Berkeley, California

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What's it like to live in Berkeley?

What is it like to live in Berkeley, CA?

My husband and I have lived in Berkeley for 20 years, raised kids, owned a house, and have loved being here. At first I thought I wasn’t cool enough or liberal enough, but there are truly all types of people, with enormous economic and social, cultural, and political diversity. The city has about 100K people and there are defined neighborhood sections. Some are more affluent than others, generally the farther east and up into the hills you go, the wealthier people are, but only generally. You can find housing that’s architecturally diverse in all of them. Having UC Berkeley right here provides academic, athletic, and cultural opportunities all the time. Our kids attended both public and private schools, each for different reasons. Their experience growing up in a mini model of the world with equal representation of Latin Americans, Blacks, Asians, and Caucasians, has been tremendously valuable to them. The downside things I would say are an increase in drugs and their availability, crime, and the cost of living.

What is it like to live in Berkeley, CA?

Berkeley is a diverse, educated and mostly liberal enclave known for its food and coffee scene, its schoolyard garden programs and its recycling, as well as the epicenter of the "free speech" movement. It is home to the University of California at Berkeley, which hosts approx. 35,000 students, most of which are grad level. It also hosts Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, which employs 4500 or so scientists and administrative staff employed in fundamental scientific research. UCB does not financially support the City of Berkeley, as some believe, and the fees directed from Campus to the City are less than $2M a year, despite the excessive wear the student population places on the City infrastructure. The Campus has its own police force, engineering and sanitation depts. There are many entrepreneurs and companies which have begun here in Berkeley, as a result of students or faculty from UC or those attracted here due to the brain trust.

Berkeley's City government is a city manager structure, so the mayor has little real political power and there's been little movement in mayoral candidates over the last thirty years. There are five or six distinct neighborhoods in Berkeley and several of these skew towards the retirement centers for retired UCB professors, which keeps property values high in comparison to other more volatile, evolving neighbors, such as Emeryville. This has also served to keep crime relatively low. Most crime occurs in or near the downtown area, where the demographics skew younger and the street scene is bogged down by vagrant sleepers and beggars, the bain of locals, who don't have the stomach to restrict street behaviors to limit sleeping on public streets or aggressive panhandling. There's a fairly good transit system, with everyone being within one mile of a BART train, and only the hills being underserved by the bus system, which keeps cars essential for anyone commuting outside the city. I would venture that the most popular car is a Prius and the most popular luxury car is a Tesla. Bicycles are also very popular, with many city streets being labeled as Bicycle Boulevards with extra wide bike lanes and direct routes with fewer cars encouraged by use of auto barricades.

Current challenges are focused on development downtown: to high-rise buildings or try and maintain small town character? Another is affordability, with focus on rental units (city is rent-controlled) and the popularization of AirBnB which has removed hundreds if not thousands of apartments off the rental market into the hotelier market, to the consternation of those living here and moving here for employment.

It is expensive to live here, but there are also many unique features which make it attractive. Public libraries among the best, access to the university and other colleges locally, good public schools, world renowned disability advocacy program, good theater and music scenes, good sports programs, community and residential gardens all make Berkeley very livable.

What is it like to live in Berkeley, CA?

Expensive - very wealthy population on average, and a very large university, making housing expensive in the downtown area, and the cheaper big chain stores have been banished to Emeryville. Very good ethnic food, everywhere you look, and often reasonably priced. Very very liberal - you will be judged if you are not in the extreme tail of the left wing. Overrun with idealistic undergrads and 20-something hipsters near the university or farther south along/near Telegraph. Southwest Berkeley is cheaper, poorer, more barren in terms of restaurants etc, and more like north Oakland than Berkeley. There's a lot of fun/interesting stuff to do downtown and at the University (open to the public as well.) Lots and lots of bums, constantly bugging you for change, many of which are obviously in need, and many of which are obviously disaffected teenagers living out some romanticized notion.

Pros/cons of living in Berkeley or Oakland?

Pros: Culture (aka $8 coffee and beers). JK the East Bay is an awesome place with tons of things to do but I’ll leave that to you to figure out or you can DM me with any specific questions. Cons: Old snobby hills people, NIMBYs, homeless, vandalism, theft (hope you have a discreet car with a trunk), gun violence, drug problems (like you’re guaranteed to see needles almost daily and have encounters with legitimately insane drugged out people), poor public transportation, most public spaces being filthy and crowded, slumlords in the southside, tech bros moving in and acting urban, urban moms in their lulu’s leaving the fourth street soul cycle, hold out hippies in surplus army fatigues sniffing glue with their pit bull making wire jewelry on Telegraph, forever academics at Berkeley who contribute nothing to society, cost of living, etc. The list goes on. They call it Bezerkeley for a reason. Don’t get me wrong. I like Berkeley, but it’s definitely not this bastion of liberal freedom that some people make it out to be.

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