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Bay Area-wide ‘resilience’ project copes with sea-level rise

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Resilient By Design Summit

After months of research and exploration, 9 teams will present design ideas for a more resilient Bay Area.

Fri, May 18, 2018

1 - 5 p.m.: Lessons learned from the Resilient by Design Challenge and next steps for implementation.

5 - 9 p.m.: Celebration culminating the Resilient by Design | Bay Area Challenge.

Rock Wall Wine Company

2301 Monarch St.

Alameda, California 94501

http://www.resilientbayarea.org/

In the wake of hurricanes and flood, earthquakes and fire, resilience has become a powerful concept.

Not just responding to disaster, but responding “woke,” if you will: aware of the consequences, the long-term pitfalls and opportunities of whatever response is made. Resilience is a strategy for an uncertain future, a step beyond “sustainability” – which no longer seems quite enough in the face of climate change.

At a recent Baylands Discovery Walk on the fringe of Dickson Ranch Restoration Area – formed in October 2015 when a levee at Salt Point was intentionally breeched, to allow sea water to return to what had been a hay farm – a dozen or so walkers made the full 2.5 mile hike to the Eliot Trail’s terminus, and back again, for a journey of well over ten thousand steps (according to Fitbit).

The Baylands Discovery Walk was put on by Common Ground, one of nine “teams” that have taken up a “challenge” from Resilient By Design, a year-long San Francisco Bay Area project to study sea-level rise and field ideas about what bayside communities can do to remain strong, resilient. Other teams are scattered around the Bay Area, from Vallejo’s Team Uplift to the Public Sediment team in Fremont.

At the May 5 walk, shallow, still-developing wetlands spread in a silvery expanse to the right, and Highway 37 hummed a half-mile away to the left. A thick band of rye grass, on both sides of the paved walkway, signaled that for over a century hay farmers cultivated the sodden, low-lying soil.

The ADA-compliant path is one of the latest additions to the San Francisco Bay Trail still in development, a project of the Association of Bay Area Governments, or ABAG. The hope is that eventually walking or biking around the entire 500-mile circumference of the bay will be possible. There are still a lot of lacunae in the route, but the plans are there and some lengthy sections already in place.

Maureen Gaffney, of the Bay Trail group, was informal leader for the hike, as much for her own expertise as for shepherding the voice of Doug McConnell, the longtime Bay Area television travel host (“Bay Area Backroads” among others). Gaffney held up a wireless speaker to play the 14 successive entries in McConnell’s audio tour package for the San Francisco Bay Trail, accessible in the field from the Vizzit app.

“If you look up you can see what the Pacific Flyway looks like, one of the busiest bird superhighways on the planet,” intones McConnell from the handheld speaker. We look up: an empty white sky in early May. “Restoring the marshlands will give these birds a critical refuge during their long flights, a safe place to rest, eat, and fuel up for the next legs of their journey.”

Though tens of thousands of waterfowl do converge here during certain times of the year – including the rare California Clapper rail, one of two endangered species the wetlands support – this is an admitted “lull” in birding season at Sears Point, and on this day the birding is thin: redwing blackbirds, Canada geese, a great heron. (Notably, in our group there are several digital SLR cameras, and plenty of cell phones, but not a single pair of binoculars.)

The May 5 outing was a demonstration of the Common Ground team’s project, and also a field introduction to Resilient by Design, a project to study the bay’s inevitable confrontations with sea-level rise, and what to do about it before it gets here.

Resilient By Design Summit

After months of research and exploration, 9 teams will present design ideas for a more resilient Bay Area.

Fri, May 18, 2018

1 - 5 p.m.: Lessons learned from the Resilient by Design Challenge and next steps for implementation.

5 - 9 p.m.: Celebration culminating the Resilient by Design | Bay Area Challenge.

Rock Wall Wine Company

2301 Monarch St.

Alameda, California 94501

http://www.resilientbayarea.org/

It is a second iteration of a “design challenge” concept that took place in the wake of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. That project was called “Rebuild by Design,” a reactive project to cope with disaster and build to prevent the recurrence of urban flooding.

“Thinking about resilience very broadly, it means a lot of different things,” said Marisa Villarreal, of Resilient Bay Area, between Doug McConnell audio clips. “This challenge came about because they wanted to see if this could be done in a pre-disaster rather than post-disaster context.”

In both cases, the general idea is to “convene” different sectors that have an interest in developing resilient design responses when they are called for, either following a hurricane or confronting sea-level rise. Both projects were underwritten by the Rockefeller Foundation.

“It’s not actually a competition, it’s a challenge,” said Villarreal. “It’s a design challenge because the teams are challenged to come up with these designs and work in these different places around the Bay but there will not necessarily be a ‘winner,’ exactly.”

TLS Landscape Architects of Berkeley leads the Common Ground team, which includes input from the Exploratorium, the San Francisco Bay Trail and others. Members made up the bulk of the dozen-or-so hikers – which included scientists from the Exploratorium and UC Davis, landscape designers and educators – who held a lively walking discussion on how best to make the public aware that shoreline habitat like this is the first line of defense against sea-level rise.

Common Ground team member Susan Schwartzenberg, the director of the Exploratorium’s Bay Observatory, is along for the walk, and in for the long run as well. “In that role we’re providing our expertise as educators – we’re trying to find out ways to connect people more personally to these landscapes.”

Schwartzenberg outlined ideas such as field exhibits that incorporate historic buildings or natural features, instead of just building a new kiosk. “The Exploratorium are makers, we have a machine shop, we have a culture of making ways for people to directly connect to phenomena,” she said.

The nine teams will present their final project plans and ideas at the upcoming Resilient Bay Summit, May 17 and 18. It’s possible that several teams will get rewarded with additional funds at some point to develop their ideas into action.

“For the amount of work we’re all doing it’s not about the money,” said Schwartzenberg. “It’s really about this incredible opportunity to think about the future of the Bay Area.”

For more information on Resilient by Design, and the May 17 and 18 summit, visit resilientbayarea.org.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.