Old Treasure Made New: Treasure Island to Become an Eco-City

A corner of the artificial Treasure Island is sinking into the sea. The island, which was built for the 1939 World's fair, is made entirely of bay mud; due to rising sea levels and climate change, the island is disappearing. The section of Treasure Island that's still above water is mostly asphalt. Some sections are severely contaminated.

However, private developers may turn the wreck into an eco-heaven, by transforming the island into a high density green city. As many as 13,000 residents could live in the new, sustainable community, which would use advanced eco technology and city planning.

Mike Lynes, the conservation director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society, says the plan isn't actually green, though. The neighboring Yerba Buena island has many bird species and butterflies, and the influx of people would disturb the wildlife. High-rise buildings would harm birds, and domestic pets would attack wildlife.

However, the cement on the island will be replaced with parks.  The invasive species will be replaced with native plants. The San Francisco architectural firm SOM, and the development's master planner, says the development will make the area greener and more sustainable.

The debate touches on an issue central to sustainable travel: with careful planning, can humans improve and sustain nature, or is the human presence always a disturbance?

In this particular case, though, designers are turning a man-made island into a nature-oriented man-made island. Craig Hartman, a design partner at SOM says, the island  "will be a major new sanctuary for wildlife that has not existed in the past, especially for bird life."

On the one hand, savvy designers are promoting sustainable growth. On the other, wildlife preservationists are cautioning the public about the risk of development.

Lynes sees no easy solution though. If growth is inevitable, taller buildings are certainly more energy efficient. If the San Francisco Bay grows upward rather than outward, it might be better for the environment.

Better yet, if Treasure Island becomes a role model for successful sustainable development, and sustainable travel potential, it could help lead the way in the field.

The plans include a new downtown, which will be pedestrian and bike-friendly. Streets will be angled to maximize solar energy for lighting, and climate control. Electricity will also come from wind, biogas and possibly tidal energy. All buildings will be LEED certified. An urban farm on the island will compost all the food scraps and grass bits of the residents.

The Lennar Corporation proposed the eco-city in 2005, and it was building was going to begin in 2009. Groundbreaking is now scheduled for 2012.

Photo credit: NASA