By Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times, October 3, 2020
A network of 78 floodgates barricading three inlets protected Venice from high tides that would have flooded about half the city’s streets if the gates had not been raised.
“Designed some four decades ago to help save Venice from flooding, the mobile barrier system was delayed by cost overruns, corruption, and opposition from environmental and conservation groups.
“Alberto Scotti, the engineer who designed the floodgates, said the floodgates had been designed to defend the city ‘even in anomalous situations,’ and even with high tides reaching nearly 10 feet.
“While supporters of the project welcomed October 3rd’s test as a major victory, some pointed out that the floodgates won’t fully solve the growing threat posed by climate change.
“ ‘With climate change, there’s a chance that the floodgates could be employed 150-180 days a year, becoming an almost fixed barrier and severing the lagoon’s relation to the sea,’ said Cristiano Gasparetto, an architect and former provincial official who has long opposed the project.
“ ‘If the lagoon is cut off from the sea for long periods, it dies, because the natural exchange of waters stops, and all of its organic life risks decaying,’ he said.
By Joe Berridge, special to The Globe and Mail, Oct 2, 2020
“It’s too early to tell. But now, at the six-month mark of the pandemic, we can see some clues about how our cities will respond: very slowly.
“Cities have great inertia; they are enormous, complex, socio-physical objects which change probably less than 1 per cent each year. The city we have now is largely the city we will have post-Covid-19.
“After all, people and businesses have leases and mortgages, jobs and families, communities and connections, which take years — not months — to restructure. After that much time, the sense of crisis could have passed, or have become the new normal.
“All offices are likely to go on some form of blended work/home arrangement, staggered hours and shift work at first, with those constraints steadily easing as — hopefully — rates of infection diminish and any outbreaks are better tracked and controlled.
“But there are two wicked problems. First, elevators.
“Reprogramming of elevator speed and service, reserved time slots, no-touch operation, making all occupants face walls — along with in-place air-filtration, anti-viral UV and total sanitizer systems — all will become the new elevator normal.
“The less technologically solvable, much more significant problem is urban transit.” Berridge proposes several solutions, including:
“Transit has never properly explored the market price for movement, and to get people out of their cars it may have to offer a Starbucks’ as well as a Timmys’ level of service. Reverting to the ‘pack ’em in’ rush-hour style will be [transit’s] death, with fatal consequences for cities and their finances.”
Lastly, Berridge considers the impacts of the pandemic on Toronto’s poorest, least-well transit served neighborhoods:
“The pedal-powered ‘15-minute neighbourhood’ notions appropriate for downtown have little lived reality for [lower income communities in inner suburban districts]. Something more robust is required: a 15-year program of intelligent, comprehensive, and speedy regeneration, accompanied by the right forms of guaranteed income support to place a floor under poverty. Frankly, we owe these residents big time.
“Is big city density dead? No. Will the shape of the city change? Yes, but slowly. Could we use this opportunity to redress the glaring inequity of a city’s socio-economic structure and service quality? I hope so.”
“With the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, many wonder why abandoned buildings aren’t being used to house people. The city of Richmond is now doing just that.
“Richmond currently has 240 boarded-up houses — often the result of homeowners who die before arranging to pass on their properties. Investors don’t want to buy these homes because the environmental cleanup costs and property taxes make them difficult to sell at a profit.
“[The nonprofit Richmond Community Foundation (RCF)] helps repurpose these homes. They’ve turned 20 abandoned, single-family homes into affordable housing.
“RCF received grant money from the Environmental Protection Agency and social impact bonds from the local Mechanics Bank to fund cleanup and construction. They sell the homes to first-time homebuyers at below market rate.
“The families pay down the bond debt allowing Richmond to finance the next project.
“The concept is spreading. Jim Becker, president and CEO of RCF, says he’s talking with teams in Sacramento, Antioch, and Pittsburg about trying something like this in each of those cities.”
By Marisa Kendall, The Mercury News, September 29, 2020
“Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 1079 into law this week — one of several housing protection or production-focused bills to make it off his desk. SB 1079, which was inspired by the Oakland activist group Moms 4 Housing, prevents corporations from snapping up bundles of homes during foreclosure auctions. Instead, it gives tenants and families an opportunity to buy them individually.
“After the initial bids at a foreclosure auction are received, tenants, families, local governments, affordable housing nonprofits, and community land trusts have 45 days to top the highest bid and buy the property.
“With the new law targeting corporate investors, the goal is to prevent a repeat of what happened in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2007-2008 — when millions of families lost their homes to foreclosure, and Wall Street investment firms swooped in and bought groups of homes for rock-bottom prices.
“Eliminating bundling is a huge step in the right direction, said Leah Simon-Weisberg, legal director for tenants rights organization Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).
“ ‘One of the pieces that’s missing, obviously, is how are we going to fund keeping these properties in the community?’ she said. ‘Because having to match the highest bidder is difficult without funding.’ ”
By Carly Graf, San Francisco Examiner, September 28, 2020
“A bill (SB 288) designed to prevent sustainable transportation projects from getting bogged down in laborious, time-intensive environmental review was signed into state law Monday by Governor Gavin Newsom.
“Supporters of SB 288 believe it will make projects such as pedestrian safety tools, protected bike lanes, light rail, and bus lanes easier and cheaper to implement as well as help the state fight climate change and promote economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus.
“Guardrails exist within the bill to make sure only truly sustainable projects are exempted from CEQA. They include requirements that they be publicly owned, within an existing public right of way and urbanized area, and can’t result in the demolition of affordable housing.
“Gwen Litvak, senior vice president of the Bay Area Council, an economic development association that co-sponsored the bill, said examples of San Francisco projects that her organization hopes to see expedited with the signing of SB 288 include the Fulton Street Safety & Transit Project, the Embarcadero Enhancement Project, the Excelsior Neighborhood Traffic Calming Project, and the Leavenworth Quick-Build Project, among others.”
By Laura Bliss, Bloomberg CityLab, September 25, 2020
“During its September 23 meeting, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), a regional authority that finances and coordinates local mobility plans in California’s Bay Area, set a requirement that large office-based employers should have at least 60 percent of their employees work remotely on any given workday by 2050. The remote-work order is one of 35 strategies in Plan Bay Area 2050, the group’s 30-year roadmap to guide regional transportation funding, as required by state and federal law. The work-from-home directive aims to bring the region’s climate-changing carbon emissions down.
“The telecommuting strategy, [MTC regional planning director Matt Maloney] said later, was ‘one of the most necessary pieces.’
“Gina Papan, a commissioner and council member in the South Bay city of Millbrae, called the mandate ‘problematic.’
“ ‘Telecommuting is a viable strategy, but it’s a stopgap,’ said Ethan Elkind, the director of law at the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment. It can also be used to dodge more aggressive and challenging climate pursuits, he said.
“Bob Allen, the policy director at Bay Area Urban Habitat, an environmental justice nonprofit, registered another worry: that public transit may be similarly ignored as the region faces the future.
“While the blueprint calls for transit funding, its approval came hours after another MTC meeting that featured public callers excoriating commissioners for failing to act aggressively to redirect existing transportation funds towards those operators, which serve thousands of low-income residents and essential workers. Allen called for more investment in transit, and less for road construction.”
The first six months of 2020 have redefined the role parks play in our communities.
We know (and may take for granted) that parks offer opportunities for recreation, attract development interest, connect people to nature, and promote walking and biking. This precious social infrastructure has also adapted to include new uses: immunity-boosting and mental health healing, supporting essential services (particularly food cultivation and services distribution), providing opportunities for economic recovery, and allowing protestors a safe outdoor place to gather.
The growth in demand and expansion of park uses compels us to redefine the role of parks, and our role as the community that supports them.
This year brought with it unprecedented challenges to communities, cities, and civics. The Covid-19 health crisis exposed vulnerabilities in our public health and safety network. The pandemic and the ensuing shelter-in-place practices led to a precipitous economic downturn and historically high unemployment. The protests following the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others exposed systemic racism and oppression that was all too familiar for Black people and communities of color.
So how does the Guadalupe River Park affect its surrounding community?
Guadalupe River Park and Gardens is a three-mile ribbon of parkland that runs along the banks of the Guadalupe River in the heart of downtown San Jose. It is geographically central to the transformation of San Jose by one of the region’s largest public infrastructure and private development projects in the Diridon Station Area, where BART, California High Speed Rail, Google’s Downtown West, and a number of smaller commercial, residential, and transportation developments are underway. At the same time, the housing affordability and homelessness crises have led to a significant population living dangerously close to a river that floods annually. Not only does that leave many without the dignity of a home, it exacerbates a contentious relationship between encampments and ecology.
The San Jose community is faced with navigating uncharted territory, centering collective prosperity around public life, and restructuring our social, civic, and economic systems for equity. We must work toward these goals, keeping in mind the layered challenges of a public health crisis, systemic racism, and economic downturn. With those in mind, we can audit the social infrastructure and community assets we already possess and invest in them in ways that will translate to the greatest level of community benefit. A place to begin is with our parks.
Are parks the panacea for all of our social ills? No.
Do they play a part, both in the near and long term, in our community’s resilience? Absolutely.
Can we position our parks to be more responsive to the changing and expanding roles they continue to play in our community? Yes.
Catalyzed by investment from the Knight Foundation and the City of San Jose Department of Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services, the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy (GRPC) has embarked on a partnership with the City and SPUR to better understand how the Guadalupe River Park can affect the environmental, economic, and equity factors in our community. GRPC, as San Jose’s nonprofit partner for the active use and development of the Guadalupe River Park, promotes education, advocacy, and stewardship. We believe the River Park can become San Jose’s “civic greenway,” offering a place for people to connect with community, history, nature, and each other.
To better understand how our park can serve the ecosystem of community-based supporters who share a vision for a better River Park, we will develop a long-term direction for the park through a visioning and community engagement process. This process will also require a certain amount of GRPC introspection as to the type of organization that can best address the multitude of priorities for park use.
Our success will depend on civic partnerships and leveraging the decades of leadership that continue to propel aspirations and optimism for our River Park. Our alliance of community partners include SPUR, the Rotary Club of San Jose, South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition, Urban Confluence, UC Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County, city and county elected leaders, other public officials, neighborhood residents, businesses, cultural institutions, and more.
We all have ideas about how a great public space should look. However, this year has taught us the need to reframe the discussion in order to serve our communities more equitably. Through this initiative, we intend to re-examine these questions:
What makes a great public space?
What can public spaces do to capture the spirit of our city?
How can public spaces reflect the needs of our neighborhoods and the crises, present and systemic, that we collectively face?
The conversation is no longer what a park needs in order to become a great public space, but what a park needs to provide in order to make the community a great public place.
Join us as we reflect and re-envision what a great public place means.
Jason Su is Executive Director of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy. You can reach him email@example.com.
Small-scale improvements in parks and recreation amenities can make a big difference in California’s small- and mid-sized communities.
The $4 billion Parks, Environment, and Water Bond Act of 2018 passed by California voters created significant funding for parks improvements and expansion, especially for underserved communities. Cash-strapped communities have tapped Prop 68 funds to address long overdue parks needs, and now, with impacts of Covid taking hold, the competition is heating up for grants. With three rounds of funding complete, the fourth round of $395 million has an application deadline of Dec. 14. How can applicants maximize their chances? What’s made for successful projects before, and how best to pursue future funding?
Through our work designing parks and outdoor spaces, we’ve seen some recurring themes in winning proposals for Prop 68 funds and other submittal processes. As with all RFPs and selections, close adherence to program guidelines is crucial. A key goal of Prop 68’s current funding program is enhancing access for all ages and abilities, especially for parks in disadvantaged and ‘under-greened’ communities.
Here’s an update on the program and tips for success.
In the past year alone, state parks distributed $254.9 million in 62 grants to 52 recipients under the Statewide Park Development and Community Revitalization Grant Program funded by Proposition 68. Funded projects run the gamut and the geography of California, from rural to urban, and from small renovations to major new facilities. While several large cities received $8.5 million top-line grants, smaller projects can make important impacts, such as the $640,000 grant for La Placita Parkette Renovation in Placentia, Orange County.
Cites and parks jurisdictions are working diligently to meet the next deadline, Dec. 14, and those who miss out will want to consider applying — or trying for next year’s round.
In our work designing and implementing parks projects in California, we’ve found the Prop 68 grants process well organized. To optimize chances for success, applicants can:
— Plan early, study other projects, and refine until yours is the best it can be. Some efforts start six to 12 months ahead.
— Create high-impact projects that can serve diverse populations in virtually every part of the community.
— Reach out to get community input — crucial for strong applications and successful implementations.
— Leverage opportunities to distinguish beneficial design. For example, points are awarded for seeking LEED and SITES certification.
The range and flexibility of Prop 68 funding is far reaching.
Moraga, for example, pursued funding to increase usability and accessibility at their beloved neighborhood park, Moraga Commons. The highly used recreation destination will soon implement plans for new amenities including barbecue grills, shade trellises, picnic area improvements, and an improved accessible pathway to the recently added all-abilities play area.
In Union City, the Contempo Park project used grant funding to bring it into compliance with ADA. Significant improvements included upgrading an existing picnic area to, among other things, adjust grades, replace tables, benches, and barbeque grills, update walkways throughout the park, and provide access to the existing playgrounds — also making them ADA compliant.
Applications for Prop 68, due Dec. 14 for the current round of funding, are in the home stretch, but jurisdictions with ideas — big and small — for their underserved constituents can still get moving on a submittal this year, or look ahead to the next rounds.
For more information, visit the Prop 68 site. There you’ll find information on current Prop 68 funding as well as two further programs now in comments phases that would provide more opportunity: the Regional Park Program and the Rural Recreation and Tourism Program.
Casey Case is President of Gates + Associates, a landscape architecture and urban design firm in San Ramon, CA, with clients in California and the western U.S. She holds a BS in landscape architecture from UC Davis.
This article, originally published inNext City,is republished in its entirety, with permission.
At the end of March, when the severity of the coronavirus pandemic was just beginning to become plain, the Oakland City Council passed an emergency resolution asking the city “to acquire buildings, facilities, and supplies for the provision of aide [sic] and housing to the homeless residents to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in homeless communities.”
There were around 1,500 cases of Covid-19 in the whole state of California at the time. Now, the state has seen over 800,000 cases, and more than 15,000 Californians have died from Covid-19. But, partly because of the early urgency to find housing in hotel rooms for some people experiencing homelessness, Covid-19 deaths among homeless communities in many cities have been lower than some once feared. And communities like Oakland are turning to a state program that is designed to establish thousands of new housing units for people experiencing homeless by the end of the year. The program, called Project Homekey, was announced by California Governor Gavin Newsom in June, and involves administering $600 million in state and federal emergency funds to buy hotels and establish permanent housing facilities for people experiencing homelessness. So far, the program is helping to create housing units at a third of the cost of building new.
“The terrible pandemic we’re facing has given us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy all these vacant properties, and we’re using federal stimulus money to do it,” Newsom said at the announcement in June. “Hand in hand with our county partners, we are on the precipice of the most meaningful expansion of homeless housing in decades.”
The program grew out of Project Roomkey, the state’s effort to provide hotel rooms for unsheltered people during the Covid-19 outbreak. It’s designed to take advantage of the fact that hotel stays have plummeted during the pandemic, giving owners a much greater incentive to sell. It combines $550 million of federal CARES Act money with $50 million from California’s general fund. Cities and counties are able to apply for funding to buy buildings that can be used permanently to serve families experiencing homelessness in various ways, and all the money has to be spent by the end of the year. The state began issuing awards this month.
The City of Oakland submitted four applications, says Shola Olatoye, the city’s director of housing and community development. In September, the city received funding for two of them. The $20 million grant will allow the city to purchase a vacant dormitory building owned by California College of the Arts to create 63 units for seniors and families, and, working with the nonprofit Bay Area Community Services, create another 100 units for people experiencing homelessness at scattered sites around the city. The 163 new units don’t match the scale of homelessness in Oakland, but Olatoye says the Project Homekey funding is a chance to make a dent in the city’s housing shortage, and it was only possible because of federal funding and the planning work the city did prior to the program being announced.
“While we as a city do not currently have enough resources to build new units to address the 4,700 souls that sleep on the street every night, I think these two projects represent the possibility of what this city can do when it aligns its policy, its resources, and its program,” Olatoye says. “We do not have to be an example of homeless and housing policy gone bad.”
One of the first-round awardees was Contra Costa County, which received $21 million to acquire a 174-room motel in the city of Pittsburg, where Newsom first announced Project Homekey. Aside from that facility, there are only around 20 shelter beds for the 500-some people experiencing homelessness in the eastern part of the county, says Lavonna Martin, the county’s director of health, housing and homeless services. The county plans to acquire the building and use it permanently as interim housing for people experiencing homelessness, Martin says. Once the negotiation for purchasing the property is complete, there “aren’t a tremendous amount of modifications that need to take place,” she says.
“The wonderful thing about hotel rooms and non-congregate settings is that you have the flexibility to serve individuals, couples, and different family configurations,” Martin says. “It’s not unique in that it’s a hotel, but it’s unique in that it’s exactly where we need the resources right now in our community.”
Earlier in the summer, as part of a series called “Housing Justice in the Time of Covid-19,” the Luskin Institute for Inequality and Democracy at UCLA issued a report calling for cities like Los Angeles to expand on Project Roomkey by permanently acquiring hotels to establish affordable housing, using eminent domain if necessary. Gary Blasi, a professor of law emeritus at UCLA School of Law who co-authored the report, says that Project Homekey is the right use of emergency government funds.
“If you gave me half a billion and asked me to spend it by the end of the year, I can’t imagine any other potentially workable solution that could accomplish getting so many units online in relatively short order,” Blasi says.
Some nonprofit groups have already experimented with converting old hotels and motels into housing for unsheltered people, Blasi says, and it’s been clear for a while such a strategy could be scaled up with more funding.
“I think the difference here is the urgency that’s caused, ironically, not so much by the suffering of the people on the streets as the deadline on the money,” Blasi says. “It suggests to me that if you want to accomplish something on an urgent basis, this is the way to go.”
Under Project Homekey, cities and counties are having to make deals so quickly that it may turn out that the terms of some of the acquisitions aren’t as optimal as they might be under other circumstances, Blasi says. But it’s also true that owners have more incentive to sell, because the pandemic has ruined the business model for so many of them. And it’s better to get any amount of good new housing online than “the usual pace of ‘Let’s study the situation for another year or two,’ ” Blasi says. Meanwhile, the recession is likely to push even more families into homelessness over the next year. And other cities and states should consider making their emergency use of hotels permanent where possible, Blasi says.
“There’s a stock of this short-term housing that the economy is going to change the demand for and the pandemic is going to change the demand for,” Blasi says. “So in terms of quick acquisitions that can be stood up and made available in a short time frame, it’s worth exploring anywhere in the country, particularly for those … properties that are basically working-class motels that have direct access to the outdoors. Those are going to be safer long-term, and anything that’s two stories and doesn’t require getting on an elevator is going to make a lot of sense.”
If all of the Project Homekey money is deployed to acquire housing at an average of $130,000 per unit, it will create around 4,600 new units for people experiencing homelessness. That’s housing for just around 3 percent of the state’s homeless population — far less than what’s needed, but still a substantial infusion of housing in a short period of time, advocates say. And it wouldn’t be possible without federal funds.
“We can do this, but we can’t do it alone,” says Olatoye. “I think that’s what Homekey really highlights, is that we need a public partner. We need the state and we need the feds to help execute on this, We know what works. Give us the resources and we will execute on this.”
This article appeared as part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable, and more environmentally sustainable.
Jared Brey is Next City’s housing correspondent, based in Philadelphia. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, APA California Northern News, and other publications.