CMG 2019 Summer Interns Experience

Through the course of their 3 month internship, the CMG summer interns were able to participate in site visits to Crissy Field, Bothin Marsh, Treasure Island, and more! On their last day, the summer interns presented their research and findings to the entire office. The CMG Summer Interns, Sarah Fitzgerald, Jeff Milla, and Yutong Wu reflect on their summer internship project “Emergent Ecologies of the Bay Edge: Adaptation to Climate Change and Sea Level Rise”, writing about their experience over the course of 3 months of research and traveling around the Bay Area.

From getting our hands dirty identifying marsh plants at Crissy Field to spotting a sea otter munching on oysters near a Living Shorelines restoration site at Point San Pablo, our summer research was grounded in our experiences visiting iconic landscapes across the Bay. These site visits were crucial to informing our understanding of Bay ecologies, and reflecting CMG’s recognition that there is no substitute for experiencing a place firsthand.

Though it’s hard to pick a favorite site, we all agreed that visiting Marin and seeing Bothin Marsh and Corte Madera Marsh was a uniquely noteworthy experience. In preparation for the visit we had poured over sea level rise projection maps of the area, cynically concluding that it was not the best use of our time and money to try to save wetlands that will be inundated with just one foot of sea level rise. And yet, as soon as our bikes rolled up to the edge of Coyote Creek, we were awestruck by the beauty of Bothin Marsh. There are few places in the Bay where you can walk through a living marsh. We all felt the power of the wetland landscape surrounding us on all sides. Site visits like these led us to conclude that, while we can’t save every marsh from rising tides, we must find a regional framework to help adapt at least a few.

Another site visit that really hit home was our trip to Treasure Island and visiting Ildiko Polony at the LEJ nursery. As a native plant horticulturalist, we were interested in getting her take on how to work with native plants as temperatures, rainfall, fog regimes, and other climate factors to which native plants are adapted begin to change. We had previously come across a USGS study predicting that California will have no marshes left by the end of the century, and were quite dismayed by this and similar dire studies. Ildiko’s response was stoic and poetic: “When I become overwhelmed with all of the terrible predictions, I like to remind myself that they are still only predictions. We have to focus on building landscape corridors that allow plants to possibility to adapt and move by themselves, instead of replacing native plants with those found in ecosystems farther south. And plus, though the marshes might not be here in 100 years, they still matter for the bees, the birds, and the fish that are here today, tomorrow, and in a year’s time. We can still do a lot of good with the time we have.”

In addition to our site visits, our in-office research days enabled us to dive deep into the science and processes of ecological change. We studied the marsh migration process by which upland will convert to marshes, marshes to mudflats, and mudflats to subtidal habitat; we probed the physics of land subsidence and discovered how filled land subsides at a much faster rate than the historical shoreline; we analyzed the Bay on a region scale to discover where tactics like ecotone levees, near-shore reefs, or elevating land might be appropriate adaptation techniques. Ultimately, we compiled a matrix summarizing the various landscape tactics we encountered, cataloguing a toolkit of methods for responding to SLR.

By the conclusion of our internship, we had come to appreciate the simple truth that adapting the existing ecologies of the Bay to the rising tides is possible, but incredibly costly. Ultimately, we leave this project with more questions than answers:

  • How can we make collective decisions about which habitats to focus on?
  • How can we pool our resources to make regional decisions, rather than only disjointed local actions?
  • How can we ensure that socially vulnerable human communities can access these fast-disappearing natural wonders?
  • How can we move from designing at the discrete site scale to a regional level? Is this shift even possible in a paradigm of client-driven work?

We also recognize that landscape architects must become more proficient in our understanding of ecological processes and climate science in order to stay relevant as climate change accelerates. We humbly hope that this research contributes to this proficiency within CMG, and that it is useful in informing the firm’s future work.

 On August 9th, CMG’s summer interns presented their final research project, “Emergent Ecologies of the Bay Edge: Adaptation to Climate Change and Sea Level Rise”, to the rest of the office at lunch! A culmination of their work this summer, the research focused on how designers must anticipate fast-changing conditions and design toward adapting to and mitigating the effect of climate change.




Pacific Northwest Fisheries and the Impacts of a Changing Climate Van Alen Climate Council Trip – Summer 2019

What would make a group of engineers, architects and landscape architects travel from around the country to visit the fishing industry in the Pacific Northwest? Well, beyond tasty seafood dinners and extremely fresh oysters, the answer lies with a collective drive to understand the causes and impacts of a changing climate.

The Van Alen Climate Council convened for their third investigative trip in August to continue researching connections between climate change and design. This trip brought the group into the Pacific Northwest, shifting from the agricultural cornucopia of California’s Central Valley to one of the largest fishing industries in the world located in and around the Puget Sound in Washington.

Pamela Conrad, CMG Principal, joined the Council in early 2019, and shares insights from the multi-disciplinary excursion:

What are some of the issues impacting the Pacific Northwest Fishing Industry?

Global fish populations and the fishing industry face great threats due to a changing world. 

Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is absorbed by water but increased levels of CO2 create toxic levels of ocean acidification, CO2 + H20 = H2CO3 (carbonic acid). When there is too much carbonic acid in the water, shellfish are unable to form shells and reproductive problems occur in a variety of other fish species.  

That same increase of CO2 causes higher atmospheric and ocean temperatures. Warmer water temperatures lead to the decline of fish populations and water molecule expansion is causing sea level rise. (Ice melt is also causing sea levels rise, but currently at a less predictable rate)

Warmer temperatures means there is less snow forming, and therefore less snow melt. The low running rivers are too shallow for salmon to migrate and swim up-stream and spawn, which is contributing to their population decline. Sedimentation caused by adjacent land impacts such as construction or mining operations also contribute to this issue.

Human consumption is also a major threat. The World Resources Institute published global research in 2016 showing that people eat more protein than they need. In fact, most protein that the human body needs can come from plant-based proteins and in the US & Canada, we are eating three times more animal-based protein than we need (World Resources Institute, 2016). This overconsumption is another contributing factor to the fish population declines.

Why does it matter?

These issues affect everyone. The indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest now have less available food resources, lower incomes and are being forced to relocate their coastal tribal homes. This is not something that will happen in the future, it is happening now.

What is the Pacific Northwest doing that is innovative in response to these issues?

A sustainable sushi bar in West Seattle called Mashiko is serving up what they call “trash fish” to help alleviate the demand on at-risk species. Typically, fish accidently caught in nets cast for a more in-demand species are discarded but Mashkiko takes these fish and transforms them into tasty meals. High demand seafood are the ones we all know and love – salmon, yellowfin tuna, shrimp etc. However, due to the demand, these species are overfished and are at-risk. In the case of shrimp, not only are they coming from unsustainable sources, but also a slave-labor industry thousands of miles away. So, be brave, instead of ordering your “go-to”, request the local special instead. You might be surprised at how good “trash fish” can taste.

To help prevent the effects of ocean acidification, researchers at the University of Washington supported by the Paul Allen Family Foundation are studying how kelp farming can help extract CO2 out of the oceans. Kelp farming could also provide a viable source of biofuel for jets. Other “blue carbon” environments include sea grasses such as eel grass and salt marshes which are found here in the San Francisco Bay area, along with mangroves that typically occur in more tropical environments.

Habitats also need to be restored before fish populations can recover. The Seattle Waterfront Vision is being constructed with light wells to encourage salmon migration and food source habitat. Because of tremendous public support for an environmentally innovative and high quality public realm, private philanthropy contributed millions of dollars to the project that shows increased salmon migration since completion.

Communication is also key to the climate crisis, and doesn’t have to come directly from scientists or researchers. One PNW artist, David Eisenhour, has dedicated time and resources to his art in hopes of helping to educate others on the impact of carbon on our environment.

What can landscape architects do about it?

Our projects, our offices, and the way we live our lives has an associated carbon footprint. If we can reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere through conscious decisions about those choices we make, we can:

  • reduce increased rates of ocean acidification that is impacting the fishing industry.
  • reduce the intensity of sea level rise, community displacement, and fish population decline.

When we put chemicals on the land, they end up in the water and harm fish populations. Using organic fertilizers on landscapes prevents harmful nitrate migration into our waterways.

In coastal projects we design, we can improve the public experience while improving habitat for the marine environment. They can go hand in hand, and in Seattle, the public is demanding it. What we put into the air and on the land is impacting our oceans. The sooner we recognize how the systems of the earth are connected, the sooner we can get ourselves out of this mess.   


Related links:

How Ocean Acidification Affects Seafood Security in Puget Sound



Jamie Phillips Attends Futurescaping at UBC Okanagan

Principal, Jamie Phillips, was invited to attend Futurescaping: A Practitioner’s Retreat on July 18th at University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO), a gathering of future-interested professionals to engage in out-of-the-box thinking about the future of a place and its broader socio-cultural, economic and ecological context. With the intent of exploring the “Next Generation” Future at UBCO, here are some of the questions that will be discussed:

  • What broad trends and forces are “in play” (eg: biophysical, socio-economic, political, cultural, socio-technical, institutional) and likely to shape Future UBCO? (i.e. prediction, foresight)
  • What is the full potential UBCO campus by 2040? 2050?
  • What might a future UBCO do?
  • What might it look like?
  • What strategies might be the most effective?

This is an invite-only discussion, Jamie Phillips being the sole landscape architect, on the potential future growth and evolution of the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus as a leader for world change. The campus is interested in pushing creativity, place-creation, research excellence, and sustainable initiatives!

Pamela Conrad Attends Van Alen Climate Council Trip in Seattle

Principal, Pamela Conrad joins Van Alen Climate Council Institute for the second time this year on July 17-19 in Seattle, to examine the impact fisheries have on food systems and climate change. Some of the highlights of the trip will include:

  • Hearing from lead scientists, academics, and industry experts, about the physical, biological, human dimensions of climate change and fisheries.
  • Exploring the history, legislation, and infrastructure surrounding Seattle’s commercial fishing industry, its interaction with tribal and small-scale fisheries, and the impacts of climate change on both.
  • Following Seattle’s sustainable seafood movement and learning about the strategies for promoting conservation, human health, and efficiency within the ocean to table supply chain.

Van Alen Climate Council have also partnered with University of Washington and commercial fisherman/sustainable seafood expert, Amy Grondin, who have helped to pull in preeminent experts across the fields of fisheries, food systems, and climate change, and will ensure that the participants are asking the right questions throughout the trip.

Tackling the ambitious exploration of food systems from their last trip to California’s Central Valley to their intensive three-day exploration in Seattle, Van Alen Climate Council recognizes risks posed by changing ocean conditions affect the health and livelihoods of billions of people who depend on the fish industry. Mounting urgency to address these challenges calls for out-of-the-box, future-oriented approaches to support sustainable fisheries by design.

Facebook Headquarters Building 21 Certified LEED Platinum

Facebook’s newest ground-up building, MPK 21, has been honored with a LEED Platinum Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), earning 88 / 110 points, the highest of any Facebook project across global data centers and offices. Acting as a platform for change and influence, this LEED pursuit has been years in the making and was accomplished as a result of an immense amount of team work between Facebook and Gehry Partners, Kier + Wright, Level 10 Construction, Jensen, Forell/Elsesser Engineers, PAE Consulting, Cornerstone Earth Group and CMG.

Located in Menlo Park within the larger Facebook campus, the building’s recycled water system was an immense and imperative challenge in order to not only gain LEED credentials, but push the project to act as a sustainable milestone amongst new tech development. Facebook MPK21 is the first of its kind in the Menlo Park community to accomplish a successful Blackwater Treatment system, integrated building wide. The recycled water can then be used to flush toilets and irrigate the native and Mediterranean-climate rooftop species, reducing water use by millions of gallons a year, educating employees and amplifying the innovative climate change design solutions worldwide.

Moscone Certified LEED Platinum

Congratulations to the Moscone Center Expansion team for the project earning 90 points out of a possible 111 (LEED Platinum), making this project the highest scoring convention center in the world!

After five years of collaboration and effort across all team members, including; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Mark Cavagnero Associates, Sherwood Design Engineers, Webcor Builders, Tipping Mar + Associates, SOHA Engineers, Ajmani & Pamidi, Inc, HLB Lighting, Nelson\Nygaard, Conventional Wisdom, Cumming Corporation, Lerch Bates, Inc., TEECOM, Integral Group, this is amazing accomplishment for Moscone!

The expansion includes over 300,000 square feet of new Convention Center area, below and above ground, while additionally dramatically improving the existing public realm. The project is comprised of many new social spaces, each with different goals and criteria. The designs include elements to facilitate street life, improved gardens and playgrounds, a new plaza associated with the existing carousel, better pedestrian connectivity via midblock paseos, a new bridge to improve connectivity with Yerba Buena Gardens, and safe sidewalks.

To learn more about the project, see the Moscone Convention Expansion project page here!

Rayna DeNiord selected to be on Landscape Forms – Design Advisory Board 2019

Congratulations to Rayna DeNiord for being selected to serve on the Landscape Forms – Design Advisory Board 2019. As part of a small group of designers selected annually, Rayna will engage in design conversations alongside other invitees and provide feedback and insights on current product development initiatives that Landscape Forms have in the works. The one-day intensive workshop takes place in Jackson Hole, WY on July 11th.

Landscape Forms is an industry leader in integrated solutions of high-design site furniture and advanced LED lighting. Some of their solutions include seating, shelters and signage, to bike racks and bollards, litters and LED lights. Landscape Forms have produced site furnishings that help other designers and clients achieve beauty and functionality in their environments.

Plans for Austin Waterfront’s 305 S. Congress are Released


CMG along with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP and Endeavor Real Estate Group presented plans to redevelop the Austin American-Statesman property along Lady Bird Lake this past Monday, June 17th to the South Central Waterfront Advisory Board. The proposed 12.5 acres of open space within the 19 acres development site will include a waterfront park, plazas, new shared public walkways, amphitheater, bat-viewing area and connections to and along the Butler Hike and Bike Trail.

The site is the centerpiece of the existing South Central Waterfront Framework Plan, which outlines the potential development along Lady Bird Lake’s southern shore. This green space and commercial hub will take the place of the current industrial building constructed in 1980, aiming to create an inclusive experience for everybody that celebrates the waterfront and downtown Austin.

Visit the project pages for 305 South Congress and South Central Waterfront Framework Plan to learn more about CMG’s involvement.

Press on the Project:


Seawall Program Community Meeting #4


The fourth Seawall/Waterfront Resilience Program Stakeholder Meeting will be held on Thursday, June 27, 2019 at Port of San Francisco, Pier 1 the Embarcadero! As part of the CH2M/Arcadis team, CMG and the Port of SF will discuss the vision, and principles for the program and apply draft evaluation criteria in an engagement activity.

We value all the great participation in our past three community meetings – from the first meeting, where we introduced the Embarcadero Seawall Program to our most recent third meeting, where we dove deeper in the Program’s Phases – Strengthen, Adapt, and Envision – to understanding the tradeoffs ahead. Together we will strengthen the Seawall, adapt our waterfront, and envision a more resilient and sustainable San Francisco.

For more info and to RSVP, please click here!