As a 24-year-old, I am constantly inundated with prepackaged things to consume; from smartphones to tweets, from strip malls to paved walking paths, too often our community neglects the importance of unplugging to process the interactions and environments we experience each and every day.

Knowland Park is my space -- and I hope it remains our space -- to do just that.

The 490 acres of Knowland Park were deeded to the city of Oakland from the state under the terms that it would be maintained for public park purposes. As contractors for the upkeep of this space, the East Bay Zoological Society has been entrusted with carrying out this responsibility.

The zoo has interpreted that public park purposes should include a major 56-acre expansion to its current 93 acres -- to include a gondola ride, restaurant, offices and gift shop -- along with an interpretive center and exhibits of California flora and fauna that have been marginalized by this and similar urban expansions.

As an Oakland native, the zoo provided my first introduction to wild animals and their habitats, but Knowland Park is where I fostered my appreciation for the less-commercialized bounty of Bay Area open space.

The 56-acre expansion proposed by the zoo cuts substantially into the most accessible area of Knowland Park, demarcating the area most frequented by the public with widened maintenance roads and fenced borders.


Advertisement

Without addressing the motives or underlying agenda of the zoo, the expansion plan threatens Knowland Park as an ecological hotspot. The environmental threats to rare plant and animal species have been well documented by the California Native Plant Society and Friends of Knowland Park (go to www.saveknowland.org).

Beyond the environmental effect, however, the zoo expansion project also threatens an increasingly endangered community asset: minimally manipulated open space.

As a young adult, I'm drawn to the park because it is one of the only places where I am not told how I should be interpreting it.

Young people in Oakland aren't in need of more stimulating entertainment spectacles. We are in need of more unpaved spaces that don't spoon-feed us interpretations of the way we should experience the things around us.

Certainly at times it feels like a nuisance to slow down to scrape mud off my shoes or to scan constantly the horizon to avoid the vet bills I might incur if my dogs crossed paths with the family of coyotes that dig these hills for gophers every morning.

But more important than the inconvenience is the reminder that the beauty of this space isn't manipulated for my thoughtless consumption; to use it, I must tune in instead of tuning out.

I'm not shuffling along a paved path while an audio headset recites how remarkable these creatures were before urban expansion pushed them out of this habitat (how ironic.)

"Unproductive space," which doesn't bring in money, sometimes holds far greater value than that which does. The zoo's expansion plan isn't what a 21st-century vision of conservation education should be.

Utilize the space; host docent-led tours; but don't destroy native California landscape and wildlife habitat to put up displays about them, and then tell me that as a youth, I should appreciate this educational opportunity as a treasured benefit to all of us.

Allison McManis is a resident of Oakland.