Challenge Finalist Launches New Initiative

Challenge Finalist Launches New Initiative

  • by Architecture for Humanity
  • May 15, 2013
  • comments

Following their placement in the 2011 Open Architecture Challenge for their entry Ecological Processing Zone, the Oakland, California, based engineering group Urban Biofilter launched the next step in their ecological initiative: Adapt Oakland.

Springing from the presentation pieces built for the Challenge, Urban Biofilter recently received substantial grant support from the State of California to continue their project, already three years in development. Based in West Oakland themselves, Urban Biofilter has been working with the community, the neighboring port and the City of Oakland to develop pragmatic interventions to counter the detrimental impacts of living beside the Port. We covered their project presentation last fall and are excited to see their efforts moving forward.

The launch was celebrated on Friday, May 10, at West Oakland's Linden Street Brewery, with a series of rapid-fire stakeholder presentations, followed by community discussion around tamales, craft beer and presentation boards. Seven speakers from all levels of the community introduced the local conditions and design needs – from community representatives, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Oakland Department of Public Works and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Brent Bucknum of Urban Biofilter then introduced the nonprofit's community-developed solutions and next steps. Bucknum stressed the rapid presentation of information to allow most of the launch for conversations and engagement.

Mission details, images of Oakland and of the Launch below. For more information visit
Further reporting by the Oakland Local


Those of us in the Bay Area are well aware of the giant port at the edge of Oakland - some of us marvel at the concrete caverns twice a day on our commute to the City [San Francisco].

Fewer realize just how close residential communities are to this industrial and shipping hub - and how gravely the community's health is impacted by the activity.

Adapt Oakland

from Adapt Oakland

Urban Biofilter has been awarded a state grant to launch Adapt Oakland, a new cross-disciplinary planning initiative with four core goals:

1. Promote integration of green infrastructure into Oakland policy and planning projects through facilitating collaboration between community, industry, and governmental groups while providing technical assistance to other planning initiatives.

2. Advance understanding of green infrastructure, which utilizes natural ecosystems and constructed landscapes- such as urban forests, living walls, and green roofs -that combat impacts of extreme weather while filtering air, water, and soil.

3. Integrate research, land use policy, regulations, engineering, and financing for green infrastructure.

4. Develop a green infrastructure and climate change preparedness plan that uses West Oakland and the Port of Oakland as priority project and case study.

The Launch

A strong turnout of residents, designers and ecofans attended the presentations and discussion over tamales

Trucking to and from the port is a huge source of polution, particulates and asthma for area residents. Thick rows of trees (here Bucknum stresses that can't be a single-file street tree program) have been shown to filter pollutants close to the source of emissions.

A labyrinth of concrete canyons lace through the port. Opportunities to increase square footage of greenery - and a visual facelift.

Swathes of fast-growing bamboo and wetlands show high economic value WRT their positive impact on health. Bucknum shrugs – "People listen to economic arguments."

Urban Biofilter diagrams of intervention

Community mapping exercise. Input is welcome throughout the design development phase

Project Overview

from Adapt Oakland

The State of California Strategic Growth Council recently awarded a Proposition 84 Urban Greening Grant to Oakland-based nonprofit Urban Biofilter. Administered through the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research, the funds will be used to develop a green infrastructure and climate change preparedness masterplan that encompasses West Oakland and the Port of Oakland. To meet this challenge, Urban Biofilter has created Adapt Oakland, a project that develops green infrastructure standards and policy recommendations for urban infill at both city and state levels.

The social and environmental justice situation is well-researched and dramatic; compared with a white child born in the Oakland Hills, just four miles away, an African-American child born in West Oakland will be 5 times more likely to be hospitalized for diabetes, twice as likely to be hospitalized for and to die of heart disease, three times more likely to die of stroke, and twice as likely to die of cancer*. Adapt Oakland’s infrastructure solutions include using urban forests, living walls, trellises, and green roofs to mitigate the scientifically-documented health impacts of particulate matter and pollution on people living and working in close proximity to industry and shipping. These standards optimize the capacity of green infrastructure to improve health of workers and residents, purify air and water, provide flood control, mitigate the urban heat island effect, restore wildlife habitat, and reduce grey infrastructure construction cost.

Four concurrent plans, the Oakland Army Base (OAB), Gateway Park, the North Gateway, and West Oakland Specific Plan, are all in motion and present significant opportunities to integrate green infrastructure in West Oakland. Urban Biofilter is focused on harnessing the momentum from these existing planning efforts and developing a comprehensive greening plan that evaluates high risk zones and priority planting sites based on local, state, and federally-owned land within the project area.

In fall 2013, Urban Biofilter is facilitating a visionary and collaborative strategic planning conference, bringing together experts from government, nonprofit, industry, and community sectors. The conference will generate a roadmap for research and regulatory policy, which will then be launched as a web-based tool kit of Green Infrastructure strategies, available to adapt to cities nationwide facing similar challenges.

The transformation of West Oakland’s toxic industrial environment into a landscape that supports an integrated ecology, industry, and environmental health is an ambitious project that can eventually be expanded for similar transit-oriented and waterfront developments nationwide.