One of Berkeley's popular activists, Fred Lupke, was killed just over a month ago when he tried to travel briefly on the street in his wheelchair to bypass an impassable sidewalk, and was thrown fifty feet when he was hit by a car.
The Berkeley City Council opined about what a tragedy it was, urging a letter-writing campaign to Caltrans. But the council did not change the obvious disparities in sidewalk maintenance and repair Berkeley citizens must live with, proving this most emphatically by the recent recent "arts district" project, in which the newest, smoothest, most multi-colored and decorated sidewalk in town was ripped up to inset fifty-five pound panels of poetry.
The "arts district" has its ironies. Just over a decade ago, the richest property owners in town, most of whom don't reside in Berkeley, banded together to pressure an obedient and enthusiastic city council to use public money to enhance their property values. This once publically funded group, the Downtown Berkeley Association, launched a now infamous anti-panhandling campaign known locally as "Measure O", which cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars to unsuccessfully defend in court.
The real arts district, of course, is in south and west Berkeley, where a dwindling and mostly impoverished population of artists hang on by their fingernails. The old theaters, the vaudeville halls, the breweries and pubs, the heart of the culture of the working people predated the town now called Berkeley and is still spread from Oakland estuary through the Albany Bulb (pictured below).
A musician who tried to play on poetry-laden Addison Street, now oddly designated the "arts district", would be ticketed or chased off. And the poor man or woman who asks for a few coins of passers-by is now subjected to the same crackdown under this "liberal' council as in decades past.
The disparity in sidewalk maintenance and repair, mirroring many other disparities, brought about the "Deep Poetry Project", poetry about holes, to highlight the difference between Addison Street's poetry-pocked sidewalks and our west and south Berkeley sidewalks, laden with the essence of evocative art, the hole.