Legacy of Karl Linn
by Christine Sculati on July 01, 2006
”Karl Linn spent his lifetime bringing people together in community, in an urban setting, in nature,” says Carole Bennett-Simmons, project coordinator for the Peralta Community Gardens, one of five Berkeley projects built by the prominent landscape architect, social justice activist, and advocate for urban green spaces. Linn died in his Berkeley home in February at the age of 81.
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.
Linn’s legacy lives on through an umbrella group called Friends of the Westbrae Commons. “Karl often spoke of reclaiming the commons, to grow food and community. We want Friends of the Westbrae Commons to embrace that ideal,” says Nicole Becker, Linn’s longtime assistant. To launch the new organization, the group is planning a day of live music and poetry readings on Sunday, August 28, at the Peralta Community Gardens. Check the group’s web site, www.karllinn.org, for details.
The community gardens are open to the public on weekends and on weekdays when volunteers are available. To volunteer for any of the gardens or projects, email Becker at firstname.lastname@example.org.