Snapshot: Evening in a southwest Berkeley neighborhood

The African Rain tree in Jeanne Pimental's South-West Berkeley neighborhood which appears pleasingly diverse on the eve of July 4th. Photo: Jeanne Pimental

The African Rain tree in Jeanne Pimentel’s Southwest Berkeley neighborhood which appeared pleasingly diverse a couple of days before July 4th. Photo: Jeanne Pimentel

By Jeanne Pimentel

Wednesday, 8 p.m. Time to catch up on today’s World Cup results, but first some exercise before the sun sets.  

I walk up the block to Strawberry Creek Park, but instead of turning left to the creekside lawns where birds, children, and dogs prevail, I turn right to the series of sports courts that line the rear of the block of apartment houses uncharacteristic of our neat, single-family-home neighborhood, and sometimes called the projects or the “barri-ghetto.”

On the first open basketball court, just vacated by Berkeley Youth Alternative’s “Twilight Team” of local, mostly African-American schoolgirls, is a middle-aged white woman practicing Tai-Chi. On the second, a local father and son are shooting hoops. In the first of the enclosed courts it’s soccer, played on asphalt partly covered with the shredded remains of green surface material.

A small crowd stands on the pathway watching the teams of mostly Latino men playing with intensity matched by their agility. It is surprisingly quiet, and very disciplined. There are no apparent uniforms; the boundaries are lines of concrete blocks up against the fence, so there’s no throwing in from outside, just scuffling the ball back into play. I don’t see a referee or any officials, but the teams change ends and switch out players with swift efficiency — there seem to be plenty of eager and skilled participants.

After enjoying watching for a while, I walk on, smiling happily. One or two people catch my eye and return my smile, but I, an older white woman, seem to be invisible in this scene. And I feel quite safe, at home in my village.

I pass the next court, rigged for tennis and the least frequented, then the last one, where a mixed race and gender volleyball game is going on, watched only by a dog and the children of the players.

Coming home along a street of small houses, including classic Berkeley bungalows and the occasional Victorian, many with flower gardens glowing in the late sunlight, I catch sight of a woman in a moslem headscarf hurrying indoors with her children, and a turbaned Indian man cycling home.

Turning the corner, I wave to the Japanese family across the street from my house, where I admire the African Rain Tree in full golden bloom, my contribution (with help from the City of Berkeley) to our treelined street, usually quiet except when the fire engines and police cars use it as a short-cut to downtown, or a local gang member uses the intersection to do doughnuts, leaving behind smoke and the acrid smell of burning rubber.

We’re getting ready for our Fourth of July block party, the biggest of the homegrown events that include earthquake-prep meetings, Christmas caroling, and pumpkin carving parties. My hungry cat greets me as I open my door.

Jeanne Pimentel is a semi-retired editor who has lived in Southwest Berkeley for 15 years.

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out All the News.

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  • Guest

    It sure is nice in that part of town on the rare occasions when people aren’t being shot at.

  • Linda

    so enjoying the article until I find the first comment is snark.

  • Frederick L Howard

    Very nice post. Reminded me of the Richmond-Berkeley area where I grew up. But until your 5th paragraph, I had no idea of your race/ethnicity. That’s what good writing should be about – read the article with no preconceived notions and enjoy. Even after that paragraph, I continued reading. Well done!

  • sunrise sunset

    Let’s turn that around: When people are being shot at are the very rare occasions; it sure is nice here.

  • Charles_Siegel

    The most amazing thing I have seen on that basketball court is people playing basketball while riding on unicycles. I don’t know how they threw the balls without falling over, but they did.

  • Karina

    Agreed. Instead of snarking, how about doing something positive with your energy? Pretty amazing to live in a place that is a (most of the time) peaceful home to such a diverse collection of people from all different backgrounds.

  • foo

    That’s a beautiful piece! Thanks for sharing it.

  • Wake up

    I wish the pollyannas of Berkeleyside comments would quit acting as though enduring gang banging, disgusting transients, and bad local government with no pools and crappy streets were the price of diversity.

    Lots of places in california are diverse without these issues. Diversity was once a mark of distinction, but no more.

  • guest

    The goal posts on “diversity” have moved and now include those undesirable and least constructive members of society you mention. In fact, we fetish them as a protected/victimized underclass. This is the bottomless pit of liberal white guilt.

  • EastBayer

    Are you serious? Have you even been to West Berkeley since the ’70s?

  • guest

    and those ineffectual incompetents can’t fill the potholes or stop enrollment fraud.

    We cannot let a single article pass by without mentioning the big three topics that are more important than anything else in the world: potholes, enrollment fraud, and how much we hate the city government.

  • OhComeOn

    These hysterical folks are simply a very vocal and paranoid fringe. They specialize in hyperbole. Just ignore them.

  • Josh

    I knew I moved to the right spot when I saw unicycle basketball on the way home!

  • guest

    Do you even live near the area the author is describing? Berkeleyside has written many stories about the repeated shootings there.

    http://www.berkeleyside.com/2014/03/25/breaking-police-respond-to-shooting-in-west-berkeley/

  • guest

    One way to end the complaining about those problems would be to solve them.

  • OhComeOnYourself

    Are Berkeleyside’s writers the “paranoid fringe?” They have written many news pieces about the shootings in that area.

  • DisGuested

    The only “very vocal and paranoid fringe” in Berkeley is the ruling criminal junta that has flaunted the interests of normal citizens for the past five decades.

  • EastBayer

    Please. I’ve lived in the neighborhood for about 4 years. The notion that this area is dangerous is laughable (and more likely something else, too…) It is, however, very special in a way that the author describes well.

  • allison1050

    Why did Jeanne feel the need to bring race/ethnicity into the article…

  • GUEST

    I have lived around the corner from the houses in the photo for 10 years. While I don’t like the crappy apartments and drug deals and gang activity, I have never felt threatened and unsafe in the area while walking around with a toddler and my dog. For years I have walked home in the eveing from the Bart Station, walked to dinner and spent a lot of time at the park and basketball courts.
    Of course things can be better but I am very much in agreement with the author of this article. This is a great little neighborhood and I’m looking forward to spending another 10 years in my cozy, comfy house across from the park, walking distance to BART and lots of local businesses.

  • Guest

    What’s wrong with bringing race/ethnicity into the article?

  • Berkeley Bear

    That’s all fair and reasonable. There’s a ton of sideways movement in Berkeley, no doubt (we really don’t need a foreign policy), and I’m often deeply frustrated by it myself. I just don’t think we should allow our undeniable problems to make us forget that this is still a pretty great place to live, and I enjoyed Jeanne’s portrait of a slice of Berkeley I’m very familiar with.

  • allison1050

    Ya think the headline (lol’s) isn’t a smig deceptive? A color blind person doesn’t feel the need to point out race/ethnicity of every last single person that crosses one’s path on their “stroll” or line of vision. I grew up in that very neighborhood my friend and the apts. she refers to were NEVER referred to as “barrighetto”. If it was/is referred to in that crude manner it was/is done by an outsider. If she saw a soccer match was it really necessary to point out the ethnicity of the guys, no it was not… why not just indicate she saw some guys playing soccer? You have a good day ’cause I most certainly will. ;o)

  • Heather_W_62

    Consider this, if you were someone who lived in those apartments. : “… the rear of the block of apartment houses uncharacteristic of our neat, single-family-home neighborhood, and sometimes called the projects or the “barri-ghetto.”

    P.S, I was born and raised in Berkeley and have never, ever heard the term barri-ghetto before.

  • allison1050

    And Heather that’s exactly why I said that if “someone did refer to it in that crude manner it was/is done by an outsider”. I was actually quite offended when I read the article and that’s being kind for me to word it like that. I’m glad I no longer live there.