The Founding DNA of Resilience
“Often the founding principles in Urban Resilience are established early on in a City’s DNA”.
The real estate developers such needed to dredge Newport Harbour and create the artificial islands. Unfortunately, a lack of knowledge of local tide patterns meant that Balboa Island's ground level was set too low and was subject to flooding at high king tides. In the 1940s a sea wall was built around to prospect the 800 properties. However, the inherent environmental challenges in a new world settlement such as Newport Beach were perhaps not fully appreciated at the time of its establishment. Furthermore, new climatic changes to sea levels could increase flooding risks.
I could see that the urban authorities are currently increasing the height of the Bilbao Island seawall by 9 inches. This is as part of a 10-15-year plan to mitigate flooding on the island.
Realising Brand Potential
"Interestingly, necessary resilience and infrastructural upgrades can considerably enhance the Urban Realm if implemented holistically."
In 1945 US army engineers implemented the work of the sea wall of what was a private island. Therefore, local taxpayers were unhappy that the public purse was being used to shore up the resilience of the housing and commercial activities on the island. The deal hatch was an interesting one to answers the needs of the various stakeholders. A public boardwalk was introduced on the perimeter of the sea wall. Everyone had access to walk around the one and a half-mile perimeter of the island. It is a pleasant walk with the boats coming and going, car ferry arriving and families enjoying the beaches. Another aspect of the sea wall deal was the beach around the island could be used by the public, even it fronts the coastal residences. The question here for local authorities, town planners and urban designers are if costly resilience improvement measures can also be used to improve urban inclusivity and accessibility.
Urban Realm Benefits
“Every city is building a brand, which is constantly evolving due to social, economic and environmental change.”
I feel that Newport Beach, and in particularly Balboa Island, is successful in urban terms because of the measures taken to improve the resilience of the community. This has provided the environs with a pleasant pedestrian-friendly precinct on the seafronts, beaches and commercial activity axes. Some of these measures were not originally planned by the founders in the 1880s. For example, the founder of Bay Island, who was a horse lover, insisted that there were no cars on the island. This is still the case today and carpooling occurs off the island's limits.
Cities are competing with each other to say sometimes conflicting things such as we are safe, welcoming, accessible, exclusive, diverse and dynamic. At Newport Beach, its brand is built on a myriad of factors: its founding heritage, its unique topography and its proximity to Los Angeles. After all, Newport Beach was the place where Shirley Temple built her first home. Also, a host of successful entrepreneurs-built homes here on the various islands and peninsulas; these were flanked by the homes of Hollywood greats such as John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Cities also about there “storied” past as well as access, circulation routes, zoning, building mass and amenity. I suggest this type of heritage builds civic pride in places.
I believe that Newport Beach has a unique urban brand, which was built on the initial principles of its founders and the subsequent adaptation due to environmental challenges. Interestingly, resilience measures such as the seawall and walkway to Balboa Island have actually improved its urban realm. The brand of a city evolves as it transforms due to changes in economic and demographic conditions. Therefore, as with a product, cities are always changing to meet new customer needs and environmental changes. There is increased competition between cities for attracting investment, innovation and talent. Understanding the brand DNA of a city could potentially increase resilience in future social, economic and environmental challenges.
A "Balboa Bar" is a block of vanilla ice cream with chocolate covering dipped into the topping of your choice. The bar, I discovered, is best enjoyed in the sunshine on the island, which was built on a sandbar. There will no doubt be environmental challenges ahead for Newport Beach and in particularly Balboa Island, with rising sea levels. However, hopefully, these can provide the as yet unrealised creative opportunities.
This article was originally published by the Urban Design Forum NZ.