After the success of the First International Ecocity Conference, Urban Ecology added more Board Members. Their decisions began to head in a more conventional direction and Richard felt they were losing the cutting edge approach that was the hallmark of ecocity activism.
Not wanting to lose momentum and choosing to avoid a fight with the new Board, Richard decided to leave Urban Ecology and set up a new organization: Ecocity Builders. The new organization’s name was chosen to emphasize a crucial point, that people coming up with innovative ecocity ideas should actually attempt to build what they preach.
In the new group, they planned to honor that old commitment to build, as well as to develop theory, create new ideas, provide forums on the subject and otherwise be active in the community educating and pursuing appropriate projects in any effective way possible.
Ecocity Builders set up their booth and talks at the conferences in Rio de Janeiro, then participated in the European Eco Logical Architecture Congress in Sweden and Finland, later the INTERARCH conference in Bulgaria, then conferences in Italy, Austria and Chile, and on it goes.
Back home in Berkeley, Ecocity Builders produced an ecocity zoning map for the city and sent a copy to each member of the City Council, the Planning Commission, and the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and a number of developers and environmentalists. Such a map, based on building up “walkable centers” and restoration of nature beyond those centers, could not be expected to quickly replace present zoning maps in any city, but could be treated as an “overlay” immediately influencing official planning decisions and developers’ proposals. Since then, similar maps have been prepared for Oakland and Alameda, California, Adelaide, Australia and Vancouver, Canada.
A new line of projects opened up around Earth Day 1993 when Berkeley’s Daily Bread Project called up and wanted Ecocity Builders’ help in tearing up a parking lot and planting a garden. The project was remarkable in many ways. The Daily Bread Project was working with Susan Felix, creator of an organization called UA (University Avenue) Housing. She had recently restored an earthquake and fire damaged old four story hotel in West Berkeley just four blocks from the old Integral Neighborhood area Urban Ecology had worked on in the Arcology Circle days. With money from the federal government, from city funds, and various contributions from many community groups, Susan’s organization had remodeled the brick structure that had served for many years as a staging area for drug addicts, dealers and prostitutes. By March of 1993 seventy-five formerly homeless people were living securely in the strictly drug-free remodeled building and Susan, a recent guest at one of our evening meetings, realized that we would be enthusiastic about helping her tear up part of her parking lot to put in a garden.
Coincidentally, Richard had been talking for two years with Jan Lundberg about his Alliance for a Paving Moratorium. In concert with this work, Ecocity Builders decided to print a T-shirt with the slogan “Save Paradise — Tear Up a Parking Lot,” a take off on Joni Mitchell’s famous song, “Yellow Taxi.” Within three days of making the T-shirts with the slogan emblazoned on the front around an image of crossed sledge hammer and crow bar, the call from Carolyn for the UA Homes depaving came through. Richard and Ecocity Builders were ready to go.
Meantime, elsewhere in Berkeley, developer Laurie Capetelli completed a twelve unit condominium project in which he prevailed upon the city to let him make an excessively wide street narrower, paying personally for new curb lines that actually expanded front yard area. For decades the widening of streets was taken for granted by traffic engineers, planners and citizens alike. In the l960’s in Berkeley, that pattern stopped, but not until Laurie’s project did streets begin getting narrower. Speed bumps are now spreading around the city like chicken pox, thanks to Ecocity Builders’ Slow Street, quieting streets and neighborhoods. And all over the Bay Area “Don’t Dump — Drains to Bay” stencils inspired by their “creek critter” signs are being laid down on curbs over storm drains.
An Ecocity Builders street orchard project came and went which placed 100 fruit trees from apples and persimons to apricots and lemons, from peaches and nectarines to figs and pears, along planter strips on streets, in school yards, at community gardens and low income housing and at-risk youth gardens, and at the largest new creek restoration project in Berkeley’s history to date.
Across town Ecocity Builders rolled out the heavy earth moving equipment for the largest creek opening in Berkeley’s history, organized by Urban Creeks Council, with Ecocity Builders coordinating volunteers — over 375 — in the actual construction of the watercourse.
Three hundred and twenty feet of Codornices, where it is approaching the San Francisco Bay have been liberated. To accomplish this Ecocity Builders depaved a parking lot, tore up an 80 foot section of asphalt street, created a row of rolling hills, planted California native trees, bushes and flowers along the new banks and established the first public access orchard in town with 14 different kinds of fruit on land owned by the University of California.
These are a few of the projects initiated and developed by Richard Register over the past decades. There are many newer projects finished and currently underway that you can explore on this website, along with more details of some of the older efforts.
Thus the ecocity work goes on, dreams changing to plans to action to history and fond memories…