May 30, 2007

California blueberries in May

For breakfast, I eat berries (some combination of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries) with cereal and yogurt. I have been fortunate to purchase California grown strawberries and raspberries at Berkeley Bowl. However, the California blueberry has been harder to find. I was so delighted to see California grown blueberries at the Derby/MLK Farmers' Market! I bought a pack of berries from Triple Delight Blueberries located in Caruthers, placing it deep in my cloth bag to prevent snacking. As I filled my bag with other produce - peaches, Catalan Family Farm red-leaf lettuce and parsley, Swanton Berry Farm strawberries, Riverdog Farm asparagus - I realized that my last visit to the Derby/MLK market was in July 2006. I have been to other markets - Center/MLK; the Ferry Building; and various roadside stands - but I am not a consistent farmers' market shopper. I buy most of my produce from local grocery stores, primarily Berkeley Bowl. On my way into the market on Tuesday, I was asked to complete a page-long survey about farmers' markets. One of the questions specifically asked respondents to choose from nine reasons why they shop at the Berkeley Farmers' Market and then to notate the most important reason. Among the choices I selected were availablity of local produce and talking with vendors. I like shopping at farmers' markets because they are located in outdoor environments. Especially during the dry, warm season, I enjoy spending time outdoors. I sit on my stoop with lemonade and the week's papers or I go for a hike at one of the East Bay regional parks. Shopping at the market is an activity of intermediate intensity, not as passive as reading but not as intensive as hiking (though I've been jostled by eager shoppers). The outdoor factor is the reason you will find me at the market. I noted this reason on the "other" line of the survey.

May 23, 2007

Experiment in open space choice

I live in the Le Conte neighborhood of Berkeley. The neighborhood has many traffic circles that have been planted by neighbors. One of my favorite circles is the butterfly habitat at Ellsworth and Russell which extends to the Le Conte School Butterfly Garden. It seems apt that a school would have a public garden (one might go so far as to say a park) because schools and parks are the quintessential public services. The U.S. was "the first Western industrialized nation to establish public schools" (Noguera, 1994). It was also the first country to provide wholesale public parks. (European countries had public parks but these were often converted private estates and grounds.) Noguera also writes that vis a vis school choice, the U.S. is attempting to "replace [traditional public schools] with new models, many of which are largely undefined and untested." The arguments about school choice chronicled by Noguera and others seem applicable to nature making in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Last fall, the Pittsburgh Mayor's Office and several other collaborators sponsored the Pittsburgh Green Forum, a planning meeting for vacant land revitalization in the city. According to the draft report, the forum would "help [Pittsburgh] understand the realm of possibilities" when structuring its vacant land greening strategy. To this effect, the authors (Heinz School of Public Policy) of Vacant to Vibrant proposed a greening hierarchy ranging from short-term stabilization approaches like former Mayor O'Connor's Redd-Up campaign (to "clean up" the city for the 2006 MLB All-Star Game) and community gardens to longer-term strategies like parks and recreation areas, "green enterprises" (markert gardens, urban farms, or bioremediation sites), and "green infrastructure" projects (greenways and conservation sites). In the summer of 2001, I worked with seven groups in New Haven to develop community green spaces. One group - the Ivy Narrow Bird Preserve - inspires my ongoing research on neighborhood green spaces designed according to ecological succession principles. The organization I worked with in New Haven is called Urban Resources Initiative (URI). New Haven URI was established in 1994, several years after the founding of Baltimore URI. New Haven URI and its green spaces, including the Ivy Narrow Bird Preserve, are "pioneers." Pittsurgh is a recent arrival, benefiting from the experiences of New Haven and other northeast urban ecology nonprofits, but the the potential breadth of greening strategies suggests that the city is also engaging in an experiment in open space choice.

May 22, 2007

Hidden Gems adventure

On the morning of Sunday, May 20, I took my bicycle out of the basement storage room. It had been two years since I had used the bike. Both tires were flat. We used a hand pump to inflate both tires. A friend was to accompany me on the Hidden Gems Tour, but her bicycle was still in the shop. I was surprised that the repair would take a week. I should have taken this as a caution about my own bicycle. I arrived at Halcyon Commons, the starting point for the tour, several minutes after the start time of 10 a.m. I had not missed any of the introductions. Most of the riders were greeting folks they knew and meeting new people as well as purchasing the tour map. With a critical mass of riders, John Steere, one of the tour organizers, made welcome remarks. John spoke about the creation of Halcyon Commons, comparing it to San Pablo Park. He said that both parks had created communities. Other organizers spoke as well as the tour's cartographer, John Coveney. John Coveney described the hidden gems as "gifts to the street" and encouraged the riders to create their own hidden gems. Halycon Commons was the first stop on the tour followed by the meditation garden at the Jewish temple on Prince Street. The next stops were the Doll House and the Magic Garden on Fulton Street. The Doll House is a narrow building of about 1200 square feet that shares a lot with a more standard width house. According to the tour leader, John Steere, the house was relocated for $1 following the 1920s fire in the North Berkeley hills. The Magic Garden is very magical with plant life made from ceramics, silverware, and bowling balls. The group of approximately 65 viewed the magic garden in two shifts, then we rode en masse across Ashby Street to the traffic circle at Fulton and Russell. The circle is one of several in the Le Conte neighborhood that are gardened by neighbors. This one is planted as a coastal meadow while the one at Ellsworth and Russell - the next stop on the tour - was planned and designed as butterfly habitat to complement the butterfly garden located at the Le Conte School. The "adventure" part of the tour occurred at the next stop, which was the Buddhist Temple on Russell Street. As I gazed at the temple, I heard a bb-pop sound. I thought: "that is a bad sound." I looked back and saw that my rear tire had blown out. I phoned the tour leader to tell him of my problem. He encouraged me to fix the tire and join the group for lunch at San Pablo Park. I walked my bike to the bike shop on Stuart and Telegraph, but they are closed on Sundays. I walked my bike home, ate lunch, and thought about how to get my bike downtown. Wrongly assuming that only certain buses have bike racks, I did not go to the bus stop right away. After checking the AC Transit website, I learned that all buses are equipped with bike carriers. I rushed (as quickly as I could with a busted tire) to the bus stop. I caught a bus 15 minutes later. Of the bike shops downtown I chose Missing Link. It has always impressed me as a responsive shop. A staff person at the main building directed me to the repair shop on the east side of Shattuck. I also learned from this person that I should add air to my tires every three days. Adding air to completely flat tires after two years of no use was a poor idea! I received quick and courteous help at the repair shop; within 15 minutes, my bike was fixed. With a bike in good repair, I figured all I had to do was find the tour group. Easier said than done. I did not have the new tour map (I had left the old map at home). I could not get in touch with the tour guide. I biked around South Berkeley, using many of the city's bicycle boulevards. I did not find the group but I finally photographed a gem I like: the buildings at the corner of Dwight and MLK constructed with car parts. I received a phone call from the tour guide on Sunday evening. He had not received my voice message until the end of the tour. They left San Pablo Park at 12:30 (I was en route to the bike shop). The tour ended at 2:30 (I was locking my bike in front of Royale Grounds). This year's tour was a success. I hope to complete the route next year!

May 21, 2007

Nature abhors a garden

Both Michael Pollan and Peter del Tredichi have used the garden colloquialism "nature abhors a garden." I don't know what Michael Pollan says about the phrase (I have not read Second Nature: A Gardener's Education), but Peter Del Tredici writes, "gardening is essentially about humans controlling - even disregarding - the successional process to produce specific aesthetic effects, while ecology is about natural selection controlling plant succession based on the principle of survival of the fittest....We cannot mimic nature in our gardens because nature is a process, not a product." Maybe so, but some urban gardens are tended with natural processes in mind. For example, the California coastal meadow planted in the traffic circle at Fulton and Russell in South Berkeley (photograph above). According to Robin, the neighbor and historical landscape ecologist who tends the meadow, the oak in the centre of the circle was planted as an acorn. The meadow palette also includes poppy, California fuschia, lupine, ceanothus, and native grasses.

May 16, 2007

Not outdoor seating

May 15, 2007

Hidden Gems of Berkeley Tour - May 20, 2007

Join BFBC, BPFP, and Livable Berkeley for "an inspiring tour of Berkeley’s eclectic fabric of gardens, paths, strange and familiar cultural and natural features..." (John Steere). Time: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Meeting place: Halcyon Commons

May 5, 2007

Word of the day : YIMBY

Taking a cue from Dolores Hayden's vocabulary book on sprawl, A Field Guide to Sprawl,as well as the French word-a-day website by Kristin Espinasse, I will occasionally feature concepts related to neighborhood planning. You have probably heard of NIMBY (not in my backyard) and possibly NIABY (not in anyone's backyard) (see Wikipedia). NIABY is also the name of an organization in Vancouver that opposes "'abstinent-contingent' drug addict supportive housing throughout Vancouver's residential neighbourhoods." NIMBY is associated with neighborhoods and communities that use wealth and/or political power to stave off the siting of toxic and hazardous land uses. But less affluent communities through environmental regulations and environmental justice discourse have also employed NIMBY strategies. Several scholars note that the success of a NIMBY campaign is often bitter-sweet; the environmentally noxious use is usually sited in another community. NIMBYism in wealthy communities is also guised in the form of landscape preservation. Ghorra-Gobin (1997) argues that not only is preservation used to remove large tracts of land from the market, in conjunction with minimum lot size zoning, it deters the provision of affordable housing in privileged communities (see also Duncan and Duncan, Landscapes of Privilege). A very popular NIMBY movement was catalyzed by Saul Alinsky in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago. It was more akin to a "not in poor people's back yards." Alinksy's style of organizing - coalescing different types of people in a neighborhood by defining a common enemy - influenced subsequent neighborhood campaigns in Chicago and other cities (see Encyclopedia of Chicago). Organizers in the City of Berkeley have used, and continue to do so, NIMBY stances. But one local group, Livable Berkeley, is pursuing a different "imby." The organization has coined YIMBY or, "yes in my backyard." Although I did not find a formal definition of the term on the Livable Berkeley website, the organization uses language like encourage, promote, and support to underscore the idea that effective community planning is often proactive, not reactive.