Community Garden Commons

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The West Coast experience, from a bio of Karl Linn

"After glasnost initiated by Michael Gorbachev lessened the threat of nuclear holocaust, Karl moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1989 he collaborated with architect Carl Anthony, a long-time friend and colleague to found the Urban Habitat Program, initially sponsored by Earth Island Institute. Urban Habitat's mission was to develop multicultural environmental leadership and restore inner-city neighborhoods. Linn had previously inspired Anthony to coordinate the creation of a neighborhood commons in Harlem in 1963, and Anthony credits Linn with advocating for environmental justice two decades before the field had a name.[8] Karl served on the boards of San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners and Berkeley Partners for Parks and on the steering committee of Berkeley's Community Gardening Collaborative. He helped found East Bay Urban Gardeners and the People of Color Greening Network.

Karl often spoke and wrote about the need to reclaim the commons and counter the ongoing privatization of public lands. He viewed the destruction of community gardens in New York City as the final enclosure of the commons. He believed strongly that guidelines to secure public land for community gardens should be incorporated in cities' general plans as was done in Seattle. He worked hard to include such guidelines in Berkeley's General Plan, convinced that through the creation and use of accessible community garden commons, neighborhood blocks can become arenas for a new kind of extended family living.

In 1993, for his 70th birthday, a community garden in north Berkeley was dedicated in his name to honor his lifelong service to community and peace. During the next two years Karl worked with volunteer wood artists, landscape architecture students, and AmeriCorps teams to revitalize the garden and add a handcrafted commons. With an overflowing wait list for plots in the refurbished Karl Linn Community Garden, he set his sights on a large weed-filled vacant lot across the street where the light rail tracks of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) enter an underground tunnel. In 1995 he and City Council representative Linda Maio began to negotiate with BART for use of the land. Karl proceeded to coordinate the envisioning, planning, and construction of the Peralta and Northside Community Art Gardens, where ecological innovations and works of art intermingle with lush vegetation. The circular commons of the Peralta Garden, surrounded by a mosaic Snake Bench and colorful native California plants, is widely used for meetings, workshops, and special events by neighbors and organizations.

Karl was actively involved in a local Jewish-Palestinian dialog group, which used the Peralta Commons for some of their activities, including the planting of a peace pole and dedication of the garden as a peace park.

In 1999, Karl collaborated with community and environmental activists, city officials, and other supporters to establish Berkeley's EcoHouse, purchasing a small run-down residence adjacent to the Karl Linn Community Garden and transforming it into a model of affordable ecological technologies. EcoHouse is now a project of the Ecology Center.

The same year Karl conceptualized the transformation of the nearby section of the Ohlone Greenway into an interpretive exhibit of the natural and cultural history of the area. Artists, teachers, designers, engineers, and native plant restorationists worked tirelessly to develop and construct exhibits that evoke the Spanish ranchero period, the agricultural era, and the rich culture of the Ohlone people, who inhabited the area for at least 10,000 years. A 24-yard-long mural "From Elk Tracks to BART Tracks" depicts the history of the neighborhood from pre-settlement to the present, serving as an enormous picture book and inspiring passers-by to stop, reflect, and converse.

This cluster of commons projects contributes to the social and ecological vitality of the Westbrae neighborhood and is maintained and developed by the volunteer Friends of the Westbrae Commons." (

More Information

  1. Neighborhood Commons