The “developing world” has extraordinary ideas about how to solve some of the “developed world’s” most severe problems. Here’s a chance to pay back for generations of development advice going the other way. This fascinating project takes the form of a competition called, Design for the First World. Check it out here. More info here.
by Andy B. Turner
What would a brand-new small-scale community in the middle of the San Francisco Bay look like? The idea is both inspiring and concerning.
Fresh air, beautiful views, enough people to call it a real community, a grocery store, easy transportation in and out, affordable housing, places to relax and to exercise, solar panels and organic farms are all elements of sustainable communities for the future. A new plan for Treasure Island has all these things.
The island was actually built as a WPA project in the 1930s. It’s fake, built from landfill – mud dredged from the Bay and dragged down from the Sacramento Delta. Although it was home to San Francisco’s first airport and served as a naval base during WWII, the island has been considered “underused” and “undeveloped” for years. Be wary of those phrases, though. Underused by whom? Who lives there now and do they have a say in what’s going to happen?
Assuming the new development isn’t destructive, and the land isn’t toxic, what would the greater Bay Area really need from underused space anyway? Plans for a theme park, casino, schools and other off-the-wall proposals have all stalled. This current plan to build a substantial, sustainable and futuristic community could be a qualitatively different solution from previous proposals. After all, San Francisco needs more livable communities. The Chronicle thinks the plan for a new Treasure Island “is an intriguing 21st century take on what an urban neighborhood can be.”
The inspired design is coming from Craig Hartman, the renowned architect and master planner–known locally for the new Cathedral of the Light in Oakland and the SFO International terminal redesign as well as internationally for some jaw dropping master plans in China and the new U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He describes his vision in a San Francisco Magazine interview as, “A place that embodies San Francisco culture but also reflects what’s been learned over 60 years about intelligently settling the planet.” Its arguable whether new construction can ever be “green,” but Hartman’s concept, according to the interview, is a future in which newly designed neighborhoods will be so technologically advanced and well planned, they can actually begin to repair the damage we’ve done to the planet.
The new plan will stress the Treasure Island heritage by using the three remaining buildings from the 1938 Golden Gate International Exposition to define the commercial district. Housing for around 20,000 inhabitants would cover most of the west and south sides in an ‘L’ shape with some mixed commercial uses. The rest of the island would be left open for parks and farms. Hartman believes that high density building is the key to combating climate change so rather than more sprawl, this plan lays out a dense community with large apartment towers concentrated in a walkable housing and shopping district near open parks and organic farms. The planners have recognized that enough people have to live there in order to support a grocery store and other basic necessities.
Here’s a slide show of what the development might look like with photos and renderings from the architects.
The proposed development will cost around $1.5 billion to upgrade the island’s infrastructure and another $3.5 billion to build it out. Finance might be the limiting factor for now, but perhaps the value to the world as an exemplary community will far exceed this amount. Either way, state, local and private budgetary constraints are already threatening aspects of the plan such as the affordable housing requirements.
Currently, an environmental review is underway. Besides the budget, environmental issues could be the biggest hang up. Treasure Island is low lying and could be vulnerable to rising sea levels or earthquake damage. Planners have attempted to account for this by proposing building sites slightly inland and on a little higher ground. Still, the proposal begs the question, if a brand new community is to be built, how far out are we planning?
While the plan is not without its challenges, the attention to energy use, access to food, transportation, sea levels, and prospects for healthy growth are great strides towards a new model for creating livable and green urban neighborhoods.
Here are some useful articles and sites about the plan:
SOM, the Architect’s Treasure Island Master Plan website
Here’s an interview and discussion on KQED’s Forum program.
While our current national attention is fixed on the BP oil spill and the impacts on the Gulf Coast, the appalling truth is that oil spills are a regular occurrence, threatening critical habitats and people’s safety and livelihoods wherever oil is extracted. In February I visited two indigenous Shipibo communities living along the Ucayali River in the Peruvian Amazon that are living with widespread sickness, environmental contamination and loss of access to fish and other food, due to numerous oil spills from a project financed by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC). Check out the following 3-minute video to learn more about this work:
My visit followed up on a visit the International Accountability Project’s Research Fellow, Emily Joiner, conducted in 2009 to several communities in Peru impacted by IFC-financed projects. The IFC committed $40 million in financing in 2007 to the oil company, Maple Energy, in spite of Maple’s abysmal environmental and human rights record in the Ucayali region. When Emily visited the two communities of Nuevo Sucre and Canaán de Cachiyacu along the Ucayali River in the Northern Peruvian Amazon, she learned some startling facts: Since the IFC investment, there had been five major spills, the worst of which occurred in April 2009, when Maple used forced labor from Nuevo Sucre to clean up the spill.
Upon exposure to toxic drinking and bathing water, community members have experienced severe stomach and back pains, fever and diarrhea; and some have died. All three tributaries Nuevo Sucre members depend upon for drinking water and fish have been systematically contaminated by Maple’s operations since 2007. Collateral impacts from oil extraction in the region―both from Maple and from companies operating prior to Maple―include permanently contaminated tributaries and fish, contaminated agricultural land leading to low yields, and both acute and chronic illnesses, ranging from stomach illnesses to cancer.
In February I went back to Nuevo Sucre and Canaán de Cachiyacu to hear more stories from community members and share information with them about the use of the IFC’s accountability mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO). I traveled with lawyer Natalie Bridgeman of Accountability Counsel and leaders of the regional indigenous federations. I was moved and saddened by their tales of lost loved ones over so many years of oil pollution, and humbled by their spirit of hope and their generosity. Villagers in Nuevo Sucre traveled three hours round trip to a lake to be able to offer us uncontaminated fish. Even though the fish was clean, they had cooked it in water from a nearby tributary, and I tasted the distinct flavor of oil. That one meal upset my stomach severely, and I was ill for a couple days afterward. But this is what people in Canaan and Nuevo Sucre eat everyday, this is a reality they cannot escape.
Community members from Nuevo Sucre and Canaan de Cachiyacu resoundingly decided to file a claim with the CAO, in the hope that it will hold Maple Energy accountable to its commitments―under legal contract with the IFC―to prevent and mitigate all environmental and social impacts. The communities hope that through the CAO process and resulting negotiations, they will secure access to a clean water supply, and that Maple will follow through on its promises to conduct comprehensive medical diagnoses and provide real medical care for each community member. IAP is committed to helping them achieve justice for these impacts. While some irreversible harm has occurred to the health and well-being of the people of these two Shipibo communities, and their land and rivers, there is still so much to save and protect. Communities filed their claim to the CAO on April 6, 2010. Read more about this campaign here.
The events in Ucayali and the communities’ complaint happens in a broader context of mounting protests throughout the Peruvian Amazon regarding unconstitutional decrees President Alan Garcia’s administration has been pushing through. Last year protests reached fever pitch and were brutally squelched by Peruvian police and paramilitaries in the town of Bagua. The rights of indigenous communities’ control over extractive activities in their ancestral territories is a hot issue right now in Peru, and the Peruvian parliament just passed a law on the rights of indigenous communities to adequate consultation prior to any activities that may affect their territory. While the national indigenous federation of the Peruvian Amazon (AIDESEP) has expressed some satisfaction with this new legislation, it remains to be seen if this law, in practice, will indeed protect communities’ rights.
Welcome to HoldYourGround.org! This site is a space to share about challenging destructive development—and building alternatives that keep our communities strong and our environment healthy. Around the world, more people than ever are saying no to unjust eviction and destruction in the name of development. More of us than ever are calling for development that will truly build our communities—not bulldoze them. What does development justice mean to you? Make your voice heard!
HoldYourGround.org is a community space for sharing your stories, art, tactics and ideas. We encourage you to get involved by submitting blog posts, links, announcements, videos, photo documentaries and more. HoldYourGround.org is an opportunity to get the word out about your work and connect with activists in other parts of the world who are also fighting for development that honors local voices and our planet’s future.
If you want to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The site is still under construction–check back for new content soon!