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Stakeholders in the redevelopment of West Oakland's long-abandoned 16th Street Train Station include nearby residents, community groups, area development companies, and McClymonds High School.(Devon Williamson photo)

Y-PLAN chugs along, linking students and their neighborhoods
High-schoolers work with Berkeley mentors on projects meant to revitalize their communities

West Oakland train station  Y-Plan video: High resolution (Real) | Normal resolution (Real)

| 03 November 2005

Each fall the University/Community Partnership Program recognizes innovative collaborations between individuals and groups - from the Berkeley campus and the surrounding East Bay community - whose joint efforts aid local residents.

Y-PLAN (Youth - Plan Learn Act Now), one of five groups honored in September, is both an interdisciplinary course taught since 1999 and a community-based research initiative, in which graduate students mentor 10th- and 11th-grade students on urban-revitalization projects. Last semester's project, a redesign of the historic West Oakland Central Railway Station, involved more than 35 students from McClymonds High School and proved the most successful ever.

"The Y-PLAN is terrific because it's not just about community partnership - it's an important tool for preparing and training future leaders in urban planning and education about the critical relationship between public schools and urban environments," says Deborah McKoy, director of the Center for Cities and Schools (citiesandschools.berkeley.edu), part of the campus Institute for Urban and Regional Development (IURD). McKoy, who developed and teaches the course, proudly mentions that some of her Y-PLAN Berkeley alums have "infiltrated" school systems in which they can bring their skills and experience to bear in helping schools connect to redevelopment efforts.

Y-PLAN's high-school participants learn a similar lesson, one that leads them ultimately to feel a sense of ownership in their community. This spring the McClymonds students underwent a crash course in civic engagement and urban planning as they researched and developed a vision for the Beaux Arts building that was once the terminus of the Southern Pacific railway and the site of the first black union.

This time in Emeryville
Because of Y-PLAN's work on the West Oakland Central Railway Station project, the City of Emeryville approached the group to collaborate on the redevelopment of the Emeryville Center of Community Life for the course's spring semester project. In a program called "Schools as 'Center of Community': How Emeryville is Transforming Its Schools and City Policies by Placing Education at the Heart of Redevelopment," Emeryville Unified School District Superintendent Tony Smith and Emeryville City Manager John Flores will join Xenia Simms, a former Y-PLAN student from McClymonds High School (and current Berkeley freshman), Professor of City and Regional Planning Robert Olgivie, and Professor of Education Ingrid Seyer-Ochi, in discussing the importance of collaboration between cities and schools. The discussion, which takes place on Thursday, Nov. 17, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Women's Faculty Club, will pay special attention to issues of racial and socioeconomic equality, community participation in planning, and joint-use policies.
During the 12-week class, the high-school students solicited input from local stakeholders about the project and worked with area developers BRIDGE Housing, HFH Ltd., and Holliday, Inc., who brought in designers, architects, and engineers to answer their questions. To help the students develop ideas for the plaza in front of the long-out-of-service 16th Street train station, Walter Hood, a professor in the College of Environmental Design and a West Oakland resident, took them on a bus tour of various local open spaces, including the Splash Pad near Oakland's Grand Lake neighborhood, Frank Ogawa Plaza, Jack London Square, and the San Francisco Ferry Terminal.

During the class, McKoy's Berkeley students - from such disciplines as city and regional planning, urban design, and education - helped the McClymonds students learn how to re-imagine and re-design public space in their school neighborhood. "Having to teach city planning and community development helps the grad students learn what they came here to do," says McKoy.

Shade trees, a seating wall, and a history tunnel

At the end of the course, the high-school students presented their ideas for the train station and its plaza to a jury at Oakland's City Hall. Their proposal for the station included a job center with job-training opportunities for local residents, a youth-run café, a performance and community meeting space, a photography exhibition highlighting the station's historical significance for Oakland, and an exhibition space for local youth art. Their ideas for the plaza included shade trees, a play area for children, a railroad "history" tunnel, a walking path with facts about the station, and a fountain with a seating wall. McKoy was impressed by the students' desire that the station include quiet areas and that it be a welcoming space for all age groups. The City Council voted to approve the Central Railway Station proposal and also to review several of the students' ideas.

McKoy is guardedly optimistic about the future development of the train station. "Hopefully, it will help to add to a diverse neighborhood rather than a divisive one. I think that's why it's so important to get the students engaged in the redevelopment process. Young people have fresh, exciting, new ideas for how public spaces can be revitalized, and local public schools are perfect partners with developers to make their vision a reality. Understanding how these civic entities are connected is at the heart of our new Center for Cities and Schools mission."

The IURD's Center for Cities and Schools, Professor Walter Hood, Dean Harrison Fraker of the College of Environmental Design, and UC Office of the President's UC Links program collaboarated with community partners McClymonds High School, BRIDGE Housing and other West Oakland developers, Oakland Councilwoman Nancy Nadel, the Junior Statesmen Foundation, and the West Oakland Neighborhood Association on the Y-PLAN program.