The Berkeley Global Campus: Vision and partnership in Richmond

By Nils Gilman

Associate Chancellor Nils Gilman is a strategic advisor to the UC Berkeley Chancellor, responsible for the effective administrative organization of the Office of the Chancellor. Previously, Nils was the founding Executive Director of Social Science Matrix, a new institute for social scientific research and spent 13 years as an executive at various software and consulting firms, including Salesforce.com and the Monitor Group. He is a key advisor for the Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay.

Oct 5, 2015 | Smart Cities | 0 comments


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In October 2014, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks presented his plans for the Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay (BGC) to the Academic Senate. His vision has been described as “unabashedly bold”: to create a global campus and “living laboratory” in partnership with other great universities from around the world, as well as with private industry and the local Richmond community.

Building on University of California, Berkeley’s international reputation; Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s groundbreaking research; the region’s entrepreneurial spirit; the unique physical setting; and key partnerships in Richmond, the new Berkeley Global Campus will be a focal point for an international coalition of leading academic institutions and private sector and community partners. BGC will bring a global community of researchers and industry innovators to Richmond.

An illustrated master plan of the Berkeley Global Campus

An illustrated master plan of the Berkeley Global Campus

Through a transformational model for global research integration, as well as through the expansion of educational activities, BGC will maintain and expand deep ties to the main campus and to the local community through a variety of educational, public health, community outreach, labor, and transportation partnerships. These partnerships will collaborate on research and academic initiatives addressing complex global challenges the world faces in the 21st century, including: climate change, energy development and storage, big data, precision medicine, global health, as well as associated commercialization opportunities with the private sector.

We are currently in advanced talks with a number of potential partner Universities, and hope to be able to announce these soon.

Assets on the Ground

Of course, a 21st century campus will need a 21st century infrastructure to support it. Seeking a cutting edge infrastructure solution, we tapped the expertise of Integral Group, an engineering firm that specializes in the design of simple, elegant, cost-effective systems for high-performance buildings – their tagline is “deep green engineering.” Highlights from the resulting Infrastructure Master Plan include recycling water on the campus, which will help to avoid stressing the city’s aging infrastructure. The water will not only be used for irrigation, but for climate control and fire preparedness – it turns out that the hot water used to keep buildings comfortable during the winter is just as good at dousing fires as cold water.

We also plan to take advantage of the natural assets at the site. We will continue to protect the prairie grasslands and marshes that we have spent decades (and millions of dollars) to rehabilitate and preserve. And in exchange, these unique features of our local ecosystem will not only offer habit to local birds and other wildlife, but also provide research opportunities for our faculty and students, add to a breathtaking tableau for the whole community to enjoy, and offer protection against tidal surges and other issues associated with climate change.

The prairie grassland of the Richmond Field Station

The prairie grasslands of the Richmond Field Station

Other highlights of the master plan and illustrative design work include: Distinct walkable neighborhoods; a layout that deflects wind off the Bay and creates sheltered spaces; east-west solar building orientation; diversity of open edges and public access points; and multi-modal grid connected to surrounding streets.

About the location. The BGC site, which has been known as the Richmond Field Station for decades, is owned by the University of California and operated by UC Berkeley. It is minutes from the main Berkeley campus and in close proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. While transport connectivity to the BGC site can stand improvement (the city of Richmond is developing an area connectivity plan), the site is already well served by the 580 freeway, the San Francisco/Richmond Bay Trail and two BART stations.

The site is also one of the largest developable waterfront properties left in the Bay Area. And frankly, the views, the marshes, and the entire campus is just beautiful. Preserving that beauty while making it more accessible to a vibrant working community will be one of the main payoffs of this project. Over time – think 30 to 40 years – 130 Bay front acres will be transformed into a 5.4 million square foot global campus that is open to the community and home to academic and industry partners from around the world.

Civic Transformation and Innovation

Meanwhile, the City of Richmond is experiencing a transformation of its own.

Richmond has long been one of the most diverse communities in the Bay Area, with cultural amenities that are easily accessible by car, BART, and bike. Richmond can proudly claim such historical gems as the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park, 32 miles of publicly accessible shoreline, and is consistently at the forefront of innovative city policy making in the area of public health. Despite this, the city has struggled against a reputation as a low-income, high-crime, post-industrial suburb, stuck in the shadow of one of the country’s largest refineries. Though this image might have been justified in the past, the changes the City is undergoing are creating an entirely new reality for the City and its residents. Richmond is increasingly recognized as a City that is successfully pioneering a healthy, sustainable, and economically vibrant future.

Much of the credit for Richmond’s “renaissance” goes to City Manager Bill Lindsay. Crime is down, unemployment has fallen from 18.5 percent in 2010 to 5.8 percent in March 2015, the City adopted a Health in All Policies strategy to operationalize its ground-breaking, health equity-focused General Plan, and the City is increasing home to socially and environmentally conscious companies like Nutiva.

But Lindsay is the first to admit, that this is not a one-man show. The success of innovative policies and the successful programs in Richmond are the result years of work by community groups as well as City Hall, the school district and philanthropy, labor and business groups, and many other stakeholders, all hard at work in a complicated array of partnerships and collaborative initiatives. These partnerships draw from the experience and expertise of institutional partners, a wide cross-section of community members, high school and university students, as well area experts to inform policy making and built environment improvements. Resulting innovation policies at the city level include the Health in All Policies strategy, the city’s early drafts of a Climate Action Plan, the Community Health and Wellness Element of the General Plan and more. At the school district, a full-serve community school initiative benefited from these partnerships. And I could go on.

This focus on partnerships as well as the university’s deep history in the City, and an emphasis on innovation in public health and sustainability all make Richmond a great partner in the development of the Berkeley Global Campus.

The Chancellor’s Commitment to Partnering with Richmond

For years, Richmond residents, community and city leaders have consistently participated in the development of the global campus. Hundreds participated in community meetings to learn more about UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s research focus areas and to provide feedback on the Environmental Impact Review and Long Range Development Plan. More recently, representatives from across Richmond are deeply engaged with UC Berkeley and Lab staff in a planning process to develop a package of community benefits.

The Community Working Group, established by the Chancellor and the Director of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, is comprised of 24 representatives from a broad cross-section of constituencies including faith-based organizing, nonprofit sector, education, the city manager’s office, labor, local business, neighborhood associations, and philanthropy. The Community Working Group is empowered to develop proposals, including recommendations for legally binding agreements on community benefits, in the areas of education, local employment, procurement, and workforce training, as well as housing.

The Community Working Group kicked off in September 2014. Since then it has met nearly monthly, developed a charter, launched subcommittees to explore promising practices and recommendations, added a community co-chair, and new seats to represent nearby neighbors as well as a housing expertise seat.

Meetings are open to the public, held at the site of BGC. And they are vibrant. More than 50 community members as well as elected officials and staff attended the August 2015 meeting – during which a robust debate about the definition of “local” underscored the importance of a transparent and representative process.

If all goes according to plan, the CWG will present community benefit recommendations to the Chancellor and the Director of the Lab before the end of the year.

The City is Not Sitting Idle: Planning for the South Shoreline

Much of what will make BGC a success, both in the short- and long term, will be the result of parallel planning efforts that bring together diverse stakeholders working to ensure a broad distribution of benefits associated with the global campus.

As you might have guessed, our partners at the City are not sitting back and waiting. In June 2012, the City of Richmond was awarded a Priority Development Area Planning Grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Governments to develop the Richmond South Shoreline Specific Plan. The City has held a number of community meetings, solicited feedback on draft plans and continues to involve area experts in this process.

An aerial view of the future home of the Berkeley Global Campus

An aerial view of the Richmond shoreline and the future home of the Berkeley Global Campus

An artists rendering of the Berkeley Global Campus

The Specific Plan will facilitate the implementation of Richmond’s new General Plan by establishing specific planning policies, regulations, and urban design guidelines for an approximately 220-acre area located in the southern section of Richmond, adjacent to the global campus. The Specific Plan will focus on ways Richmond can take advantage of the global campus, future ferry service (expected in 2017), and other area assets to create a sustainable shoreline district providing jobs, housing, transportation options, and opportunities for entertainment and recreation. Projections include 6.5m SF commercial, 750,000 SF retail and 3,000 new housing units, and the intent to “transform this currently underutilized industrial waterfront area into a revitalized, pedestrian-oriented district that would integrate a mixture of high-intensity research and development and commercial uses with new medium-density housing options anchored by the Richmond Bay Campus.”

All told, the collaboration between UC Berkeley and the City of Richmond promises to become, as Pastor T. Mark Gandy recently commented, “the most important single development in Richmond since the World War II shipyards.” We look forward to collaborating closely for years to come with the citizens and City of Richmond in bringing this vision to reality.

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