By Nate Seltenrich

For the Latino and Vietnamese residents of the Canal District in San Rafael, sea level rise is a tangible threat—not by the end of the century, but right now. “If the Bay Area doesn’t respond in these places, where it’s abundantly obvious, how are they going to respond to the rest?” asks Marcel Wilson of Bionic Team, tasked with creating a more flood-proof San Rafael as part of the Resilient by Design challenge. “The easiest solution would be to gate off the creek, raise the levees, and proceed with life as it’s known today,” said Wilson when unveiling Bionic Team’s proposal. “But this would further separate the city from its waterfront, eradicate coastal habitats, and ultimately become obsolete, leaving fewer options for future generations.” After a year of work, Bionic Team envisions a city with elevated structures, floating homes, and canals in place of streets. They also see a revitalized shoreline and improved public access. “Finding a new paradigm is the challenge for San Rafael,” Wilson suggested. “We think the paradigm is life with the Bay.”

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San Rafael: Elevating a Canal, City, Community

By Nate Seltenrich

For the Latino and Vietnamese residents of the Canal District in San Rafael, sea level rise is a tangible threat—not by the end of the century, but right now. “If the Bay Area doesn’t respond in these places, where it’s abundantly obvious, how are they going to respond to the rest?” asks Marcel Wilson of Bionic Team, tasked with creating a more flood-proof San Rafael as part of the Resilient by Design challenge. “The easiest solution would be to gate off the creek, raise the levees, and proceed with life as it’s known today,” said Wilson when unveiling Bionic Team’s proposal. “But this would further separate the city from its waterfront, eradicate coastal habitats, and ultimately become obsolete, leaving fewer options for future generations.” After a year of work, Bionic Team envisions a city with elevated structures, floating homes, and canals in place of streets. They also see a revitalized shoreline and improved public access. “Finding a new paradigm is the challenge for San Rafael,” Wilson suggested. “We think the paradigm is life with the Bay.”

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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

Nate Seltenrich is a freelance science and environmental journalist who covers infrastructure, restoration, and related topics for Estuary. He also contributes to the San Francisco Chronicle, Sonoma and Marin magazines, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, and other local and national publications, on subjects ranging from public lands and renewable energy to the human health impacts of climate change. He lives in Petaluma with his wife, two boys, and four ducks. www.nate-reports.com