By SlumJack: Forty-one years ago, I joined many others in creating People’s Park. Then I joined in to demonstrate and even skirmish to get it back again. Then rebuild it.

Through the years and decades since then, I’ve continued to use and enjoy this park. It’s yours, too.

Come together this Sunday, April 25th, from noon until… well, whenever we might feel like, to honor and celebrate Berkeley’s People’s Park 41st Anniversary.

See the Berkeley People’s Park Facebook page for flyers and details. Or check in the park.

For a video history look here.

SlumJack first came to Berkeley in the ’60s and was involved in the creation of People’s Park. He worked on the Barb and the Tribe newspapers. Although he spent most of his adult life elsewhere, he returned to the Bay Area in the late ’90s. He’s currently homeless in Berkeley, in an RV as a mobile “nomad”. He blogs at Homeword Unbound and Homelessness.

Guest contributor

Freelance writers with story pitches can email editors@berkeleyside.com.

Join the Conversation

15 Comments

  1. Daily Cal? LOL

    I was THERE during the “reported” events. That “reporter” wasn’t. She’s just parroting the rhetoric of, mostly, Mr. Telegraph Business Improvement District, who also wasn’t actually there during the events.

    The “story” was seriously wrong. Factually wrong.

    I’ll be putting something online soon to correct the fiction. With photographs.

  2. Yes, and no, Laura. I lived in a building in the area.

    Yes, there are homeless people. Did you know that the police actually direct people to sleep in those areas, and won’t allow it elsewhere? You seem to be confusing the existance and presence of homeless people (and just the worst of them) as being all that the park is or could be.

    There are people, housed or not, that are disruptive or dangerous. And even the people found in the park are actually a real mix of both.

    I also recall an awful lot of riotous student parties on the Hillegas block, too. Including relieving themselves around the neighborhood, vomiting, etc.

    If that’s the topic.

  3. Well, you can’t really foce people to like a place…

    Today? Hiking in our beautiful east bay regional parks. Free, and absolutely unthreatening and lovely.

  4. The park is a campsite not a park.

    When neighbors complain they are harassed, literally.
    Just speaking up can cost you. I have attended the “park advisory’ meetings.
    And it was worse than a waste of my time, since any criticism of the park will bring retaliation and confrontation over territory.

    There is a territorial battle between residents and the park supporters. It is not safe to speak up, pretending otherwise is convenient, but evidence proves otherwise.

    One of the tenants of the corner building was physically assaulted by park regulars for watering the parking strip planting in front of their building.
    The park folks were angry that their storage and sleeping space was reclaimed. When the park is closed by the cops at night, people move onto the residential streets parking strips, last fall it was head to toe people 20 deep down Hillegass St.

    Unless you live there or have a decent capacity to imagine how this social disorder affects the neighborhood, you are just using wishful thinking.

    There is a reason the students website complete with photos is anonymous.

  5. I think everyone can agree a big makeover is due. Fountains and public art with interesting seating will do more for the community than pretending a shanty campsite is a public good.

  6. Consider:

    To NOT participate with the park and be among the influences, but to only abandon it to others — and then complain about them — is a core dynamic in remarks here. I also can only wonder how people that don’t spend time at the park can much tell us just what’s going on there or what it’s “really” like.

    That said, no doubt about it . . . it can be left to those with nowhere and nothing else. If it is.

    But keep in mind, too: the park’s “history” and founding basis was the community not just scrutinizing, and not just comparing with other parks, and not just judging others there, and not just condemning conditions (the original condition of that muddy, trashy parking lot was bad, too).

    It was also about cleaning and fixing things up and planting gardens and installing art and getting together with others to BE “the community” there and thereby make the park as special as all that can be. And some still are, however many or few.

    What are you doing today?

  7. Whither People’s Park in the coming decades? Will it remain in perpetuity a kind of frozen mausoleum to certain ideals of the 1960s or will it ever dramatically evolve? How much longer can this relic fester in its current “open sewer” form – 10 , 20, 50, 100 more years as the rest of the world and even the rest of Berkeley (hopefully) continues to evolve and progress.

    Will People’s Park someday be viewed as kind of 1960s theme park/freak show (students actors posing as bedraggled hippies, shady drug dealers, mentally ill homeless etc.), analogous to Colonial Williamsburg or the gold mining ghost town, Bodie? Will it remain a cesspool enjoyed by very few local residents (especially the students who reside or transit through the area in large numbers at all hours)?

    People’s Park is now going on 40 years old, nearly unaltered, as if it were some type of sacred or enchanted space. Even fairly minor improvements like volleyball courts have triggered riots in the past. Imagine how much Telegraph evolved in the same 40 year period from 1929-1969? Many who lived across that time span were shocked at how the character of Berkeley and the Telegraph area in particular were so utterly transmogrified (notice all of the older churches and chapels in the immediate neighborhood which give some sense of the 1920s cultural ambience in that ‘hood).

    So, let’s think out of the [free] box for a moment… Imagine the ultimate heresy: the entire Park block is developed into a busy, multistory shopping mall, filled with trendy boutiques, fast food outlets, an ice cream shop, maybe a movie theater, some book stores, a DVD rental shop, a mini-market or two, a Mac store, cell phone shops and whatever else 30,000 UC Berkeley students would actually find a useful day and evening shopping and hangout destination. Imagine the hysterical hue and cry this proposal would raise! All of the carillon bells on the Campanile could not drown out the outrage, the cries of sacrilege! No, I suspect we will await a new revolutionary generation which will cast off these shackles for good and all!

  8. I used to sell on Telegraph, so I remember well when Tele and the Park served the community in a balanced way.

    Now I have a disabled family member living as close to the park as can be.
    I see it all daily.

    The park has lost its magic and is not healthy for anyone living there, IMHO.

  9. “now its clearly the locus [for] crime for blocks around and the cause of Telegraph’s woe”

    That’s precisely the view that I’m pretty darn sure is wrong. That’s not the attractive nuisance. The attractive nuisances are the bus-lines, the large number of naive and often oblivious students, the high percentage of at least comparatively wealthy people around the area, and so forth. You could shut down People’s Park tomorrow and put up a building there and crime in the surrounding blocks would, if anything, get worse and stay worse. That park *largely* (not exclusively) attracts “soft” crime – not much worse or so terribly different that you can find in homes in the posh neighborhoods. My observations suggest it functions as harm reduction in that area, not as harm attraction.

  10. I guess laura and Diane would be in the “be somewhere else” category.

    Everything that they say about the park is, in my experience, kinda true. It’s also kinda misleading and also not the whole story. A brief ramble:

    First, such problems as are described neither begin or end at the park nor is the park, per se, their proximate cause. Such problems are a bit concentrated at the park and there is a sense in which that’s a win-win. A theoretical change in policy to a solid shut-down would, I think, result in a kind of “you push in here, it pops out there” situation.

    Second, actual acts of violence against the “straight” citizenry at the park aren’t all that terribly high. Not great. Not worth celebrating. But greatly exaggerated. A lot of the complaints of the sort evidenced in the comments above boil down to “I’m uncomfortable there,” “some people treat me rudely there,” “there’s often a disgusting mess,” “OMG, many of the people there are drug users and their lives are a mess!” There’s a part of me that wants to dismiss all of that, only slightly unfairly, with the rejoinder “Welcome to the USA!”.

    Third, you know, frankly I often find northside (around the gourmet ghetto) to be, well, full of aggressively hostile, rude people, many of whom are drug users whose lives are a mess. I’m definitely *less* worried about provoking a fist fight up there so it’s not quite an apples to apples comparison. But if I were poor, hungry, less than impeccably hygienic, and dressed partly in stuff I’d fished out of dumpsters or the poor box – and especially if I were black – I would actually be on (rationally) high alert to the threat of harassment on northside, including by the police. People’s park is “not so nice” in some ways but, in Berkeley, that’s not a unique honor. There are lots of flavors of “not so nice”. I’m not suggesting some kind of extreme cultural relativism that demands agreement that “it’s all good.” I’m just saying it’s not so black and white (except in the sense that that’s very much what it is).

    Fourth, for big celebration events like this – at least every one I’ve been to – the park calms down quite a bit. Those tend to be “straight people days”, so to speak.

    Fifth, it’s an open secret that part of the social function of the park has long been a kind of gritty social services agency. Not every one of the rough types there is crazy – some are quite together. A lot of the ones that people find to be aggressive, scary and so forth are people who were already in a lot of trouble and who wind up at the park for a little bit of help putting themselves back together. The street actually has a long history of helping people in need. Let’s not be too anxious to kill it off, please.

  11. It takes someone viewing the park with a lot of history not to see it for the social problem it is. The idea of a space for creative anarchy was fine, but now its clearly the locus or crime for blocks around and the cause of Telegraph’s woe. Time for change.

  12. As someone who moved here in the past decade, I don’t quite get the reverence for the park. It run-down and is surrounded by aggressive people. I’d rather hang in my neighborhood parks, which are more family-friendly.

    It’s a great piece of history, and could be a really cool place, but somehow it isn’t inviting at all. At least not to this single woman, who finds it scary. I hope the celebration brings in a happier vibe.

  13. What is like living near People Park, or is that People’s Public Nuisance Park?

    Fights and loud arguments all night long, constant visits from police and emergency medical vehicles, open air drug use and sales, in your face aggressive culture, mentally unstable people wandering about and using street drugs rather than medical treatment, METH, chronic aggressive culture, unable to exit your car and get to the sidewalk because the parking strips is completely filled with people’s stuff and beds, not to mention the violent crime.

    The situation is only getting worse year after year, yet the same people idealize and deny what is happening right in front of their eyes. To me, this is terribly irresponsible. Both the city and UCB are negligent while they wait for the inevitable crisis to change the public perspective and claim their hands are tied because of the inherent politics.

  14. Hmm. In the immortal words of Wavy Gravy at Woodstock: Be there or … be somewhere else. (That was actually captured on film and appears in the famous Woodstock movie but only in the background sounds – you have to listen really carefully to catch it. As I recall, it shows up around 40 minutes in.) Yeehaw and merry xmas. My main question is: will they be setting up volleyball court for the event? People’s Park ain’t nothing without no volleyball court.

    -t