A New Competition Tackles Climate Change In The Bay Area (Since The White House Won’t)

The Bay Area: Resilient By Design Challenge looks for ways to get the city ready for a future where climate disasters are more common.

A New Competition Tackles Climate Change In The Bay Area (Since The White House Won’t)
[Photo: Rob Bye via Unsplash]

After his inauguration, one of President Trump’s first orders of business was to reportedly “purge” all references to climate change from the White House website, sending a strong signal that the new administration may not pursue environmental policies that could counter global warming. Sea levels will continue to rise with natural disasters occurring more often. That means it’s up to cities to get prepared.


To that end, The Rockefeller Foundation has announced the Bay Area: Resilient By Design Challenge, a $4.6 million competition to fund proposals from interdisciplinary teams with new ways to strengthen the infrastructure in three of the region’s big cities–Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco–and surrounding counties. The goal is to prepare for the worst and emerge stronger for it.

The program is patterned after New York’s Rebuild By Design Hurricane Sandy Design Competition, which lead to advancements like “The Big U,” a storm and floodwater buffer zone that also revitalizes neighborhoods and community spaces. Yet whereas those Sandy designs were reactionary–the community had just witnessed how horrible a natural disaster might be–the Bay Area is doing this proactively, which is how Rockefeller likes to work. They’re in a race to change things before the hardest times hit. To that end, the group hopes that each solution will be not only geared toward addressing climate change or seismic shifts (it is earthquake country) but will also help solve classic Bay Area problems like the tech hub’s income disparity and affordable housing crisis.

[Photo: Ian Simmonds via Unsplash]

The contest will have two phases. In April, there will be an open call for teams with resilience skill sets. (These can take any form, but will likely include an array of architects, developers, and environmental designers.) A jury will evaluate their approach to resilience in general–not for this specific project–and then select ten applicants to create Bay Area proposals. That process will include three months to do site research, consult with officials, environmental experts, and academics, and engage with communities in the affected areas. To be followed by a five-month design phase, in which groups will partner with officials, residents and business and community groups to make sure their projects both work well and encourage adoption. Winners will be announced in the summer of 2018.

Of course, all of it is possible because the foundation hasn’t waited for a federal mandate to make change. “The Rockefeller Foundation has been invested in building resilience in the Bay Area for quite some time,” writes Sam Cater, the group’s managing director, in an email. All three cities are part of the group’s 100 Resilient Cities program, which includes the appointment of a Chief Resilience Officer to help each plan for and cope with future environmental, social, and economic stress. “Given the local interest in a design challenge to combat climate change and our desire to expand this already-successful challenge to a region before disaster strikes, this partnership seemed like a no-brainer,” he says.

The current administration’s view on climate change won’t change that. “We are continuing to showcase how building resilience works for communities, cities, and regions through efforts like Bay Area: Resilient by Design,” Carter adds. “In our continued support of these efforts, we hope to continue scaling these programs and solutions to achieve outsized impact.” They’re not alone. Philanthropic groups, from Bloomberg to The Unreasonable Institute, are trying radical community-level solutions that can scale.

About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.