The city of Richmond is emerging as a leader in sustainable redevelopment and in the process, preserving its past.
Two decades ago, Richmond, California, was probably best known for its murder rate, poverty and industrial pollution, most famously from the Chevron refinery, which sits at the north end of the city.
In the curve of a peninsula that juts out into the northeastern shoreline of San Francisco Bay, the city has a natural deep harbor that made it the most productive World War II-era shipyard in the U.S.: 747 warships were built there, many of them by the women known as “Rosie the Riveters.” But the deepwater port also attracted chemical companies like United-Heckathorn, which profited and then left town, contaminating the harbor with persistent pesticides like DDT.
Although Chevron continues to operate, environmental cleanup continues, and poverty is still a problem in Richmond, the murder rate has fallen dramatically, and the city has become a surprising leader in the urban greening movement, recently winning platinum and gold sustainability awards for community greenhouse gas reductions and best practices.
It wasn’t always this way: Community activists and nonprofits once battled with the city to save even postage-stamp-size green spaces and remnants of creeks. But today city leaders and staff are leading a transformation from brownfields to green infill, pulling in millions of dollars from state grant programs intended to battle climate change.
The Miraflores green infill project is one of the city’s best examples of this new focus. Construction began this summer on the 14-acre brownfield and former Japanese-American-owned nursery. Tucked into a highly paved, older residential corner of the city, and hemmed in by train tracks and a freeway, the project honors the site’s history by preserving some of the old greenhouse structures, as well as the water tower and tank, and two original family homes. It also exemplifies the city’s new direction, with 80 units of affordable, solar-powered senior housing, 190 mostly market-rate condos, a 5.4-acre greenbelt that will connect to the city’s central greenway and public transit, and a rippling creek that will flow above ground for the first time in decades. Construction of the senior apartments is 48 percent complete and will be finished in May 2018. Greenbelt construction began in September and will also be complete next spring. The creek restoration will be done in summer or fall 2018.