When Winston Dong, Jr., describes the cracked asphalt and lumbering, elevated tracks that overshadow a 12-mile corridor of East Oakland, he's doggedly optimistic.
"There's an incredible need and an incredible opportunity here," says Dong, community designer for Urban Ecology, a nonprofit that works at the nexus of city planning, health and environmental sustainability. "We're trying to find ways that we can carve out recreational areas and pocket parks and spaces where community can happen."
Founded by architects and activists, Urban Ecology has become the catalyst behind a shared vision for the East Bay Greenway. This proposed multi-use trail would connect neighborhoods, schools and public transit among the region's diverse, low-income communities. According to Dong, these communities face the largest deficit of safe and accessible places to be active, along with increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and asthma.
"When we go out to do the site visits you see people struggling," Dong says. "We're talking about young mothers just finding someplace to walk with their kids or Latino day laborers biking to the place where people come to look for jobs."
The opportunity to re-envision the corridor surfaced when the 35-year-old Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) announced a major seismic retrofit over the next two to six years. The Ohlone Greenway & Trail, which moves along the BART elevated tracks in three neighboring cities, presents a proven model for success.
"Here's this opportunity for both for these communities to gain hopefully recreational space, but also bike and pedestrian trails," says Dong. "It will make an amazing shift for the towns and people and communities along the route who will be using it."
"It's all about outreach and engagement," says Dong. "Then actually doing community design with the community."
East Oakland neighbors have been vocal about solutions. In response to safety concerns, the design concept blends recreational opportunities with good lighting, well-positioned signage and traffic calming measures.
The project's implementation depends on future fundraising efforts, and the continued collaboration of BART, local and regional officials, and community residents. Yet the inclusive process and holistic approach to community design presents a compelling vision of neighborhood vitality.
"It's really going from ground zero to a real paradigm shift," Dong says.
"We're not just talking about the environmental side of sustainable, we're talking about the cultural and community aspects as well as health."
View The Vision: Map of the East Bay Greenway [PDF]
Sample survey: See an example of a community survey [PDF] administered by Urban Ecology during the planning process.
Urban Ecology, founded in 1975, uses urban design, land use planning, and policy reform to help communities plan and build neighborhoods that are ecologically healthy, socially just and economically fair. Learn more.
The Walkable Streets Toolkit, available in English and Spanish, explains how to make streets better for walking, and identifies potential partners and resources.