Competition Fights San Francisco's 'Rising Tides'

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San Francisco is looking for architects, planners and engineers to create proposals to help “climate proof the Bay Area,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Bay Conservation and Development Commission’s Rising Tides competition will award a $125,000 prize for the best design to help the city prepare for a future which may contain rising sea levels of up to several feet.

Projections that show climate change could lift the level of the bay by more than a yard at high tide by 2050. Photo: Treehuger.com

Projections that show climate change could lift the level of the bay by more than a yard at high tide by 2050. Photo: Treehuger.com

“We are looking for ideas that can lead to future standards about how to deal with rising tides,” says Brad McCrea, a development design analyst for the commission. “We want to move the discussion forward.”

David Meckel, competition manager and director of research for the California College of the Arts agrees. “There’s an opportunity to suggest ideas that can be applied to our bay but have universal access,” Meckel says. “If one of the results is a solution for protecting low-lying freeways, for example, other cities are welcome to steal it.”

Five entrants will be awarded $10,000 who present the most innovative plans to help the city adapt.

The Competition

As now envisioned, $10,000 awards would go to each of the five entrants who present the most innovative schemes for adapting our urban region to natural changes. The competition launched in April, and the deadline for registration is June 29.

Given the relatively modest prize, Meckel suggested it’s unlikely that major architectural and/or engineering firms will respond.

“More likely we’d get something from three young staffers in the back room” of a large firm, said Meckel. “It’s a great way for emerging talent to step out.”

Still, commission officials say they’re looking for provocative and plausible examples of what the competition brief calls “resilient shoreline development techniques.”

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission created a series of maps to show how sea-level rise would impact the Bay Area. In such a scenario, virtually all of San Francisco International Airport is underwater. Photo: California Resources Agency

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission created a series of maps to show how sea-level rise would impact the Bay Area. In such a scenario, virtually all of San Francisco International Airport is underwater. Photo: California Resources Agency

“We all want it to go beyond cool-looking ideas,” McCrea says. “What’s needed are multidiscipline solutions … that go beyond what we think of when we talk about ‘protecting the shoreline.’ ”

What Could Happen

The competition is the latest sign of how the commission, created in 1965 to keep the bay from shrinking, now grapples with the opposite problem: Projections that show climate change could lift the level of the bay by more than a yard at high tide by 2050.

Left unchecked, this would submerge much of Silicon Valley as well as stretches of Highway 101 on the Peninsula. Marin County subdivisions along Richardson Bay would be imperiled, so would the Oakland and San Francisco airports.

Other coastal regions face similar impacts – which is why the commission wants the competition to have as wide an impact as possible. Current plans call for presenting the top entries in public forums and a competition catalog.

Another factor that might draw attention: Novelty.

“There’s been nothing with a focus like this that I’ve heard of in this country,” says G. Stanley Collyer, editor of Competitions, a professional quarterly.

“Ideas competitions can really have value if people take them seriously,” Collyer says. “If this one comes up with interesting ideas, it could be a model for other communities.”

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