Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge Proposals Unveiled (Part 1)

Elevate San Rafael / BionicTEAM, Resilient By Design

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:

Elevate San Rafael by BionicTeam

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.

The People’s Plan by Permaculture Plus Social Equity

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.

The People’s Plan / Permaculture Plus Social Equity, Resilient By Design

“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.

The Grand Bayway by Common Ground

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.

The Grand Bayway / Common Ground, Resilient By Design

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.

Islais Hyper Creek by BIG + ONE + Sherwood

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.

The Islais Hyper Creek / BIG + ONE + Sherwood, Resilient By Design

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.”

Read part 2, which covers the other five proposals.

This guest post is by Grace Mitchell, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of California at Berkeley.

Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge Proposals Unveiled (Part 2)

ouR Home / The Home Team, Resilient By Design

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.

Continued from part 1, here are the rest of the project summaries:

ouR Home by the Home Team

Mithun, Chinatown Community Development center ISEEED/Streetwyze, BioHabitats, Integral Group, HR&A Advisors, Moffat & Nicho, ALTA Planning, Urban Biofilter, Resilient Design Institute

The Home Team addresses the structural inequity ingrained in North Richmond with a set of design ideas aimed to boost community health and wealth. The team worked with community members and an advisory board to develop strategies that build local agency (see image above).

Strategies focused on four notions: 1) “Thrive,” which addresses housing affordability and wealth building; 2) “Filter,” on managing storm water; 3) “Grow,” focusing on a living shoreline, community amenities, and infrastructure; and 4) “Relate,” creating physical connections between North Richmond and the region.

One solution suggested splitting vacant lots into smaller lots, making home ownership possible by lowering the entry cost. Others strategies called for increasing urban canopy through “an air quality park,” a neighborhood greenway, and the protection of old growth trees—important to a community situated adjacent to the Chevron refinery.

Asked by juror Helle Soholt, CEO of the urban design firm Gehl, about finances, the team pointed out the City of Richmond is already a leader in alternative approaches to financing; social impact bonds are already used revitalize the community, and land trusts related to natural resources and housing are being explored.

The Estuary Commons by the All Bay Collective

AECOM, CMG Landscape Architecture, UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design, Berkeley Center for New Media, The Terner Center, California College of the Arts, IDEO, Silvestrum, SKEO, modem, David Baker Architects

The All Bay Collective (ABC) proposes redesigning the shoreline of San Leandro Bay into a habitable system of ponds, streams, and land forms. The resulting landscape would be “muscular, strong, and alive,” adapting to sea-level rise and groundwater flooding. The design proposes transportation and ecological corridors that will “stitch together” the patchwork of surfaces and “allow us to live with water in the future.”

The Estuary Commons / The All Bay Collective, Resilient By Design

Like other teams, the ABC team remarked on the importance of working with community partners—especially as they dove into East Oakland’s most historically red-lined and disadvantaged neighborhood. To facilitate community empowerment, the team developed a toolkit to educate community members. It includes the “In It Together Game,” for both kids and adults, intended to explore resilience actions like living levees. Another tool, the Community Resilience Investment Decision Making Tool, evaluates trade-offs between different adaptation actions. For the long-term, the team proposes implementing community benefit districts and eco-districts as governance and funding strategies that place power in the hands of community members.

The proposal also aligns the three transportation lines that divide the neighborhood, burying I-880 in a waterproof tunnel. Juror Shelley Poticha, with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), praised the group’s willingness to tackle existing transportation corridors that are at risk to sea-level rise and fluvial flooding.

“Throughout today, it really struck me how the legacy of the freeways in particular are really shaping the life of this region, and how the transportation agencies have a profound role here,” Poticha noted. “To what extent have these agencies acknowledged their role in creating the vulnerabilities in this region and their role in addressing the challenges?”

Unlock Alameda Creek by Public Sediment

SCAPE Landscape Architecture, Arcadis, Dredge Research Collaborative, TS Studio, UC Davis Department of Human Ecology and Design, UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, Buoyant Ecologies Lab

The Public Sediment team offers a plan to reconnect the sediment flows from Alameda Creek to the San Francisco Bay, facilitating the reestablishment of marshes and mudflats that can serve as ecological infrastructure for the Bay. The team looked upstream in the Alameda Creek watershed, the largest tributary that feeds the Bay.

The first step of their three-fold plan to restore sediment to the Bay “rethinks the sediment shed,” investigating how more sediment can be released downstream on its journey from the uplands. Dams, for instance, are barriers that impede the downstream movement of sediment.

The second step to “unlock Alameda Creek” transforms the present flood control channel into an “active” channel that moves sediment and fish and engages people through proposed terrace trails, “mudrooms,” and seasonal bridges. The third step plans and pilots these moves.

Public Sediment’s Unlock Alameda Creek / SCAPE Landscape Architecture

Public Sediment spent appreciable time with neighboring communities throughout their research and design process. Responding to communities’ desires to “see more water,” they worked to get people “closer to a water-based experience,” and also involved them in adaptive management and monitoring strategies. “One of the major goals of this work is to have an emotional relationship with the dynamic ecosystems that shape this place over time,” said Gina Wirth, ASLA, with SCAPE.

Resilient South City by HASSELL+

Hassell, Deltares, Lotus Water, Idyllist, Civic Edge Consulting, Goudappel, Page & Turnbull, HATCH, Brown & Caldwell

The Resilient South City proposal creates a continuous public corridor along Colma Creek in South San Francisco, managing flooding and expanding available public green space. It integrates habitat creation, water management, and recreation to “start from the bottom up” and offers a scalable implementation plan. Elements of the design include creating a natural floodplain, treating runoff from the adjacent highway, and using schools as “resilience hubs” that treat stormwater and serve communities during emergencies.

Resilient South City / HASSELL+, Resilient By Design

The design team uncovered the vulnerability of the city’s creek-side and shoreline areas to flooding, sea-level rise, and liquefaction; the necessity for restoration projects to better engage local communities; and the imperative that the city’s diversity of communities become its strength.

The jurors lauded the team for focusing on pedestrian and cycling as key forms of mobility. But Henk Ovink, The Netherlands’ special advisor for international water affairs, wondered: “What are the instruments you have to get people out of their cars?”

South Bay Sponge by The Field Operations Team

James Corner Field Operations, Moffat & Nichol, Magnusson Klemencic Associates, SF Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Romberg-Tiburon Center SFSF, Andrea Baker Consulting, James Lima Planning + Development, The Bay Institute, SeArc/ECOncrete, HT Harvey and Associates, Playhou.se, Adventure Pictures

The Field Operations Team developed a framework for climate change and sea-level rise adaptation for South Bay and Silicon Valley communities using green infrastructure. The proposal focuses on the synchronized efforts needed to implement a multi-jurisdictional plan such as theirs and creative educational ventures to harness community enthusiasm.

The team mobilized the South Bay’s historical position as the region’s “sponge,” a sieve for water. Re-instituting a sponge-like infrastructure “will give space for this water to go” and use nature as “the primary tool for climate adaptation.” Flexible forms of infrastructure to manage water include widening channelized creeks to “flex and give” during flooding. “Soil swaps” that move soil from low-lying areas to higher, and protective edges that will transform the low areas to “sponges” that absorb water.

South Bay Sponge / The Field Operations Team, Resilient By Design

The team took to the streets in a bright green air stream called the “Sponge Hub,” visiting communities to build enthusiasm for their initiative and discuss sea-level rise. Public sessions heard anxieties, questions, and interests.

Approaching resilience from the district approach—bridging counties and municipalities—is fundamental to this proposal. This is particularly striking given that the jurisdictions encompassed within the South Bay Sponge range from the disadvantaged to those of the globe’s wealthiest tech companies.

“What is really making me nervous is the profound power imbalance in this area,” Poticha remarked. “It’s wonderful that a very wealthy company like Google can do something really transformational with their own property, and yet the various unfunded projects in this area should be seen as shameful, given the amount of wealth in this area.” Can a cross-jurisdictional approach solve some of the power imbalance?

This guest post is by Grace Mitchell, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of California at Berkeley.

Amid Divisive Politics, Keeping a Laser Focus on Climate Change

From top: ASLA 2016 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. The Big U, New York, NY. BIG and Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners. ASLA 2015 Professional General Design Honor Award. Perez Art Museum Miami: Resiliency by Design, Miami, Florida. ArquitectonicaGEO / copyright Robin Hill. Living Breakwaters, Staten Island, NY. SCAPE Landscape Architecture. ASLA 2016 Professional Communications Honor Award. Sea Change: Boston, Boston, MA. Sasaki Associates.

Later this spring, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) will release a set of policy recommendations on climate change and resilience designed to better arm advocates pursuing changes in laws, regulations, and codes at the federal, state, and local levels. Introducing a panel at the group’s spring meeting in Washington, D.C., ASLA CEO Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, explained that the recommendations will cover both natural systems and the built environment, and their goal will be to spur the use of financial incentives to encourage positive change.

Natural system recommendations will include measures designed to expand the use of green infrastructure; protect tree canopies, green bio-corridors, and open spaces; support biodiversity, especially among pollinators; and assist diverse plants and animal species migrate and adapt. Example recommendations include: create dedicated funding streams for green infrastructure; incentivize the planting of native and regionally-appropriate plants, protection of habitats, and the increase of biodiversity; and encourage the inclusion of climate change assessments in green space planning, including at the regional level.

Built environment recommendations focus on how to further encourage more resilient and sustainable growth patterns through the use of compact development, sustainable land development and zoning, and transit. Example recommendations include: restructure insurance to encourage resilient re-building; set up community investment trusts for green infrastructure and resilient design projects; and evaluate new transit projects through an equity lens.

A panel discussion then covered how allied organizations are maintaining a focus on climate change in today’s divisive political climate. ASLA President Greg Miller, FASLA, led Jeff Soule, director of outreach at the American Planning Association (APA); Mark Golden, CEO of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE); Tom Smith, CEO of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE); and Vaughn Rinner, FASLA, immediate past-president of ASLA, through a discussion.

To varying degrees, all organizations actively call for sustainable and resilient planning, design, and engineering that will help communities better protect themselves and adapt.

A key message, which was relevant for all organizations, came from Golden: “health, safety, and welfare (HSW) comes above all other considerations.” Following where the climate science leads, these organizations promote sustainable and resilient practices because they will help ensure health, safety, and welfare in an era of temperature and weather extremes.

According to Golden, more resilient buildings and landscapes are less costly to build if they are created in advance of a destructive natural event. A recent National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) report found that for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation saves $6 after a disaster. Sadly, though, most communities “continue to be reactive instead of pro-active” in preparing for climate change-driven natural disasters.

Rinner explained ASLA is now purposefully talking more directly about climate change. “The words we use matter. We take a strong position on climate change, sustainability, resilience, and adaptation.” She added that nearly a third of sessions at last year’s Annual Meeting & EXPO in Los Angeles were focused on climate change and resilience.

In the next year or two, Congress will be taking up a new transportation bill. The sentiment seemed to be advocating for a more sustainable transportation system at the federal level will be an uphill battle. According to APA director Soule, “we are actually regressing at the federal level and just trying to keep what we’ve accomplished.” Leadership on green and complete streets and other forward-thinking transportation systems now comes from states and cities. Most of the funds for transportation will be spent at those levels, too, so it makes sense to focus advocacy there.

ASCE CEO Smith said it’s increasingly important to leverage skills and resources from the local level. He sees the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, which is training chief resilience officers around the world, as a success story.

Rinner agreed, explaining that the bottom-up We’re Still In coalition — a group of American communities adhering to the U.S. commitments to the Paris climate accord — has signed up 2,700 cities and towns, and the numbers keep growing. “Local action can have a cumulative impact.”

States and cities can also experiment and create new models where the federal government cannot. For example, California has taken the lead in developing a new carbon trading system. “The rest of the world is watching to see if it works — and if it does, California’s model will become something more can follow.”

Smith brought up how the dearth of maintenance budgets hurts efforts to achieve greater sustainability and resilience. According to a report card ASCE releases every four years, the U.S.’s infrastructure now has a sad D+ rating. “Maintenance is the number-one issue.” To deal with this problem, ASCE is developing new guidelines to reduce infrastructure life cycle costs by 50 percent. “We’ve got to think differently in the future.” Smith sees some public-private partnerships as leading the way on the leaner, smarter infrastructure of the future.

In a reality check, APA director Soule cautioned there is still a major gap between high-level policy discussions on sustainability and resilience and the situation on the ground. For example: As New Orleans rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina, local officials and planners tried to stave off rebuilding in areas that had been deemed especially at risk of flooding, with the goal of saving those areas for permanent stormwater management. But the “political reality” demanded homeowners be allowed to build back where they had lived before.

The truth is no one wants to be told they can’t go back home and rebuild. As a changing climate impacts more communities, reconciling health, safety, and welfare considerations with people’s emotional attachment to a place will become an even greater challenge.

Why Smart Urban Design May Save Us from Natural Disasters and Address Social Justice


The stories of loss and destruction that have emerged from extreme weather events and natural disasters illustrate the catastrophic damage that American families are dealing with today.

The numbers are staggering. Last summer, Hurricane Harvey alone caused an estimated 32,000 to lose their homes in the metropolitan Houston area and as many as 82 deaths. Damages are expected to cost between $70 and $108 billion.

Yet not all families suffer equally from these calamities. In Louisiana, those seeking affordable living spaces find them in lower elevations. Low-lying areas are seen as less desirable and, therefore, less expensive. A prime example is New Orleans, which is almost entirely below sea level. When Hurricane Katrina pummeled the city in 2005, the lowest elevations received the most damage. And—no surprise—lower-income minorities lived there and saw the most damage.

Cities like Seattle and Atlanta are becoming more popular places to live, and the price of living there continues to increase. Poorer families, by necessity, get pushed to the outskirts of such cities — outskirts that happen to be located in vulnerable areas often close to industrial lands and cut off from the rest of the community. Physical barriers, which include highways and buildings, create a divide between the wealthier city areas and the poorer areas on the outskirts.

Smart urban design policies can help bring people together as one community—and protect their communities during times of calamity.

Relocating families to safer areas is one option. But it isn’t always the optimal choice. We must respect the deep and historic ties people have with their communities. Relocation would mean taking them away from their established homes.

One of the best solutions is rebuilding neighborhoods through sustainable design. We can use landscape architecture and creative urban design to adapt vulnerable areas to the natural habitat and changing climate conditions.

A great example are the 100 houses built in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. These homes were built by the nonprofit Make It Right in the Lower Ninth Ward, which was hit the worst by Katrina due to its geographic location. Through innovative, resilient design, families were able to return to live in safe housing in their already established communities.

Make It Right Foundation home / MusicforGood.tv

Areas not redeveloped for housing can be turned into parks or natural areas that also protect against natural disasters. To make either of these changes happen, communities need to call on their legislators and members of Congress. They can work with landscape architects to turn these locations into a bridge to bring together wealthy and low-income residents. This kind of unification will help us create a sustainable population.

Over the long term, something called “transactive design thinking” needs to take place—when citizen scientists, or community members who know the area the best, work with lawmakers to get an outcome that is appealing to everyone. Lawmakers must enact laws to create more sustainable areas. To come full circle, citizen scientists must be receptive to these changes and provide feedback to ensure their voice is being heard. They and their fellow community members must also agree with the reconstruction of their green spaces in order for it to be successful.

Recently, I had the pleasure of collaborating on a project to rebuild and transform land damaged during Hurricane Katrina and never restored. I worked with the Sankofa Community Development Corporation (SCDC), a local nonproject, to build the Sankofa Wetland Park.

Sankofa Wetland Trail and Nature Park / Sankofa CDC

SCDC founder Rashida Ferdinand, who is committed to creating an environmentally sustainable community, received a grant from New Orleans to transform two acres of a deteriorated natural area in the Lower Ninth Ward into an educational assimilated wetland park. This site provides the area with many environmental benefits, including restoring habitat for plants and animals as well as cleaning stormwater runoff. In time, we hope that the city sees the benefits of creating this wetland and will allow Ferdinand to expand her project into the intended full 40 acres of vacant land.

As the landscape architect, I visited the proposed site as the first step of our project. A citizen scientist from the neighborhood accompanied me–John Taylor, who has lived in the area his entire life. He not only helped me navigate through the land, but also showed me an underground water channel that I would have never known existed had he not been there.

This is a prime example of why landscape architects need to work with the local residents, who share their extensive knowledge of the area. Their voices ensure we build and rebuild in a way that’s not only right from an environmental and social equity perspective, but that’s also respectful of longstanding local communities.

Natural disasters may be increasing in frequency, but it’s not the number of disasters we should worry about. Instead we should focus on how each disaster continues to get more costly. Families are facing life-changing disasters and despite contrary belief, there are actions we can take to mitigate some of the damages that they face. We must call on policy makers, landscape architects, and communities that are affected the most to enact change.

To this end, the American Society of Landscape Architects has convened a Blue Ribbon Panel to get a jump start on making these changes a reality. In the first quarter of 2018, the panel will release comprehensive public policy recommendations for using resilient design to combat social injustices that occur when natural disasters hit. These recommendations are just the first step with many more to go. Learn more about how we’re developing policy recommendations to safeguard our cities and natural resources for the future.

This guest post is by Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, who has 30-plus years of experience in professional practice focusing on land planning and varied scales of open space and park design, including community development work. Jones Allen is currently the program director for landscape architecture at the college of architecture planning and public affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington. She participated in the American Society of Landscape Architects’ Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience held September 21-22, 2017.

Amid the Climate Crisis, Glimpses of a Sustainable Future

The world’s largest solar power plant in Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu, India / Financial Express

Amid the constant stream of dire news about the climate, shrinking groundwater supply, increasing air pollution, and the virulent anti-environment policies coming out of Washington, D.C., there are snippets of positive news that offer glimpses of a more sustainable future. Widespread concern about the climate is leading to a new environmental consciousness. National policymakers and companies are taking action because communities and consumers demand progress.

Here are just a few examples of that progress:

1) Renewable energy is where the growth is. The International Energy Agency (IEA) states renewable energy sources are expected to account for nearly 26 percent of global electricity production by 2020. According to BP, over the course of 2016, renewable power generation grew 14 percent, accounting for 8 percent of global electricity generation, but represented 40 percent of the total growth in power generation and a majority of the new infrastructure.

Denmark now gets almost two-thirds of its power from renewables, while a number of European countries, like Germany, Spain, Italy, and the UK, already get around a quarter of their power from wind, solar, and hydropower. After stops and starts, the U.S. has hit a major milestone — 10 percent of its electricity from renewables. And Texas now gets 37 percent of its power from wind and solar.

2) Fossil fuel divestment is nearing a tipping point, at least in the West. Religious groups are now nearly united in divesting from oil, coal, and gas investment. In addition to the Church of England and Islamic Society of North America, more than 40 Catholic organizations with billions in funds recently announced they will divest. TreeHugger argues this is a sign big oil, coal, and gas companies have lost the “moral authority to operate.”

Governments are also making major commitments: Ireland and Norway‘s public funds have divested from fossil fuels, and New York City recently became the largest city in the U.S. to take the same step. In addition, universities, with hundreds of billions in endowments, are divesting in record number.

3) Countries are creating massive terrestrial preserves to protect against development and resource extraction. The New York Times reports that philanthropists spent $345 million to purchase one million acres of pristine land in Patagonia, Chile. They then told the Chilean government they would donate it if the government added more territory and preserved the land as a park. In a huge win for conservation, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet ended up contributing nine million acres and creating five new national parks and expanding three.

National park system in Patagonia, Chile / Conservation Action Trust

Colombia just expanded its largest national park by 1.5 million hectares, so that it now totals 4.3 million hectares, an area the size of Denmark, and added $525 million to its conservation budget.

And, last year, Papua New Guinea created its largest conservation area: the Managalas Conservation Area, which covers some 1,390 square miles in the southeast corner of the country. According to Mongabay, conservation groups and local communities had been working towards this goal for 32 years.

4) New marine preserves are protecting fish from over-harvesting. Blue Planet II, which some critics argue is the greatest nature film ever made, makes a convincing case that we are over-harvesting many fish species, threatening their long-term sustainability, the biodiversity of our oceans, and the livelihoods of millions who live along the coasts. Fish need protected spaces where they are safe from the fleets of fishing boats in order to regain their numbers. A number of countries recognize this and are thinking long-term:

  • According to Mongabay, Niue, a small island country in the South Pacific, which is home to only 1,600 people, created a protected 49,000-square-mile marine zone that covers 40 percent of the island’s economic zone.
  • Chile announced a 285,700-square-mile marine reserve around Easter Island, which is now facing erosion caused by rising sea levels, and two new preserves — a 54,170-square-mile one off of Diego Ramírez Islands and a 186,870-square-mile preserve around the Juan Fernández Islands in the southern Pacific.
  • Mexico created the 57,900-square-mile Revillagigedo marine park to “protect sharks, rays, whales, turtles and other important marine species.”
  • And, finally, the Seychelles just created two new massive marine preserves, covering 15 percent of the island country’s ocean, in exchange for debt relief, using an innovative new financing model that is expected to improve upon the nature-for-debt swaps of the past.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) states that almost 15 percent of the Earth’s land and 10 percent of its waters are now protected as national parks or preserves. The amount of water bodies that are protected has jumped 300 percent in the last decade. The target set by Convention on Biological Diversity is 17 percent of the globe by 2020, and we may reach that yet.

5) China is undertaking an ambitious reforestation campaign. In addition to rolling out a nationwide system for valuing and protecting vital ecosystem services, China is actively trying to restore damaged forests and plant new ones. China Daily and Reuters report China will plant some 6 million hectares of trees in 2018 alone, covering an area equal to Ireland. The goal is to have 23 percent of China covered in trees by 2020 and 26 percent by 2030, up from 21.7 percent today and just 19 percent in 2000. Some 33.8 million hectares of forest had been planted over the past five years at a total cost of $82 billion.

Moving forward, though, Chinese foresters must plant more diverse tree species. New, monocultural forests have succeeded in reducing flooding and erosion, but they are also reducing biodiversity.

Reuters writes that the Chinese central government is also promoting an “‘ecological red line’ program which will force provinces and regions to restrict ‘irrational development’ and curb construction near rivers, forests, and national parks.”

6) Veganism and vegetarianism are on the rise. In his latest book Drawdown, Paul Hawken ranks the top 100 solutions for reducing carbon emissions. Number four in terms of possible positive impact is switching to a plant-based diet. Ruminants such as cows and sheep, which number in the billions, produce huge amounts of methane — about 1/5 of global greenhouse gas emissions. Producing meat also requires vast amounts of grain, land, and water. Meat consumption is then closely connected with the expansion of agricultural land at the expense of forests.

Hawken writes: “According to a 2016 study, business-as-usual emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent through adopting a vegan diet and 63 percent for a vegetarian diet, which includes cheese, milk, and eggs. $1 trillion in annual health-care costs and lost productivity would be saved.”

A recent video from The Economist states that some 5 percent of the world is now vegan or vegetarian. In 2014, just one percent of Americans said they were vegan; today, that number is 6 percent. And 44 percent of Germans now eat a low-meat diet, up from 26 percent in 2014. Just Eats, a food company with 20 million customers worldwide, said demand for vegan and vegetarian foods increased nearly 1,000 percent in 2017 alone.

While these success stories show that much more progress is possible, there are still causes for alarm. The last four years were among the planet’s hottest. After multiple years of flat greenhouse gas emissions, they are rising again. Furthermore, water shortages will increasingly be a cause of worry. According to the World Water Development Report just released by UN Water, some 5 billion people will face water shortages by 2050, because of climate change, pollution, and increased demand. Nature-based solutions — or green infrastructure — is seen as a key solution for increasing water quantity and improving quality, so landscape architects and designers have an important role to play yet.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (March 1 – 15)

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Ala Moana Beach Park, Honolulu, Hawaii / John Hook

A Retail District in Houston Reimagines the Strip Mall, One Building at a Time The Architect’s Newspaper, 3/5/18
“Caution and timidity have been the ruling traits of Houston’s commercial real estate market for the past three decades.”

The Future of Honolulu Depends on Its Parks Next City, 3/5/18
“Public parks have emerged as battlegrounds in the city’s response to a changing climate and a growing housing crisis. Could they also hold the solutions?”

Building a ‘Second Nature’ Into Our Cities: Wildness, Art and Biophilic Design The Conversation, 3/7/18
“Given the increasing popularity of this urban design technique, it’s time to take a closer look at the meaning of nature and its introduction into our cities.”

Climate Readiness: Think Big, Act Fast The Boston Globe, 3/8/18
“Until recently, Boston was ahead of other cities in planning for sea-level rise and the effects of climate change before a catastrophic storm like Sandy or Harvey hit.”

In Britain’s Playgrounds, ‘Bringing in Risk’ to Build Resilience The New York Times, 3/10/18
“Educators in Britain, after decades spent in a collective effort to minimize risk, are now, cautiously, getting into the business of providing it.”

The Gateway Arch, a Global Icon, Reconnects to St. Louis CityLab, 3/12/18
“St. Louis’ Gateway Arch once stood in splendid isolation. A new $380-million renovation of its grounds brings it closer to downtown.”

Concrete Jungle Hong Kong to Get Diverse Array of Plants on Urban Streets in Drive to Green the City The South China Morning Post, 3/14/18
“About 20 tree and shrub species can now be found across urban areas but this will increase to 120, with city planners shown how to ‘match plants to places.’”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (February 16 – 28)

“Desert Gardens of Steve Martino,” by Caren Yglesias / Steve Gunther/The Monacelli Press via Associated Press


Can the L.A. River Avoid ‘Green Gentrification’?
CityLab, 2/20/18
“Los Angeles is where it is because of the river that runs through it. Tongva people lived along the river, around what is now downtown L.A., for centuries. The Spanish camped there when they first passed through. Pobladores established a town there. It grew into a city.”

Phoenix Landscaper Brings Desert to Urban Yards The Washington Post, 2/21/18
“When I moved to Phoenix last summer, I was bewildered by all the bright green grass I saw smack in the middle of the Sonoran Desert — in residential yards, on golf courses, at community parks.”

On the Waterfront, Toronto’s Next Great Park Takes Shape The Globe and Mail, 2/21/18
“As central Toronto booms, many people have come to see the need for new open space in the core. But not far away, a great collection of park space is in the works: It will cover 80 hectares at the mouth of the Don River, and you’ll be able to splash in the river within less than a decade.”

The Price We Pay for LivabilityThe Boston Globe, 2/23/18
“Past generations in Greater Boston knew it was their duty to improve the landscape — to build parks and seawalls, subways and bridges — for the benefit of all future residents. In 2018, we can still dream up useful new pieces of civic hardware, such as the cool new footbridge now proposed for the Mystic River between Somerville and Everett.”

Welcome to the Age of Climate Migration Rolling Stone, 2/25/18
“Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and Louisiana last August, causing $125 billion in damage, dumped more water out of the sky than any storm in U.S. history.”

Promising New Ways to Finance Urban Nature

Charlotte’s urban forest / UNC Charlotte Urban Institute

Companies and organizations are buying and selling billions of dollars of carbon credits every year worldwide. Carbon credits are a financial instrument that packages one metric ton of carbon dioxide into a commodity that can be traded. For example, if a company participates in a required, or even voluntary, cap-and-trade system and has exceeded the annual quota for their carbon dioxide emissions, they can purchase a credit from another organization that has excess credits. Credits sometimes come from carbon offset projects, which are explicitly designed to sequester or reduce greenhouse emissions in a verifiable amount.

Carbon credits and offsets are verified by 3rd party organizations, who root their evaluation in standards and protocols. Registries verify the amounts of carbon bought and sold, as well as the projects actively sequestering or reducing greenhouse gases, and help package the credits or offsets. Exchanges are marketplaces where credits and offsets are traded. Typically, credits and offsets feature renewable energy, energy-efficiency programs, the capture of methane or other pollution, or the expansion or protection of forests.

But now, a few start-up organizations are trying to figure out to how to make it easier for cities across the country to turn the carbon stored in urban forests into credits and offsets. If well-designed, implemented, and monitored, these new models have the potential to provide new revenue streams for strapped urban parks systems, protect existing green spaces from development, and bring more greenery to our cities and suburbs.

These organizations seem to build on the work already being done to monetize the carbon in urban forests in California — which has had an established, required cap and trade system since 2011 — spreading these ideas across states and cities where there are nascent markets. (It’s worth noting: after years of dysfunction but recent success, debate still rages on the effectiveness of California’s cap-and-trade system).

City Forest Credits, based in Seattle, is a registry that has developed a “unique bundled credit” — that goes beyond just packaging carbon. Each credit includes “a metric ton of CO2; stormwater runoff reduction in cubic meters; air quality for O3, NOx, PM10, and Net VOCs; and energy savings in kWh/yr and kBtu/yr.”

City Forest Projects makes the case for their approach: projects are “implemented locally, with visible and quantified ecosystem benefits.” Furthermore, individuals, companies, and organizations can purchase credits in their own communities, keeping benefits local.

They’ve developed their own protocols for measuring the benefits of their credits. And on their website, they claim they have solid leads with a number of cities, including Austin, Texas, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to turn urban forests into credits that can be traded.

For example, “we are beginning to work with urban forest stakeholders in Austin to assess larger-scale urban forest carbon projects that could generate significant volumes of CO₂ storage.” And in Pittsburgh, “a group of conservancy organizations has been working for over four years to preserve from development a large, 660-acre parcel of forested land in the City of Pittsburgh. We have had detailed discussions with the groups as they work to preserve not just the land, but the trees as well. A preservation carbon project could help preserve the trees, generate revenues for maintenance, demonstrate stewardship, and keep the many benefits of trees for the residents of the city.”

While City Forest Projects still seems to be formulating their approach and finding a market for the credits, Urban Offsets, another organization, appears to be farther ahead.

Their model is a bit different from City Forest Project’s. They package already-existing “high quality carbon offsets,” which have already been verified by registries, further evaluate the credits according to more than 50 criteria, and then bundle these offsets with “community tree programs.”

Urban Offsets makes the case for their approach: “Our unique offering involves the bundling of purchased third-party verified carbon offsets with tree plantings in local communities. This methodology presents a one-two punch against the traditional methods of offsets. Our model gives you the best of everything: local trees with proven ROI and positive impact that truly reduce carbon emissions.”

Urban Offsets is now partnering with urban tree planting organizations in New York City, Atlanta, Phoenix, Tempe, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, St. Louis, and Fayetteville. In New York City, they are working with Bette Midler’s well-regarded organization, the New York Restoration Project, and in Charlotte, with TreesCharlotte. They state these organizations are ensuring the trees are well-maintained.

It’s important that the trees underlining these urban forestry-based financial mechanisms are in good health. Given the high mortality rates for urban street trees, maintenance needs to be guaranteed to ensure the credibility of urban forests as long-term financial assets.

Much of Urban Offsets’ efforts seems driven by demand from Duke University, and their carbon offsets initiative. The Ivy of the South seeks to be carbon neutral by 2024. To meet that goal, Duke University will need to “offset approximately 185,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent-emissions per year.” Urban Offsets is the “exclusive” provider of urban forestry offsets for Duke.

Boosting both the supply and demand for urban forestry credits and offsets is then critical to creating the market — and ultimately benefiting the tree planting non-profits, conservancies, and park systems that could really use the extra revenue.

ASLA Endorses the Living Shorelines Act

Living Shorelines and breakwaters, Barnegat Bay / SCAPE Landscape Architecture

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) applauds Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ) for introducing the Living Shorelines Act, which would provide critical funding to help our nation’s coastal communities develop flood-resistant green infrastructure projects that integrate local ecosystems.

In the aftermath of major hurricanes and superstorms, the United States has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in evacuation, clean-up and rebuilding efforts. The Living Shorelines Act will promote the use of nature-based systems and materials to help coastal communities address climate-related weather events and rebuilding efforts in a more resilient and cost-effective manner. The bill also includes a provision to require communities to monitor, collect and transmit data on living shoreline projects, which will provide critical metrics on the benefits of these green infrastructure projects.

Landscape architects are on the front lines of protecting coastal communities from the destructiveness of storms. They work with nature as they design projects that control flooding, restore shorelines and provide thriving eco-habitats. In designing these environments, they collaborate with local residents to ensure that the infrastructure provides opportunities for recreation and economic and educational benefits.

“The Living Shorelines Act is smart policy for our nation, and gives communities options for their planning toolbox,” says Nancy C. Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA. “Green infrastructure helps position coastal communities to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters and provides critical services that improve human and environmental health.”

“As a landscape architect, I support this legislation because it will allow communities and design professionals to work together in developing long-term solutions for transforming our coastal communities,” says Kate Orff, ASLA, founder of SCAPE Landscape Architecture and the first landscape architect to receive a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. “Creating a built environment that protects and sustains us must include natural systems. Robust coastal ecosystems are critical next century infrastructure.”

ASLA urges all its members to use the iAdvocate Network to contact their members of Congress about cosponsoring this important legislation that will help protect coastal communities and highlight the critical role landscape architects play in their health, safety and welfare.

New York City Steps Up in Fight Against Climate Change

Mayor Bill de Blasio at press conference / The Nation

Joining 17 other American cities, including Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; Seattle; and Ann Arbor, Michigan, New York City announced its $187 billion pension funds will divest $5 billion of fossil fuel investments. In addition, the Big Apple is joining Oakland and San Francisco, California in suing the five leading fossil fuel companies — BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell — for their central role in adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. According to NYC city government, the city is seeking billions to “protect New Yorkers from the effects of climate change” — covering both funds that have already been spent in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to make the city more resilient and expected future expenses, which are expected to be upwards of $20 billion.

At a press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said “we’re bringing the fight against climate change straight to the fossil fuel companies that knew about its effects and intentionally misled the public to protect their profits. As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient.” A recent report found just 100 companies are responsible for 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, with the five identified in NYC’s lawsuit as the largest historic emitters.

Some argue New York City’s action is important and will lead other major cities to follow the same path.

Bill McKibben, head of 350.org, told the The Guardian: “New York City today becomes a capital of the fight against climate change on this planet. With its communities exceptionally vulnerable to a rising sea, the city is showing the spirit for which it’s famous – it’s not pretending that working with the fossil fuel companies will somehow save the day, but instead standing up to them, in the financial markets and in court.”

And Jeffrey Sachs, a leading economist and professor at Columbia University, said: “This is a really big deal. Pension funds of other major US cities will follow, I think. New York is the neighborhood of the very big money managers. It’s a powerful, personal signal to them that they cannot keep funding the sorts of projects they have in the past.”

But business groups like the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) think these “hyper-political” moves are a “fundamental waste of the court’s time and the taxpayer’s resources.”

According to Crain’s New York Business, NAM senior vice president Linda Kelly argued cities can’t sue energy companies for their role in climate change because “a 2011 Supreme Court decision determined carbon-dioxide emitters cannot be declared a ‘public nuisance,’ as the federal Clean Air Act pre-empts such claims.”

However, San Francisco and Oakland, which filed legal actions against oil companies in 2017, have “sought to sidestep the 2011 ruling by pointing to swelling ocean tides, not greenhouse gases, as the relevant public nuisance.” And New York City is also focusing on the impact of sea level rise and increased flooding and the high cost of coastal resilience efforts.

Beyond divesting by city governments, major universities like Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, Stanford University, and the University of Massachusetts have also committed to stop investing in coal or oil companies. And under pressure from students, Harvard University has also agreed to “pause” investment in fossil fuel companies.

Still, US universities are far behind UK universities in their pledges. As of August 2017, Times Higher Education reports that some $112 billion has been divested by universities globally, with more than half of that coming from UK universities.