Port of Richmond, CA
Author: Claire Geneste
Institution: University of California, Berkeley
Instructors: Kristina Hill and Deni Ruggeri
Studio: Just Zero: Visions for adapting urban districts in frontline communities around San Francisco Bay; Graduate Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning; Fall 2021
Studio Partners/Collaborators: Ms. Terrie Green, local elected official and community activist, Marin City, CA; Aileen Thiele and Kristen Van Dam, East Bay Regional Parks District; Julie Beagle, US Army Corps of Engineers; Joel Horn, real estate developer; Warner Chabot, Director, San Francisco Estuary Institute
A just future must start by repairing the injustices of the past. South Richmond’s industrial port has erased one of the largest sacred Ohlone shellmound sites and polluted the air and water while it imported hazardous materials. Now its low-income residents are being displaced by expensive new waterfront housing. In addition, the regional interstate highway – already recessed in this area - is at risk of flooding by sea level rise and rising groundwater.
Justice: Return 135 acres of land on and near the former shellmound to the Ohlone people as a land trust, for reburial of human remains stolen by UC Berkeley anthropologists. Cut-and-cover tunnel for Interstate 580 to open up waterfront to low-income residents for recreation, and protect the highway from flooding. Treatment of contaminated soil on industrial parcels and in situ to reduce health impacts/exposure. 700 units of new floating housing for the local workforce.
Decarbonization: A solar PV microgrid on the roofs of buildings in this district could generate about 5 MW (43,380 mwh) of power each year. 2000 poplar trees planted for soil remediation could sequester 50 US tons of carbon each year. 26 acres of new wetland and 16 acres of grassy parkland could sequester 71 US tons of carbon per year combined.
Jobs: Thousands of constructions jobs would be created by the wetlands and highway/rail tunnel project, and hundreds of semi-permanent jobs would be created by the nearby treatment of polluted soils on port industrial sites.
Our studio began by considering the physical, ecological and social context of low-income communities of color along the estuary shore of the San Francisco Bay. First, students mapped the armatures (topography, infrastructure, vegetation) that shape the flows of organisms, energy and materials throughout the region. We reviewed the history of redlining and restrictive housing covenants that left communities of color restricted to low-lying areas that are vulnerable to flooding. Then we learned about the process of sea level rise, and how it causes groundwater to rise also – making levees almost useless without pumps. Ecologists and environmental planners helped us understand the importance of mapping coastal flows within operational landscape units (OLU’s), which allow us to see how ecological adaptation can be designed to fit in a specific context. Next, we discussed neighborhood and district-scale systems in cities as a context for adaptation and decarbonization. We reviewed the Oakland Ecoblock project, which is designed to use solar PV to generate electricity and use flywheels to store it instead of lithium batteries. We identified references that helped us estimate the amount of carbon that could be stored annually in tidal marshes of the San Francisco Bay (1.5 US tons per acre), the amount of carbon stored in 40 ten-year-old trees (1 US ton), the carbon stored in grasslands by adding compost (1 US ton per acre), and the carbon stored in grasslands or ag lands by adding rock dust )1 US ton per acre). All of our references were regional, with the exception of the rock dust paper. We interpreted the justice goals of the GND as a need to provide access to housing and healthy environments, and the geographic stability provided by adaptation in place to rising seas and rising groundwater. Adaptation to gradual flooding meant conserving regional transportation corridors and building local bike and wildlife corridors, while increasing the number of housing units. Our decarbonization goals were to generate electricity or natural gas from renewables, while storing as much carbon in soil and vegetation as we could within the context of each urban district. Finally, we interpreted the goal of job creation as either temporary construction and planning jobs, created as a by-product of re-building infrastructure and housing, or permanent maintenance and small business jobs needed to sustain new park systems and energy systems. Our overall goal was to show that adapting to sea level rise and fire regimes in urban districts can be done, and that landscape architecture can lead in that redevelopment process. Landforms and vegetation patterns are the critical underlying armatures that will allow cities to adapt to a changing climate. We presented social systems that support racial and class hierarchies as both unethical and problematic for adaptation, since they maintain rigid social roles when flexibility and resourcefulness are needed. Landscape architecture can help to re-organize social systems around our shared appreciation of a healthy environment, our desire to be resourceful, and our compassion for each other across our differences.