30 Units of Opportunity

Ecosystem scientists and urban planners envision a ring of reefs, beaches and marshlands around the largest estuary on the Pacific coast, all made by humans. Why? To protect the San Francisco Bay Area, and all its people and wildlife, from sea level rise and climate change. To help planners and citizens wrap their head around what to do next in terms of “nature-based” solutions rather than concrete seawalls, scientists and planners came up with 30 places to focus around the Bay’s 400-mile shoreline. In their Adaptation Atlas, SPUR and the SF Estuary Institute identified 30 distinct operational landscape units (or OLUs) that share common physical characteristics. It is in these places, say the experts, we should invest in natural resilience because the units make sense in terms nature’s boundaries, rather the jurisdictional boundaries crisscrossing them with county lines and zoning limits. 

Take for example a residential development around a new golf course recently proposed for the Newark shore. Yes, homes by the water can be nice but there aren’t that many undeveloped places left on the bayshore where conditions are appropriate for tidal marsh restoration. The site of the proposed development even has adjacent space at the proper elevation for marshes to bulk up and move upslope naturally as sea level rises, according to the OLU described in the Atlas. Using the site as a natural buffer zone could do a lot more for the Bay Area to provide long-term habitat and flood reduction benefits than another 18 holes.  Photo: Shire Bezalel