Looking at Berkeley’s Sustainability


Recently, the CY PLAN 119/254 course went on a walking tour of Berkeley to get out of the classroom and see sustainability (or lack thereof) in practice. Due to natural limitations of what was realistic to walk in approximately two hours, the tour naturally hugged neighborhoods closer to the University of California, Berkeley Campus. This activity was engaging and allowed each of us to think outside the box and to observe sustainability through different lenses, some apparent and some more subsurface.

Berkeley residents often lovingly refer to Berkeley as a “bubble” since it can be very progressive in comparison to other places and is often considered a leader in different realms of sustainability. According to the Sustainable Cities Institute, “Berkeley is relatively small, but it is known around the world as a pioneering city that innovates and leads in environmental sustainability. Backed by an ambitious Climate Action Plan, the City of Berkeley is committed to advancing climate protection and sustainability throughout city operations and services.” It is also conveniently located in the Bay Area, a hotbed of innovation. The walking tour activity left me wondering what types of sustainability planning the City of Berkeley has done to date. Because of this, I wanted to look a little deeper into what gives Berkeley this type of reputation. Some of the key sustainability commitments include:

Through these programs, the City of Berkeley seems to try to include meaningful participation and stakeholder outreach and the citizens of Berkeley have a legacy of involvement and activism on local, national and international scales. As the cost of living increases in the Bay Area, some worry that gentrification will push out the diversity that contributes to the rich character of Berkeley, revered by so many.

Although the City attempts to be on the cutting edge of sustainability, there are some factors which inherently make the City less sustainable than other locations – such as grid connections, trade patterns, types of materials (and physical layout) used in previous cityscapes, and infrastructure services. As discussed in class, students had varying experiences of how their Berkeley lifestyle compared to their lifestyle in their hometown. Many international students seemed to lead more sustainable lifestyles at home than in Berkeley based on factors such as choice of diet and energy profiles, while students from other places in the US saw in improvement in their sustainability while in Berkeley.