By John King, San Francisco Chronicle, June 9, 2009:

If all you know of Emeryville is the view from Interstate 80 (chunky towers, chain-store retail) or San Pablo Avenue (chunky clutter, lying low), nothing prepares you for the green extravaganza that starts at the north end of Doyle Street.

It’s three blocks of lavish delight, cloaked with cottonwoods and strawberry trees and bunchgrass 5 feet tan. There’s a concrete lane for bicycles and a decomposed granite one for strollers. New homes frame the scene with front porches, not driveways.

Less than 2 years old, the landscape already feels far more exotic than what you usually encounter in an urban park. It’s also clever: The bike path and walkway together form a vehicle-ready fire lane — with the bunchgrass between them no obstacle to fire engines.

“In other cities you couldn’t do that,” said Gary Strang, whose GLS Landscape/Architecture designed the blocks within a larger greenway plan by Roma Design Group. “Emeryville has always been a very pragmatic place… once you establish that you’re competent, they let you do what you want to do.”

So there I stood on Halleck Street, which begins and ends before you know it alongside Interstate 80, staring at a burst of pure cutting-edge fun.

Four rows of steep town-homes line up perpendicular to the street — windows popping out here and there, cedar planks on one facade and galvanized metal on another, a color palette that puts a rainbow to shame.

And get this: the other buildings on the block are a brick warehouse and a concrete warehouse that’s now lofts. This is part of Emeryville’s Historic Industrial District. But Blue Star Corner, designed by David Baker + Partners for Holiday Development, doesn’t clash. It brings the story up to date.

“We’re comfortable with variety. Not everything needs to have a certain look,” said Deborah Diamond, who is managing the update of the General Plan for this city of 10,000 nestled near the Bay Bridge. “In a lot of places, the context becomes so important in doing anything. In Emeryville, that’s not the case.”

Let a dozen styles bloom.

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