San Francisco's Battle With Mother Nature

As climate change accelerates coastal erosion across the continent, officials everywhere look to San Francisco to see how it will stem the tide, Felicity Barringer reports.

2 minute read

March 28, 2012, 5:00 AM PDT

By Ryan Lue


On San Francisco's 3.5-mile-long Ocean Beach, the very same waves that beckon tourists and surfers to the West Coast are slowly chipping the shore away. While erosion "is a perennial issue for beachfront communities," Ocean Beach is especially sensitive: unabated, the encroaching waves threaten to destroy critical infrastructure, including the Great Highway, a wastewater treatment plant, and a 14-foot-wide stormdrain pipe.

It may take some time, but the consequences are expected to be severe, and worsened by rising sea levels due to climate change. "Researchers warned in two new studies that severe coastal flooding could occur regularly in the United States by the middle of the century and that California would be among the states most affected," Barringer notes.

For officials in San Francisco, the options are limited: either reinforce the beach with walls and riprap, build it back up with more sand, or retreat altogether. Stakeholders are divided over these solutions, with each costing on the order of tens of millions of dollars. But a study by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association "projects that sea-level rise there could impose costs of more than $650 million by 2100 if nothing is done."

Barringer summarizes a report by economists at San Francisco State University, writing that "Communities can either plan for the long term or improvise, storm by storm, until ad hoc solutions are inadequate."

Saturday, March 24, 2012 in New York Times

Rendering of electric scooters, electric cars, light rail train, and apartments in background.

Arizona’s ‘Car-Free’ Community Takes Shape

Culdesac Tempe has been welcoming residents since last year.

February 14, 2024 - The Cool Down

Aerial view of suburban sprawl with large single-family homes near Dallas, Texas.

The Changing Shape of American Suburbs

Housing costs and availability are pushing more American households, including young families, to suburbs and exurbs — and they’re demanding changes.

February 13, 2024 - Business Insider

Aerial view of New York City architecture with augmented reality visualization, blue digital holograms over buildings and skyscrapers

4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design

With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.

February 20, 2024 - ArchDaily

Google street view of wide grassy median in Beverly Hills, California.

Beverly Hills Installs First ‘Green Street’

A three-block median featuring native plants and bioswales is part of the city’s broader effort to reduce water consumption and pollution.

6 hours ago - Beverly Press

Habitat for Humanity volunteers in construction helmets buildign a wood-frame house.

Habitat for Humanity and Missoula Land Trust Team up on Affordable Housing

The partnership will ensure the new homes will remain affordable for future buyers.

7 hours ago - KPAX

Orange California poppies in bloom over gently rolling hills in Southern California's Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve.

Experiencing California's Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve

Located in the western Mojave Desert, this stunning state natural reserve is renowned for its breathtaking displays of California poppies and has even been referred to as California's most beautiful place.

February 22 - California.com

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

The Walkable City

Harvard GSD Executive Education

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.