By Joe Eaton

Situated between trendy Dogpatch and struggling Bayview-Hunter’s Point, the Islais basin is, according to Bry Sarté of Sherwood Design Engineers, “the biggest watershed in San Francisco and home to the city’s most disadvantaged community.” These days, Islais creek is mostly invisible, culverted and paved over between Glen Canyon upstream and its outfall near Third Street. Tasked with restructuring and reimagining the basin as a part of the Resilient by Design Challenge, Sarté and team BIG + ONE + Sherwood began by “meeting with everyone who would take the time to talk with us.” The team settled on a blend of hard and soft approaches to resilience: On the hard side, raising the seaward edge of the Port lands; on the soft, re-creating tidal wetlands and the stormwater-retention function of Islais creek. For many at the team’s neighborhood meetings, gentrification and displacement were more immediate concerns than climate change. “It’s important to acknowledge urban development in the last decades hasn’t worked out well for this community,” says Matthijs Bouw of ONE, but “not doing anything isn’t viable.”

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Islais Creek: Hyper-Creek Mediates Hazard Sandwich

By Joe Eaton

Situated between trendy Dogpatch and struggling Bayview-Hunter’s Point, the Islais basin is, according to Bry Sarté of Sherwood Design Engineers, “the biggest watershed in San Francisco and home to the city’s most disadvantaged community.” These days, Islais creek is mostly invisible, culverted and paved over between Glen Canyon upstream and its outfall near Third Street. Tasked with restructuring and reimagining the basin as a part of the Resilient by Design Challenge, Sarté and team BIG + ONE + Sherwood began by “meeting with everyone who would take the time to talk with us.” The team settled on a blend of hard and soft approaches to resilience: On the hard side, raising the seaward edge of the Port lands; on the soft, re-creating tidal wetlands and the stormwater-retention function of Islais creek. For many at the team’s neighborhood meetings, gentrification and displacement were more immediate concerns than climate change. “It’s important to acknowledge urban development in the last decades hasn’t worked out well for this community,” says Matthijs Bouw of ONE, but “not doing anything isn’t viable.”

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Resilent by Design Bay Area Challenge

The Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge (2017-2018) invited nine teams to design innovative shoreline adaptations to rising sea levels at nine sites around the San Francisco Estuary. The visions provided by this pre-disaster challenge — modeled on the post-disaster Rebuild by Design challenge in New York that followed superstorm Sandy — are powerful, silo-crossing conversation starters for a region now working to prepare low-lying communities, creeks, habitats, and infrastructure for a bigger Bay.
About the author

Joe Eaton writes about endangered and invasive species, climate and ecosystem science, environmental history, and water issues for ESTUARY. He is also "a semi-obsessive birder" whose pursuit of rarities has taken him to many of California's shores, wetlands, and sewage plants.