By Cariad Hayes Thronson

East Palo Alto is a microcosm of Silicon Valley’s most pressing social and environmental issues. Home to low-income communities, the city faces rising rents and the displacement of longtime residents. As one of the lowest-lying communities in the Bay Area, it is also ground-zero for sea level rise in the South Bay. Although located at the northern end of Resilient by Design’s Field Operations Team’s 20-mile shoreline jurisdiction, much of their public engagement effort was focused on East Palo Alto. “This scale of work needs an enormous amount of public support,” says Field Ops’ Richard Kennedy of their ambitious plan to use a network of marshland, salt ponds, and tidal wetlands to “sponge” the effects of sea level rise from Menlo Park to Santa Clara. Driving the “Sponge Hub,” a trailer wrapped in green, sponge textured vinyl, to markets, churches, and high school sporting events, Field Ops sought to bring attention to issues not necessarily in the public eye. “Many folks living in East Palo Alto are dealing with day-to-day issues of resilience,” says Andrea Baker, a community engagement liaison for the project. “It’s hard to get them to focus on the issue of sea level rise when there are so many more immediate survival issues facing that community.”

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South Bay: Swaps and Sponges Create Absorbing Vision

By Cariad Hayes Thronson

East Palo Alto is a microcosm of Silicon Valley’s most pressing social and environmental issues. Home to low-income communities, the city faces rising rents and the displacement of longtime residents. As one of the lowest-lying communities in the Bay Area, it is also ground-zero for sea level rise in the South Bay. Although located at the northern end of Resilient by Design’s Field Operations Team’s 20-mile shoreline jurisdiction, much of their public engagement effort was focused on East Palo Alto. “This scale of work needs an enormous amount of public support,” says Field Ops’ Richard Kennedy of their ambitious plan to use a network of marshland, salt ponds, and tidal wetlands to “sponge” the effects of sea level rise from Menlo Park to Santa Clara. Driving the “Sponge Hub,” a trailer wrapped in green, sponge textured vinyl, to markets, churches, and high school sporting events, Field Ops sought to bring attention to issues not necessarily in the public eye. “Many folks living in East Palo Alto are dealing with day-to-day issues of resilience,” says Andrea Baker, a community engagement liaison for the project. “It’s hard to get them to focus on the issue of sea level rise when there are so many more immediate survival issues facing that community.”

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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

Cariad Hayes Thronson covers legal and political issues for Estuary News. She has served on the staffs of several national publications, including The American Lawyer. She is a long-time contributor to Estuary News, and some years ago served as its assistant editor. She lives in San Mateo with her husband and two children.