The Newspaper of the San Francisco Bay Chapter
March - April 2006
Volunteer of the month Joyce Roy
an architect's vision for building a better city
When Joyce Roy moved to Oakland in 1992, her daughter told her, "Mom, you can't survive out here without a car." Her move to Oakland was both a push and a pull. The recession of the early '90s had forced her to close her design/build business in New York City, and she liked what she had seen whenever she had visited the Bay Area.
Joyce had lived in many places where owning a car was a necessity, including India and small towns in Illinois, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Washington. But after 23 years of enjoying a car-free lifestyle (thanks to Manhattan's impressive public transit system) Joyce decided against buying a car. Instead she aspired to make her new city more livable.
Sensing that Oakland was a special place - albeit with a bit of an inferiority complex - Joyce wanted to "wake people up to what they have, how it could be better, and how to develop in a way that makes it a really livable city."
After carefully choosing a home within walking distance of shops and near public transit, Joyce became active with several Bay Area organizations working on planning concerns, including serving on the board of the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area. And out of these involvements she realized that to be most effective she needed to be active in the Sierra Club too. In 2001 she ran and was elected to the ExComm of the Club's Northern Alameda County Group.
"Joyce contributes wonderful efforts to the Sierra Club. She is one of our main volunteers following and watchdogging the Oakland Planning Commission," says Andy Katz, Northern Alameda County Group chair. Katz noted Joyce's commitment to pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented development.
Joyce's professional skills nicely complement her vision of transforming Oakland into a more livable city. A licensed architect who had her own practice in New York, Joyce looks at things - including cities - "from the standpoint of spatial relations".
"Architecture is about space," she says, "and where things are put in space is very important, how things connect and work together. I've become less interested in individual buildings than in the context and how it works with other things."
Joyce continues to work part-time for an architect in San Francisco, leaving plenty of time for volunteering with nonprofit organizations and writing opinion pieces in the Oakland Tribune about smart-growth issues. In addition to her work with the Sierra Club, Joyce is still on the boards of the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area and the Oakland Heritage Alliance, and also active with the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR).
Through these organizations Joyce has fought tirelessly to transform Oakland into a more livable, "smarter" city. She has fought against irresponsible plans to replace open space with retail development at Jack London Square, to put high-rise hotels and potentially casinos on the waterfront at the Oakland Army Base, and to tear down the Montgomery Ward Building, which could have provided 520 units of housing near the Fruitvale BART station. All this was a part of her work to promote smart-growth development including high-density development close to transit.
Though fighting powerful developers and politicians eager to help them out can be an uphill battle, Joyce continues to advocate for smart growth and to generate public support for it.
For example, she was a main organizer of a 2004 charrette, a public event where planners, architects, and community members sat down to work hands-on together on design issues. The meeting focused on a mixed-use project called Uptown Oakland on the north edge of the city's downtown. The plan contained valuable infill housing and park land, but the arrangement of the components didn't invite public uses - and neither the city nor the developer was giving an adequate chance for the public to speak up. In response, Joyce led the Northern Alameda Group in organizing the event. Dozens of people, of varied backgrounds, attended. "Even I was surprised at all the energy," Joyce said.
More recently Joyce has been working to ensure that the Oak-to-Ninth project on the Oakland Estuary does not turn into a sprawling development. Ten years ago there was a very good public process that involved Oakland citizens and which created the Estuary Policy Plan for public uses of the waterfront. It was incorporated into the General Plan. Then a few years ago a developer proposed putting 3,100 housing units "spread like peanut butter over the land," according to Joyce.
For Joyce, the critical question is "what kind of development, where?" The developer's proposed plan for Oak to Ninth would eat up open space and place thousands of families in an isolated area not near any transit. Joyce personally advocates for limiting any proposed housing at Oak to Ninth to slender high-rises in the area that was designated in the Estuary Policy Plan for hotels and convention centers.
The effort for healthier communities is eternal. Luckily, without any car Joyce Roy has tools to get things done in Oakland.
© 2006 San Francisco Sierra Club Yodeler
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