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Bruce Cain discusses creating a sustainable Bay Area in a post-COVID era

Kylie Gordon
Apr 22 2021

With a guest talk by BLC director Bruce Cain, the Bay Planning Coalition convened regional experts to discuss Bay Area reset opportunities for the economy and infrastructure 



On April 14, 2021, at the Bay Planning Coalition's annual conference, Prof. Bruce Cain participated in a panel focused on building a sustainable Bay Area, and the reset opportunities for the region's economy and infrastructure in a post-COVID era. The Bay Planning Coalition is a nonprofit offering expert advocacy and facilitation of economic growth and sustainability within the San Francisco Bay and its watershed. This year's online conference took up the challenges of recovery and resilience as the Bay Area comes back to life, post-pandemic. COVID-19 has profoundly impacted communities across the globe, changing everything from transportation, housing and jobs to business and recreation. The Bay Area has not been spared, but it is known for its adaptability, creativity, and innovation and is a leader in sustainability. Available on video, the conference convened regional experts who shared forward-thinking views on what this reset might look like, inlcuding a presentation from the Lane Center's faculty director, Bruce Cain. 

Joining Cain on the panel were Laura Kennedy, president of the Bay Planning Coalition's Board of Directors, Matt Maloney of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and Sean Randolph from the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

Cain's talk, "A Sustainable Bay Area? Climate Policy Challenges and Opportunities in a (hopefully) Post-Covid-19 Era," focused on meeting the infrastructure challenges of both climate change adaptation and decarbonization. "It’s not just about decarbonizing the economy anymore (which is an important goal in and of itself). Now, with these increasingly destructive wildfires, we also have to fund resilience," Cain said. While he noted that sea level rise poses another critical climate change adaptation threat, he remarked on the "presentism" that keeps Californians from seriously considering the need to make significant changes. "Until there’s some massive break-up of ice sheets in Greenland or the South Pole, we don’t think we’re going to see a rapid sea level rise in the Bay Area like in Miami, for example. We have nuisance flooding, but for the most part, it’s not the cataclysmic hurricane-driven events you see on the East Coast." While it's a challenge to draw public attention to a threat that will occur in the future, wildfires pose an immediate threat. Cain emphasized the urgency with which Bay Area residents must focus on protecting its infrastructure from fires right now. "Wildfires, their duration and frequency, the fire tornados, the movement of people into into the wildland urban interface – now we’ve got something in the Bay Area that looks much more like the hurricane situation on the East coast. We need to protect ourselves in the present from this. We need to protect our infrastructure."

Cain also called for improved collaboration between Bay Area communities, who have a reputation for not always "playing nice together," he said. "Particularly in the water world, communities don't have a reputation for good collaboration. But we have the capacity to be collaborative, and we have to act with more foresight," he added.

Finally, Cain spoke about the very human element of the climate crisis. "Resilience is as much a people-problem as an infrastructure problem," he said, noting that climate change won't be solved by technology alone. "People are going to have to make some changes -- give up their gas stoves, think about hybrid ways of working both remotely and in person. There’s not just going to be a technological save" from the very hard problems climate change demands we address.


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