This year, the American Institute of Architects held their annual national conference, AIA Conference of Architecture 2023 (A’23) in San Francisco. On the first day of the conference, a group of 40 attendees came over to Richmond via ferry as part of a field trip, “Challenge of the Century: Rising Tides in San Francisco Bay.” I hosted them at Assemble and briefed them on climate resilience and environmental justice issues in Richmond, focusing on the North Richmond Horizontal Levee Project. The field trip was organized by Tian Feng, BART District Architect. Joining me were Aaron Winer, Kate Gibbs and Andrew Clough of West County Wastewater, and Tim Mollette-Parks of Mithun, who went into greater detail about the North Richmond Horizontal Levee Project.
Figure 1 - Aaron Winer, Tom Butt, Tian Feng, Andrew Clough and Tim Mollette-Parks
Below is the briefing sheet I prepared for the group.
AIA Conference on Architecture 2023
San Francisco Bay – Adaptation to Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding
Climate Resiliency and Environmental Justice in Richmond, California
Tom Butt, FAIA
Richmond, CA Fun Facts
Richmond is a city with a population of 114,301 (US Census estimate July 1, 2022). It has more shoreline (32 miles) than any city on San Francisco Bay. Richmond is the 55th largest city in California. The City of Richmond also surrounds an unincorporated area, North Richmond, with about 3,000 residents.
The demographics of Richmond include: White – 18.2% %, African American – 18.4%, Asian – 14.5%, Hispanic – 43.8%. Median Household income (2021) is $79,478. Unemployment is 4.2% compared to 4.4% for the State of California.
During WWII, Richmond was the location of the world’s largest shipyards, producing 747 ships, mostly Liberty and Victory ships. Today, it is the home of Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park.
The third largest refinery in California (Chevron) is located in Richmond, which is the largest emitter of GHG in California. The City of Richmond is one of several cities and counties suing oil companies, including Chevron, for damages caused by climate change.
Richmond and Climate Change
Richmond updated its Climate Action Plan (CAP) in 2016 and tracks progress through the Climate Action Plan (CAP) Open Data Dashboard. The CAP includes an extensive section on resilience beginning on page 70 and the City of Richmond Climate Action Plan – Appendix F, Climate Change Adaptation Study. The most significant actions taken to date to reduce greenhouse gases is participating in Marin Clean Energy (MCE), a Consumer Choice Aggregator that is trending towards providing 100% carbon free electricity.
Adaptation to Climate Change
Bay Area Agencies taking the lead on adaption to climate change include BCDC, which has been a leader in Climate Change Policies related to San Francisco Bay, as well as ABAG, the Bay Area Collaborative, and MTC. Also see Adapting to Rising Tides and the Adaptation Roadmap: Advancing Local Sea Level Rise Adaptation.
The Resilient by Design/Bay Area Challenge of 2017 by the Bay Area Collaborative was modeled on New York’s Rebuild by Design and resulted in nine project winners distributed along the shores of San Francisco Bay. One project, ouR-HOME by the Home Team was in West Contra Costa County, located in the City of Richmond and unincorporated North Richmond.
The most ambitious project in the Richmond area currently is the North Richmond Shoreline Living Levee Project, which grew out of the Resilient by Design/Bay Area Challenge. It is currently in the feasibility and conceptual design stage. The objectives are to create transitional upland habitat, provide flood protection to critical infrastructure and neighboring disadvantaged communities, and improve public access to the North Richmond Shoreline in western Contra Costa County.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) recently estimated the costs of adapting to sea level rise up to 2050 to be $110 billion. Also, see Sea Level Adaptation Funding and Investment Framework.
Tom Butt, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, is an architect and the founder of the Richmond A/E firm, Interactive Resources, celebrating its 50th year in 2023. Tom served on the Richmond City Council for 20 years and as elected mayor for 8 years, terming out in January of 2023. He also served on the boards of multiple regional agencies involved in climate change planning and adaptation, including San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), Resilient by Design and Marin Clean Energy (MCE).
This was the first AIA national conference I had attended in years, because they were often scheduled the same time as the US Conference of Mayors summer meetings, or I had other City-related duties that conflicted. As a senior member of the AIA, I have achieved emeritus status and no longer have to pay dues or keep up on my continuing education!
I took BART to San Francisco to pick up my credential, the first time I have used BART post-COVID. Despite what you read about BART, I found trains and stations cleaner than I ever remember. There were no homeless people in the stations, and they no longer reeked of cannabis, a condition I recall common pre-COVID. I got off at the Montgomery Street station, but I returned from the Powell Street Station coming home. I was glad to see that the station modernization has been completed, including the new ceiling in which I played a role. I designed and managed the re-waterproofing of the entire Powell Street Station ceiling.
This was also the first time I had been to Moscone Center since pre-COVOID. The keynote speaker at the morning plenary was Barbara Bouza, FAIA, the president of Walt Disney Imagineering. Who leads a global multidisciplinary team charged with creating all Disney’s theme parks, attractions, resorts, cruise ships and entertainment experiences. A major theme of the conference was Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Barbara identifies as African-American.
Figure 2 -Lining up for the AIA Thursday plenary at Moscone West
Figure 3 - Lakisha Ann Woods is the EVP/Chief Executive Officer of the American Institute of Architects
Figure 4 - Barbara Bouza, President, Walt Disney Imagineering
I spent most of the rest of the day browsing the Expo, amazed at all the new building products and services available to architects.
Another Richmond architect, Kimberly Butt, AIA, who serves on the Richmond Design Review Board (and is my daughter-in law) was a presenter at a seminar, “The Earth on Which We Build,” which provided an in-depth perspective on how design professionals have responded to unique challenges when addressing the impact of urbanization on the natural environment.
Figure 5 - Kim Butt talks about Richmond at “The Earth on Which We Build”
Figure 6 - The image on the screen is Kim and Andrew; home, for which they won a historic preservation award several years ago.
The third day of the conference, I took the Richmond Ferry to San Francisco, the first time I have ridden it since the day it re-started during COVID. Always a pleasure! One of the most popular venues at the Expo was the Puppy Corral!
Figure 7 - Going home on the Richmond ferry
Friday evening, Shirley and I attended a reception hosted by the University of Arkansas School of Architecture. I ran into the former mayor of Truckee, who is and architect and a graduate of the University of Arkansas School of Architecture.
Because Saturday was volunteer day at East brother, I had to miss the final keynote, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden.