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Urban greening is an effective strategy for adapting to climate change and enhancing quality of life that cities can implement now. Integrating nature-based infrastructure into city settings has numerous benefits. Rain gardens, bioswales, trees, and planter boxes all help mitigate flood risks from storms and sea level rise, absorbing and filtering water to return to the ocean pollutant-free. Increasing tree canopy and plant coverage helps cool neighborhoods as temperatures rise, preventing scorching urban heat in areas that would otherwise be blacktops. In addition to helping our communities adapt to climate change, urban greening enhances quality of life by expanding walkable areas for pedestrians, paths for bicyclists – often making these paths safer as well.

These strategies, while bold and adaptive, often go unnoticed in neighborhoods. They can be disguised by foliage and seamless integration into street design, serving as powerful tools that do not inhibit day-to-day life.

Here are just a few examples you can view in your neighborhood:

North Bay

Marin County has plenty of accessible examples of urban greening, including the Whole Foods at Millworks. Planners incorporated tree boxes along the street and rooftop gardens that not only look nice, but reduce heat, and retain stormwater runoff. Stormwater enters the tree boxes and the soil filters out pollutants.

The Agate Beach Park parking lot includes storm water retention structures, a series of rocky structures that slow and filter storm water during heavy rain and large storms, and a trail that has been replaced with decomposed granite to allow stormwater to sink into the ground, rather than flooding surrounding areas. Although this is green infrastructure we can’t entirely “see”, it significantly reduces runoff flooding, and the flow of pollutants to the Bay.

East Bay

Oakland has countless examples of urban greening, including the Lakeside Green Streets project along Lake Merritt in Oakland and curb extensions with rain gardens that capture stormwater runoff and make pedestrians safer along Broadway, 14th Avenue, and many other locations.

In El Cerrito, the San Pablo Avenue Rain Gardens absorb rainwater runoff from urban areas like roofs, driveways, walkways, parking lots, and compacted lawn. Rain gardens like this can cut down on the amount of pollution reaching creeks and streams by up to 30%. You can find rain gardens on San Pablo Avenue South of Madison and South of Eureka.

San Francisco

In San Francisco, small-scale urban greening projects can be found all over the city as part of the SF Better Streets project. This greening program provides tools for individuals, business and community groups to participate in efforts to green and beautify the city’s streets, improving public health while enhancing the environment.

The Peninsula

The San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention Program has helped advance urban greening through a coordinated planning process. Check out several demonstration projects while walking or biking around the City. The Burlingame Rain Gardens at Donnelly Avenue act as a reservoir that allows water to gradually soak into native soils below. San Mateo’s Laurel Elementary School features strategic curb extensions with plants at crosswalk locations, that not only capture stormwater runoff and provide greenery, but also make students safer by helping drivers see pedestrians crossing the street.

South Bay

San Jose has also made some investments in green infrastructure. The Park Avenue Green Streets include 6,500 square feet of curbside rain gardens that replaced existing asphalt along Park Avenue between University Avenue and Sunol Street to filter stormwater from the roadways. On Chynoweth Avenue, 5,600 square feet of curbside rain gardens replaced what was asphalt. The rain gardens host drought tolerant plants and tree wells to absorb and filter stormwater.


This Bay Story was originally published in By The Bay quarterly newsletter. To receive future emails from Save The Bay, subscribe to our list here.

Justin Capone

Justin is the Policy Fellow at Save the Bay.