Guest Post | Bay Area: What Could Have Been

We are excited to share this guest blog post by Victoria Bogdan about her new project Bay Area: What Could Have Been, which will tell the visual story of what the Bay Area would look like without the environmental heroes who fought to preserve some of our most precious, iconic open spaces. 

Anyone who hikes the hills of the San Francisco Bay Area can see a panorama of environmental history. From atop most tall vantage points, one can look in every direction and see land and waters that were fought for and saved.BogdanV photo

In other words, the large stretches of green space and sparkling Bay waters that make this such an incredible place to live weren’t always guaranteed as open and protected. The stories of many of our favorite places are hidden or forgotten. They’re the stories of what isn’t there.

Huey Johnson, of Resource Renewal Institute is a living conservation legend and the person who first introduced me to Save the Bay’s co-founder, Sylvia McLaughlin. He’s the person who first shared the idea of these missing stories with me. He gave me Dr. Marty Griffin’s Saving the Marin-Sonoma Coast, which tells the stories behind many of these battles. After reading this book, my perspective on the Bay Area was never the same.

There are countless stories of large development projects that nearly changed the Bay Area landscape for good: the lagoon at Bolinas that didn’t get turned into high rises and hotels. The nuclear power plant that doesn’t sit at Bodega Head. The 30,000 person town that isn’t our view across from the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay that didn’t get reduced to a canal, and many, many others.

There are also films, including Rebels with a Cause, and books like New Guardians of the Golden Gate, in which advocates tell the story of our region. There are history projects like Forces of Nature, as well as individual renderings of the doomed developments, many of which were done by the architects or proposing agencies at the time.

Even with all this history, one piece was missing for me. I wanted to see what the view from the top of a Bay Area hill would look like had all of the projects from the 1950s-70s actually happened. I wanted to see, put together in one place, what isn’t there.

In all of my searches at the Anne T. Kent California Room, and in books, no such view existed. I had no choice: if I wanted to see this complete picture, I would have to do it myself.

I found a talented illustrator and spent a year researching and gathering stories. Now I’m ready to launch The Bay Area: What Could Have Been into the world– or the fundraising piece, anyway. My illustrator and I need to raise money to pay him, to print copies of what we create so that we can donate them to the local environmental groups that continue to steward our lands and waters, and to create a project website to make What Could Have Been accessible to the public.

With any luck and some goodwill, we’ll present our gift to Bay Area environmental history before the end of the year. I can’t wait to see the result, and I hope others use it as a teaching tool and reminder of the important advocacy and activism stories that sometimes lead to what we don’t see.

Victoria Bogdan is a fundraising consultant working with environmental nonprofits around the Bay Area, including Yosemite Conservancy, Pepperwood Preserve, Fair Trade USA, Resource Renewal Institute, and Earth Day Quebec. She worked with the California chapter of The Nature Conservancy, where hiking with botanists, biologists, and other -ists strengthened her love of the environment and dedication to working on its behalf. She lives in Oakland, is a co-founder of Nerds for Nature, and can’t wait to hike again in the rainforest.
Twitter: @victoria_bogdan