The Hyper-Creek (Blog Post #3)

Across these blog posts, it can be seen that various efforts are underway to breath life back into Islais Creek. Some smaller projects even go beyond just exposing the water and natural habitat and address the transportation infrastructural needs to access the creek. While I have greatly enjoyed looking at the natural, physical, and cultural ways that people are bringing attention to Islais Creek, I wanted to make a short blog post that specifically analyzes the Hyper-Creek proposal created by the massive and experienced team of BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group; ONE; Sherwood; Moffatt & Nichol; Nelson Nygaard; Strategic Economics; and Dutra Group for the Resilient By Design - Bay Area Challenge. Their proposal for Islais Creek takes on the most systems view of Islais Creek yet, and is truly “hyper” in nature.

This intricate and futuristic design plan involves reclaiming spaces in highly innovative ways, displaying a creative array of cohabitation opportunities within the urban-water nexus of San Francisco’s east shore. Pier 90 would have a soft shoreline to better handle storm flows, and would include architectural features such as a halo bridge, ferry landing, and resource park. The southeast plant would still treat water, but include wetlands and tidal marshes. The Cesar Chavez corridor would remove many of the transportation companies and build affordable housing and detention basins in their place. A wholesale produce market and the Alemany farmer’s market would be more ideally located and arranged. And finally at Pier 80, businesses would be encouraged to engage in efficient and sustainable operations within close proximity to a Park-Lab, Research Center, and Innovation Dock, helping the city of San Francisco become more resilient and yet remain true to its technological and entrepreneurial spirit.

As the video above indicates, there is a tremendous need to make room for both water and urban growth. This certainly echoes global calls to combat climate change, so the political and collaborative climate surrounding the Hyper-Creek is ripe for action (the recent bridge protests in London support this idea.) I just wonder if this project goes about achieving urban resilience in the right way. On the one hand, targeting different parts of Islais Creek and the surrounding areas with innovative design will likely prove beneficial if implemented correctly. However, the proposal lacks a bit of the cultural daylighting that is apparent in previous projects. In my opinion, urban resiliency should take advantage of the marvels of modern technology, but the culture that contributes to our aquatic infrastructure is just as important. The Hyper-Creek, while achieving a maximum of urban resiliency given the current planning constraints, seems to make water even more infrastructurally hidden than before. In this “hyper” framework, water flows more naturally and more voluminously, but humans also occupy more of the integrated space as well. I’m not saying simpler is better, the Hyper-Creek seems really cool, but my hope is that the historical nature of Islais Creek does not get buried in the glitz and glamor of the Hyper-Creek’s theme park-like design.

Ultimately, this draws me back to the original intent of these blog posts, which was to daylight Islais Creek in all manners and forms. From this perspective, there are no wrong approaches. Every project, however big or small, helps bring attention to the incredibly urgent problem of climate change. The small projects of daylighting are great for the short-term, while larger proposals help us keep our eyes on an idealistic future that becomes more and more realistic as attention remains on the creek.

Through these projects and more, we learn that we are daylighting more than just water; we daylight all of the life forms dependent upon and surrounding water. By daylighting Islais Creek, we daylight issues of the water runoff and sewage infrastructure of San Francisco. We daylight issues of drug use and homelessness in the city. We daylight the safety and sustainability of transportation, water recreation and tourism, and economic development. But we also daylight the active efforts of people like Kayaks Unlimited, Friends of Islais Creek, Flyaway Productions and the Copra Dock Dances, BIG + ONE + SHERWOOD, and all those that have come before and since. Water will always make room for itself. It’s up to humans to make room for ourselves in a way that allows water to see the daylight.

Written on December 1, 2018