The Napa River Watershed drains into San Pablo Bay, and is home to the world famous wine region of Napa Valley as well as several small to moderate sized cities. With its headwaters at Mount St. Helena, the Napa River flows from wild slopes of the Mayacmas Mountains through picturesque vineyards toward and through the City of Napa and out past Mare Island and the city of Vallejo to San Pablo Bay. One of the most memorable and well-known geographic features in California, the Napa Valley is a highly compact watershed ranging from near wilderness to rural lands, to suburbs, to cities, to industrial zones in a mere fifty miles.
Beneath the surface of this apparent paradise is a web of relationships highly dependent on fossil fuels. From the natural gas providing electricity to homes, wineries and businesses to the oil providing gasoline for vehicles, and the petrochemicals for agriculture, the valley is held captive by the fossil fuel era. Like all regions of North America, the Napa Valley will of necessity undergo a very serious transformation to a post-fossil fuel reality. A compact, thriving watershed region like the Napa Valley allowed the class a laboratory to explore the patterns of land use and landscape that may emerge in the wake of declining fossil fuel supplies and the realities of global warming. The class presumption was simple: In thirty years, everything will change. Their job was to anticipate that change and guide it in constructive, fulfilling directions for all life forms and resources.
Led by Assistant Professor Jennifer Brooke and Beatrix Farrand Visiting Professor Robert Thayer, Professors Joe McBride and Matt Kondolf, and with the cooperation of the Napa County Environmental Planning staff members, students broke into six teams to investigate a number of critical dimensions of the river valley: Water; Land and Vegetation; Energy and Transit; Housing, Urban and Industry; Parks, Open Space and Tourism; and Agriculture, Food and Wine. These analysis teams conducted exhaustive reconnaissance on the state of the Napa River watershed with a view of likely conditions, potentials, and limitations thirty years out, when transit fuels would be more scarce and expensive, weather more extreme, population pressure more acute, and natural habitat and open space more precious.
Analysis processes were immediately followed by a master planning phase wherein student teams focused their efforts on components necessary to direct the future of the region. One team hypothesized the creation of a quasi-public initiative entitled “Common Roots”, a new twist on the contemporary CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) movement, proposing a multifaceted urban agricultural growing and distributing system with neighborhood markets and a centralized farmers market. With the goal of returning potentially productive but underutilized lands to the provision of local food, their presentation included a toolkit of strategies for small-scale, decentralized food production. Their work also included the addition of an Urban Agriculture element to the City of Napa zoning code, which would enable urban food production to be facilitated by local government yet run by a local non-profit board of directors.
Another team branded itself as “THINC Transit”, an acronym standing for “Transit Hybrid for an Integrated Napa Community”, and proposed a sophisticated yet highly feasible public transit system utilizing existing Wine Train rail rights-of-way and linking other potential transit corridors with existing BART and Amtrak lines to provide ferry, train, light rail, bus, and shuttle transit for the entire valley. Their final presentation included a highly detailed phasing plan for implementing the transit system, complete with a hypothetical and multi-modal schedule of arrivals and departures, including a by-reservation shuttle for the remote valley towns of St. Helena and Calistoga.
In the final design phase, individual students chose site-specific design projects that would build upon various goals and findings from the analysis and master planning efforts completed earlier. These included a complex transit center expansion on the site of the BayLink Ferry in Vallejo; an adaptive reuse plan to turn a routine industrial park into a showcase venue for local organic food production, distribution and waste management; a combined constructed wastewater wetland/regional park and trail complex for Mare Island; a mixed use affordable housing community built on the abandoned glider port in Calistoga; upgraded recreational and habitat improvements to the estuarine wetlands near the Napa airport; and dense transit-oriented development of land along the proposed light rail line through the City of Napa.
Running successfully through the entire course was the theme of “Not Business as Usual.” In envisioning the rather substantive changes anticipated with respect to climate, rising sea levels, the peaking of oil, increases in population quantity and social diversity, potential widening of income gaps, and the future need to shorten the supply chain distance between sources and end uses of energy, food, water, and materials, class members prepared themselves for a future where the skills of landscape architects and environmental planners, as some of the most logical systems thinkers, will be most sorely needed.