The Re-Envisionists

Questioning Urbanization in the Delta

Images of flooding New Orleans – literally the destruction of a major American city and loss of much of its population – have increased awareness of flood risk in the US. In California, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has been much in the news recently, as the fragility of its levees (long understood by experts, but only recently appreciated by the public) has attracted the governor’s attention, leading him to propose massive re-investment. But even with higher, heavier levees, will the Delta be safe from flooding? Given the unique characteristics of the Delta, does it make sense in the long run for us to build houses below sea level there? Or could alternative scenarios that preserve open-space and infrastructure values provide more benefit and less risk to the San Francisco-Sacramento-Stockton metropolitan region of the future?

In hopes that this fresh experience created a ‘teachable moment,’ the Department of Landscape Architecture and the College of Environmental Design held a two-day symposium, ReEnvisioning the Delta, to consider the implications of the Delta’s ongoing urbanization and to explore alternative futures for the region. The symposium featured presentations on the physical characteristics and unique functions of the Delta, emphasizing its key role for infrastructure, agriculture, and open space within the San Francisco-Sacramento-Stockton metropolis, and on the dynamics of urbanization in the Delta and the surrounding region.

Urbanizing lands below sea level in the Delta strikes many as manifestly unwise and dangerous. Nonetheless, it is occurring now, at a rapid rate. Hans Johnson presented population data showing that the Delta is the fastest growing region in California, with population increasing at rates even faster than developing nations. Panel presentations by Carol Whiteside (former mayor of Modesto), Marci Coglianese (former mayor of Rio Vista and member of the Delta Protection Commission), and John Cain (Natural Heritage Institute) explained how escalating housing prices and a pro-growth political environment in local government are creating the enormous pressure to urbanize flood-prone lands. The author of the Delta Protection Act, former State Senator Patrick Johnson, showed how even the Delta Protection Commission established by the Act is not immune from these incentives to sprawling growth.

Bob Twiss presented an overflight of the Delta landscape that showed how these developments are consuming critical lands at the edge of the Delta that may be essential for future ecosystem management. Graduate student research completed for this symposium also projected future urbanization from general plans, proposed development footprints, aerial imagery, and other relevant GIS data layers. This is the first spatially explicit analysis of urbanization below sea level in the Delta and the likely consequences of that urbanization in the event of catastrophic flooding.

And that disaster potential is escalating. UCB Engineering Professor Ray Seed, who has just completed an NSF-funded study of levee failures in New Orleans, argued that the levees in the Delta are extraordinarily vulnerable to an earthquake-induced mass failure (although techniques exist to make them safe through extended public investment). The current 100-year flood protection standard to which the levees are built, meanwhile, leaves a very significant “residual risk” of a larger-than-100-year flood that could be immensely destructive. Tom Philp of the Sacramento Bee moderated panelists Mike Webb (California Building Industry Association), Ron Baldwin, (Director San Joaquin County Emergency Operations), and Tom Zuckerman (University Pacific, former counsel Central Delta Water District) in a discussion of the varying opinions on how to moderate disaster risks and who should be responsible for levee safety and potential liability.

The second day examined potential futures for the Delta, focusing on the Delta not as a set of problems, but as a place with its own unique history and character. As Jane Wolff, author of the Delta Primer, pointed out, it is a place that can be seen in several different ways — as at once an open space, an agricultural region, a wetland habitat, a recreational region, and an economic resource.

Subsequent talks shared the experience of land conservation efforts for each of these types of landscapes. Louise Mozingo argued that the creation of Central Park in New York and the Emerald Necklace in Boston show that recreational open spaces can be formed in advance of urbanization. Phyllis Faber showed that the history of agricultural land conservation in Marin County contains valuable lessons for the situation Delta farmers are facing. Bob Twiss talked about the land-use controls undertaken at Lake Tahoe to protect water quality, another pressing issue for the Delta today. Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy director Joe Edmiston advocated the use of a state-sponsored Conservancy model to protect conservation values in the Delta. Joe Bodovitz recounted the balancing of conservation and development in San Francisco Bay planning, and Pete Rhoads talked about the enormous planning effort underway to restore the Everglades. The Delta bears important similarities to each of these cases. Other panels, including such notables as John King of the San Francisco Chronicle, Margit Aramburu, formerly of the Delta Protection Commission, and Tom Waters of the US Army Corps of Engineers, expounded on some of these similarities and offered suggestions for moving forward in the Delta.

Innovative ideas for preservation of the Delta’s critical infrastructure, agriculture, and open-space access were also presented by Jennifer Brooke on behalf of the graduate students involved in the annual Tommy Church Design Competition. Interdisciplinary student teams developed plans and designs for a Delta park, recognizing its central role in the San Francisco-Sacramento-Stockton metropolis of the future. The jury awarded two first prizes to the teams of “Wet Feet Wanted,” (Elke Grommes, Mei Minohara, and Zachary Rutz), and “Delta Byways,” (Brooke Ray Smith and Stephen Miller).

Between historical precedents and visionary designs for the Delta’s future, there was no shortage of thought-provoking ideas for this critical region of California. What is needed, participants agreed, is better planning data and, more importantly, a widely shared vision for what the Delta should look like in the future. With the urbanization problem now on the political radar screen, planning efforts can now turn to the challenge of creating that vision of a more secure and resilient Delta region.

Rebuilding Paradise: Strategies for Sustainable Tourism in Thailand

On December 26, 2004 a massive undersea earthquake in the Andaman-Sumatran subduction zone spawned a huge tsunami that killed over 200,000 people in countries bordered by the Indian Ocean. Thailand suffered widespread damage in six southern provinces.
Tsunami damage, source Krabi Tourism Workshop
Tsunami damage, source Krabi Tourism Workshop

Dwellings were damaged or destroyed. Natural resources — coral reefs, beaches, mangrove areas and freshwater aquifers — sustained extensive damage. Also hard-hit was public infrastructure, such as fish and shrimp farms, landfills, and wastewater systems. Rebuilding and recovery have been uneven and slow. Tourist areas with casualty-insured facilities are recovering the fastest, while local settlements with little insurance coverage and unclear property rights are slow to rebuild.

In most areas, the focus is on near-term recovery rather than long-term issues. But broader questions need answers — what role should tourism play in Southern Thailand? What should be the balance between environmental protection and cultural preservation and the economic benefits of tourism activities?

In February 2005, the University of California at Berkeley, Chulalongkorn University, and the Thai Public Policy Foundation formed a partnership to provide technical assistance to help shape long-term strategic planning in the Andaman coastal region. The project began when Chote Soponpanich, President of the Thai Public Policy Foundation, contacted Chancellor Robert Birgeneau of UC Berkeley to ask how the university could provide technical assistance for tsunami relief. Building on a previously successful partnership between the Thai Public Policy Foundation, UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning and Goldman School of Public Policy, and Chulalongkorn University Social Science Research Institute, the three institutions decided to work together. Short-term humanitarian aid was abundant, so the team envisioned a project focusing on long-term strategic planning for tourism, given the needs of the impacted tourist areas and the partners’ combined expertise.

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Community in Ban Hin Phoeng, (Krabi Province) meeting with the CU-UC Team.

During the week of March 21-25, 2005 the partners visited three provinces — Phuket, Krabi and Phang Nga — assessing conditions and defining the project. They met with local elected officials, planners, and community leaders, conducting interviews and visiting tsunami-inundated areas, where they assessed local technical capacity, surveyed the scale of international humanitarian assistance activities, and gauged the level of interest of each of the provinces in receiving long-term strategic planning assistance. In Bangkok the partners also met with government officials to learn about ongoing planning activities.

Based on these field visits and discussions with Chulalongkorn faculty and the Thai Public Policy Foundation Board of Directors, the partnership agreed to concentrate efforts on Krabi Province, developing an overall strategic framework, focusing on sustainable tourism development, community development and income generation, and regional level infrastructure needs. In addition, the partnership agreed to develop an active community participation process to engage stakeholders and reflect their views in the final product.

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Muslim fishing community on Si Boya Island.

On May 23, 2005 in Bangkok, 20 graduate students and six faculty from Chulalongkorn and Berkeley met to form the project team. Participants had backgrounds in city planning, architecture, government, and landscape architecture. After briefings, the team traveled to Krabi Province to begin the project. From May 26 to June 4, they met with local government officials, business leaders, community groups and tourists, then on June 5 returned to Bangkok to prepare the strategic plan and presentation.

Tourism’s rapid expansion in southern Thailand provides economic benefits for many, but affects many facets of daily life. In Krabi Province, tourism’s pluses can drive the region’s development and growth, creating jobs and generating local government revenues. Tourism’s minuses include environmental degradation, social dependency, underdevelopment, and adverse socio-cultural effects, especially for rural populations. The tsunami’s aftermath offers the opportunity to assess benefits and costs of tourism, and to reframe a tourism strategy that is environmentally sustainable, economically productive, and socially acceptable.

Stakeholder meetings, informal interviews, and extensive fieldwork throughout the province allowed researchers to collect both qualitative and quantitative data on the province’s existing conditions. The team identified issues surrounding sustainable tourism development, environmental protection, community development, income generation, and regional level infrastructure needs. Back in Bangkok, the team used a strategic planning and scenario assessment method to assess tourism strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and to consider possible future strategies.

CU-UC Team members interviewing backpackers en route to Phi Phi Don Island.
CU-UC Team members interviewing backpackers en route to Phi Phi Don Island.

The region’s rebuilding provides a unique opportunity to develop long-term strategies for guiding future development. The resulting Strategic Plan for Sustainable Tourism Development in Krabi Province discusses the direct and indirect economic, social, and environmental linkages between the distinct sectors and stakeholder groups within the province and shows how their activities may affect Krabi Province’s future.

In describing the approach and method of the project, the Strategic Plan provides a general overview of Krabi Province, and discusses tourism trends from international, national, regional and provincial perspectives. The report also presents a vision of sustainable tourism, an assessment of the province’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (a SWOT analysis), and three tourism strategies. Then, using a scenario planning process, each strategy’s likely performance is evaluated. Finally, the report summarizes the results of the scenario analysis and proposes a range of implementation options for consideration. In addition, it outlines the next steps that should be taken to achieve sustainable tourism in Krabi Province.

The Strategic Plan differs from, and complements existing, national, regional and provincial plans in several important ways. First, alternative tourism strategies are tested against external scenarios to gauge resiliency. Second, communities and residents are viewed as main drivers behind tourism management and planning, not just as economic stakeholders. Third, tourism is viewed not as a sector in and of itself, but in the broader context of the province’s whole economy, with tourists as integral stakeholders, not just a source of external demand.

Researchers developed three distinct tourism strategies: Krabi Riviera, Krabi Highlights and Krabi Discovery. Krabi Riviera is a market-led laissez faire approach emphasizing mass tourism. Krabi’s beaches and islands become the main draw for tourism activity, with most development occurring along the coast, concentrating on large coastal resorts and supporting facilities. Fragile ecological areas such as mangrove forests, wetlands, and other critical habitat open to development of resorts, hotels, and other tourist amenities, taking precedence over the quality of tourism and community life.

Krabi Highlights, a government-led strategy promoting nodal development with greater local linkages, features six nodes, or locations, for tourism development. Each node becomes a hub for a particular niche market, such as eco-, cultural, and religious tourism, providing visitors with differing experiences. The government proactively promotes and encourages promotion and a combination of measures to encourage development in desired locations and limits tourism elsewhere.

Krabi Discovery is a community-led strategy emphasizing fine-grain development. Local-self governments in the more popular destinations treat the tourism market as a driver of community development, placing priority on the promotion of community-based economic development while taking readings from the tourist market, rather than trying to explicitly satisfy market demands. Chief stakeholders are local communities, which define the scope and scale of tourism development and participate actively in tourism planning and implementation, while the central and provincial governments facilitate the community empowerment through the provision of loans, infrastructure, marketing of tourism in the rest of the country and abroad, and coordinates the creation of pilot programs to experiment with different niches and activities.

Family enjoying an afternoon in Krabi’s hot springs
Family enjoying an afternoon in Krabi’s hot springs

To test the future likely performance of the strategies, the team created three external scenarios — Global Boom, Global Median and Global Downturn. Global Boom posits maximum economic growth, social cohesion and environmental stability, in which worldwide economies grow at above average rates and average incomes increase. Greater disposable incomes mean greater global demand for tourism, and Thailand captures an increasing share of both domestic and international tourist markets. Thailand improves in both social and political realms, with the Thai people achieving higher levels of education and training. Human factors bolster the overall strength of the nation and the region. Environmental factors, both natural and manmade, are stable and positive, water supply is sufficient, and there are no new environmental problems or risks.

The next scenario, Global Median, builds on current global and regional trends, with average economic performance, a steady sociopolitical state, and some environmental threats. Growth is moderate and capital is not as readily available as under the Boom scenario, but Thailand grabs an increasing share of that growth, though with less demand for specific types of niche tourism. Sociopolitical situations remain much the same, however, environmental factors present some problems at global and national levels, with water shortages, industrial pollution and continued global warming leading to moderately rising sea levels.

Global Downturn is the last scenario, a pessimistic projection of economic stagnation, social conflict, and environmental trauma. Under this scenario, external conditions follow the Global Boom trends until 2015, at which point economic, sociopolitical, and environmental threats are realized, severely affecting the tourism industry. A stagnant or declining global economy precipitates a decline in Asian economies, with negative effects on domestic and international tourism, as well as demand for niche tourist activities. Sociopolitical strife escalates, collaborative intervention from foreign powers increases tension and upsets traditional ways of life. The environment suffers, with severe droughts affecting some areas, while dramatically rising sea levels impact Thailand’s coastlines.

The results of the scenario analysis indicate that Krabi’s natural environment will come under significant pressure if the Krabi Riviera strategy is pursued and driven by the Global Boom scenario. Alternatively, the other strategies pose less risk to the environment regardless of which external environment occurs in the future. However, the results of the scenario analysis do not suggest that one strategy is best. Each strategy offers a distinct set of benefits and costs that need to be carefully considered as the community thinks about and plans its future tourism industry.