Monday, May 27, 2013

Mapping Treasure Island's Uncertain Future

Treasure Island was built up out of the San Francisco bay for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, 400 acres of "land" made up entirely out of landfill.  Now, after 75 years of mixed use, the island is one of the key targets of San Francisco's ravenous push for "development", attracting the attention of international investors and green building companies.

This is Treasure Island today.  Much of the land is made up of the abandoned infrastructure of a former US Navy base, and numerous spots are reportedly uninhabitable due to high levels of toxic compounds left over from post-war nuclear testing.  Regardless of the island's toxic past (and the risks of liquefaction posed by possible earth quakes) 2500 people still make their home on the island.  Their apartments and low cost housing are visible in the lower left hand portion of the image.    

This is Treasure Island the way Mayor Ed Lee, the San Francisco Department of the Environment and Chinese Developer Lennar Corp would like it too look.   Plans have been underway to develop the island since at lest 2007, with the idea of a "sustainable city" being flouted as a potential model for future urban development.  Notice anything missing?

Those streets are angled to discourage inconvenient winds.  With its flat landscape and lack of wind breaks, the island can be mercilessly windy even on calm, clear days.  Those green spaces are are reserved for runoff filtering "wet lands" parks.  Everything would be LEED certified, with a 20 acres organic farm, wind farms and housing for between 16,000 and 24,000 residents.  Only 100 acres of the island would be developed, meaning that the existing housing could likely be kept intact, with construction focused on the areas of the island that are currently abandoned.  But this is the kind of true "mixed use" that the new paradigm of urban development would never consider.  The old has to be bulldozed to make use for the new.  For San Francisco, the label of "sustainable" can be applied as a band aid to cover up the fact that thousands of people have been targeted for displacement.  Rents on the island currently run in the low hundreds, housing favored by low income populations and students of the Cal Academy of Art.  No figures exist for the rents of "townhouses, stacked flats, mid rises, neighborhood towers and high rises."

As of April 2013, however, this $1.7 billion plan had fallen through, along with the proposed development of the shore of Hunter's Point.  Balking at the idea of an expensive Environmental Impact Report, Lennar pulled their funding, leaving the island's development once again in question.  Unfortunately, a beast as big as San Francico does not choke on a single stalled plan.  Ed Lee personally traveled to China earlier this year when plans were still on the table, and similar investments are likely already in the pipeline.  The fact is that 400 acres of "undeveloped" land is staring San Francisco in the face, and it is only a matter of time before Treasure Island undergoes some kind of transformation.  The question is whether it will include the thousands of residents who currently call the island home.   

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