YSA mural. Photo: Kathleen Costanza
The spot on Ellis Street where Berkeley’s third parklet is planned. The mural behind, called “Music on Our Minds,” was painted in 2009 by Edythe Boone in collaboration with young people from Youth Spirit Artworks. The mural depicts influential South Berkeley community members, including long-time resident Richie Smith and musicians. Photo: Kathleen Costanza

After months of deliberating and design tweaks, last Thursday youth and community members put the final touches on plans for a new parklet alongside Alchemy Collective Café on Ellis Street and Alcatraz Avenue in South Berkeley.

Gathering in Youth Spirit Artworks, an arts and job training program that serves homeless and low-income youth, the meeting was the last of four community meetings and two workshops which hashed out a number of neighborhood concerns. The group plans to submit the parklet designs and apply for a city permit in the coming weeks.

Read more about the story of Berkeley’s parklets.

“We want the parklet to show what the South Berkeley community can produce,” said 17-year-old Rayven Wilson, one of several Youth Spirit Artworks youth leaders who took part in the planning process. Wilson said that, for YSA youth, the most important aspects of the parklet’s design was that it was colorful, versatile, and that it tied into the mural behind it that depicts South Berkeley community members and musicians.

“We want it to look like us,” she said.

Rayven Wilson counts the vote tally for the final design decisions about the parklet at the parklet meeting Feb. 4, 2016. Photo: Kathleen Costanza

If the parklet is built, it will be the third to open in Berkeley, part of a three-year pilot program which allows for up to 10 parklets. The city had to create a new permit system for the parklets in 2013. They are inspired by parklet programs in San Francisco and Oakland.

Like the other two parklets in North Berkeley, one in front of the Cheese Board Collective, the other at Saul’s Restaurant & Deli, the parklet will be a public space but privately built and maintained by the sponsoring agencies or businesses. In this case, the official sponsors are YSA (whose headquarters are across the street), and the small LLC created by the building’s owner, Geoff Holton, who is also the lead architect of the project. Holton said Alchemy Collective Café has also agreed to help steward and maintain the parklet.

Unlike the other two parklets, though, the design for the new parklet in the Lorin District was born from a collaboration between Youth Spirit Artworks, UC Berkeley, and a number of other community groups who followed a multi-step process to gather community input and feedback. Plus, it’s part of a larger project that will also eventually include renovations in the “artlot” behind YSA, a space that will also be open to the public.

A preliminary sketch for the South Berkeley parklet. The design may change as the architects finalize engineering and plans go through the permitting process. Image: Geoffrey Holton

The parklet is partly funded by a $15,000 grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund, which supports off-campus projects. Over the course of the year, two classes of UC Berkeley students helped guide the design process by working with Holton and young people from Youth Spirit Artworks. Another $16,000 will come from a grant from UC Berkeley’s Green Initiative Fund. Sally Hindman, executive director of Youth Spirit Artworks, said the total budget for the project, including the artlot, is $75,000, and the rest of the funding will come from a variety of sources including private donors and in-kind donations.

The month-long community-input process gave rise to several neighborhood concerns. The parklet was originally planned to be on Alcatraz Avenue, in front of Alchemy Café. But several longtime business owners and neighbors objected to the potential loss of parking spaces. The organizing groups decided to relocate it alongside Alchemy Café, on Ellis Street. As the parklet is only replacing a bike corral, it will not remove any parking spaces. New bike parking will be attached to the parklet.

“We feel like this is a very inclusive and holistic approach in a neighborhood that’s experiencing a lot of gentrification and displacement,” Hindman said, adding she thought the process could be a model for neighborhood projects that will have economic benefits for everyone, not only newcomers to the Lorin District.

UC Berkeley student Laura Yepez talks about the final design options with youth from Youth Spirit Artworks at the parklet meeting Feb. 4, 2016. Photo: Kathleen Costanza

At the meeting on Thursday, the youth at Youth Spirit Artworks went over final renderings and voted on one last detail: which way the sheltered, gazebo-like structure would face. After weighing the pros and cons, the youth settled on having the gazebo face towards Alcatraz Avenue, which they felt would be more inviting.

The YSA youth will also be decorating pieces of the structure with art and mosaic — though they haven’t decided with what materials yet, ceramics and recycled CDs are in the running.

“We’re artists,” Wilson said. “We go with the flow.”

YSA and its partners are aiming to get the permit approved and finish construction of the parklet by the end of June 2016. The planning and construction of the artlot will continue through the summer.

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Kathleen Costanza

Kathleen Costanza is a writer, photographer, and Bay Area transplant by way of Chicago. In the last year, she has interviewed affordable housing developers, professional potters, urban farmers and middle...