The Last Public Space. People's Park in Berkeley

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

9 Pages, Grade: A


People’s Park – the Last Public Space

During the violent turbulences of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s, about 100 Berkeley residents captured a piece of corporate land, owned by the University of California, at 2100 Haste Street. They brought flowers, trees, shovels and food to the site. The people of Berkeley built themselves a park on a piece of land which did not belong to them and simply justified their actions to the city and university with the words: “We are using the land better than you used it: It’s ours!”(Frank Bardacke) [i]. Besides the political impact of this event, the residents of Berkeley created a public space out of corporate land with their own hands and their own ideas. Their park was supposed to symbolize everything they had fought for in the last decade, especially the right to free speech and their idea of the equality of all humans. The idea that all humans, whether black or white, rich or poor, should be treated and seen equally lives on the idea of a public park like the People’s Park in Berkeley.

Public spaces in generally defined as areas or places that can be accessed by all people. There are no restrictions on gender, race or socio-economic status. Public spaces do not require any permission or fees to be entered. Many streets, parks and public buildings are public spaces. [ii] According to this definition, public spaces must be idealistic islands of social gathering and freedom existing in the urban landscape, like People’s Park in Berkeley. Unfortunately the number of these special places has already decreased because of the privatization process in the capitalistically ruled United States. I believe that most of the public places that still exist in our urban environment can hardly be considered “public spaces”, because they are often and controlled and designed to be intolerant to anything and anyone that does not match the corresponding urban built surroundings or demography. Although the number of real public spaces is declining, People’s Park still symbolizes the values of liberty of the 1960’s, because any person is allowed in the park at any time and those users govern the activities that take place within it. The park also fosters social gatherings and public community events, and maintains a spirit of activism. Thus the park also fully enforces the idea of open access and equality of users in public spaces. This is important because there is a strong correlation between the amount of “real” public spaces and the degree of the sociality of our urban society.

Activism in the Park

Berkeley is considered to be one of the most liberal, progressive and tolerant city cities in the country. Here we can see extreme cases of intolerant and reserved public spaces among real public spaces. People’s Park is a real public place proven in its history and in its current importance as a center point regarding political activism.

“We have a serious situation out there. People think it is about volleyball at the park but it is not. It’s about a group of people who think they can use violence and we won’t accept that.” [iii]

Michael Brown 1991 (Berkeley City Manager)

People’s Park still represents a real public place because its recent history has shown how it fosters activism and protests. The fact that persistent activism has been allowed to occur shows how the government and public interact. The biggest, most recent protest situated in People’s Park was - as the sociologist Don Mitchell calls it - an exercise of “public rights in a public space” [iv]. Expanding corporate capitalism, and consequently the disappearance of public spaces frightened people who thought they would lose social rights and control over the park. This fear was specifically expressed in the 1991 riots surrounding the issue of the sand volleyball courts being built in the park by the university. Before that, the university had intended to re-establish their ownership of the piece of land that it practically lost in 1969, which it had planned to build new dormitories for students. This agenda mobilized the people because they wanted to maintain the park as it was. Activists and residents of the park (homeless people) realized that “Only by taking and maintaining control over People’s Park could oppositional political activity be represented and advanced.” [v]


[i] 27, Wheaton

[ii] 2, Benett

[iii] 147, Mitchell

[iv] 151,Mitchell

[v] 150,Mitchell

Excerpt out of 9 pages


The Last Public Space. People's Park in Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Last, Public, Space, People, Park, Berkeley
Quote paper
Axel Stelter (Author), 2008, The Last Public Space. People's Park in Berkeley, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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