Resilient East Oakland: Wetlands, a Tunnel,
& a Land Trust
Author: Anna Cich
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
East Oakland is an industrial district next to the Oakland Airport, divided by Interstate 880’s 200k/day trips by cars and trucks. Residents are low income, Black and Latino. A 2-acre piece of land here has been returned to Ohlone ownership, first in the Bay Area. It is at risk of flooding by rising seas.
Justice: People suffer from poor air quality because of heavy truck traffic on I-880, as well as lack of open space and safe bicycle mobility and high risks from flooding. Putting I-880 and a regional rail line in a tunnel protects them from flooding while allowing filtration of exhaust. An wetland-levee hybrid would add accessible park space, once the highway and rail are underground. 3500 units of new housing and bike paths can be built above the tunnel. An additional 40 acres of land can be deeded to the Ohlone people in the ROW and wetland.
Decarbonization: A rooftop-solar microgrid could generate 0.75 MW of power. 2800 trees are proposed in addition to the 3000 existing, and together these trees would sequester 145 US tons of carbon per year. The expanded wetland would store 288 US tons of carbon per year.
Jobs: An estimate 35,000 constructions jobs would be created by the tunnel project and wetland/levee combination to prevent flooding. 3,000 permanent jobs could be conserved by avoiding flooding. 15 acres of land in the former highway ROW would be given to Planting Justice, which provides horticulture training and jobs for formerly incarcerated people.
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.