The Resilient By Design Bay Area Challenge brought together nine multi-disciplinary design teams to develop resilient solutions to climate change-induced sea level rise and severe flooding, and seismic impacts at various sites around the San Francisco Bay. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Trust for Conservation Innovation invited design teams and local communities to undertake a collaborative research phase in the fall of 2017. And, then, beginning in 2018, each team was assigned a single site to create a conceptual design.
Landscape architects, architects, planners, engineers, scientists, and others worked with community members to develop design proposals, understanding that climate risks and social equity challenges often co-exist. The teams looked at not only how to make communities more resilient to future physical impacts, but also how to address gentrification and displacement, fragmented governance structures and insufficient infrastructure.
Jurors assessed design teams based on their abilities to engage multiple stakeholders, show technical feasibility, encourage equity and community engagement, incorporate existing sea-level-rise strategies, and demonstrate a design that fits into a regional action plan.
However, this time around there were no winners that went on to receive funding. This process was different from the original Rebuild by Design in the New York City Metro area, because the Bay Area Challenge didn’t partner with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and doesn’t have access to their disaster recovery funds.
Participants in the competition found the most successful aspect of the competition was the connection of individuals and organizations that had not worked together in the past, laying the foundation for continued collaboration. Building relationships is key to securing funding and implementing these proposals whether through government bonds or new relationships with the private sector.
While there is no funding laid out to implement the Bay Area projects, several teams will continue efforts with communities to realize them. The success of the competition lies in the ideas generated. Bay Area jurisdictions will then need to decide how, when, and what to move forward.
Summaries of the design proposals:
Bionic Landscape, WXY, PennDesign, Michael Yarne, Enterprise, Moffatt & Nichol, WRA, RMA, Romberg Tiburon Center SFSU, BAYCAT, Studio for Urban Projects, RAD Urban, Keyser Marson Associates
The North Bay City of San Rafael, like many cities in the Bay Area, is threatened by flooding. BionicTeam’s design encourages San Rafael to “evolve with intention” — by changing its relationship to water through physically elevating itself and also elevating its social and economic performance (see image at top).
San Rafael is vulnerable. Many of the residents, who are immigrants, live in one of the city’s highest flood-risk neighborhoods. Much of the city sits on land that is subsiding. The city’s pump system is failing. Its wood frame housing stock risks condemnation in a flood event. And the city lacks emergency preparedness.
“San Rafael is thought of as a small town in sleepy Marin, and that has to shift. Everything flows through this place,” explained BionicTeam’s Marcel Wilson, ASLA.
The team’s proposal to elevate “everything and everyone” involves both near-term and long-term solutions. The near-term catalyst projects include the completion of the Bay Trail that will one day run through the city, which can act as a resilient edge. In the long term, a new city governance structure that mobilizes economic growth, strengthens infrastructure and ecological resilience, and builds from existing cultural values will “elevate” the city to higher ground and a desirable quality of life.
Several jurors voiced that the proposal could have been stronger, questioning the details of how, exactly, San Rafael would elevate and how the city of San Rafael fits into the region. “It feels that the perspective of the region is missing,” said juror Henk Ovink, The Netherlands’ special envoy for international water affairs.
Pandora Thomas; Antonio Roman-Alcala; Urban Permaculture Institute; Ross Martin Design; Alexander J. Felson, ASLA, Yale School of Architecture
The Permaculture and Social Equity Team (P+Set) based their project on a commitment to community inclusion in the design process. The team undertook a comprehensive assessment of the needs, capacity, and existing knowledge of the community, and worked with them to create a “people’s plan.” This plan laid out a set of strategies Marin City can implement to create a resilient future.
Marin City, a community comprised of high density of people of color and low income, sits at the foot of a watershed stressed by numerous factors: eroded gullies, insufficient infrastructure that induces flooding, and an adjacency to the Bay, where rising level already threatens the city and the highway in between.
The process that led to a “people’s plan” involved partnering with the community, demonstrating that residents can become “creators and equals at the table” without dependency on “experts coming in to save them.” At the urging of the community, an eight-week course was initiated, to teach them about the unique water flow patterns of Marin City and techniques that could be employed to slow and spread the water, such as creek day lighting, terrace gardening, and bioswales.
“Communities are often included in the community design component—but it’s often just going through the motion,” said environmental designer Pandora Thomas. She believes their plan engaged the community as equal partners.
The jury applauded P+Set for demonstrating how important building social capital is in achieving community resilience. However, they voiced concerns about the plan’s omission of a sea-level-rise response; to which the team acknowledged that ultimately the community does need to work with other districts to innovate at the multi-jurisdictional level. The team focused on empowering and equipping the community with increased literacy that can build leadership.
TLS Landscape Architecture; Exploratorium; Guy Nordenson & Associates; Michael Maltzan Architecture; HR&A Advisors; Sitelab Urban Studio; Lotus Water; Rana Creek; Dr. John Oliver; Richard Hindle, UC Berkeley; Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants
Common Ground proposed an elevated scenic byway that sweeps across the San Pablo Baylands and Sonoma and Napa Counties in the North San Francisco Bay. The byway would create an “Ecological Central Park” that improves connectivity with an iconic gesture.
When examining this expanse of land, the team acknowledged the dual forecasts for this region in the coming decades: the highest population growth in the Bay Area, and sea-level rise that inundates the baylands and Highway 37 that cuts across them.
The proposed scenic byway would make use of bayland’s inhabitable mudflats and marshlands by connecting surrounding communities to each other and the environment.
“Communities don’t have agency here,” said team member Erik Prince, and reiterated that one of their goals in creating an iconic mark through the landscape is to “create a sense of ownership” over this endangered landscape in peoples’ backyards and increase its “visibility,” which can then instigate further action in the region.
Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), One Architecture + Urbanism, Sherwood Engineers, Moffat & Nichol, Nelson\Nygaard, Strategic Economics, and Dutra Group
This team proposes restoring an area at the base of the largest watershed in San Francisco, re-imagining it as a new park where ecology and industry co-habitate. The team proposes a comprehensive plan that engages physical, social, and economic resilience.
The plan starts with six pilot projects that serve as a roadmap for long-term, larger projects that embody the “hyper-creek” idea. These projects include an Islais Creek gateway that provides flood management and an accessible waterway; a living levee; a “food district” for selling and production; and an “innovation cove” that focuses on business incubation, research, and workforce training.
Because the hyper-creek is contingent upon long-term stewardship of the area, it was “imperative to integrate the community and get feedback” when developing the pilot projects. The team pointed out, however, that a pilot project cannot address all of the issues because some “need to be addressed on a jurisdictional basis, at a higher level.”
The intention is these pilots will be folded into a long-term strategy that manages stormwater flows, adaptation to sea level rise, and liquefaction risks through both natural and urban systems.
Jurors expressed skepticism about the proposal’s ability to solve the issue of displacement that courses rampantly through Bay Area communities, and this one specifically. “The pilots will not solve the displacement issue,” the team conceded. But they can “bring the surrounding community into the Islais Creek basin to start the conversation about the longer-term future.”
This guest post is by Grace Mitchell, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of California at Berkeley.