Resilient by Design: Envisioning a More Resilient San Francisco Bay Area

Posted by on Jan 19, 2018

A broad range of improvements are envisioned for North Richmond. Graphic: Mithun

For the last few months, I’ve been part of one of the ten teams of designers, planners, and engineers working on resilience visions for the San Francisco Bay Area. The first phase of that competition—the research phase—is now completed, and each team was assigned a specific area of focus—one team for each of the nine counties around the Bay, and one team looking at regional issues.

First background: the Resilient by Design competition was modeled after the Rebuild by Design competition that was held in the New York City area following Superstorm Sandy. There are some big differences, though. Most notably, the Bay Area initiative is being held in advance of a devastating disturbance, while Rebuild by Design was held in the aftermath of Sandy. The other big difference is that HUD isn’t involved this time around, so the funding is more constrained.

The Resilient Design Institute is part of The Home Team, which is led by Mithun of Seattle and San Francisco. Other partners on The Home Team include Integral Group, Biohabitats, Moffatt & Nichol, HR&A Advisors, Alta Planning + Design, ISEEED/Streewyze, the Chinatown Community Development Center, and Urban Biofilter. Roughly 50 teams submitted qualifications to the Resilient by Design Competition, and ten were selected in September 2017 to proceed with more detailed proposals, including The Home Team.

An aerial view of Richmond, California. Credit: Mithun

Beginning the Design Phase

After a months-long process of visiting many sites throughout the Bay Area and the submission of initial proposals, the scope was narrowed for Phase 2, in which the Competition Jury settled on ten project sites, one for each team. These announcements were made on January 10, 2018. While I wasn’t able to participate in the Bay Area tours with other members of the Home Team and the ten other teams last fall, I did participate in teleconferences in which we discussed opportunities for the sites that the Home Team had focused its efforts on.

In the Design Phase, which is just kicking off, The Home Team will be refining plans and designs for North Richmond in Contra Costa County, across the Bay from San Francisco and north of Berkeley and Oakland. Among the challenges here are sea level rise, storm surge, tidal flooding, aging infrastructure, displacement of residents, and lack of housing.

Resilience concepts for Wildcat Estuary. Graphic: Mithun

North Richmond has a history of racial inequity. African American families who came to the Bay Area for the WWII shipbuilding were forced to settle in this low-lying area, and they were largely cut off from other communities by railroads, refineries, and other infrastructure. Today, that area is highly vulnerable to rising sea level.

There are active community members and organizations that have developed vision plans for the North Richmond area. They have focused on ecological and equity issues and would like to incorporate more housing and transportation issues into their vision. This is a one of three ways the Home Team is considering working with the community. The other two ways are to define a concept plan and funding for one of the priority projects identified in the vision plan, and to conduct a community-built prototype to generate momentum for the longer-term project.

Priority projects the Home Team is considering with community input include a horizontal levee to protect North Richmond housing and improve ecological systems; connecting missing links in the Bay Trail system or creating a walkable connection between San Pablo Creek and Wildcat Creek including an urban farm serving North Richmond. The team is interested in exploring how pier foundations or floating trails might be designed to support biodiversity. This shoreline includes the largest eelgrass bed in the Bay as well as healthy oyster beds that are being monitored and expanded in the largest oyster bed restoration project in the Bay region.

By mid-May the teams plan to have their concept plans developed and will be working on financing strategies.

I’ll keep you posted as the project moves along—not only with news of the Home Team’s progress, but on some of the other exciting concepts that will emerge from the other nine design teams.

#          #          #         #          #

Along with founding the Resilient Design Institute in 2012, Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. To keep up with his latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed. To receive e-mail notices of new blogs, sign up at the top of the page.


  1. Hi Alex, this is very exciting, and hopefully provides a rich template for other city-regions, especially coastal ones, to also undertake advanced resilience design assessments. One question: given the considerable talents and knowledge accruing in this design assessment, is there an intention of making all this information available on a web platform for seeding and motivating willing change agents in other locations? thanks so much! Michael P Totten

    • Michael, I believe that all of the materials produced through the Resilient by Design initiative will become freely available online. This website should house that information:

  2. Wow, that project/program sounds great! Is it funded by the tax the Bay Area passed a few years ago?
    BTW, Richmond is also the home of major oil refineries and other env. justice problems.
    Thx for sharing this info.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers