Opinion: New developments at Ashby and North Berkeley BART should include roof gardens

I live within two blocks of the North Berkeley BART station. My family was redlined into living here in the 1950s. Gardening and horticultural appreciation is a part of my Asian cultural heritage, and in part, shaped the verdant character around the North Berkeley BART station. I am very conscious of the enjoyment I get passively as a pedestrian from the neighboring open spaces and landscaping.

The North Berkeley BART parking lot is clearly not designed for aesthetic enjoyment, but it is a large open space with sunlight and flowering trees (crab apples and plums are amazing when they are in bloom). From the plaza and parking lot there are great views of Mount Tamalpais, the Campanile, the Bay Bridge and downtown San Francisco. One can see the wide open sky, see the sun setting at the horizon, and watch the moon rise over the Berkeley hills, sometimes all at once.

BART is planning to build housing on the lot and when that happens it is obvious that these views and the open space will be lost. It will be a loss not only for the neighbors who live directly across the street from the station, but also for the Ohlone Greenway Park, BART commuters, and anyone who walks near the station.There are few sites in the flats of Berkeley with this open horizon-to-horizon view.

Despite a variety of proposals to create open and green space discussed by the community advisory group set up tp give input on the designs for the BART stations, professional consultants guiding the discussions have decided to promote an assertion that the North Berkeley BART area has “enough green space” while Ashby does not.


Currently, in the mock-up designs used to illustrate development concepts, Ashby’s only green space is the unbuildable space right next to the busy intersection of Adeline and Martin Luther King Jr Way.  If we do not aim for something better, Ashby BART will be stuck with a “green space” next to idling trucks. North Berkeley BART’s only open space will be the unbuildable tunnel diagonal in the deep shadow of tall buildings, primarily designated for use as a bike thoroughfare. If we are going to welcome thousands of new residents to our neighborhoods, we need more quality green space areas to accommodate the needs of new residents, and compensate for the loss of existing access to sunlight and views that the current parking lots passively provide.

A great solution would be to include roof gardens at both sites. Roof gardens do not reduce buildable footprint, nor do they limit the height of a development or the potential number of units. Roof gardens do not obstruct other design aspects of the development, except potentially reducing the bottom-line profit that can be extracted from our community. Roof gardens provide green space that is not in the shadow or wind-tunnel between tall buildings, they provide views and open sky and offer tranquility away from traffic: exactly the things that are taken away by tall development.

If we included a public roof garden on the highest structures built on the BART stations, they could offer a completely unique 360-degree horizon-wide view from the flats of Berkeley, as most surrounding buildings are single-story, a few are 2-3 stories, and there are NO nearby raised freeways or BART tracks (which are often equivalent of 3-5 stories tall).

I am not proposing something implausible. San Francisco has many privately owned public open spaces (POPOS) on rooftops. Other examples of existing roof/elevated parks and green spaces include the downtown Oakland Kaiser Center Rooftop Garden, the new San Francisco Transbay bus center Salesforce Park, and the High Line in NYC.  I have visited and enjoyed all of these spaces which provide a respite from urban street life, allow me to catch extra sunlight among gardens away from traffic and out of the bustle of sidewalks. Nature can thrive there too: I have seen hummingbirds come to feed on the flowers in the densely urban Salesforce Park.

The development at both BART stations is an opportunity to create multiple acres of new centrally-located public green space, which will only become more scarce and more valuable as we introduce new numbers of residents, and increase the urban character of our neighborhoods. This opportunity is only offered once and we should not pass it up. When BART was first being built, the residents of Berkeley, decided to pay extra to underground the BART tracks as a consideration for our quality of life. We still enjoy the benefits of that decision. I hope that we can come together again to improve the quality of life in our community by including public rooftop gardens on both station developments.

Aimée Baldwin is an artist who lives by the North Berkeley BART station.