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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Expo Line Opens! Public Rail Transit keeps Creeping to the Beach

Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.
Celebrations should be ringing throughout Los Angeles, especially the Westside, as this weekend marks the official opening of the first phase of the Expo line.  To help celebrate, rides this weekend are free!  Eventually connecting downtown Los Angeles with downtown Santa Monica, the first phase connects downtown to the expanding Westside community of Culver City, which should continue to fuel the real estate and business renaissance happening in Culver City.  Residents can now commute to USC or downtown without getting into a car or facing a freeway.  With the completion of the second phase, LA will finally have a system that connects to the ocean, opening car-free and low-cost access to the Westside for all of Los Angeles. Oh, and benefiting all of the Westside residents heading east for work - kind of a win win, huh?  More from the LA Times below:
Almost 60 years after the Pacific Electric Railway stopped running trains to Santa Monica, the resurrection of passenger rail service to the Westside will begin with the grand opening of the $930-million Expo light rail line.

Saturday's start of service marks the first step in an effort to bring rail service back to one of the region's most traffic-clogged areas, something transportation experts have long said is crucial to developing a workable rail network for Los Angeles County.

Expo Line trains are scheduled to roll into Culver City by midsummer and Santa Monica within several years, although the segment opening this weekend stops at La Cienega and Jefferson boulevards.

Some may not consider that Westside service quite yet, but officials say it's a major milestone nonetheless.

"It's the first time in a half of a century that people will be able to access mass public transit west of Western Avenue," said county Supervisor
Zev Yaroslavsky, a Metro board member. "This is something that many people have been longing for for a long time."

The first phase of the Expo Line, which is nearly two years behind schedule and cost $290 million more than initially estimated, is an 8.6-mile stretch between downtown L.A. and Culver City. A $1.5-billion extension to Santa Monica, ending within walking distance of the beach, is under construction and scheduled to open in four years.

At celebrations starting Friday, the emphasis will be on the benefits the Expo Line will offer to students, commuters, tourists and, possibly, pro football fans who may ride it in coming years.

USC, with three nearby stops, is expected to be a big beneficiary. Thomas Sayles, a university spokesman, called the Expo Line's opening a historic moment for the city and the campus. The service, he said, will expand transportation options for students and allow visitors from all over Los Angeles to reach attractions on campus and at nearby museums.
Undoubtedly there will be critics of the cost of the project, and the delays involved in construction, but the larger success of slowly, but effectively, building a transit infrastructure in LA has to be celebrated.  Ask anyone who lives along the Gold Line or the Eastside of LA, and you can guarantee they appreciate the access transit gives them.  Finally, the Westside joins in the fun.  Hooray for transit!  

You can celebrate and learn more about it below:

Time Lapse Video of Route  (via LA Times)
Photos of Dedication (via Patch Culver City)
Everything Expo Line (via Curbed LA)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase - Sat. Apr. 21st

Image from Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase.  All Rights Reserved.
As spring arrives and April gains its foothold on the year, events such as National Landscape Architecture Month and Earth Day prompt a bevy of great Los Angeles garden tours, ranging in scale from the regional down to the local.  Perhaps one of the most exuberant (and a personal favorite) has to be the one coming up tomorrow.  The Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase, running from 10am to 4pm on Saturday April 21st, is great because it is basically an open-source, neighborhood celebration of sustainability and garden-making in all of its forms.  While some signature designed gardens are always present, you also get the opportunity to see amateur enthusiasts proudly share their converted front and backyards with neighbors and strangers alike.  The result of the event is both grounding and inspiring because it reinforces just how accessible sustainability is becoming and how much the notion of sustainable landscapes continues to infiltrate the community outside the confines of professional dialogue. 

The tour is organized for ease into 6 districts across Mar Vista, and you can preview and filter different focus areas for the gardens on the Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase webpage to help craft what you want to see, including urban farms or habitat-focused gardens.  Below is more info from the event webpage - hope you can make it out!
The Mar Vista Community Council invites you to participate in the FREE fourth annual Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase - a citywide Earth Day celebration on Saturday, April 21st, 2012 from 10 am to 4pm. See the gardens on the tour hereWe have 50 NEW gardens this year! Use the  labels on the side bar to preview the gardens by areas of special interest.
Use this MAP to plan your own personal tour
      Print out the map for each of the six tours - 
          Map 1, Map 2, Map 3, Map 4, Map 5, Map 6
Maps will be available at these 9 gardens the day of the tour. Here are some tips to use the bus and your bike to take the tour!
The tour showcases drought-resistant landscapes and edible gardens with sustainability features ranging from composting techniques to water capture practices. Urban farms range from aquaponic farming to 6 gardens with chicken coops. This year the tour places special emphasis on the critical need for ocean friendly gardens and California native gardens that support much needed pollinators such as honey bees and monarch butterflies. See how creating outdoor rooms provides much more useful livable space than a traditional lawn and creates a sense of community.
This giant eco-festival is comprised of 90 private resident gardens broken into 6 compact self-guided walking tours throughout Mar Vista. On the heels of three wildly successful prior tours that topped 2,000 attendees last year, the Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase will include special guest presenters at many gardens to enhance your knowledge of sustainability in daily living. Especially valuable is the chance for guests to meet do it yourself gardeners who share knowledge and experience. This is truly a giant block party throughout Mar Vista and you will have a blast meeting your neighbors as you visit their gardens.
The Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase seeks to empower Los Angelenos to adopt environmentally conscious living solutions. With most people walking or biking their tours, there is a tremendous sense of community as residents throughout Southern California come to Mar Vista to celebrate our shared vision for a greener life.
Guest presenters on the tour include, Los Angeles County Master Gardeners,The Seed Library of Los Angeles, Open Neighborhoods on solar and  Grow Native Nursery. 26 Landscape designers will be at gardens to answer questions and share information.
Mar Vista can make a difference!
For more information please email
Media is welcome.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Scott Wilson: In Memoriam

Image from Los Angeles Times.  All Rights Reserved.
Sad news for the entire landscape of Los Angeles today as Scott Wilson, the founder of North East Trees died suddenly.  His impact was felt in his beloved neighborhood of Eagle Rock and throughout Los Angeles.  From the EagleRockPatch:
Scott Wilson, a longtime Eagle Rock resident, retired Eagle Rock High School teacher and landscape architect who was instrumental in the greening of large parts of the neighborhood, died Monday morning after a fatal fall sustained while cutting flowers from a tree in the garden of his Olson Street home. He was 89.
In 1989 Wilson founded North East Trees, a nonprofit environmental group devoted to planting at least five trees a day for the rest of his life—more than 50,000 so far—as well as ensuring jobs in the green industry for at-risk youth. He was trimming flowers on a tree in his Eagle Rock home for the altar of his Pasadena-based Unitarian church when he fell to the ground on Saturday, his daughter Catherine Richards said.
For more information about North East Trees, visit their website, and read a nice profile about their quiet, prolonged impact on Los Angeles from this past July by Emily Green at the Los Angeles Times:
Unless you are active in the field of urban greening, you probably haven’t heard of North East Trees. Unlike the better known TreePeople, North East Trees has not seen its founder land on "The Tonight Show."

Rather, the nonprofit that Scott Wilson started in 1989 by planting 700 oaks at Occidental College in Los Angeles' community of Eagle Rock has quietly been planting many more trees (50,000 at last count), working with low-income communities to create parks, and partnering with city and county agencies on water-harvesting projects. North East Trees has been at the cutting edge of L.A.’s ecological makeover.

As Wilson sees it, what sets North East Trees apart is that he was a landscape architect when the group started. He built a staff of foresters, designers and educators with the goal of strategic greening, going far beyond planting a tree streetside and hoping that it lived.

“It’s not about how many trees you plant,” said Wilson, right, during a brief meeting last week in the courtyard of the Department of Public Works in Alhambra (more on that later). “It’s about the right tree in the right place and about how many of those trees live.”

Friday, July 15, 2011

In Honor of the Carpocalypse (or Carmageddon, if you prefer) . . .

Interactive Before and After images of construction of the Sepulveda Pass.  Courtesy of the LA Times - All Rights Reserved.
 . . . . The LA Times brings us extensive coverage of the 405 closure this weekend, including two interesting presentations on the history the 405 Sepulveda Pass featuring historic photos of the development of the pass.  Definitely worth reading up on the complete history if you have time, but you can also get the short visual version thanks to their interactive image history.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bag Ban Takes Effect

It's official - the Plastic Bag Ban in unincorporated Los Angeles County took effect yesterday, Friday July 1st.  The ban initially impacts large retailers, preventing them from dispensing sold items in plastic bags and instead requiring them to use paper bags only.  Cost of the change will be passed along to consumers who will be charged 10 cents a bag, unless they bring their own reusable tote bags.  Eventually the ban will include smaller, independent stores.  An overview of the ban was detailed by the LA Times:
The bag ban was touted by county supervisors as an environmental measure to rid the county of "urban tumbleweed" that pollutes landfills and gets washed out to sea. Paper bags will still be available, but customers will be charged 10 cents per bag.

The effort is intended to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags to the market for shopping.
The plastic bag ban will affect anyone who shops at stores outside the county's incorporated cities, such as the communities of Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights, Altadena, La Crescenta, Topanga Canyon, Marina del Rey, Baldwin Hills, Athens, Willowbrook, Florence, Rancho Dominguez, Valencia, East Pasadena and East Los Angeles. About 1.1 million people in the county live in the unincorporated areas.
Although some remain critical of the ban, this is a big environmental victory that should have long-term benefits for waterways throughout Southern California and beyond (see the Los Angeles Times Pulitzer Prize winning series on the ocean - Part 4 for more information on plastic bags effects).  Although incorporated areas of Los Angeles remain unaffected, the ban still impacts 1.1 million people, a figure that only 8 US cities (not including Los Angeles) have populations larger than.  In other words, this limited action by the County of Los Angeles actually produces a massive civic-sponsored change in urban function, pointing out how the scale of  Los Angeles is not just a challenge, but also an immense opportunity to exploit.  While we tend to focus on ways in which mistakes are magnified by the sheer size of Los Angeles, this ban highlights how small positive changes can also become monumental shifts for the benefit of the environment.

More coverage of the ban is available at the LA Times and at Marina Del Rey Patch.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Reading LA

Image from LA Times - from the 1997 PBS series based on "Cadillac Desert." Credit: Skeet McAuley.  All Rights Reserved.
Wow - for some reason I had missed the start of this series, but the LA Times architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, has a great year-long reading series called "Reading LA," that focuses on classic books about the planning, design, and urban form of Los Angeles.  Included on the list are acknowledged master studies of LA's historic growth such as "Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies" (written by the British architectural historian and critic, and LA admirer, Reyner Banham) and Mike Davis' 1990 "City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles,"  but so are niche books about noted architects, growth periods, or icons in the history of Los Angeles.  Hawthorne provides a nice introduction to each work, as well as a personal book report of the highlights and lowlights of each installment in the series.  Definitely some good reads on the list that I'll have to check out.  You can find a running log of all of the books at the series homepage, and should be able to find all of them in the LA Library system.  Here's to some good reading . . .

Local Seed Bank

The LA Times had a great profile about a local, grassroots seed bank effort in Venice.  Attached to Venice High's Learning Garden, the new Seed Library of Los Angeles provides a growing clearinghouse for native and agricultural seeds for community members to access, and an opportunity for like-minded individuals to share knowledge.   More from the article below:
One Sunday afternoon at the garden adjacent to Venice High School, a dozen or so people filed into a small, plain building, one by one, to get three or four tiny envelopes, each holding a few seeds.

That low-key but ambitious event marked the opening of the Seed Library of Los Angeles, an institution its founding members hope will provide free seeds to gardeners and become a preserve of local agricultural diversity.

Like-minded people in communities around the country are doing similar work: offering low-cost or free, local, open-pollinated, pesticide-free seeds. Members borrow seeds, grow plants, and allow a plant or two to go to seed at the end of the season. Those seeds are returned to the library, which will grow 10 of each batch to confirm purity before distributing the rest.

"People are drawn to seed libraries because they feel a certain powerlessness over their food supply," said David King, who is garden master at the Learning Garden at Venice High and founder of the seed library. "They're worried and angered by developments such as genetically engineered alfalfa."

They also seem drawn to playing a role in the cycle of life that's at once romantic and DIY-inspired.

Saving seeds is important work that carries "a sense of the sacred genetic information of our forefathers," King told members at one meeting.

"What could be more poetic and life-sustaining than a seed library?" asked Sarah Spitz, a founding member of SLOLA, which members pronounce SLOW-lah.

Linda Preuss has been saving seeds for 20 years, and said she's hooked on "a fantastic whole process you get to be involved in. It's a great metaphor for life."

"We just like to hold it in our hands. We like to see what color it is — one tiny basil seed that's so tiny, you can hardly see it, and it will produce so much," said Preuss, a computer consultant who is the seed library's database chairwoman and who as a volunteer gardens with residents of a shelter for abused women and children.

On that first distribution day, in May, members took Tommy Toe tomatoes, White Dixie lima beans, Metki White cucumbers. Megan Bomba was among the volunteers who weighed seeds in fractions of a gram a tiny scale and wrote down who "borrowed" what.

"I've always been interested in seed saving, and it was a thought I had several years ago: Wouldn't it be great if gardeners in L.A. could have a seed exchange?" Bomba said later. "I believe in people having access to those resources and being in charge of genetic resources."

Members — about 85 people have joined so far — have hashed out best practices over chocolate mint tea (leaves from the Learning Garden) and homemade bread, as well as listened to the more experienced among them explain how to hand-pollinate flowers.

Library members adopted a "safe seed pledge" — a promise to "not knowingly buy, grow, share or trade genetically engineered seeds or plants." Lifetime membership is $10.

A refrigerator, donated by Spitz, keeps the seeds safe from rodents and insects. King expects it will be two years before the library needs more storage space.

The original library stock came from donations and seeds SLOLA purchased. Decisions about what to buy were based in part on members' desires; King said he also hopes to survey some food professionals, too.

"I'm not a chef, but I'm a pretty good cook. I came up with 46 [ideas] without even an additional swallow of coffee," King said during an interview at the garden, which is just shy of an acre and owned by Venice High School. The school uses 60%, and the community uses the rest through the nonprofit Learning Garden.

Early seed library members said they expected a lot of the saved seeds to be from native plants that thrive in the Southern California climate.

"The increased public interest in going native is just astonishing. It's wonderful," said Genevieve Arnold, seed room manager at the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants in Sun Valley. One inspiration, she said, is the region's water shortage.

There also are plans for some experimenting.