In February of 2021, UC Berkeley released the final draft of its long-range development plan, which outlines how the school will continue to accept and house an ever-growing number of students over the next 15 years. This document lays out the university’s intentions to bulldoze People’s Park and build student dorms with approximately 1,000 new beds, to be priced at market rate or above and managed by a private company. The university justifies their actions by claiming they are helping to address a “housing shortage,” but with more vacant housing in the City of Berkeley than homeless people, it’s clear the crisis is not that there is not enough housing, but that the existing options are not affordable for working people.
According to the U.S. Census, there are 3,443 vacant housing units in Berkeley compared with roughly 1,108 unhoused people, according to the city’s 2019 Point-in-Time Count. Though both of these numbers are variable—the census count of vacant housing units has a margin of error of ±1,124, and Point-in-Time counts are widely considered too low—the picture remains the same: Berkeley is full of housing that does not meet the needs of regular, everyday people.
After 52 years of struggle for the survival of this historical landmark and living laboratory for democratic collaboration, the supporters of People’s Park are once again faced with a choice: unite to resist, or give up this space forever.
For this collaborative opinion piece, we asked friends from around the park to share, why do you want to keep People’s Park?
“It’s history; it’s significant for so many people, so many different generations…there’s so much potential in
this free open space surrounded
by houses and buildings and high rises and more high rises that keep going up all the time…I’ve been in this park for so long that I can’t imagine this being any other space…it’ll be kind of a shock but that’s what’s been happening in Berkeley…the Mediterraneum, Fat Slice…we should hold onto at least one remnant of the past.”
—Nicholas Alexander, a member of the People’s Park Committee, a grassroots group of activists called that has been organizing to defend the park since 1961, and a UC Berkeley alumnus
“That wouldn’t be cool to take out the trees and the nature. This is a place where everyone can come chill.”
—Soul, Underground artist
“Painting was the first purpose, that’s why I got here; then they shared the story [of the Free Speech Move-
ment] with me and everything and I’m connected to that, because I’m from Central America and we had the revolution in the 80s… The park is home, the magic of the people. You can go to any other park but this is unique…the energy is history, art, community…this is a historical place…In ten years with all the buildings and construction they’re doing, we’re gonna need this space for air. We need it.
Here you’ve seen not just the flora but the fauna – rats, dogs, squirrels, hawks, pigeons…in the morning they’re still singing. Probably in the city people forgot about that but it’s beautiful. You can see how life is – a falcon catching its food. And that’s life.”
—Erick “The Motherflower,”
People’s Park Committee member, activist, and artist
“One of the things I want to remain is the sense of community because the community here at the park is very unique…also the open space is so nice, especially since South Side is so full.”
—Amanda Hill People’s Park Committee member and UC Berkeley student
“Because it’s so much more than just a space. People’s Park has provided free speech sanctuary, biodiversity, and people for 52 years. So much more to do now than there was when it started and it’s an integral part of the history of Berkeley, and the revolutionary movements of the 1960s.”
—Lisa Teague, People’s Park Committee member
“It’s a place of blessings and co-creation; struggle and family and revolution; meditation. We cook like family together…What else should I say? Mycelium and tree communication is real! Thanks to People’s Park I know that for sure.”
—Lucy, Park activist and tree lover
“The question isn’t, ‘why do I want to keep People’s Park?’ It’s, ‘why should the park be kept for the people?’ People need this park. If they go anyplace else they will get harassed and never get their lives together or control their own destiny…They have a place where they can socialize and prepare for a new life…This is where they get hand sanitizer, masks, food. Every city in America should have a park like this…this park is different.”
—Roosevelt Stephens “OG Wan Kenobi,” Park user
Katie Latimer has been a Park user and has been a student at UC Berkeley since 2014. She has learned a lot in both of those places. This article was written in collaboration with Park residents, supporters, and Berkeley community members.