Creek Stenciling = “Drains to Bay”

Nancy Lieblich, Berekeley Creek Stenciling Project

One of the next major initiatives of Richard and Urban Ecology was to raise awareness about the urban watershed in Berkeley marking the names of the creeks along curb sides with an image of an animal that lives in or beside the creeks.  Richard volunteered to draw the silhouettes of the “creek critters” and cut out the stencils. With 30 or 40 people working several weekends, they aspired to mark every single curb under which a creek passed in the whole town.

The creek stenciling project was one of their most successful projects, getting good press and ending up being adopted in other communities around California, with some modification: “Don’t Dump — Drains to Bay” for example, with a fish image, and in one color only, usually blue.

A lesson from this that is worth thinking about, for those who want to do activist projects: try to asses the capacity of volunteer work carefully and try to have an excess before going into the project.  Some people will always drop out and you cannot be sure new people will be excited and join in the action en route, though that often does happen with a good project.  About two thirds of the way into marking the whole city’s creek system, most of the original volunteers had done enough to feel good about it — and suddenly it was ever more difficult to line up more volunteers.  It took Richard six more weeks to finish the project alone or with one other person, steadily doing about ten more stencils every day.

Another point here is important: conceptual completion counts for a lot. Without the whole city marked with creek critters and names, the project just wouldn’t read well and little publicity could be expected.  Most of the articles that resulted started off celebrating the completion of the project.  Newspaper and magazine articles need a “peg” on which to hang the story, which usually turns up in the headline.  The completion of a project is a good peg that can often snag a little publicity.  To explain why you only got two-thirds of the way to completion just wrecks a good story.