Friday, August 17, 2012

Contrasting Berkeley and Westwood

I am in Berkeley today and will return to Westwood soon.  It's about 70 degrees here and at night when the temperature hovers around 50 degrees some homes actually are running wood furnaces to generate some heat or at least to pollute the air.   Given how hot this summer has been elsewhere, that's a strange contrast.

While Westwood and Berkeley both feature great weather that bundles sunshine, no humidity and no real heat, there are many differences between the towns.  West LA is a hedonist's paradise.  Everyone has invested to look good, to have nice cars, a nice lawn and a nice house.  Everything looks quite perfect in the greater West LA area.  Perhaps the only exception is some of the commercial strips.  Since LA is a cars town, these commercial areas are never walkable and cute.  Instead, they feature easy car access and parking to run in and do your chores and shopping and then drive away.

Berkeley has a different vibe.  If the Kardashian sisters made an appearance in Berkeley they would probably argue that 90% of the folks here (including myself) need a makeover.   They would be surprised by the absence of grass in the front yards of anyone's home.  They would be surprised that people can happily live in a two bedroom, one bathroom home 1300 square foot home.   Such homes are ubiquitous around Berkeley and Albany.   The green lifestyle embraced here is low maintenance and not resource intensive.

Downtown Berkeley is not nice.  It offers an ongoing field experiment to see how well intended local government policy affects the vibrancy of a downtown .5 miles away from a leading research university (UC Berkeley).  While downtown Westwood has problems, there is no comparison with the challenges that downtown Berkeley faces.  The family in PBS' Downton Abbey should visit Downtown Berkeley. That would be a good plot!  It would interest me to learn more about how the Berkeley Mayor's office works with the leadership and faculty of UC Berkeley to build a higher quality of life, safer community.

Westwood has no equivalent of Berkeley's People's Park. In an age of private property, Berkeley is running an experiment about how to be tolerant and how to share public property with people of all types.  For better or worse, such tolerance attracts some unusual folks.

A benefit of Berkeley's diversity is that it has better food than Westwood.  Perhaps because everyone seeks to be thin in LA, nobody wants to think about good food?

So which town has the better quality of life?