A Real Community Building Eco-District

From the TODCO Group’s community perspective, a “community building” eco-district imaginatively utilizes the technocratic tools of “sustainable design” to bring important community Visions to reality, and in the process brings community stakeholders together in an organized way to work proactively, cutting across lines of class and culture, to contribute to a neighborhood’s equally-valuable long term “social capital.”

Central SOMA offers several outstanding opportunities for such an eco-district Vision.

“Greening” The I-80 Freeway

The 60 year old I-80 (James Lick) elevated Freeway is by far the largest physical structure in SOMA, blighting 16 acres of SOMA land owned by CalTrans, and it is an eco-monstrosity:

  • Its overall “carbon footprint” is enormous.
  • Its public health impacts – local noise and cumulative regional air pollution (reaching even the Central Valley) – are significant. The everyday east-bound traffic jams continue to get longer in both several hours duration and several miles back-up distance.
  • Its psychological impacts on the community – its ugliness and local street ramps congestion (including not-uncommon “road rage”) – are overwhelmingly negative. At night it is “scary” to walk beneath it.
  • It physically and visibly splits SOMA in two for its full length from the Bay Bridge to the Mission District, creating a palpable urban/community life barrier between north and south.
  • The many acres of urban/neighborhood land beneath its elevated structure are mostly wasted on commuter parking lots and cheap landscaping.

 

But because the Freeway has been here for decades and is undeniably a crucial regional transportation artery, we have all become inured to its urban brutality – co-dependents – and so failed to even attempt to re-imagine a better incarnation of it for the next 60 years. A full-scale Community Building Vision to “green” I-80 might include:

  • Maximized horizontal and vertical landscaping, including many large trees (redwoods?) to offset carbon impacts and completely change its psychological perception from the Neighborhood– even for car drivers. Some locations may be appropriate for specific Urban Habitat landscaping.
  • Incorporation of large scale public art works along its length to break up its monolithic character into discrete“places.” In particular, the “arrival” point at the Fifth Street ramp touchdown is an extraordinary opportunity for a major civic identity artwork of very large scale.
  • Complete architectural treatment of the SOMA streets’ undercrossings beneath it to convert today’s ugly gauntlets into attractive portals that join the north and south parts of the Neighborhood together visually. There are good examples of this from around the world.
  • Conversion of the parking lots under the Freeway to environmentally beneficial purposes, such as car share terminals, bus/van off-peak storage lots, secure bike parking, and all others that will help reduce auto commuting and/or a need for Neighborhood residents to own cars. And in fact, Caltrans has agreed to replace public parking lots between Second and Fourth Streets with new bus layover yards for AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit (completed in 2014). But these projects simply enclose those lots with new sound walls with no urban design value.
  • Locations can also be provided for other Neighborhood needs such as dog zones, recycling centers, etc. that are too big or difficult to locate elsewhere.

CalTrans would have to be fully committed to Greening I-80. CalTrans must be invited to work with any SOMA eco-district as a key participant