Adapt Oakland is helping take on West Oakland’s health hazards with the power of plants.

This new project by the Oakland non-profit Urban Biofilter, brings together community organizers and experts in creating a masterplan to protect the community from pollutant using “green infrastructure”. Solutions like living walls, trellises, and green roofs cover buildings with plants that filter the air of emission and help keep storm water under control.

The idea stemmed from a previous planning project, partnered with Merritt College, envisioning ways to use green infrastructure that creates jobs and could be built quickly. For example, using bamboo at OT-411, the central hub of the independent West Oakland truckers, to help improve air quality for those closest to diesel pollution: the truckers themselves.

Using their research and experience, Adapt Oakland will create an online “toolkit” to help the state, cities, and existing green projects explore green infrastructure options and find funding to support them.

“We’re tackling some of the biggest battles which is how to get people to work together and helping people to fund things.”said Urban Biofilter co-founder Brent Bucknum, “But if you’re collaborative and bring people good ideas that are cost effective it’s going to be hard for them to turn it down.”

Part of their vision includes growing an urban forest between the industrial zone and residential area near the Port. The trees act as a protective barrier, blocking noise and filtering out pollution. 

And the West Oakland community has plenty of hazards to be protected from, between three freeways, railways, a waste treatment plant, and the port. 

“I have asthma, my grandchildren have asthma, my neighbors have asthma,” said Margaret Gordon, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and former Port Commissioner, who helped sculpt the direction of the project, “Public safety is always on everybody’s mind, but I see this as part of public safety also: caring about people’s health.”

Alameda County has the highest asthma hospitalization rate for children 0 to 5 years old in the state . According to a study by the Air Resources Board in West Oakland, people living in the area have an elevated cancer risk due to exposure from diesel exhaust from the Port.

The city has several of it’s own green development projects underway, like the West Oakland Specific Plan (WOSP). Adapt Oakland views its role as a resource for these existing plans. They provide data, designs, insight on using green infrastructure, and strategies for making projects work within the city’s limited cash resources. 

Adapt Oakland is funded by, and is the only non-profit to receive, an Urban Greening Grant from state. Part of proposition 84, the grant is awarded to projects that improve air and water quality, promote public health, and reduce the impact of urban communities on climate change.

The project celebrated its launch party May 10 at Linden Street Brewery, drawing together representatives from the Port, the City, and the EPA.

By Fall 2013, they will be hosting collaborative planning meetings with agencies and stakeholders, and educational forums for community members on the benefits of green infrastructure.  A presentation conference for their Masterplan is set up next spring.

According to the Adapt Oakland project brief, Urban Biofilter is still looking partners and experts in areas including air quality monitoring, computational research, and public policy.

For more information and to get involved visit the Adapt Oakland site.


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