San Rafael is a small city north of San Francisco in Marin County. The city exhibits all the stresses of the Bay Area metropolis, because it is one of the vital infrastructural, logistical, and workforce centers of the region. It is threatened by flooding today. It is also threatened by the old paradigm of mono functional infrastructure. For good, practical, and humane reasons the easiest solution for the complex pattern of urbanism and coastal dynamics in San Rafael would be to gate off its creek, raise the levees, and proceed with life as it is known today.
To continue with the paradigm of known engineering solutions would compound risk in San Rafael. It would increase the separation that the city has with its waterfront. It would perpetuate the deep issues of urban stress facing its businesses and a fragile community housed in a vulnerable area below sea level. It would further eradicate coastal habitats and interrupt coastal processes. It would be hugely expensive. If there was a technological failure or natural disaster, it would be a humanitarian crisis. As sea levels rise it would ultimately become obsolete, and a legacy offering danger and even fewer options would be left to future generations. In the old paradigm it is disaster that defines us. Finding a new paradigm is the challenge for San Rafael.
The big questions became clear: for the cost, effort, and ecological impact of known solutions, what do you get? We asked the San Rafael community - How do you want to live? And we asked ourselves- Is there another way?
“Elevate San Rafael” is a new paradigm to respond to the complexity of environmental change. We propose that the city evolve by employing time-tested approaches to coastal adaptation in combination with a moral, financial, and infrastructural agenda for large scale preparedness. In this process of strategic change and redefining the relationship to the bay, we see the singular opportunity to elevate all aspects of life. To physically elevate habitation, and the bonds of community and dignity. To elevate ones social and financial position in life, and policy for urban change. To lift infrastructure to new elevations and purposes, and allow for ecology to persist and expand.
Elevate San Rafael is a two-part proposal addressing near term needs directly, and a long-term strategy for large scale resilience. The proposal frames necessary accompanying policy and finance mechanisms to stimulate and guide change in an equitable way. Pilot and catalyst projects protect San Rafael now, enhance community resilience, test new ecological technologies, and buy time to prepare for the future. For the long-term, a strategy that engages the forces of development, economy, and the environment reposition the urban form of San Rafael to anticipate change, enhance mobility, reinvent infrastructure, embed cultural values, enable ecology, and provide enduring protection for another century or more.