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Case #510

Berkeley Group Plans Sustainable Urban Development Project


To activist and fruit tree planting guerrilla Richard Register, reversing North America's urban and suburban sprawl (a million acres are sacrificed to it each year) has become a total comittment. The movement he has mobilized, Ecocity Builders, has a flair for effective and eyecatching campaigns.

For example, there's the time when 400 people dug up part of Berkeley to uncover a buried river. Other actions have included planting urban orchards overnight as well as ?depaving? parking lots. In recent years, however, Ecocity Builders have taken a more 'legal' approach. They are going for `a strategic legislative attack on the misuse of urban and suburban land,' says Register. This involves getting local planners to stretch their thinking and imaginations. They are currently campaigning for 'de-development' rights. This means that if developed land which has, say, a natural creek running under it - were offered for redevelopment, it would be possible to buy those rights. The parcel would then be 'de-developed' back to its natural state. The development planning permission could then be transferred to another, more suitable location.

Another campaign aims to overturn the Berkeley planning rules that insist that all new residential blocks need parking spaces. Register says: ?Why not have car-free apartments, inhabited by people who agree not to have a car, and who are repaid by cheaper rents??

The most ambitious plan is to bring various initiatives together in one area in the centre of town in a 'Heart of the City' campaign. 'We want to establish a car-free area with a natural creek and an urban orchard, with solar collectors and efficient resource use,' says Register. ?The whole area would be open to the public, with rooftop gardens and walkways between buildings. I want people to see how beautiful a place the city could be if we all reassessed the way we build and act.'


Although founded in radical actions, Ecocity Builders now uses mainstream legal methods to facilitate the implementation of its ideas. This has resulted in a more forward looking and sustainable development approach, rather than one of simply undoing problems from the past. If the group is successful in creating the demonstration neighborhood, it will be a powerful statement for what is possible with innovative ?alternative? urban planning. All, or certainly parts, of the groups? ideas are replicable in other areas of the developed world. Many ideas would also work in urban areas of Third World, providing neighborhood resources could be mustered or governmental help could be provided.
Location: Berkeley, CA
Action: Direct
Setting: Developed World
Extent of Action: Local
Year(s): 1997
Outcome in progress
Source: The New Internationalist, June 1999, p.30


See Case History # 518 for Resources
Prepared By: sl 1/02
Rating: 1
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