After a hiatus to pursue my Low Carbon Diet project, I’m BACK, working on a new project, Lost Cities of the California Coast.
It explores how people in California cities will respond to rising sea levels over the coming decades through participatory art and creative writing. Here’s a summary:
With sea level rising for the foreseeable future, the coastal communities of California will face unprecedented change in the coming decades. How will each city respond? With higher levees and armored sea walls to hold back the tide? With “managed retreat” to higher ground? With redesigned infrastructure and new technologies that allow their coastal zones to be flexible use areas that accommodate the rising tide line?
Lost Cities of the California Coast imagines California from a future vantage point, at the time when our grandchildren’s grandchildren look back at our generation’s response to sea level rise. By describing in detail several imagined case studies of cities’ responses, this project will explore a variety of adaptive approaches, evaluating those that were more – or less – successful over the long-term.
- In response to the El Nino storms of 2020, residents of the City of Malibu raised private funds to build a sea wall to defend their beachfront septic systems, exerting considerable political influence to protect their multi-million dollar homes. Yet when even larger storms came in 2032, the wall was destroyed along with many of the sea-front houses. Though a few owners chose to rebuild at great cost and risk, most moved to higher ground, and the abandoned land was purchased at minimal cost by the city and turned into bioswale and public space.
- After years of frequent flooding sent toxic waters into the streets of West Oakland, the voters worked in 2045 and again in 2060 to pass bond measures to redevelop the Bayside, including the port and airport. Billions were spent to convert industrial sites into wetlands, redesign sewer systems and the port to accommodate fifteen feet of sea level rise, and rebuild the sub-standard housing of West Oakland into high-density neighborhoods modeled on the Netherlands. The foresight of this project created an economic base from which Oakland was able to grow and thrive for the next century.
Using participatory map-making, storytelling, walking, and text, Lost Cities of the California Coast will engage the public in art-making events that will enable participants to envision themselves in a future where sea levels are higher and difficult decisions need to be made. What sort of new infrastructure will be needed to accommodate a rising tide? What opportunities exist for progressive planning, even as some neighborhoods will eventually be lost? Urban planners, architects, engineers, and public officials are already studying the risks and opportunities presented by sea level rise; Lost Cities will broaden the public dialogue around this important issue so that people can, over the coming years, make informed choices about how we will collectively adapt to the rising waters.
The first case study in development is San Mateo/Foster City, two interlocked cities where more than 100,000 people live in the current 100-year flood zone — a line which closely tracks the 3-foot sea level rise that is expected by the end of this century. What will San Mateo County look like then? Bringing communities into conversation about this challenging issue, as we also discuss creative responses to it, is the first step to developing a resilient city that will thrive for decades to come.