For most of his life, Bob Johnson has loved to walk. As a child, he walked around Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis he describes as “like Berkeley, only smaller and a bit less liberal.” In 13 years of living in Japan, he never owned a car. Instead, he’d peregrinate through the streets of Tokyo, or take the train out of the city to explore the region’s natural lands.
Today, as both an outings leader and board member for Greenbelt Alliance, he introduces Bay Area residents to the dynamic communities of Berkeley, the East Bay’s stunning parks and open spaces, and the joys of seeing the world on foot. Since 1989, Bob has been helping us spread the word about the unique wonders of his chosen home.
His first attempts to get involved came up short, but Bob was undeterred saying, “I said I’d like to get involved as a volunteer, and they didn’t get back to me. But I persevered!” He was soon introduced to then-communications director Jim Sayer, who helped him join a group of volunteers and board members called the outreach committee. After just a few years spreading the word about Greenbelt Alliance at farmer’s markets and events, Bob joined the Board in 1992.
Not content in the Board Room, though, Bob was still spreading the joys of seeing the Bay Area on foot as an outings leader. His urban outings were not just an opportunity to show Bay Area residents examples of smart growth, vibrant communities, and ideal sites for infill development around the region. They also gave him a chance to directly engage with local decision-makers. City Council members and planners attended his outings, and Bob delighted in pointing out ways they could improve their city.
His pedestrian tours eventually inspired him to write a book, Berkeley Walks. Co-authored with Janet Byron, it guides the reader along a variety of paths through the city’s natural and architectural delights. It’s a helpful guide, but also a clear illustration of how much Bob appreciates the balance between smart growth and conservation core to Greenbelt Alliance’s work.
It’s that connection to both cities and nature that has kept him involved with our organization for so long. As he describes it, “The fact that Greenbelt Alliance [does] both sides of the equation… working on open space on one hand and better urban areas on the other,” is incredibly important. “We don’t just say, ‘we have to lock this up and protect it,’ we also say ‘we have to make our cities more desirable places to live, with homes and jobs.’” To Bob, that makes Greenbelt Alliance unique in the Bay Area and has given the organization a unique place in his life.
He sees Greenbelt Alliance as playing a unique role in his legacy, too. He hopes his time with the outings program has “opened people’s eyes to the greenbelt…to what’s around them in our cities…the value of our cities.” The desire to support that legacy led Bob to include Greenbelt Alliance in his estate, explaining, “I am not a rich person, but I have some assets.” He intends to put them towards “[continuing] what I think is the good work of helping preserve open space and making more vibrant cities.” So even after Bob Johnson has taken off his walking shoes, Greenbelt Alliance will continue our work.
We’ll continue to fight for the places that make the Bay Area special, the thriving cities and towns that bustle with people of all backgrounds and income levels, the local farms and ranches that add so much savor to our region. In short, we’ll make sure future generations can fall in love with the Bay Area—just like Bob has. You too can make our vision a part of your legacy with a gift to Greenbelt Alliance today. Or learn more about our planned giving program and how you can follow Bob’s example here.
Photo: ©Dani Padget