Students Offer Holistic Solutions to Bay Area Climate Change Challenges

May 17 2018 | 12:10:33
On a sunny Wednesday morning, the main room of the Alumni House on the UC Berkeley Campus was filled with nervous and excited chatter and the rustle of unfolding posters. Students in careful makeup and pressed button-down shirts, some from schools as far as an hour away, rehearsed the presentations they had been working on all semester: proposals to address climate change and sea level rise in their neighborhoods.They were there at the invitation of Y-PLAN (Youth-Plan, Learn, Act Now!), a UC Berkeley education initiative that has worked to involve young people from all backgrounds in urban planning in their own communities for the past two decades. This time, Y-PLAN had partnered with Resilient By Design, a yearlong design challenge featuring 10 teams of landscape architects, engineers, and ecologists seeking to address sea level rise around the Bay Area. The goal here was to spark the same conversations for young people that the challenge was inspiring among adults — namely,  the best ways to address the region’s most pressing issues brought on by climate change. At the event, the culmination of months of work, students selected from among the program’s 800 participants presented to representatives from city government around the Bay, people with real power to implement new approaches to problems in the students’ neighborhoods.The people on those design teams don’t look like you; they don’t come from backgrounds like yours,” RBD Managing Director Amanda Brown-Stevens told the assembled crowd. “That’s a problem: it’s a problem for the solutions they come up with and for the leaders who are listening to the solutions.” She was referring to the fact that Y-PLAN works largely with kids from the most difficult neighborhoods in the Bay Area — places like West Oakland, Bayview, or East Palo Alto, which are historically disadvantaged, purposely polluted, and often neglected.Yet the Bay Area is also home to some of the country’s most over-the-top opulence. And the designers participating in RBD, who won their slots from among 50 competing teams from all over world, were more likely to be familiar with that world than the one the Y-PLAN students knew. At Alumni House, it was clear that youth voices had an important part to play here: emphasizing to both the designers and staff of RBD and the government representatives gathered to hear the presentations that resilient environmental design can't just be about sea level rise and climate change but also must fold in elements addressing issues like community health, wellness, and security.