Jason Kirkpatrick: Arcata vs. Berlin, Part 1 – July 29, 2011

Friday, July 29, 2011

In 1990 I spent three months traveling across the USA looking for the best city to move to and call home. Arcata topped my list by a long shot.

In 1991 I moved there, and in 1994 became City Councilor and then Vice Mayor. After my term on the Council, I decided to move to Europe. As of now, I have lived in my favorite European City of Berlin, Germany, for eight years, the same amount of time I have lived in Arcata.

Even though I love Berlin, there are still a lot of things I miss from my last adopted California “hometown.” For those of you that are interested, here is my comparison:

Which is the best place in the world to live: Berlin vs. Arcata?

City Parks

Arcata has some of the best places to relax of any City in the USA. What can compare to the local redwood forests, with kids playgrounds just under the entrance to their beautiful trailheads?

The Arcata Marsh is known worldwide, and I have lectured across Europe about how it went from being a landfill to being a valued birding spot to visitors from across the country.

The Arcata Skate Park is still one of the best for any small city of its size, and nearby trips to the fantastic coast are just a jump away.

Berlin, for a big city, has a ton of trees and huge parks. A bonus near my house is Templehof Park, which was Berlin’s main airport for decades until it closed and became a park last year. It is fantastic for exercise on my road bike, where I can fly down the two old runways, or have a BBQ with friends.

I love the green paths along the nearby Landwehr Canal, which take me along the former East/West boundary, below an old East German watchtower, to the nice Treptow Park along Berlins river Spree.

Bike Lanes and Public Transport

While living without a car is easy inside both Berlin and Arcata, the lack of train connections to other parts of the West Coast is definitely a drawback for carfree living in Arcata.

Both Arcata and Berlin have their mix of good bike infrastructure, as well as occasional road rage drivers. Europeans are willing to pay more to get a great public transport infrastructure such as Berlin’s, and maybe with peak oil and raising gas prices, the idea of rail connecting Arcata to the Bay Area could bring a level of mobility to Arcata residents that could more closely compete with Berlin.

In Berlin, due to the typical European high density, I can walk to about 30 cafés and restaurants within five minutes, as well as hardware stores, shoe or key makers, or other shops filling about 95 percent of my needs.

On the other hand, breathing that great North Coast air is a lot more pleasant than breathing big city car fumes while biking across my current hometown in Germany.

Buying organic

Arcata’s Farmers’ Market can compete with any farmers market in the world for quality fresh local organic produce. I really miss it. I worked at the Arcata Co-op for about three years, still own shares there, and think it is a fantastic place to obtain my vittles as well as dry goods.

In Berlin, I am lucky that I can find a “bio laden” (organic shop) about every 500 yards in the densely populated city, but they are always small and offer relatively little choice. Being vegan is much harder in Germany than California, likely due to the long tradition of living off of animal products during the long freezing winters. My local bioladen has a cool program where they hire long-term unemployed workers, and give a 25 percent discount to low-income people. Even though it’s possible to get a weekly box of organic produce via a Community Subscription Agriculture farm, Arcata still wins hands down in this category.

Next week: Community feeling, higher education, employment, rent and retirement.

Jason Kirkpatrick is a former Arcata City Councilmember. His new website is blackhelmetproductions.net

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