The area of unincorporated west Contra Costa County known as North Richmond was a place of tremendous ecological diversity when Ohlone tribes first arrived there in the 6th century. The Bay coastline and marshlands of the Wildcat and San Pablo creek deltas provided critical resources for initial human settlers. The low-lying area with fertile soils provided good agricultural opportunities. African Americans arrived in the Bay Area from across the country during the WWII labor surge and were forced to settle in the low-lying and flood-prone topographic bowl adjacent to the Chevron refinery through de facto segregation. Cut off physically from adjacent resources by railroads and other infrastructure, community members also had to endure a lack of public services and travel long distances to their seat of governmental representation. This community derives strength from a long history of cultural, environmental and social justice issues. Today, the demographics of North Richmond’s 5,000 community members is changing, as Hispanic Americans find a home in the neighborhood. The spirit of advocacy and community organization continues to thrive, as evidenced through the work of neighborhood groups such as Urban Tilth, the Verde School, the Watershed Project and other organizations.
ouR-HOME ’s holistic design approach focuses on a regional issue: using infrastructure dollars to leverage health and wealth benefits for disinvested communities. In North Richmond, investments include pump replacement and sea level rise protection for a wastewater facility, major arterial and drowning marshlands that provide critical habitat and support the largest eelgrass bed and oyster beds in the Bay. Building on the North Richmond Shoreline Vision Plan, local expertise in the community has shaped a suite of four projects.
Five workshops with the North Richmond Community Advisory Board and countless discussions with stakeholders have resulted in concept level projects incorporating proven strategies that can have a profound collective impact in the community. These projects – planting trees for air and water filtering; using a range of levee edge typologies that change over time to protect Richmond Parkway, the wastewater facility and the neighborhood; introducing a muted marsh that co-exists with industrial uses and allows the marsh to transition upland over time; completing a multi-use path overpass to provide shoreline access and creation of a green mitigation fund that continues to grow local jobs – all provide direct and immediate benefits as well as long term value to the community.
As a foundation to the projects, small lot housing can lower the entry cost to home ownership. Larger lot housing redevelopments at Las Deltas, and Grove and Giaramita can help stabilize home ownership through exploration of a community land trust.
Many Bay Area communities have similar challenges to North Richmond – enduring structural racism, chronic flooding, industrial pollution and poverty. The conditions in North Richmond are a particularly vivid example. Despite the current economic boom time, many people have been shut out of opportunities to make things better for their families and their communities. Rapid population shifts from climate change create negative economic and individual impacts. Chronic health issues are linked to long-term stress and trauma from these challenges and a generational history of slavery, Jim Crow laws and mass incarceration. Connections to neighbors and family are an indicator of the ability to adapt and survive in the face of these challenges. The people who experience the greatest upheaval are often those being displaced by increasing rents, home prices or natural disasters. This affects everyone as the Bay Area economy is reliant on the workers who live in these communities.
North Richmond has proven to be adaptable and resilient. Strong activism and spirit in the community around unity and inclusion creates traction for good ideas. The Bay Area Challenge can shine a light on communities like North Richmond that are positioned to be a model for other communities in the region. North Richmond demonstrates how familiar solutions and technologies can be combined for greater impact and innovation. Integrated strategies support new ways for existing residents to start small businesses, follow a career path, keep their cost of living low, increase income and own the future of their families and the neighborhood.