John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Imagining the bustling nautical society of the Bay Area archipelago.
Far in the future, San Francisco's Divisadero Street is a cruise-ship harbor, taco trucks have become taco boats, and the Mission District is a beloved site for scuba diving. That's the waterlogged vision of cartographer Brian Stokle and Bay Area blog Burrito Justice, who've made a fantasy map of the city post-200 feet of sea-level rise.
The map, though it's been around a while, is getting its wonky due in a new urban-cartography exhibit at local urban-planning think tank SPUR. (The show runs until February 6.) Regarding its inspiration, the entity behind Burrito Justice says via Twitter: "Brian made a topo map, I was joking around, wanted to know when Potrero & Bernal became islands. 200 feet is where things got interesting."
It comes with an extensive alternate history imagining how society has adapted to the sloshing water world. Ferries handle trips among the "major islands of the San Franciscan Archipelago," for instance, while longer journeys to the California mainland are done in high-speed rail tubes. The city's gorgeous Victorian homes have been retrofitted with pontoons to float over Noe Valley, and entertainment comes in the form of historical reenactments of 21st-century Mission District life. Guarding the coast against Pacific Northwest marauders is the algae-fueled attack sub, the NCSS Ed Lee.
There's a fake NIMBY group, the Submerged Historic San Francisco Preservation Association, that rails against high-rise development with the battle cry, "Old San Francisco is still alive in our hearts and minds, even if only the tops of the buildings can be seen! Look at the Flickr archive!" And in a crazy, yet totally believable detail, the real-estate market is still booming. Writes Burrito Justice:
Unlike most coastal areas of the former United States, the population of the archipelago has dramatically increased despite the 200 foot rise in sea level over the past 60 years. Pundits debate whether this is due to the increasingly tropical temperatures or the creative and cultural explosion due to density. Regardless, the 4 million people now living on the SFA are demanding expansion of the San Andreas airport—studies are underway to build three more runways on the former 280 right of way.
How likely is a 200-foot jump in sea levels? Climate Central predicts about a 3-foot water rise in San Francisco by the end of the century, so puttering taco boats probably won't be something our children will encounter. However, if Antarctica was to melt into the ocean it would jack up waves by 200 feet, so maybe this will be a dining option available to our descendants.