Shaping a green infrastructure agenda for the Bay Area

Save The Bay’s Bay Smart Communities program will advocate for thoughtful green infrastructure projects throughout our region, as well as the funding and resources necessary to bring projects to life. Photo by Matt Fabry.

Greening urban areas with street trees, rain gardens, parks, and other natural infrastructure offers many benefits to our communities. Neighborhoods become more hospitable to pedestrians and cyclists, getting people out of their cars. Urban heat islands—the increase in local temperature resulting from heat retention by an overabundance of asphalt and concrete—are reduced, decreasing the need for energy-intensive air conditioning during warm weather. Chemicals, trash, and other pollutants picked up by rainwater are filtered by vegetation and soil, reducing the pollution we send into our creeks and the Bay. There’s even evidence that urban greening leads to improvements in public safety.

Why, then, aren’t we greening all of our neighborhoods? If there are so many benefits to green infrastructure, what’s holding us back?

This was the topic of discussion at the Bay Area Leadership Conversation on Green Infrastructure on Friday, Dec. 9, that Save The Bay helped to plan and lead. At the beginning of the day, local and state elected officials representing the Bay Area gathered to learn from one another, sharing green infrastructure case studies and discussing the difficulties in scaling them from demonstration projects to community-wide implementation.

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While green infrastructure can result in many community and environmental benefits, we need to go about its implementation in thoughtful ways. Photo by Matt Fabry.

The main event was attended by over 250 people representing state agencies like Cal EPA and the Strategic Growth Council, cities and counties, local clean water programs, park districts, environmental justice organizations, environmental organizations, and more. Round-table and panel discussions were held throughout the day, and keynote speakers discussed the state and federal political climate and its implications for expanding green infrastructure, funding challenges, and examples of where green infrastructure is already having an impact. Examples ranged from wetland restoration projects on the Bay shoreline to rain gardens in dense communities that allow stormwater to seep back into underground aquifers, reducing pollution and improving local water supply.

A few important messages emerged from the day. First and foremost, people are excited about greening our communities, but it takes resources. We need our state elected officials to lead the way in securing more funding for local governments and agencies to implement green infrastructure, and to prioritize its integration with housing development and transportation projects. Every time our cities approve new housing developments, or repave our roads and sidewalks, is an opportunity to weave in bioswales, street trees, and rain gardens. But current policies and funding restrictions are making it very difficult to implement projects that include all of these elements. Secondly, while green infrastructure can result in many community and environmental benefits, we need to go about its implementation in thoughtful ways. Greening projects should be designed through a participatory stakeholder process to ensure that community priorities are incorporated. Additionally, local agencies and organizations should work together to train and retain a local workforce that can maintain our green infrastructure and ensure our ability to reap the full array of benefits from these projects.

Save The Bay’s Bay Smart Communities program will advocate for thoughtful green infrastructure projects throughout our region, as well as the funding and resources necessary to bring projects to life. We look forward to working with stakeholders and local government to transform our cities from gray to green, protecting the Bay and enhancing quality of life with each park and rain garden.

Voter Guide: Saving the Bay by sustaining the Bay Area

As the Bay Area struggles to accommodate rapid growth, it is critical to invest in affordable housing, improved transportation, and community infrastructure.
As the Bay Area struggles to accommodate rapid growth, it is critical to invest in affordable housing, improved transportation, and community infrastructure.

Already, 2016 has been a pivotal year in the remarkable history of Save The Bay.

After 55 years of hugely successful work to protect San Francisco Bay from damaging shoreline development, dumping, and storm water-borne toxic trash, the passage of Measure AA on the June 2016 ballot marked the evolution of our mission from rescuing the Bay to restoring it.

But 2016 isn’t over yet, and now we’re taking another giant step to advance Bay Smart solutions to threats posed by our region’s rapid growth.

For the first time in Save The Bay’s history, we’re endorsing 10 local ballot measures focused on upgrading the Bay Area’s outmoded transportation, housing, and infrastructure.

Download our Bay Smart Voter guide

These measures align with Save The Bay’s 2020 Strategic Plan, which extends our work upland and upstream from the shoreline to address sustainability issues facing our region in ways that will benefit San Francisco Bay.

Our challenge is to reduce the flow of pollutants into the Bay, increase the efficiency of water use, decrease emissions of airborne particulates and greenhouse gases, reduce heat island effects, and improve access to the shoreline, all while the Bay Area’s population is projected to grow 30 percent larger.

This slate of measures takes important steps toward these goals by:

  • Funding public transportation upgrades and roadway improvements that will decrease automobile use and storm water runoff, and the pollution they contribute to the Bay
  • Creating affordable housing that will alleviate homeless encampments – which are a major source of Bay pollution – and maximize the environmental benefits of denser development by reducing displacement of working families from our urban centers
  • Expanding the use of green infrastructure and increasing urban greening, which will keep the Bay cleaner and healthier and help more people to enjoy its beauty.

Taken together, these measures advance the key environmental justice goal of ensuring that disadvantaged communities, which have suffered the most from environmental damage, do not suffer further as our region adapts to become more resilient to climate change.

These measures will also reduce the pressure that lack of transportation and housing infrastructure creates for more sprawl into open space, including baylands, and will help preserve the political consensus for protecting the Bay that comes from our region’s shared sense that it belongs to us all.

We hope you and all of our region’s residents who love the Bay take a moment to review the “Bay Smart” slate on Nov. 8, and follow its recommendations when you vote.

Passing these ballot measures is just the beginning. We’ll be working with partner organizations, businesses and municipalities to advance a Bay Smart communities agenda through other policy mechanisms like local and state legislation, regulatory changes, and by helping cities improve best practices.

Ultimately, saving the Bay will require saving the Bay Area’s quality of life. In the words of our strategic plan, “We must help save the Bay Area as a sustainable community with a healthy Bay at its heart.”