Market Street Prototyping Festival: Sea Level Stories

Interpretation of what San Francisco’s Market Street may look like in 2020 after sea level rises.

Interpretation of what San Francisco’s Market Street may look like in 2020 after sea level rises.

The lands where we live have always been subject to change. From earthquakes and landslides to forest fires and hurricanes, long-term and short-term natural events continually alter the shape and function of our landscapes. During the last ice age, the San Francisco Bay wasn’t a bay at all, but a riverine valley. The Farrallon islands were peaks you could walk to on foot. Just a century and a half ago, the city’s Financial District was a watery cove, warping in response to the shifts of high and low tides.

Over the past few hundred years, however, we’ve taken an increasingly defensive approach towards navigating environmental change. Ever since industrialization gave us the tools for large-scale engineering, we’ve set about armoring landscapes and minimizing flux. Manhattan’s marshes were filled in and shored up to make way for rising levels of international trade. The Mississippi’s meandering channels became a uniform, leveed ribbon. Following devastating losses from the 1953 flood of the Rhine, the Netherlands launched the Deltaworks project, one of the most extensive engineered systems of dikes and dams in the world.

San Francisco’s Market Street 2012

San Francisco’s Market Street 2012

Given the realities of climate change, the faults in this approach are becoming increasingly apparent. Hurricane Sandy overwhelmed Manhattan’s shoreline fill, crippling the region. Hurricane Katrina almost wiped a major American city off the map. The mighty dams and levees of the Mississippi couldn’t hold back 2011’s crushing spring floods, resulting in $3.4 billion in direct damages. With sea levels slated to increase at least 4 ft. by the end of the 21st century, damage wrought by natural disturbances is only likely to grow.

Preparing our cities and coasts for those changes is one of the most important tasks of this century. But how to do so? In addition to pushing for new dynamic systems of defense in urban fabrics, a growing contingent is advocating for more cultural shifts. What if, as a society, we found ways to potentially accept environmental change more as a fact of life than as impending disaster? What would our cities look like if we tried to harder to live with change rather than defend against it?

The Urban Fabrick Collaborative is exploring those ideas with “Sea Level Stories,” a new project for this year’s Market Street Prototyping Festival. Developed by Urban Fabrick’s Resilient Design Associate, Johanna Hoffman, the project works to contextualize sea level rise as an ongoing fact of life along the water. Visuals showing the process of rising tides at a range of scales and time frames are shared along the street, with viewers invited to communicate and record their responses to what they see. In doing so, the project presents an opportunity to cultivate a different kind of dialogue about climate change, one that’s more about embracing change than fearing the unknown. Presenting the process of rising tides at a range of scales becomes a way to help people relate to these large phenomena on a more personal level. Allowing people to share their impressions after seeing these visualizations provides a place for meditation and conversation on the issue and generates a valuable wealth of data on public perception of sea level rise. Both are important.

We hope to see you out on the street in October for this year’s festival!

For more on the project and the #MSPF event, check out http://marketstreetprototyping.org/2016-festival/projects/sea-level-rise-stories/

San Francisco’s Market Street 1905

San Francisco’s Market Street 1905

 

Interpretation of how San Francisco’s Market Street may have looked during the end of the last ice age, 13000 BCE

Interpretation of how San Francisco’s Market Street may have looked during the end of the last ice age, 13000 BCE

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