Race, history, ecology and design in the SF Bay Area: A Marin City case study

Chinaka Green, a community intern for Shore Up Marin City, bikes on the flooded coastal bike trail near Marin City during the highest tide of the year (this past Monday).

How is design for climate and biodiversity connected to social justice? The example of Marin City, a culturally-important community on the San Francisco Bay, might help us understand the answer.

African-American workers were welcomed to the Bay Area during World War II, when shipyards in places like Marin, Oakland and San Francisco needed to achieve heroic levels of production.


It’s worse than that.

Consider this claim:

Design firms and design educators support a culture of white, patriarchal, colonialist supremacy.

Now ask yourself, what kind of evidence would support this claim?

Ian McHarg, and possibly a student — who’s their client? What input are they listening to? From the archives of the University of Pennsylvania.

Suppose we could find evidence that firms and educational programs create a culture that benefits white men. What if we could show that they support the status quo of wealth and territory (controlled by white men), suppress the aesthetic interpretations and values of other people who are not wealthy white men, and create economic hurdles for women and non-white people? If we could find this evidence, it would support the claim that both…


What is “equity” in landscape architecture? All of the definitions of justice matter, but in my field we have a blindspot that keeps us from addressing one in particular: territorial justice, the right to occupy space.

You might think that spatial relationships among people would be at the center of spatial planning, and perhaps it is — but if so, it has been centered in a way that has been fundamentally unjust and inequitable.

Take the term “placemaking.” Who does that? Since all of the “places” on this planet already exist, the people who “make a place” are actually doing…


This week in studio, we’re going to discuss the armatures that shape flows in landscapes, and think about different ways of representing them. These representations affect what we know and how we know it. In that sense, they are “epistemological” — they are a way of knowing what the elements of a landscape are, and how those elements interact.

I define a landscape “armature” as a linear feature that influences the flows of energy, organisms and/or materials — vertically or horizontally — through a landscape space. It might be natural, for example, a bedrock ridge, a shoreline, or a river…


This is it, we start this afternoon. I’ve recorded a lecture and posted it online — it’s all about seeing landscapes as spaces where forms and flows interact, across time and space. This is one of my favorite topics, on the one hand linking global thermodynamics to the hidden flows of salty groundwater, and on the other, showing how ecological “flows” like the migration patterns of hawks are related to plate tectonics via topography. It’s heady stuff — makes you think about time scales and nested spatial scales in mind-bending ways.

We’re using this armatures+flows lecture to start the studio…


Choosing digital tools is a betting game. I may be dead wrong. But here are my bets for our whirlwind fall design studio:

Collaboration: Mural for team brainstorming (with Zoom for live conversation)

Reflection: Medium blog posts, and following each other so we can see what each person is thinking about

Online lectures (slides and videos): Videoscribe and Kaltura (…only because Kaltura is embedded in our UC Berkeley course software)

Design presentations: Miro (with Zoom for live conversation) because it has a clean, simple visual interface and some useful annotation tools


The BIG problem of a remote studio experience is that there’s no community that will look at the students’ work and comment on it, since we won’t be on campus with other design faculty and students. So… we’re going to join not one, but THREE “competitions” (some are really “challenges” that will not select a winner) and submit the students’ work to those. I’m hoping that will help us get feedback internationally, and create a community of practice around our topics.

We’re going to enter the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Green New Deal Superstudio, LA+ journal’s CREATURE competition, and submit projects to the International Geodesign Collaborative’s 2021 Call for Projects.

It’s going to be wild, trying to submit to all of these… something like launching space probes in search of communication with other sentient life.


Teaching a design studio online : UC Berkeley edition

In 22 days, I’ll start teaching my first online design studio. I don’t know if it can be done with excellent results, or whether it will fall far short. It will be like a reality TV show….Design Online: Covid-19 Survivor Edition…playing out here on Medium, and in the links we’ll post.

Follow along to find out who makes it to the final presentations without losing the thread (myself included). We’ll be working with a real community here in the SF Bay Area, talking about how design and planning can help them adapt to climate change.

Kristina Hill

Specialist in random walks, faculty at UC Berkeley, teaching about landscapes

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