The Challenge: Visionary, Practical Plans for Rising Bay Waters … in Four Months

Oakland waterfront rendering

One team's vision for a more resilient Oakland waterfront. (Resilient by Design)

Ready. Set. Innovate.

After months of field studies and preparation, design teams in the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge are now paired up with communities around the Bay, ready to develop sustainable visions for the future.

The projects are all designed to elevate (either literally or not) the Bay Area’s resilience to imminent or long-term threats such as rising sea levels and earthquakes.

For the next four months, the ten teams of architects, designers and other specialists drawn from nine countries will actively engage with local communities. Some ambitious early versions were rolled out in November. Now they’ll explore what’s practical as well as visionary.

Assignments include (clockwise around the Bay):

The All Bay Collective will take on projects in San Leandro Bay and at the Oakland Coliseum site.

Union City:
The Public Sediment team aims to revive mud flows from Alameda Creek, into the Bay.

South Bay:
The Field Operations team has ideas on the drawing board for several South Bay locations, including Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and Sunnyvale.

San Mateo County:
Hassell + will focus on South San Francisco and areas on the Peninsula.

San Francisco:
The Big+One+Sherwood team will focus on San Francisco, particularly the Bayview and Islais Creek.

San Rafael:
The BionicTeam will take on San Rafael’s low-lying Canal District, one of the most vulnerable locations in Marin County.

San Pablo Bay:
Common Ground will work on solutions for the vulnerable Highway 37 and shoreline locations.

The Uplift team will attempt to protect and reinvigorate the Vallejo waterfront, including the underutilized Mare Island, site of the former naval shipyard.

Home Team heads to North Richmond to develop ideas for Point San Pablo and nearby neighborhoods.

P+SET will take a regional approach, working on resilience for all nine counties bordering the Bay.

At this point there are no guarantees — and no money to make these projects happen. It’s up to the designers, engineers, and the local communities with which they’re teamed to come up with designs that are both innovative and practical, and approaches to getting them funded.

“Local community engagement will ground our team’s thinking in the present, while we think long-term,” said Oakland team member Claire Bonham-Carter in a statement.

Done right, plans will address multiple challenges.

“We asked a simple question,” says Roger Sherman, design director at the Gensler architectural firm in Los Angeles. “Where is the one or several places where you could intervene in a very focused way and have the greatest single impact upon the widest geographic area?”

For Sherman’s Uplift team, the answer came up “Vallejo,” a community that lacks good connections to Bay Area transit options — and where high-tide flooding of nearby Highway 37 during the storm season is already a recurring nightmare.

“It turned out to be a place where transportation — 37 in particular — was something that was under imminent threat,” recalls Sherman, “because of sea level rise and flooding that would create a certain amount of havoc in terms of circulation around the North Bay.”

That’s why the challenge is to come up with holistic approaches with potential benefits beyond each local project. It’s like acupuncture, says Sherman.

“The solution to the problem may exist somewhere other than where you see it surface.”

Teams will present their plans in mid-May.


The Challenge: Visionary, Practical Plans for Rising Bay Waters … in Four Months 11 January,2018Craig Miller

  • Ashley B

    I think all these potential projects sound amazing and are just what the Bay Area needs. Living in the Bay Area myself, I see the importance of restoring our local waterscapes, such as the estuaries, salt marshes, wetlands, and deltas. Addressing and developing plans for environmental mitigation in the Bay Area bioregion has been on going here for a while. A great example of an ongoing project, is the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. There are still a lot more sustainable projects that need to be done though. It is wonderful to see Resilient by Design creating teams to work with the communities and take charge on some challenges that we face living here so close to a bay. The wilderness is a precious thing than can be used to our advantage in mitigating the effects of rising sea levels.

    • Ryan Merrill

      I completely agree with Ashley. But I am also a little critical of the project here, constructively of course! I did not see anything relating to involvement of tribes or tribal communities that might be knowledgeable about these areas. For a long time the value of these peoples inputs has been ignored, despite the fact that they have vast amounts of traditional ecological knowledge. So often people will go and catalog and analyze what has already been understood by these people for generations. The project must obviously accomplish its primary goal. But why not have high standards for ourselves? At the very least we could check with these native peoples to see what they might be able to tell us about this bioregion and the best policies of environmental mitigation. This is not an appeal to ethics, this does not really even need to be about fairness. These people have incredibly valuable knowledge about various subjects such as native species. Ecosystem engineering projects are many downstream effects. We have to realize how destructive our anthropogenic projects have been in the past, and can have in the future.


Craig Miller

Craig is KQED’s science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to his current position, he launched and led the station’s award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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