City honors planning pioneer Dorothy Walker

Dorothy Walker in the '70s, when she became active in urban planning issues

By Alan Tobey

The Berkeley City Council last night approved a proclamation honoring longtime resident Dorothy Walker for her exceptional life record of contributions to the Berkeley community.

As the proclamation states: “Over the past five decades, Dorothy has served the City, and contributed to significant improvements to the quality of life in Berkeley today, including leading campaigns to fund new parks and school buildings, protecting neighborhoods from traffic, preserving the waterfront, improving transit, supporting affordable housing and advocating for social and economic justice.” Overall, “Dorothy has spent over 10,000 hours in community meetings in the interest of making Berkeley a better city.”

Beginning in 1962, when she successfully helped lead the pioneering effort to desegregate the Berkeley public schools, Dorothy Walker turned her early volunteer involvement into a career as a self-taught urban planner, taking positions on multiple Berkeley boards and commissions that took on issues as diverse as protecting the waterfront from a proposed shopping center, stopping the proposed conversion of Ashby Avenue to a freeway, developing small parks, implementing the neighborhood traffic-diverter program, helping the downtown adapt to the arrival of BART, and personally representing the city to the Board of Regents during the People’s Park crisis.


In the mid-70s — by then president of the American Society of Planning Officials — she was hired by the university, where she worked on transportation and land-use planning issues, eventually retiring in 1992 as Assistant Vice Chancellor. In an era when the university was outgrowing its traditional boundaries, Dorothy worked on multiple town-and-gown issues with her typical persistence and energy.

Even in retirement, Dorothy has retained her activist involvements. In 2002 she helped defeat a referendum that would have downzoned major streets, and used that experience the following year to co-found local environmental group Livable Berkeley. Later in the decade, she sat through another 100 city meetings as a member of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, and followed that with advocacy for the recently successful Measure R.

“She has an unwavering commitment to her view of Berkeley as an equitable and forward-thinking community,” said Erin Rhoades, executive director of Livable Berkeley. Rhoades said most people don’t know about Walker’s key role in many aspects of Berkeley’s environment, including the removal of a parking lot at Codornices Park, the halting of the freeway plan for Ashby Avenue and preservation of the waterfront.

On April 14, Livable Berkeley will present an appreciative celebration of her life so far at the Berkeley Art Museum. Details and ticket information are available at Livable Berkeley.

Alan Tobey is a board member at Livable Berkeley and a photographer based in Berkeley.