Op-ed: A cityscape befitting this city of learning

Berkeley’s historic geography is highly symbolic and it subtly draws forth the subliminal.

I was a newcomer here in 1981 looking for answers about how to live as a lawyer in my day and age. At one point I was transfixed by a vision, an utterly unanticipated event the quality of which was not previously experienced by me. My best effort to share one aspect of that vision follows:

Because Berkeley’s historic geography is highly symbolic it subtly draws forth the subliminal. Emotional and intellectual breakthroughs are thus facilitated. Our geographic area is genuinely iconic because close correspondences exist between inner images of earthly paradise and the rich pristine beauty and goodness incorporated into the Union here. Rarely are correspondences seen preconfigured in fitting location and geologic forms joining earth, waters and a big sky in sunny warm days and cool nights infused with significant Primordial, European and American historicity and broad but picturesque utility. An elegant equality of ideal image and actuality permeates the place we live. This elegance is a major heuristic asset which needs to be reflected in whatever shape Smart Growth is permitted to take.

Tangible shapes don’t require perfection of form for artistic correspondences between what is seen in them and what is previously known by a beholder to fuse in awareness as new insight, inspiration or revelation. The decision in 1868 to build California’s public university on the Golden Gate’s threshold was based in part on ideal forms implicit in the windswept geography and in what historically was unfolding here. Both the learned and the well-connected, well-to-do foresaw in this place intellect and spirit forever calling sons and daughters of the industrial classes, re-minding the best and brightest of that Good by which life is well ordered.

Two capacities distinguish human nature: cognition and willpower free enough to alter behavior to an extent impossible in other species. Everything in our temporal world is ruled by principles embodied in tangible shapes taken by matter and expressed in relationships. Humanity is the only species with the intellect to consciously discern these principles and freedom enough to manipulate or ignore them when inconvenient truths impede satisfying egocentric wants.

Principles are often conceived as ultimately originating in The Absolute or Godhead, a theoretical construct beyond temporality. Principles emanating from an unutterably named Uncreated (variously known as I AM, God, Allah, the One, the Trinity, the Real, the Absolute, the Void, etc.) are themselves understood through reason (not rationalism) and revelation and experienced as prescriptions for life divinely ordered (e.g., Hebraic Law, the Logos, the Dharma, the Middle Path, Confucian Tao, the Islamic Way, the U.S. Constitution, etc.). Highest learning does not share modernity’s exultation that divinity died leaving mankind’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) the only measurer of things. The divine is still relevant to practical behavior and design.

An axis mundi connecting our locale with transcendent powers ruling this world is symbolized (not idolized) vertically by UCB’s crowned Campanile and horizontally by University Avenue crossing Oxford, California and Sacramento Streets, San Pablo Avenue and Interstates 80/580, terminating in waterfront parks on the Western World’s western-most inch or two of upland at this latitude. An airy, watery trajectory in-coming and outgoing is projected through a Golden Gate and a Pacific towards the Eastern World. The main campus of our public university is surrounded, and its secularity tempered, by a plurality of religious institutions representing worldwide presences. Many thousands of faithful practitioners reside and/or work here. Truths recollected in artful naming and design of this very young City of Learning hearken to voices which are understood only through faith, guided instruction and practice. Artistic values inhering in Berkeley’s location and foundation are as divinely orchestrated as those found anywhere in the New World.

Given that being is ‘being’ perceived (paraphrasing “esse is percipi”, George Berkeley 1685-1753), this well-endowed research university community basks in transfiguring liminality. Luminosity shines through a Golden Island’s (i.e., Isle of the Blessed; Pure Land; Celestial Paradise, Etc.) Golden Gate to a Golden State. A Gold Rush is Berkeley’s renewable public resource enriching each up-and-coming generation. Highly realistic yet deeply informed and congruent differentiations are taught to enlighten the senses in discerning and verbalizing what’s what. All faiths sing of treasure buried deeply within and not itself an abstraction. Means of unearthing one’s treasure are taught through much-loved faiths and knowledge, disciplined practice, persistence and receptivity to divine grace.

Not-so-Smart Growth would line East Bay transit corridors with dense habitations for singles, couples and single mothers within gridlocked urban mediocrity shaped by private motorized transportation. Smarter Smart Growth understands housing supply will never be enough to satisfy the many who want but cannot afford living here. Smartest Smart Growth recognizes Berkeley is the public’s privileged City of Learning. It calls upon the learned and the well-to-do to redesign transit corridors to accommodate inclusionary neighborhoods of primarily family housing (other than downtown) well integrated with its neighbors and shaped by public transportation. The East Bay in its entirety might then emerge as an exemplar 22nd Century urbanity basking in the same luminosity transforming Berkeley. Among the learned UCB’s own Christopher Alexander is a master (see A Pattern Language, The Timeless Way of Building and The Nature of Order).

Edward C. Moore, 70, a retired lawyer, is the son of a city planner and elementary school teacher, and a former post-JD UCB class auditor (not Alum).