New Bay Area books about community, culture, and social change

 In Books, Community, Social Justice

Under the Dragon Book Cover

In recent months, nonprofit presses in Berkeley have released new books that highlight diverse Bay Area neighborhoods and unexpected ways communities come together.

In September, Heyday Books, publishers of books about California history, arts, and culture, released “Under the Dragon – California’s New Culture.” The book is also the subject of a new Oakland Museum exhibit called “Trading Traditions” beginning in January 2008. Written by locals Lonny Shavelson and Fred Setterberg, Under the Dragon follows the lives of a diversity of Bay Area communities while capturing the poignancy of individual struggle in a way that goes beyond the personal. The stories are raw and authentic, and the photographs are stunning.

Another nonprofit Berkeley-based publisher, New Village Press, is celebrating revered community activists at a launch party on December 9, 2007 for “Building Commons and Community” by the late Karl Linn and “Undoing the Silence: Six Tools for Social Change Writing” by Louise Dunlap. The event will be held from 3:00 to 6:00 pm at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists (BFUU) Hall at Cedar and Bonita Streets, and is co-sponsored by the BFUU Social Justice Committee and the NorCal Chapter of Architects/ Designers/ Planners for Social Responsibility. Speakers will include Louise Dunlap and Karl Linn’s longtime friend and colleague, Carl Anthony.

For over 40 years, Linn devoted himself to bringing people together in the spirit of reclaiming what he called “neighborhood commons,” creating urban oases, combined park-playground projects from vacant and blighted plots of land.

Linn, who grew up on a farm in Germany before his family was forced to flee Nazi persecution, worked as a child therapist and later established a distinguished landscape architecture practice in New York. By the late 1950s, he had decided to devote his career to social justice, teaching, and creating these neighborhood commons.

In the late 1980s, when Linn retired to Berkeley, he helped found the Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility and the Urban Habitat Program at Earth Island Institute. In 1993, Linn’s wife Nicole Milner, environmental justice activist Carl Anthony, and others banded together to convince Berkeley officials to name a city-owned community garden after Linn.

Soon thereafter, Linn teamed up with a UC Berkeley professor, her students, local craftspeople, and neighbors to rejuvenate the dilapidated garden, located in Berkeley’s Westbrae neighborhood. The Karl Linn Community Garden’s transformation inspired the creation of the nearby Peralta and Northside community gardens, the demonstration home known as the Berkeley EcoHouse, and a natural and human history project along the adjacent Ohlone greenway.

A Web site on Linn’s life and work can be found at

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