In 1981 Richard and Urban Ecology were behind the scenes and publicly working to restore a block of Strawberry Creek in West Berkeley on land donated to the city by the Santa Fe Railroad. The Strawberry Creek restoration project was especially successful: a beautiful reach of creek now flow freely flanked by regal blue ceanothus trees and picnic tables.
When Santa Fe decided to donate their right-of-way land to the city, there were state funds available for development of city parks. Everyone agreed that putting a park in the section of the right-of-way that crossed the creek was a good idea. But bringing back the creek itself was a controversial item. A few in the community had been participating in creek clean-up projects over the preceeding years and there was a body of knowledge among creek aficionados.
Doug Wolfe in the City’s Parks Department wanted to design a creek restoration project for Strawberry Creek Park. His superiors said no way; the Public Works Department would never go for it. Wolfe went ahead and created a design with a creek on his own time, along with the other drawing commissioned by the City. Richard helped get a few people together to look at the resulting secret drawings. At that meeting, they liked the creek restoration drawings enormously, and decided to simply promote the idea as independent innocent citizens hearing that a park was to be built there. “Why not,” they would propose, “have the creek restored since the park was going to be built anyway? We’d like to see some drawings of what it might look like. You must have people who can draw down there at City Hall…?”
Public Works was adamantly against it. But as time went on, enough people were asking for a creek restoration that a public meeting was arranged by the city at which two drawings would be presented, one with and one without a restored creek.
Berkeley environmentalist icon Dave Brower came to the meeting and spoke eloquently for restoring creeks. All sides were heard but one impediment was massive. The representative of Public Works said, “We are against opening the creek because it is a high maintenance item. If it gets resorted we will be always cleaning it out.” Everybody assumed he was more or less right, though creek supporters didn’t think it was that big a deal, and besides, they were getting paid, weren’t they? The debate went on.
Then one woman in the back of the room tentatively raised her hand. “I live next to the section of open creek at Live Oak Park, and I’ve seen Public Works people pruning the trees, mowing the lawn, putting on fertilizer or insecticide or something, trimming the hedges, but you know I have never ever seen anyone from Public Works cleaning out that creek.” A hush fell as all eyes turned to the man from Public Works — who began to look very uncomfortable. “Well….. I was under the impression that creeks are a high maintenance item….” And the project went through.
Around that time, Richard began writing his first book on ecocities and in 1987 his book Ecocity Berkeley — Building Cities for a Healthy Future was published by North Atlantic Books.