People’s Park experiences a turnabout
On-site coordinator works to make historic site more user friendly

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs


Devin Woolridge, an Office of Community Relations staffer, operates out of a garage-like structure at People’s Park. The site coordinator is working to change the park’s reputation.
Noah Berger photo

06 September 2001 | Few people would embrace with enthusiasm Devin Woolridge’s job as site coordinator for the much-contested Southside turf known as People’s Park. But Woolridge’s infectious enthusiasm and determination show he is up for the job.

“I want to make this flower bloom,” said Community Relations staffer Woolridge, scanning the park grounds from his garage-like office on the site. “It’s not all milk and honey yet, but it’s slowly getting better.”

The 2.3-acre lot was the focus of protest three decades ago and in more recent years has had a negative image — which Woolridge and others are working hard to change.

His first step, when he came on board in August 2000, was to strengthen relationships between campus and park stakeholders, including local residents and activists, city of Berkeley officials, police and students.

“I’m trying to break down the walls and make things more comfortable for everyone involved with the park,” said Woolridge.

Woolridge, along with co-workers in the Office of Community Relations, the campus unit that oversees the park, works regularly with city officials and the community to hash out park issues.

A campus-appointed People’s Park Community Advisory Board — made up of students, merchants, residents, Berkeley staff and park users — meets monthly.

“There seems to be a change in attitude,” Woolridge said. And park activists are taking notice.

“Devin is in an interesting position, trying to bring two disparate groups together,” said Charles Gary, a park advocate with the People’s Park Project. “But I think he’s doing a great job at bridging the gap between the community and the university.”

“Devin has been a tremendous addition,” said retired filmmaker George Holmes, a daily park visitor for 16 years. “It’s much cleaner and friendlier since he’s gotten here. He’s a good listener and has been able to smooth over many of the park’s rough spots.”

Woolridge is also trying to change the reputation of the park among Berkeley students — including those brand new to campus. At the recent Welcome Week resource fair for freshmen and new transfers, Calapalooza, Woolridge and two student assistants set up an information booth and invited students to hang out, play sports, listen to music or hold an event in the park.

“When new students come onto the grounds, I introduce myself, give them a tour and talk about the park’s rich history,” said Woolridge. “It makes them rethink their perceptions.”

There’s plenty to do on the site. Its basketball courts are popular with students and local youths; others enjoy concerts, poetry slams and community service fairs. Those who prefer quieter recreation can borrow board games from the park office.

Woolridge is also developing an ambitious schedule of activities, including a chess festival, basketball tournaments and children’s sports clinics led by Cal athletes.

For the homeless who visit People’s Park, he dispenses hygiene kits stocked with toiletries donated by Cal athletes, provides referrals to social services, lends sporting equipment and encourages participation in park activities. Last year, he hosted a holiday reception.

Physical improvements are also in store. A planned drainage and erosion project will prevent flooding of the office and basketball courts. New seating areas, planters and screening walls for trash containers are also in the works.

Such efforts to make the park more user friendly seem to be paying off. According to the UC Police Department’s 2000 annual report, criminal incidents at the park have gone down in virtually every category.

“Things are a lot better now,” noted Noah Bullock, the senior security patrol officer assigned to the park.

One of the best reflections of a turnabout, says Woolridge, was the recent appearance of two lunchtime visitors.

“When I approached them, I was pleasantly surprised to find out they were campus staff,” Woolridge recalled. “I asked if they would be coming back, and was so happy to hear them say ‘yes.’ ”


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