Russell Bates

    Alright folks,let us be real,politically real:the corporate media tells the middle class the fault lies with the poor.This,of course,makes the blame shift downward towards people who have nothing repeat nothing to do with the local,state, or national economic situation.Corporate bush or corporate obama does not matter as the systems locally,state-wide,and nationally are run and manipulated by whoever has the money to buy the power.People who believe and people who deceive the believers continue a cycle that perpetuates itself and themselves and the lies told over and over until questioned no more allow the unwilling to be  led down a primrose path while wearing rose-colored glasses over their blinders.

  • Bruce Love

    I don’t think it feels that way to most of the people who often want to “crack down” or “clean up” the street.   They often (speaking for themselves or others) complain about things like urine and feces on the street, feeling threatened by street dogs, feeling threatened by crazy people, finding street folks to be rude or insulting …. that kind of thing.    They make an effort to avoid those circumstances and so they conclude that probably many people also stay away …. and that must be why business on Telegraph sucks (or downtown, too).

  • Russell Bates

     Is that fine with everyone?

  • Russell Bates

     Right on again,mr. l.Mixing it around abit and from a slightly different perspective.i,have known more  street and/or “crazy” people who felt(notice i say felt not to say many were affected by)”normal” folks who were trying to be intimitating ,downright unpleasant,or were afraid the street folks were representing the future in america and,perhaps themselves,threatening the “normals” conscious as well as unconscious.Altho i fail to see the political merit of urinitating and pooping on the streets see how many bathrooms are open to the non-buying public and,perhaps,ask “what would you do?” And kindly do not forget there is so much more political crap coming out of the mouths of city halls that smells just as bad and is just as vulgar.again,you are right in that it does not feel good to them.I mean look at all the folks NOT doing anything like the afore- described street people.Granted there was a time when every bathroom in public places or open to the public in businesses’,etc. was trashed and despoiled whenever possible on a fairly regular basis.Now this closed bathroom-closed mouth and minded society finds out what cause and effect really mean in other than easily understood and fixable solutions that are within the reach of compassionate minds in berkeley.The bay knows the way.