With nearby restaurants, a popular Japanese fish market, and a trendy dance club each less than half a block away, one would think this corner would be a lively place. On the contrary, it's more like a place people just pass through; a place to forget because it feels neglected.
With carefully tended stores like REI only yards away,
it's hard to understand how such a collection of garbage, dead plants, graffiti, and exposed razor wire could have made a home here.Even the billboard seems so wrong, covering the windows of an upstairs apartment.
I spoke with many nearby residents and business owners about the intersection. Most were just people with regular jobs who had taken the corner's condition for granted. The business owners felt a bit confused why The City of Berkeley couldn't force other business to do a better job of cleaning up, particularly since the city doesn't make it particularly easy to run a business in Berkeley.
Maybe because I gave my subjects too large a scope to express their feelings, the result of my interviews was a collection of "wishes" for what San Pablo Ave. and Gilman St. could be. My subjects wanted the city to make improvements: bike lanes and parklets — neither a quick fix — and even hopes for "less traffic." Very few suggestions were actionable.
To foster the idea of working together for change I held a
co-design event at which residents (and one restaurant owner) explored their ideas in a "design" mode. Working together, and thinking visually, the co-designers were able to approach their problem in a way that would guarantee some change.
After evaluating each other's designs and ideas, it became clear that tackling the low-hanging fruit could rid the intersection of its most offensive characteristics while being the simplest task to act on.
Another benefit of going after the basics would be that the City of Berkeley would have to get involved. An effort by the city could help rebuild some of the waning trust between these residents and the city.
It took a while but things began to get cleaned up. The city put some pressure on businesses to tend to their sidewalks. Someone started watering the flower beds. The razor-wire was removed and there's been attempt attempt by the city to cover up the graffiti on their property. And though graffiti always comes back, most of the residents prefer it over the old, eye-level billboard.
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The intersection of Gilman St. and San Pablo suffers from neglect and a lack of human interaction. Can area residents come together and solve these problems?
■ New Ideas are valuable, but only when they can be realistically implemented
■ Working together on ideas, as in a co-design session, can help identify realistic solutions even when many minds are involved.
■ Tackling the easiest-to-solve problems can often make real differences, and quickly.
UX Research + Design