Conference highlights innovative approaches for sustainable city
on October 28, 2015
Richmond is not often thought of as a hotbed for innovation, but the Meeting of the Minds conference held here last week showcased that the city is emerging as a model for just that.
At Craneway Pavilion on Richmond’s waterfront, 450 city planners and business and nonprofit leaders gathered to discuss sustainability initiatives that can be scaled and replicated globally.
Over a two-day period, conference participants presented projects ranging from the rehabilitation of public parks and arts education to sustainable energy and transportation initiatives. A number of local projects demonstrated how Richmond is being transformed through investment and creative redevelopment.
“When we were considering where to hold this year’s conference, Richmond didn’t occur to me,” Executive Director Jessie Hahn, a Bay Area native, said during an interview. “But when a colleague tipped me off to some of the programs under way here, it was a clear choice.”
One workshop tour brought participants to a network of revitalized public spaces in the Iron Triangle, Richmond’s notoriously high-crime neighborhood. Lead by Richmond resident Toody Maher, the city has raised $14 million to redevelop one square mile that includes Elm Playlot, Unity Park, the Richmond Greenway, and the future Yellow Brick Road — a tree-lined pathway that will connect Richmond’s safe public spaces like schools, churches, parks and the hospital. Local residents are designing, building and managing each project.
“To transform a community you have to help the residents re-imagine their public spaces, and then give them the resources and training to bring that to life,” Maher said.
A second workshop brought conference participants to the future site of an urban farm in north Richmond’s industrial zone. Doria Robinson, another Richmond resident, has transformed 13 derelict public plots throughout the city into gardens and farms through her nonprofit Urban Tilth. The newest project will turn a 3-acre flood plane into a commercial farm with a kitchen, café and “outdoor classroom.” It will provide Richmond residents access to fresh produce that they’d otherwise not have.
The focus of the project is yield, Robinson said, referring both to the harvest of food and the outcome of hard work. The center will employ a few dozen people and offer a training program for hundreds more.
Other local projects that garnered attention included the Richmond Mainstreet Initiative, which supports local businesses in the downtown neighborhood, and the youth arts nonprofit RYSE.
The conference highlighted that Richmond is also attracting investment from beyond its borders.
Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay presented the University of California at Berkeley’s plan to turn Richmond’s WWII shipyards into a 134-acre global campus for research and technology.
Those plans come as county transit officials move forward with development of a new San Francisco Bay Transit ferry terminal at Ford Peninsula, which will draw even more development opportunities to the region.
Tom Leader, a Richmond native, has been an advocate for the city’s potential for a long time. His landscape architecture firm, Tom Leader Studio, presented detailed plans for the region as a sustainability hub with a land-bridge over Interstate 580 to connect downtown to the waterfront and a recreational park stretching the city’s 32 miles of shoreline.
“It’s not so much a plan as a set of principals,” he says. “Wouldn’t it be great if Richmond were the model in our country for sustainably rebuilding cities?”
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