The banana republic of Berkeley


Berkeley has become a banana republic: "build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything." The latest example is a center for the disabled, being contested on the basis that the new structure would not harmonize with its historic surroundings.

I happen to enjoy much of the work of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, which seems to be to motive force here. BAHA sponsors worthwhile activities, and sometimes the design review processes they push for actually help bring about better buildings.

But the location in question is both rundown and already host to a number of architectural styles. The neighboring Black Repertory Theatre, for example, is not historic, nor is the Post Office building. Moreover, the site of the new building is a parking lot. Nothing architecturally valuable will be lost by its construction.

Berkeley's disabled community is the most vocal and politically active in the United States. Shamefully, their voices were not much heard during the controversy over killing Terri Schiavo, despite the fact that the handicapped have the most to lose when euthanasia becomes commonplace. Perhaps their accustomed leftist allies were not welcoming of support from them for the hated Christian right—wingers stereotyped as the supporter's of Terri's right to live. I don't really know, but I do know that there weren't any visible demonstrations in Berkeley by people in wheelchairs supporting Terri.

But now that their direct interests are at stake, I expect to see the wheelchair brigade in front of City Hall.

Thomas Lifson  4 4 05