E’ville Voices: Planning Commissioner Brad Gunkel on Utilizing Monuments to Enhance our City’s Identity

3 mins read

Our “E’ville Voices” guest blogger series was created to net a broader range of voices about our city in flux and initiate dialogue through opinion & conversation. Joining our guest blogger series is Planning Commissioner Brad Gunkel. Brad is a resident of Doyle Street Cohousing and the Principal of Gunkel Architecture.


Claiming and Proclaiming Emeryville’s Burgeoning Identity

Six years ago I moved to Emeryville for one reason: to be a part of the thriving cohousing community on Doyle Street. Though I’ve lived in the East Bay for nearly 25 years, the time I’d previously spent in the town I now call home had primarily consisted of early 90’s warehouse parties and, more recently, the occasional trip to IKEA. Now I find myself exhibiting an ever-growing pride in our little city. I tout its perks and want to see Emeryville live up to its potential, not as an extension of the office parks and light industry of Southwest Berkeley or a spill-over of the hip edginess that is North Oakland or a mini Mission Bay across the water but a town completely unique in the area and even in the country. I view Emeryville’s destiny as that of living, breathing example of a new type of urban environment where technology, art, retail, offices, homes, history and the promise of the future coexist without the strict segregation of uses that can be an impediment to a truly pedestrian environment.

As we work to guide Emeryville toward the realization of its optimum state, there comes a time when it is only right for us to claim our distinct identity in a way that welcomes visitors while heightening their awareness of the exciting endeavors and prospects that our modern village offers. With urban boundaries that zigzag across San Pablo Avenue and often occur at seemingly arbitrarily locations on all sides (except at the bay, of course), a comprehensive identity-claiming initiative would be a significant undertaking involving unified streetscapes, paving cues, street lamps, art and signage. While this is a commendable long-term goal, we are still at a place in time when (due to current conditions and budget constraints) more pressing demands have to take precedent.

Final Watertower

It is with an appreciation for both the hope and challenges that lie before us that I propose a first identity-claiming step that will provide the most impact for a limited expenditure. During a recent City Council Meeting at which the Capital Improvement Plan was approved, I presented my proposal. Amid the countless budget items, a yet unfunded $3.5 million line item was added for a gateways and monuments program.

Under this program, a design competition could be held for gateways and monuments at key entries into Emeryville. The locations I propose include a gateway sign on:

  1. San Pablo at 37th Street
  2. Existing water tower at Doyle and Powell
  3. Gateway on Powell at Shellmound
  4. Possible monuments on 40th Street at Adeline
  5. Hollis at 67th Street


Optimal locations and forms of identification can be confirmed by Planning Staff based on traffic data and budget analysis. The selection of the gateways and monuments that best represent the spirit and aspirations of Emeryville can be made by the Planning Commission or another reasonably objective panel selected by the Planning Staff or City Council.


In the context of a more clearly defined identity, we will be better positioned as a community to reap what we sow. In much the same way that a common jersey highlights the accomplishments of a team while still spotlighting the achievements of individual players, well positioned, well designed gateways and monuments will place the hard work of Emeryville’s engaged citizens, business owners and employees within a frame of reference recognizable to the entire Bay Area and beyond. After driving under a gateway on their way to a favorite restaurant, store or event, patrons might say “Emeryville really seems to be doing something right. I’d like to live to live here.” After bicycling past a monument on her way to a meeting, a business owner might think “My company could really benefit from the synergy of Emeryville.” After walking past the water tower, an employee might realize that his life could be simpler and more rewarding if more of it took place within the city where he works.

Emeryville will no longer be an abstraction or vaguely recognized area in the eyes of most Bay Area residents. Instead it will become a well-defined framework for the exciting energy that our residents and business owners create. The choir of our creative voices will no longer dissipate into space but will instead resonate within and beyond the community that we’ve lovingly constructed. It is time for Emeryville to proudly claim and proclaim its identity. If you agree, please contact Planning and Building Director Charles Bryant as well as your City Council Members in order to voice your support for a gateways and monuments program so that the funding of such an initiative is appropriately prioritized.

Thank you very much for helping to make Emeryville such a great place to live and work.

Sincerely, Brad Gunkel


Never Miss a Story!

Subscribe to Emeryville’s only dedicated news source.

Guest Contributor

The E'ville Eye Guest Contributor series invites local officials, business owners, residents & neighbors to share their opinions and voice about a broad range of subjects involving our city. Contact us if you're interested in submitting an editorial or story.


  1. Agree Brad. In addition to what you have said, our City Council and City managers have been competent, hard working and honest for decades. They listen to the citizens, too.

  2. Emeryville’s identification is not burgeoning, it’s established. It’s regional shopping malls filled with formula franchise chain retail, fast food, demolished historic vernacular architecture replaced with drive-in drive-out apartment buildings and lofts. Perhaps the monuments you speak of could be large signs at our borders with all the corporate logos in town.
    Seriously though, what you’re pushing here I think is crass civic boosterism. We should let our actual sense of place (if we ever get one back) answer this need you’ve identified. It’s a sad commentary that this laudable desire of yours can only be imagined as city border monuments. Real places don’t need such monuments. Maybe we should instead build a real place. It would loudly tell everybody they’re in Emeryville and it would have the added benefit of making a nice place to live for us, the residents.

    • Ouch Brian! I think you’re being a little too harsh on Brad and his proposal. Perhaps your long residence and intimacy with Emeryville is coloring your view, but my experience with telling people/guests I live in Emeryville is much more often “Where’s Emeryville?” or “I had no idea this was Emeryville” as opposed to “Emeryville is a corporate-owned mall town”.

      I think this idea is a worthy extension of our existing public arts program and would serve multiple purposes: supporting local artists (hopefully), public branding for Emeryville and perhaps fostering more civic pride. I totally agree with Brian that “building a real place” is the better ultimate, long-term goal, but I see this proposal as part and parcel of that vision. We’re a tiny enclave that’s part of a world-class metropolitan area – proclaiming our existence via monuments and such makes perfect sense to me.

      Thanks for the email link Brad, I passed along my support to Charles Bryant (for whatever that’s worth).

Leave a Reply

Previous Story

#TBT 1998: E’ville’s famed driftwood gallery is cleaned, added to Eastshore Park

Next Story

Architecturally significant “Acucare” Building at 3900 Adeline Demolished

Support Local News for the Emeryville Community and get free Merch!

Become a recurring E’ville Eye supporter for as little as $5 per month and get a FREE custom tee or cap (minimum one year commitment).

Support Hyperlocal News →

You have Successfully Subscribed!