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

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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.


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