Colma Creek, South San Francisco

Colma Creek Connector brings the community and experts together to imagine – and create – a brighter future for an urban waterway in South San Francisco, using storytelling to engage future custodians.

We brought the community into this new vision for Colma Creek, forming strong partnerships with local groups. Together we hosted events and broadened the audience for our study, even creating a children’s storybook to distil complex ideas into a compelling narrative for families.

The adaptation study continues our work for Resilient by Design, a collaborative challenge to address the impacts of rising sea levels in the Bay Area. The aims? To manage flooding, restore ecology and access to the water, and build environmental stewardship.

Running from San Bruno Mountain to the bay, much of Colma Creek’s channel is concrete, bordered by flood control walls. With limited public access, it’s little more than a barrier to the surrounding community, while sea-level rise projections tell us it will flood more often unless we start mitigation work. 

But the corridor has enormous potential to connect people with the creek and the bay. Both a priority conservation area and a key link to the Bay Trail, the creek could be restored to bring back wildlife and create healthy, public open spaces for people to enjoy. 


Bay Area Regional Collaborative, San Mateo County and City of South San Francisco


San Francisco, US






2 mile corridor (3.2 km)


CHS Consulting、The Civic Edge Consulting、E2 Design Lab、Lotus Water

Design team

Richard Mullane, Sharon Wright, Chris Chesters, Ella Gauci-Seddon, Dion Gery, Jennifer Gonzalez, Chloe Walsh

Thank you for your efforts to find new ways of engaging the community with the project. The storybook is fantastic, it shares the vision of the project beautifully.”

Ariel, Director of San Bruno Mountain Watch
>81 acres of improved public amenity
>76 acres of connected ecology
>40 opportunity sites in the Bay Area

We engaged the South San Francisco community over an 18-month period to raise awareness of flood risk and the potential to transform Colma Creek into a public and ecological asset. Continuing earlier engagement for Resilient South City to reconnect people to the water, we built a supporter base of local families through online and offline channels.

With community partners, we organised creek-side events with the city’s Parks & Recreation Department for their Streets Alive! Parks Alive’ program and youth summer camps. With San Bruno Mountain Watch, we shared the project with visitors to Mission Blue Nursery, which cultivates native plants.

With the global pandemic, we cancelled other planned events to focus on engaging young people online with activities to do at home. A children’s storybook, Christina Lives by a Beautiful Creek, spoke to families about the project. A video of Council Member Mark Nagales reading to his children featured on online media, and hundreds downloaded the storybook in English, Spanish, Tagalog and Mandarin.

  • South San Francisco Parks & Recreation Summer Camp
  • San Francisco Estuary Institute
  • San Bruno Mountain Watch
  • Council Member Mark Nagales
  • San Francisco Philippine Consulate General
  • Martin Elementary School

Our design principles cover three themes based on the project objectives: water, ecology and access. The report explores a range of adaptation options, assessed for cost and impact, that could also apply to other waterways. A series of adaptation elements comprises a Kit of Parts that’s configurable and responsive to site conditions. 

The toolkit is designed for flexible application across the region, at sites with similar resilience challenges and opportunities. Historic planning of freeways and rail cut off smaller communities from the shoreline, but reviving and reconnecting main streets and creeks to the bay would create new social and ecological corridors. Our suite of solutions will be made available to communities around the Bay Area.

  • Opening the creek to Orange Park by softening the edge with new vegetation and terraced seating to bring people down to the water
  • Creating floodable parkland to expand the creek capacity
  • Introducing pedestrian and bike access along the creek’s northern edge, with trees for shade and more green places to dwell near the water
  • Creating habitat in a green corridor, adding rocky edges and outcrops to the creek, and planting native flowers for birds and butterflies
  • Retro-fitting streets with more trees, swales and rain gardens to collect and treat runoff 
  • New brackish marshland for diverse salt and freshwater species in a dynamic tidal habitat that’s one of the creek’s most valuable ecological zones
  • At the bay, a widened and restored marsh prepares for sea-level rise, and a shoreline boardwalk features structures for outdoor teaching and birdwatching
  • 2021 AILA National Landscape Architecture Award (International)

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