Brower Center Breaks Ground in Berkeley

After seven long years, the David Brower/Oxford Plaza complex finally broke ground in downtown Berkeley, California. This Center will be a place from which our sustainable future is planned and implemented.

A good sign that the project is already on track was the number of young parents with kids who arrived at the groundbreaking ceremony May 23, 2007 on bicycle. I sure was envious of the eco-hip toddlers with cool stickers on their bike helmets. Anyone know where I can get a T-rex sticker?

The groundbreaking was a celebration of a man, and a movement, and the end of a difficult planning process described by one of the main planners as “brain-damaging” in its complexity.

When complete, the Brower Center will serve as a home office for the environmental movement, with retail space on the ground floor, meeting rooms, a theater, and 97 units of permanently affordable, and high-quality rental housing near public transportation and jobs. And of course it will be a state of the art, green building.

A Man on a Mission

The complex is named after the undisputed heavy hitter of the American environmental movement. David Brower’s career spanned decades. He served as the Sierra Club’s first executive director, founded the League of Conservation Voters, Friends of the Earth, and Earth Island Institute. He was often thrown out of the very organizations he started for pushing too hard. Not to worry, Dave would just go start another organization that filled an underserved gap in the movement. Considering the groups Brower launched all play essential roles in today’s movement, his bad behavior can finally be understood as vision.

Everyone who met David has a favorite story of him.

Here is mine.

During his last decade (a manic “retirement” which required staff and a scheduler) David could often be found sipping a strong martini at his favorite restaurant just beneath the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. One afternoon, he invited some young people in the movement to join him. Just as we started feeling relaxed being in the presence of this giant, Dave went around the table, demanding an answer to one question.

“What book are YOU going to write that will help us save the planet?”

He was serious, and nobody dared leave the table until they had a decent answer. That was Dave. Dave wanted your sworn commitment to the cause, and he planned to hold you to it.

Eco Center

So far more than 30 organizations are in line to get office space in the Brower Center. Anchor tenants include Earth Island Institute, International Rivers Network, California League of Conservation Voters and Build It Green.

The builders are pushing for Platinum-LEED certification, and the hope is that this energy efficient, sunny, workplace will allow the environmental movement to do more collaboration. Besides office space, the center will include a theater for public events, a restaurant, and meeting rooms.

Low-income housing

The housing element, which will be known as Oxford Plaza, was coordinated by Resources for Community Development a Berkeley-based affordable housing organization. By locating this housing right in the heart of Berkeley, near numerous transit options and bike lanes, RCD hopes to solve many of the transportation challenges of low-income workers. If they choose, residents will be able to live car-free and save their money for more important things.

A Monument to the Future

“The building of the Brower Center represents a further coming of age of a worldwide movement,” said Paul Hawken of the new buildings. “David was a monument, and hardly needs one. But what he did want was the deepening and strengthening of the institutions that lead the way towards conservation, preservation and restoration.”

The Brower Center will likely help accomplish all those things, and much more.