UNEARTHED: Agency for Soils
in West Oakland
Authors: Roberto Astudillo, Karla Damken, Jinhee Ha, Kapp Singer, Dan Affleck, Jonah Susskind
Soil is part of the lifeblood that fuels our planet. We perceive it as an abundant and unaffected natural resource. By the year 2050, it is projected that global arable land will be reduced by half, with complete topsoil loss within 60 years. We associate productive and healthy landscapes with rural environments, failing to acknowledge the capacity of urban soils to provide essential ecological functions and social services for our communities.
We envision an urban soil agency that builds on the historic grassroots activism of Oakland, CA that guides us towards fostering equitable resource management, education outreach, economic development and addresses the legacies of environmental injustice of land use.
We shine a light on the underutilized lands in the West Oakland neighborhood and explore how a mission towards healthy urban soils can establish a powerful advocacy framework that fuels social infrastructure and supports local urban ecologies.
Our analysis considers the multiple ecological and social horizons urban soils intersect. From our exploration, we devised a set of toolkits that exhibit existing land uses by local organizations as supporting ecological and social interventions that provide key benefits for healthy communities. We proposed to join forces with existing initiatives in these spaces and revitalize underutilized areas in a socially sensible effort to redefine land use in Oakland and provide a model for community-driven, small-scale climate interventions for the Green New Deal.
As an international landscape architecture and urban design firm with four offices in California, SWA is using the Green New Deal Superstudio as an opportunity to spotlight two distinct California communities that have been (and will continue to be) heavily impacted by the twin contexts of climate change and urbanization. From Oakland to the Sierra foothills, the two projects identify critical landscape-based strategies for realizing the aspirations of the Green New Deal within the contexts of both urban and rural communities. From the protection and stewardship of urban soils as an instrument for redefining community-based programming, to the mitigation of future risk in the aftermath of a deadly wildfire, these projects both point toward implementable strategies for urban planning and design. Both projects insist upon leveraging the power of local advocacy groups to usher in new approaches to infrastructure and environmental justice.
California is the most populous state in the US, and the effects of climate change will be felt here by a vast array of community types. This fact compels us to challenge normative approaches to urban development, design, and governance, which have historically operated well outside of the climate imperative we now face. The two projects undertaken by California-based SWA offices offer creative and provocative approaches that center the Green New Deal’s core goals of jobs, justice, and decarbonization. These projects continue SWA’s research and design engagement with frontline California’s communities.