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The Bay Area is at risk for flooding from rising sea levels and severe storms and from earthquakes. A new competition called Resilient by Design was inspired by the Rebuild by Design challenge held in New York City after Hurricane Sandy, and seeks to create a “blueprint of resilience” for the Bay Area region. Nine teams of architects and designers are re-imagining how to build the city to protect from natural disasters.

Fast Company writer Adele Peters presents some competition highlights here:

North Richmond, pinned between a Chevron refinery and a landfill and surrounded by rail lines, freeway, and industry, already deals with widespread poverty, pollution, systemic racism, and chronic flooding. As sea levels rise, it will have to deal with more. The designers suggestbuilding new small houses and creating a community land trust to help more people in the community become homeowners. They also suggest new green infrastructure, including wetland restoration as the current marsh drowns from sea level rise, and 20,000 trees planted to help filter both air and water pollution. Vacant lots could be densely planted with trees to become “air quality parks.” A new overpass would let pedestrians cross the highway to reach the bay; park access could be one way to help deal with the chronic stress of climate change impacts.

The low-lying parts of the city of San Rafael, built on mudflats next to the bay, are already at risk from flooding. Though some might think traditional infrastructure could help, such as raising levees or blocking off local creeks, the designers suggest taking a new approach. New development could be concentrated on higher ground and make use of underutilized space. Existing housing in vulnerable areas could be transformed to become more resilient to flooding and earthquakes. A new constructed reef along the shoreline could protect from waves, provide a nursery for marine species, and provide new recreation.

Rather than proposing a design for a specific location, this team suggested a new social design process that could be used anywhere. Some of the communities most at risk from sea level rise are also dealing with poverty, racism, stresses like food insecurity, and the threat of displacement. “Engaging” a community typically happens in a limited way, but in this new process, the community helps lead–creating a vision for the neighborhood, assessing current assets and problems, and devising strategies and a timeline to implement solutions. The designers tested the process with community members in Marin City, a small, low-income, diverse community at the bottom of a watershed that frequently floods. Sea levels in the area are already eight inches higher than they were 100 years ago.

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