Year in Review 2018: Whose Resilient Future?

Our contributors comment on an event or a moment from the last year that demanded more of how we should practice, frame, and respond to design.

year review 2018 whose resilient future
Resilient Equity Hubs— a part of the author’s All Bay Collective “Estuary Commons” proposal for San Leandro Bay in the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge—form alliances across political jurisdictions and property lines to reconfigure structures of wealth creation and ownership. Courtesy All Bay Collective

“Your urgency is not my urgency.” This was the rebuke from Marquita Price of the East Oakland Collective (EOC) at a design critique for the Resilient by Design (RBD) Bay Area Challenge this past March. Our team, the All Bay Collective, was working with EOC and other community-based organizations to champion racial and economic equity as part of our climate adaptation proposal. Price, who joined us for jury questions, rejected an impassioned plea by Dutch resilience ambassador Henk Ovink for more immediate action. A rush to judgment, she said, would foreclose a deeply empowered public process.

RBD—initiated by cities, agencies, and community groups around San Francisco Bay—leveraged $4.6 million from the Rockefeller Foundation to support nine teams of architects, landscape architects, engineers, ecologists, policy experts, and community partners from September 2017 to May 2018. Our task: to envision a region more resilient to climate change and its attendant risks. The brief explicitly called for reckoning with “the roots of systemic racism” and the “enduring reproduction of marginalization” that have left communities of color more vulnerable to climate hazards. In response, participants called for a familiar tool kit of “multibenefit solutions,” including those that would monetize ecosystem services and tap both public and private funds to accommodate diverse interests.

year review 2018 whose resilient future
Courtesy All Bay Collective

But as Price reminded us, the expediency and holism of a “multi-benefit” solution, no matter how expertly arranged, do not assuage deep-seated concerns about privilege and power, fears of gentrification, or distrust of its underwriters. Such rhetoric only compounds criticisms of resilience for its neoliberal stance, eagerness to speculate on disaster, and prioritization of the ecological over the political.

Fortunately, a closer look at the same RBD proposals reveals more pointed debates about the assumptions that underlie resilient planning approaches—asking which (or whose) version of “business as usual” we should be willing to overhaul. One team “unlocked” development potential; another shunned “wealth hoarding” through “voluntary limits to consumption.” One grounded wealth creation in the ownership of small lots; others (including our team) supported community land trusts and other cooperative models of ownership that aim to sidestep market volatility. Such healthy, necessary debates must take center stage within resilience narratives. Without them, empty “win-win” rhetoric will preclude the emergence of real public power and forestall any lasting, substantial decision-making.

JANETTE KIM teaches architecture at California College of the Arts. She participated in the All Bay Collective with AECOM, CMG, CCA, and UC Berkeley, as well as Silvestrum, David Baker Architects, Skeo, and modem.

You may also enjoy “Against Pluralism, Again: Two Books Rethink Theory and Criticism’s Role in Architecture.”

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