People’s Park – now and then

This park was no longer the domain of carefree “flower children.” It was as dangerous as any park in the city.

Susan Dunlap, As a Favor (1984)

People’s Park, now as it was in 1984, was not a place I wanted to hang out in. The bathroom – painted in the colorful hues of the 60’s – had closed metal gates across the doorways. The pungent smell of old urine was strong, even at 15 feet away. The stage once a platform for speeches and free concerts was now someone’s home, their belongings piled in bags on one side while they sat possessively nearby. A converted school bus with cardboard taped to the inside windows for privacy, seemed to have permanently settled under the two-hour parking sign. A man practicing basketball ignored the sleeping man at the other end of the court. At the far corner of the park, men sat in groups talking loudly, their appearance ragged, their casual indifference to us studied.

The struggle for People’s Park exemplified the sixties. Activists claimed the vacant lot for a park when the University of Berkeley wanted to develop it. After protests that resulted in injuries during conflict with the National Guard, the University backed away from their development plans. The activists created a park for the people but by the eighties it was a place where the homeless and drug addicts hung out.

People’s Park is slated for development once more. The University of Berkeley plans include housing for 1,000 students, apartments for 75-125 homeless, and open space memorializing the history of People’s Park. The plans are not without it’s protestors. The University plans to hold meetings for public input.

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