The suite of sea level rise projects in North Richmond, ouR-HOME emerges from the community’s ideas for building health, wealth and home ownership for over 5,000 North Richmond residents – turning investments in sea level rise adaptations and aging infrastructure into opportunities for all.
The ouR-HOME sea level rise response projects are linked to the health and financial well-being of residents that have been traditionally shut out of opportunities to improve health and family wealth. Small lot housing, a community land trust, social impact bonds and community infrastructure combine to lower the cost of entry to home ownership. Green infrastructure proposals to bring the ‘marsh to Main Street’ with a horizontal levee, and plant 20,000 trees to filter air and water, are strategies that can be implemented through existing local job and career programs – benefiting the people in North Richmond.
Building on a vibrant local history, neighborhood stabilization and strategies for home ownership underlie the vision for a resilient North Richmond. A community land trust and small lot splits use vacant lots as a catalyst to lower the cost of entry for ownership, key for residents to have agency to collectively and individually respond to climate change.
Community driven, pre-development collaboration is key to achieving multiple benefits. Infrastructure investment is one of the largest expenditures in the Bay Area. When historically disinvested communities participate in the decision-making process to direct that spending, residents can simultaneously build health and wealth, supporting self-determination and paths to housing ownership.
ouR-HOME ’s holistic design approach focuses on a regional issue: using infrastructure dollars to leverage health and wealth benefits for disinvested communities. In North Richmond, investments include pump replacement and sea level rise protection for a wastewater facility, major arterial and drowning marshlands that provide critical habitat and support the largest eelgrass bed and oyster beds in the Bay. Building on the North Richmond Shoreline Vision Plan, local expertise in the community has shaped a suite of four projects.
Five workshops with the North Richmond Community Advisory Board and countless discussions with stakeholders have resulted in concept level projects incorporating proven strategies that can have a profound collective impact in the community. These projects – planting trees for air and water filtering; using a range of levee edge typologies that change over time to protect Richmond Parkway, the wastewater facility and the neighborhood; introducing a muted marsh that co-exists with industrial uses and allows the marsh to transition upland over time; completing a multi-use path overpass to provide shoreline access and creation of a green mitigation fund that continues to grow local jobs – all provide direct and immediate benefits as well as long term value to the community.
As a foundation to the projects, small lot housing can lower the entry cost to home ownership. Larger lot housing redevelopments at Las Deltas, and Grove and Giaramita can help stabilize home ownership through exploration of a community land trust.
The area of unincorporated west Contra Costa County known as North Richmond was a place of tremendous ecological diversity when Ohlone tribes first arrived there in the 6th century. The Bay coastline and marshlands of the Wildcat and San Pablo creek deltas provided critical resources for initial human settlers. The low-lying area with fertile soils provided good agricultural opportunities. African Americans arrived in the Bay Area from across the country during the WWII labor surge and were forced to settle in the low-lying and flood-prone topographic bowl adjacent to the Chevron refinery through de facto segregation. Cut off physically from adjacent resources by railroads and other infrastructure, community members also had to endure a lack of public services and travel long distances to their seat of governmental representation. This community derives strength from a long history of cultural, environmental and social justice issues. Today, the demographics of North Richmond’s 5,000 community members is changing, as Hispanic Americans find a home in the neighborhood. The spirit of advocacy and community organization continues to thrive, as evidenced through the work of neighborhood groups such as Urban Tilth, the Verde School, the Watershed Project and other organizations.
Many Bay Area communities have similar challenges to North Richmond – enduring structural racism, chronic flooding, industrial pollution and poverty. The conditions in North Richmond are a particularly vivid example.
Despite the current economic boom time, many people have been shut out of opportunities to make things better for their families and their communities. Rapid population shifts from climate change create negative economic and individual impacts. Chronic health issues are linked to long-term stress and trauma from these challenges and a generational history of slavery, Jim Crow laws and mass incarceration. Connections to neighbors and family are an indicator of the ability to adapt and survive in the face of these challenges. The people who experience the greatest upheaval are often those being displaced by increasing rents, home prices or natural disasters. This affects everyone as the Bay Area economy is reliant on the workers who live in these communities.
North Richmond has proven to be adaptable and resilient. Strong activism and spirit in the community around unity and inclusion creates traction for good ideas. The Bay Area Challenge can shine a light on communities like North Richmond that are positioned to be a model for other communities in the region. North Richmond demonstrates how familiar solutions and technologies can be combined for greater impact and innovation. Integrated strategies support new ways for existing residents to start small businesses, follow a career path, keep their cost of living low, increase income and own the future of their families and the neighborhood.
One of the many powerful things that can emerge from the Resilient by Design process is recognition that funding community-driven, pre-development integration of projects makes investments go farther, more effectively. The Bay Area is projected to need more than $85 billion dollars of investment in climate change responses. These dollars must be streamlined.
The next step to implement community priorities is funding the continuation of the North Richmond Community Advisory Board. Seed money will help the Board and the Mithun Home Team develop equity framework criteria. There are a number of implementable projects that support health and wealth so the community can adapt and mitigate climate change – tree planting, an overpass, a Heritage Walk, a horizontal levee and marsh restoration. Integrating the plans will yield the most benefits. For example, looking at public health issues in conjunction with an integrated water management action plan keeps the social benefits primary and linked to physical green infrastructure improvements.
Decision-making about the five project areas can be refined further with a specific plan for housing and transportation, an urban forestry plan and trail project plans. Many of these have been advanced by the community and public agencies over the years. When developed in conjunction, decision-making is leveraged to build shared support and test the feasibility of possible shared benefits. The Watershed Project and Urban Tilth will be central leaders in this work.
The champion of ouR-HOME is the North Richmond Community Advisory Board, which includes a diverse group of local residents, elected officials, public agencies and community organizations. The ouR-HOME projects enjoy the support of the City of Richmond Mayor’s Office and County Supervisor John Gioia’s office. Support will be requested from the North Richmond Municipal Advisory Council, East Bay Regional Parks District, Contra Costa Public Works, Contra Costa Flood Control District, West County Wastewater District and Bay and Water Trails as key project partners.
The Mithun Home Team is a technical design team that includes landscape architects, architects, planners, coastal engineers, ecologists, artists, transportation and alternative mobility planners, affordable housing finance experts, economic advisors and community outreach facilitators.
Juliana Gonzales of The Watershed Project and Robert Rogers of County Supervisor John Gioia’s office have been the community liaisons throughout the process. Key community organizations such as Urban Tilth, Community Housing Development Corporation, Safe Return Project and the Council of Industries are participating on the advisory board. Public agencies include Contra Costa Flood Control District, West County Wastewater Facility, San Francisco Estuary Partnership and Contra Costa Public Works. To ensure direct community benefits, a third of board members are North Richmond residents and the board intentionally reflects the racial diversity of the community.