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Renovation to Plaza Ignores Needs of City

Photograph by Roan Linville

The plaza in Downtown Berkeley, which surrounds the entrance to the BART station, has finally opened, a year later than planned. The plaza includes a group of small tables and chairs with occasional live performances, along with a couple of pieces of art. The plaza was built to add a more lively and aesthetically pleasing ambiance to Shattuck Avenue.

However, the city of Berkeley cannot cover up the real issues in Downtown Berkeley with a new plaza. In October of 2015, the city of Berkeley counted the number of homeless people in the city to be more than 1,200.

The plaza’s cost ended up being $13 million. Although a space to eat lunch and listen to live music is a nice addition to the feeling of Downtown Berkeley, the safety and security of people without permanent homes is a more valuable way to spend the city’s money. Walking through Downtown Berkeley and seeing people and even families that don’t have the luxury of sitting and enjoying the new art installations, it is clear that the support people need from the city is pressing. There should be more talk about solutions and creating a better life for everyone in Berkeley.

The average cost of a studio apartment in Berkeley is $2,134. With the heightening of prices all over the Bay Area, homelessness is an issue that is only growing.

There are ways to help this situation and $13 million could do a lot to provide shelter to the many people without houses in Downtown Berkeley. While there are a few homeless shelters in Berkeley, the capacity of each are around 250 and that excludes people who will still not have a place to stay. There are solutions to this issue. In Denver, Colorado, they use a program called Housing First where they offer housing to people who are homeless. After two years, out of 200 of the participants, 43 percent had experienced a healthier mental state and 70 percent experienced a healthier physical state. Offering housing like the Housing First program does not only better the lives of people who are experiencing homelessness, but also costs less than doing nothing. However, it is a valid point that the money that is used to make Downtown Berkeley fancier cannot be easily given to the homeless. Regardless, there should be more thoughts on equity when money is spent, especially in a place as progressive as the Bay Area.

There are programs to make Berkeley more equitable and to give people who need more support than others, the help they need. A new plaza was an addition that may have bettered a visual aspect of Downtown and create more public gathering spaces, but the conditions of people living less than a block away should be a priority of the city.

The new plaza surrounding the BART entrance on Shattuck Avenue is a nice new improvement to the Downtown Berkeley environment. However, the $13 million spent on this new plaza could be used in a way that benefits all people.