The Bay Area’s Future – You Choose

The Bay Area’s Future – You Choose

Last week I attended an interesting community forum on the future growth of the San Francisco Bay Area. Sponsored by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (an organization with which Applied Materials has often partnered) and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 80 or so members of the community gathered to explore various scenarios for the anticipated growth of the area.

It is projected that by 2035 the Bay Area will add 900,000 households and 1.2 million jobs. The tough questions we were asked included: “Where will this growth take place?” and “How will we grow?” The assumption is that we need to grow sustainably in order to maintain the many great qualities the region possesses.

One other impetus for this envisioning effort is California’s landmark Senate Bill 375 (Steinberg, 2009) that requires the State’s major metropolitan areas to set regional greenhouse gas reduction targets. As part of that process, the Bay Area’s two regional planning bodies, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) are studying the connections between growth, air emissions and transportation planning and development. Representatives from both organizations were among the facilitators at this session and were listening intently.

Using interactive keypads and some very nice materials developed by the Foundations’ facilitators, the participants proceeded to rank 14 different priorities, e.g. clean air, greenhouse gas reductions, driving less, proximity to jobs, proximity to other conveniences, etc. The top ranked priorities with this rather committed audience were clean air and lower carbon emissions and the lowest priorities were large homes with big yards and more parking. We were then asked to state our preferences for either “exporting” new homes outside the nine-county Bay Area or keeping homes here (i.e. keeping all new housing growth within those counties). Since there was overwhelming support for keeping homes here, we then selected from four scenarios for that growth: business as usual; a “planned future” (including some greenfield development, among other things); more urban development; and most urban (i.e. nearly all growth being around transit oriented locations). We spent the last part of the evening offering input as to how the region should spend about $200 billion in transit funding over that same 20-year timeframe. Although the forum was fascinating, those of us who stayed for the entire program were rewarded with a crisp dollar bill!

I thoroughly enjoyed the process and the evening and believe it was an excellent example of how to obtain informed and useful stakeholder input on important issues. Here’s the exciting part – if you care about the Bay Area’s future and want to offer your own input, you can visit and use the interactive tools on the site to explore the same choices and scenarios and then furnish input online.

For Bay Area residents, there are also three more forums coming up like the one I attended, Even if you are simply curious about the planning process and the interactive tools that were used, I recommend taking a closer look.

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