Marin City is a unique place within the larger more affluent Marin County in the Bay Area of Northern California. The community has low income level averages and a high population density of people of color. Poised perfectly at the Golden Gate, the small unincorporated enclave is in danger of succumbing to gentrification. There are commanding views in the steep wooded hilly residential neighborhoods which toe into more open commercial lowlands. Active church, school, nonprofit, and government groups anchor Marin City’s development. Large campuses of public housing dominate the mid ridges while private residences rim the hills.
Marin City’s a bowl at the base of the watershed sandwiched between San Rafael and Sausalito north and south, and Richardson Bay and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area headlands east and west. Deeply eroded gullies, severely paved culverts, and inadequately sized pipes drain the watershed causing chronic serious flooding events. Sediment and debris often clog this infrastructure and have silted the only retention basin exacerbating the problem. Low lying pinch points and limited transportation corridors hamper ingress and egress during this inundation. Open space lacks within the community’s core.
Rather than only site specific, element and component-based designs, P+SET proposed an unconventional approach - a social design process which builds community capacity and ecoliteracy to address the challenges of coastal adaptation and resilience planning, especially in vulnerable communities experiencing generations of marginalization and exclusion.
In a three month period, P+SET piloted this capacity building program in Marin City resulting in an incipient People’s Plan to authentically reflect aspirations and intentions of the resident community of place. An intergenerational cohort expanded existing knowledge for assessing and addressing risks and developing near and long term strategies with a prioritized set of projects to be immediately phased into partial implementation this summer.
Additionally, the community enhanced their existing advocacy practices and literacy to more effectively engage with municipal, regulatory, and regional stakeholders. More importantly, P+SET reaffirmed the hypothesis that communities have skills, experiences, and strategies to solve local and regional problems they face.
The opportunity was to transform the process of ‘engagement’ to one of authentic partnership - to initiate site design by first increasing the capacity of the resident community by recognizing, leveraging, and enhancing the already existing assets and initiatives in a place. This reparative capacity building approach, in its most elaborate form intends to redress the structural inequities and result in a comprehensive, living, People’s Plan to become a more effective starting point for the complex process of our collective adaptation to living in an uncertain climate.
Norms of planning and development through community engagement are ineffective in the context of coastal adaptation and resilience planning. Chronically marginalized communities find themselves on the front lines of sea level rise with inadequate infrastructure, inequitable resources, and the imminent threat of displacement along with enduring stressors like food insecurity. Even well-intended municipal planners, designers, developers, and regulators can be seen as outsiders. Communities retreat into not trusting the intentions of those that engage them on ideas generated by an outside professionalized design culture with technical jargon. Proposals driven by market rate return capital financing tend to lead to exploitation. The normal process of assess, ideate, engage, iterate, then present overlooks the community’s capacity to generate or express their own self-determined solutions.
Marin City is within the Richardson Bay watershed and Marin County Flood Control District Zone 3. With the steep hills on one side and developed areas and Highway 101 and the Richardson Bay on the other, Marin City chronically floods.
Stormwater infrastructure and local drainage facilities, including pipes and ditches, are not sized adequately to convey flashy hillside runoff. This storm water carries high sediment or mud which heavily impacts local businesses and homeowners. Extreme events can inundate Highway 101 causing regional transportation breakdowns on the only road and major commuter corridor connecting Marin City to the rest of the county. Of greater impact locally, the one road in and out of the community, Donahue Street, is regularly flooded and closed more frequently.