Thursday, July 2, 2009


As both Berkeley and Oakland debate their downtown plans, there is growing recognition that the fight against global warming requires greater urban density.
Robert Gammon, East Bay Express, July 1, 2009

Environmentalists who think globally say suburban sprawl and the destruction of rural farmland must stop. But the lack of urban growth in Berkeley and in parts of Oakland during the past few decades also has contributed to suburban sprawl and long commutes. And all those freeways choked with cars are now the single biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the region. Some activists who have fought developers for years are now embracing them and calling for so-called "smart growth" or "infill development" — dense urban housing near mass transit. They note that downtown Berkeley and Oakland, along with the major transportation corridors between the two cities, are nearly perfect for transit-oriented development.

Greenbelt Alliance, an environmental group that has been fighting suburban sprawl for decades, recently pinpointed the inner East Bay as one of the region's top potential growth areas. The group estimates that the inner East Bay, west of the hills, could accommodate at least 106,000 new housing units by 2035. The group based its estimate on data from the Association of Bay Area Governments and UC Berkeley's Institute of Urban and Regional Development.

But for the inner East Bay to grow the way it should, it will have to overcome the region's well-developed not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) sensibilities. In Berkeley and North Oakland, in particular, residents who view themselves as environmentalists have been blocking dense housing developments for decades. They have complained about traffic, overcrowding, and the potential destruction of neighborhood character.

In Berkeley, where NIMBY sentiment is especially strong, a group of developers and activists who advocate for smart growth sometimes refer to themselves as YIMBYs (Yes, In My Backyard). "Our goal is to shift the idea of what it means to be an environmentalist when living in a city, away from the protection of land to the more efficient use of land," explained Erin Rhoades, the volunteer executive director of Livable Berkeley. For several years, her group has been battling a small but very vocal coalition of city residents who simultaneously view themselves as green while staunchly opposing urban housing development.

There are far fewer NIMBYs in Oakland when it comes to downtown issues. The Oakland City Council is scheduled to debate its new downtown plan on July 7. In downtown Oakland, the biggest impediment to growth over the years hasn't been NIMBYism but crime. The widespread perception that downtown is dangerous has stymied development. But in recent years, Oakland's Uptown area, just north of downtown, has launched a comeback, particularly since the renovation of the historic Fox Theater.

Read the complete article in the East Bay Express.

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