Search This Blog

Saturday, January 30, 2010

M&A Extraterritorial Build Opening - Sun. Jan 31st

The Extraterritorial Build in place a week before the opening.
(images from M&A. all rights reserved)

LA Landscape favorites M & A's most recent project "Extraterritorial Build" is opening this weekend at the Barnsdall Art Park Municipal Gallery from 2-5pm. The piece is part of a group show titled "Actions, Conversation, and Intersections," showcasing participatory projects. The show runs from Jan. 28th - Apr. 18th in case you miss tomorrow's opening. 

A little humor from Unhappy Hipsters

"The things that once so defined him — shag carpeting, Room & Board sofas, monogamy — now suffocated him."
(image from Dwell, September 2009)
Need a little smile amidst the ennui of your stunningly designed, ultra hip, modern lives? Enjoy the oft ridiculous, always chic, architectural eye candy from Dwell through the lens of the wry wit at Unhappy Hipsters.

California Adopts Mandatory Green Building Code

More good, green news from this past week.  California adopted a set of mandatory green building codes called Calgreen.  A draft of the legislation is available here, and it will take full effect Jan. 2011.  While some local standards are actually stronger than this statewide legislation, this establishes a comprehensive, coordinated statewide effort to build greener.  One downside, though, will likely be a rise in costs to the consumer, but is there really an acceptable outcome of not building green? The Dirt provided this recap
Last week, California adopted the U.S.’s first mandatory green building codes called Calgreen, which are expected to help the state reach its goal of cutting CO2 emissions by a third by 2020. According to The New York Times’ Green Inc. blog, every new building will have to “reduce water usage by 20 percent and recycle 50 percent of its construction waste instead of sending it to landfills. Commercial buildings will be required to have separate water meters for indoor and outdoor water use. Mandatory inspections of air conditioner, heat and mechanical equipment will be also be instituted for all commercial buildings over 10,000 square feet.”

Tom Sheehy, acting secretary of the state Consumer Services Agency and chair of the California Building Standards Commission, the group that passed the rules, told The San Francisco Chronicle: “This is (something) no other state in the country has done – integrating green construction practices into the very fabric of the construction code. These are simple, cost-effective green practices. California should be proud.”
The California Building Standards Commission unanimously approved by new rules, which also allows cities with stricter codes to keep their independent standards.
Importantly, to offset the cost of meeting the new code, developers will not be required to get green building certification from the U.S. Green Building Council or other organizations. Still, the new codes are expected to increase the cost of building homes. As a result, new home prices are expected to rise by $1,500.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s Northern California chapter told The San Francisco Chronicle its group was ”concerned that parts of the new code lack the rigor of existing local regulations, possibly making it difficult for cities and counties to adopt more stringent standards.” However, state officials said it was necessary to create a “single comprehensive code, clearing up confusion over varying regulations, and it allows builders to receive green certification without paying a third party.”

California’s Building Standards commission passsed similar rules in 2008, but now that they are mandatory, it’s expected they will remove three million metric tons of emissions from the air by 2020.  Read the article

Life without the Lawn?

Increasing water scarcity, rising concern for native habitats, and the need to reduce energy use and greenhouse gases are threatening the very existence of lawn in Southern California. And, while many would see this as good riddance, it also poses the question: what is life without the lawn?  This is the first of I am sure many posts considering the ramifications of our life with the lawn in Southern California, and what it might look like potentially without it.  First off - issues with lawn:. ASLA's The Dirt shared this report this week from the New York Times:
The New York Times’ Dot Earth blog reports on a new study on urban green space from Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union, which contends many urban green spaces emit more greenhouse gases (GHGs) than they absorb. This is due to the high amounts of emissions from lawn irrigation, fertilizer, mowing, and leaf blowing. The study argues: “Turfgrass lawns remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and store it as organic carbon in soil, making them important ‘carbon sinks.’ However, greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer production, mowing, leaf blowing and other lawn management practices are four times greater than the amount of carbon stored by ornamental grass in parks.”
Claudia Czimczik, a researcher at University of California, Irvine, and a co-author of the study, told Dot Earth: “Lawns weren’t initially invented to store greenhouse gases — they have a lot of other purposes such as recreation. But there is a lot of recent political discussions about lawns as carbon sinks, and if that is the case we need to consider the whole package.”
According to Dot Earth, the researchers looked at four parks in Irvine, including open lawns and athletic fields. Open lawns which use fertilizers emit “heat-trapping nitrous oxide,” which “offsets 10 to 30 percent of the carbon dioxide captured and stored.” Additionally, the fuel used in mowing and leaf-blowing ”releases four times more carbon dioxide than the lawns soak up. Athletic fields fare even worse because they require more maintenance.”
Czimczik said Californian parks may be a special case because park officials maintain their parks year round. More research needs to be conducted on the emissions of green spaces in other regions. She added that push mowers should also be considered.

Dot Earth points to the EPA’s GreenScapes program, which can encourages homeowners to think about land, water, air, and energy use in their lawn maintenance. Unfortunately, the article leaves out the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), a comprehensive new rating system, which addresses all of these issues (see earlier post).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Women in the Dirt" Trailer

Here is a preview of "Women in the Dirt," an upcoming documentary film exploring women in the field of landscape architecture through the lens of seven of California's most famous women landscape architects.  Should be a great film, and certainly well-deserved recognition of these great designers.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Car-Free Friday!

In case you didn't notice, this Friday is the last Friday of the month, meaning it is time for Car-Free Friday!  Support the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) effort to promote bicycle use in LA by joining thousands of residents in biking to work.  Not only will you be healthier and promote a greener LA, but you can even get discounts from businesses throughout LA County for doing your part.  Check out LACBC's Car-Free Friday page for a complete list of participating shops.  (image from LACBC at  all rights reserved)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Clip-on Architecture

(image from Urban Omnibus)
Nice summary article presented on Urban Omnibus called Clip-on Architecture: Reforesting Cities.  It presents a succinct overview of the different systems that exist for greening and revegetating our existing built environment to make them more sustainable.  Overall, none of the strategies are particularly new to most design professionals, but representing them in a public friendly way is always appreciated, and the final graphic (see above) showcasing how the systems could work together in a more holistic fashion is an inspirational gem.  Here the strategies transform from simply 'clip-on' architecture to function more successfully as a comprehensive landscape solution.  Because, ultimately, green efforts matter only in regard to their scale of influence. Site-scale solutions solve site-scale problems while holding a potential to affect larger-scale concerns.  It is by coordinating these smaller interventions that these potential impacts are actualized to realize larger-scale change.  Together multiple site-scale solutions begin to produce a community change that can potentially affect a region and beyond.  Hopefully cities like LA can partner an interest in 'clip-on' solutions with an effective landscape-scale understanding to truly reforest our built environment in a profound way. 


Interested in alternative transportation?  Big fan of bicycles, especially when they take over streets?  Then check out the great folks at cicLAvia.  Who are they and what is ciclovia?
Ciclovía started in Bogotá, Colombia over thirty years ago as a response to the congestion and pollution of city streets. Now it is happening all over Latin America and the United States, giving people a break from the stress of car traffic. The health benefits are immense, bringing families out to enjoy their streets in a new way, getting them to walk and bike together.

In Los Angeles we need this event more than ever, as anyone who tries to move through this city knows. Not only is it difficult to walk, bike, and drive here, but more and more children suffer from obesity and other health effects caused by growing up in a park poor city. CicLAvia creates a park by removing motorized traffic from city streets, and encourages people to come out and carve a new landscape for themselves.
. . .
CicLAvía will work to address five core pressing issues present throughout all of Los Angeles: Public Space, Public Health, Community and Economic Development, and Pedestrian and Bicycle Advocacy.  As a recurring free event, set for the same day/time every week or month, CicLAvía will allow for the temporary closure of interconnected routes throughout the region, creating a web of public space on which residents of Los Angeles will be able to walk, bike, socialize, celebrate, and learn about new cultures and neighborhoods.  Similar events have successfully occurred in other US cities, such as Portland, New York, and San Francisco. Bogotá’s Ciclovía has also inspired copycat programs in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Quito, Ecuador, and Melbourne.

So, it's sort of like parking day for roads, only on a massive scale.  In other words - awesome. And, as noted, extremely valuable in a city like LA without many parks or even substantial enough right-of-ways in most places to provide comfortable, safe sidewalks.  More info and coverage on cicLAvia can be found at the links below. 

LA Times - Brand X
LA Streetblog

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ballona Wetlands

I visited the Ballona Wetlands in Playa del Rey on Saturday for a guided tour of the Freshwater Marsh.  It is a wonderful example of a constructed wetland that not only provides stormwater management for surrounding development but also helps reconstruct lost habitat in an urban context. 

The project was the result of a compromise between developers and environmentally-minded community activists.  They successfully negotiated a reduced development footprint for the nearby Playa Vista development, as well as the creation of a constructed wetland to manage stormwater and replace lost coastal habitats. (A number of other habitats were preserved or restored as well, including a saltwater marsh and dune habitat).  In addition, HOA fees from Playa Vista help support ongoing maintenance of the wetland along with the active efforts of the non-profit Friends of the Ballona Wetlands.

Since it was completed, monitoring of the project has identified over 200 species of birds utilizing the marsh, including 5 indicator species.  Although still a work in process, it is an ecological asset for wildlife and nearby residents who can see a wide diversity of California flora and fauna right next door.  During my visit, I saw white egrets, green-winged teals, red-tailed hawks, bushtits, a kestrel, red-wing blackbirds, and coots among many others.   Check out more about the project's history here.  

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A + R = Pop Design Happiness

Abbot Kinney in Venice has become one of the great meccas for boutique stores in LA, and hip product designs are no exception.  One of the more interesting stores has to be A + R, which features a hand-picked selection of sleek, pop-oriented design products.  Or as they say:  Global Design. Edited.  The store is definitely a great place to go for one-of-a-kind gifts that vary from clever to chic.  Although it feels like I am choosing between children, below are a few favorites:
A Peaceful Bomb Vase by Biaugust
Message Bean by SMP
Skull Tea or Coffee Set by Studio Pirsc
Recycled Cork Cases by Artecnica
Off the Wall Mini Flowerpot by Thelermont Hupton
(streetview from panoramio user matthewcorreia. all rights reserved)
(logo from A+R - all rights reserved.) 

Urban Sketchers

(image from Virginia Hein.  All Rights Reserved)
The good people at land8lounge tipped me off to Urban Sketchers, a great blog dedicated to sharing user-generated sketches from around the world.  As their website explains,
Urban Sketchers is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising the artistic, storytelling and educational value of location drawing, promoting its practice and connecting people around the world who draw on location where they live and travel.
The site features an impressive stylistic diversity, and its content is updated daily for a regular dose of inspiration.  For LA residents, check out the work of Virginia Hein, one of the site's featured correspondents.  Virginia is a Pasadena-based toy designer, illustrator, and drawing and design instructor with a great collection of watercolors and sketches from around Los Angeles.  Her inspiration?  She is "drawn to places that feel like the “old” Los Angeles (which is relative of course!). I never tire of the effects of atmosphere (what some unkindly call smog!), the verticals of the palm trees and horizontals of freeways… and the many brush-covered hills."

(image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.)
The LA Times has a great story and accompanying interactive photo gallery comparing parts of downtown from 1951 to today.  Both sets of photographs were taken from the observation deck at City Hall, and provide an interesting glimpse into how much turnover can happen in 50-plus years, as well as a glimpse into the layered history of downtown. 
When the first set was shot in January 1951, City Hall was California's tallest building, a literal and figurative symbol of the power of the metropolis' downtown. By law, no building could be built to overshadow the structure.

What surrounded it was a city in transition: The Hollywood Freeway had opened in December 1950, cutting through a swath of the area, and many beaux-arts and Victorian structures had already been razed for parking lots.

Both of those developments portended the coming domination of the car -- and the corresponding boom of suburbia that would mark downtown's rapid decline.

. . . .

But take the elevator to the top of City Hall today, and there are signs of new development in downtown as well.

There are the sharp angles of the new Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, which opened just across the street in 2009; a new train line that stretches to the Eastside. And the downtown skyline keeps growing, this time to the south with a cluster of new condo and hotel towers rising near Staples Center.

From the top of City Hall, it's hard to tell that 40,000 people now live downtown, a dramatic demographic shift that is more easily detected on the streets of the city center.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Snow in the Mountains!

Okay, not the most dramatic picture possible of snow in the LA Basin, but still pretty cool to look across the valley just steps from the beach and see snow in the mountains. According to the LA Times, snow fell as low as 2,500 - 3,000 feet with another 6-12" expected by the end of next week. Another great photo from the LA Times here.

ASLA's New Sustainable Landscapes Online Showcase?

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has launched a new Sustainable Landscapes Online Showcase to highlight great examples of sustainable landscape design and the benefits they provide to the environment and our quality of life.  The initial offering includes 10 case-studies spanning a range of project types and regions.  Each case study includes project images, key benefits, a downloadable project fact sheet, and relevant links to learn more about the project. 

All told, the new initiative is a great start to publicizing sustainable landscape design for the public and professionals alike, but LA and western residents will find themselves appropriately disappointed in the lack of broad regional representation in the initial case studies (residents of the Midwest and South will find themselves equally underrepresented).  Of the ten initial projects, four come from the Pacific NW (two in Seattle, WA and two in Portland, OR),  and two come from the Northeast (one from NYC and one from Wellesley, MA).  In contrast, the West has only one project listed, a small residential project in SF, and the Southwest has no projects presented.  In other words, none of the case studies provide a true example of semi-arid or arid landscape design. 

Is it that no one is doing any sustainable design in the West, or that no great projects exist of semi-arid or arid design?  Hardly - in fact, recent project winners highlight the great sustainable design work going on in California, Arizona, and Texas.  Perhaps it is an example of regional bias, or a lack of proper exposure to the work going on outside of the Pacific NW or East Coast (some might argue the same problem of regional coverage in Landscape Architecture Magazine), but as someone that has lived and worked in California, Arizona, and Chicago, it is distressing to see none of the great worked from these regions represented on par with the Pacific NW or East.  If sustainability is truly a metric based largely on compatibility with one's surrounding ecological context, then we need to promote projects that respond to the many diverse ecological contexts that make up the US.

While Portland and Seattle certainly deserve a lot of credit for their innovative approach to environmental design, it is a disservice to the number of dedicated professionals throughout the country that none of their hard work is properly represented.  Hopefully with future iterations, the ASLA will showcase this work as well.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Designers Branching Out

Great story in the New York Times yesterday about designers branching out during a tough economy, including mention of LA-based Coolhaus ice cream sandwich truck.  LA residents can find the Coolhaus ice cream truck around town - check out their calendar on the Coolhaus webpage.
(images from NY Times. All rights reserved)

Environmental Hope - "A Cleaner Bill of Health for Santa Monica Bay"

Guess what - sometimes there is good news about the environment!  Especially when we take measures to stop pollution sources (I know, a very radical concept).  The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission (SMBRC) released their 2010 State of the Bay report, and it had some good news and hope for the future health of the bay.  As the LA Times reported, the assessment noted:
. . . the revival of bottom-dwelling marine life in the wake of treatment upgrades at the two big wastewater plants that empty into the bay several miles from shore. 

Diver surveys have documented sea animals and plants on the sea floor "where really it was barren before," said Shelley Luce, executive director of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, which issues the report every five years. "I think this is one of the more remarkable recoveries we've seen," she added.

"It's right up there with the return of the bald eagle and brown pelican."

Maybe not as visually dramatic: We're talking about snails and worms and other invertebrates crawling back into areas that for decades lacked the oxygen to support all but the most pollution-tolerant sea life.

While they might not be cuddly, charismastic megafauna, they are key elements of rebuilding an ocean ecology and hopefully signs of the bay's recovery.  Much work still remains to be done (note the historical contamination from DDT and PCBs persisting in sediment, and the ever present issue of urban runoff), but at least we can enjoy the return of invertebrates this time around.

Green Events Calender

Want to attend green events in LA, but aren't sure what's going on?  Check out Go To Green LA for a great calendar of events.  Coming up this week: free composting workshops, ecohome tours, volunteer expos, and green networking happy hours. (image from - all rights reserved)

Draft LID Ordinance Approved

Continuing the theme of stormwater management, I am happy to report that on Jan. 15th, the Los Angeles Board of Public Works unanimously approved a draft Low-Impact Development (LID) ordinance for LA.  The ordinance would require 100% of the runoff generated from a three-quarter-inch storm at newly constructed homes, larger developments and certain redevelopments to be captured and reused or infiltrated on site. If compliance is infeasible on site, developers could pay a stormwater pollution mitigation fee to help pay for off-site public LID projects like green streets and alleys.  Accordingly to Board of Public Works Commissioner Paula Daniels, "the new requirements would prevent 104 million gallons of polluted urban runoff from washing in to the ocean." (LA Times)  Supported design strategies in the ordinance include rainwater storage tanks, permeable pavement, infiltration swales or curb bumpouts to manage the water where it falls. A penalty of $13 per gallon of runoff that was not handled on site would be applied.

The ordinance will now move on to two more committees before facing a council vote and approval by the mayor.  Hopefully the ordinance will be approved in the next six months, and go in to effect by the end of 2010.  If so, next rainy season could be a whole lot greener.  For more information and coverage, check out Spouting Off - a blog by Mark Gold, President of Heal The Bay, for a great discussion on the significance of this ordinance, and LA Stormwater for a discussion of what LID is, including its benefits and examples of applications elsewhere.

How to Capture Rainwater

(image from
With all of this rain, why not think about capturing some of it on your property? For those new to the concept, check out TreePeople's great guide on how, and why, to capture rainwater.  Solutions discussed vary from more minor interventions to larger scale, more holistic water management approaches.  Or check out the L.A. Rainwater Harvesting Program for further tips, and how to apply for City funding in support of rainwater harvesting at your home or business.  Every little bit helps, especially when added together collectively.  So take a look - there is a solution to fit your property and resources.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


(image from 
Definitely love this cool, geographic themed dinnerware collection called Topoware from designers Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino & Karola Torkos.  Why not make dinner both hip and more of a landscape-infused experience?

Solar Lease

(image from LA Times)
Despite all the rain this week, the sun will shine once again, and often, in LA.  So, for the solar curious without a large wallet, what cost-effective options exist for residential homeowners?  One new option is to lease solar panels from solar installer SolarCity Corp.  Recently awarded $60 million in new financing from PG&E accordingly to the LA Times, SolarCity offers an extensive lease program designed to make solar installation affordable and cost-beneficial for homeowners.  In essence, homeowners lease the equipment from SolarCity to buy the cheap electricity produced by the solar panels, but avoid any upfront installation costs because SolarCity owns and operates all of the equipment still.  Lease terms generally run for 15 years, with options for transfering, paying out, or taking the panels with you if you move before the term is over.

Still unsure whether leasing makes sense? Dwell Magazine had a great overview of the issues involved in buying or leasing solar panels, including an overview of SolarCity's program.  Ultimately, the article finds that if you want to own your own solar panels, buy them right away.  However, depending on the type of house you own, leasing can be a great option to support renewable energy production, and lower your electric bills by 15% on average.  The article provides this cost scenario supplied by SolarCity spokesman Jonathan Bass:
A typical three-bedroom home with a current electricity bill of $200 per month might lease a 4kW solar system. The new solar system will generate enough electricity to offset what the homeowner is currently paying to the utility company from $200 down to $60 per month. The SolarLease payment would be $0 down and $110 per month, amounting to a savings of $360 in the first year.
The other nice part about leasing? "The lease includes permit, installation, maintenance, a web monitoring system, and guaranteed production," says Bass.  As such, the agreement relies on a service versus an end product model.  Rather than selling consumers a solar panel that they have to maintain and eventually disgard, SolarCity provides the service of solar-powered electricity to consumers, while incurring the material costs.  Ideally, this model not only increases the ability of consumers to use solar-power, but will also motivate more cradle-to-cradle thinking in panel design to reduce the material cost for SolarCity and increase their profits. (See the great book "Natural Capitalism" for a great discussion of the potential benefits of this model)

SolarCity's Solar Calculator provides a great place to get an estimate on how much money you might be able to save with their lease program.  Of course every home will vary in how cost-effective this program will be, and factors such as roof slope and age will affect the overall lease cost, so be sure to do your homework. 

Real-Time Rain Data

(image from the LA Times)
Curious how much rain you really got by your house?  Check out the awesome LA Department of Public Works Water Resources Precipitation Page.  The site provides a city-wide map with default totals from the last 24 hours, and options for viewing precipitation totals ranging from 1 hour to 96 hours.  There are also links to rain totals from the last 30 days or for an entire season, including comparisons to our seasonal averages to know how well we are doing this year.

The good news: near my house we got over 3 inches in the past 96 hours.  The better news: reports say that overall LA is back above average for the this time of year.  Be sure to conserve - let's not waste the great week!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Richard Neutra, Architect: Sketches and Drawings

The Los Angeles Central Library is also hosting a great exhibit of drawings in their Getty Gallery by the famed architect Richard Neutra until March 28th, 2010.
“Richard Neutra, Architect: Sketches and Drawings”
May 3, 2009 – March 28, 2010
Central Library – Getty Gallery

The pieces range from early pencil sketches as a student to later pastel renderings of his Los Angeles houses from the 1950s. I had the chance to view the exhibit today, and was impressed by the range and quality of the drawings presented.  The exhibit showcases watercolors, ink drawings, pencil sketches, and pastels, and features both finished and study drawings.  I was particularly drawn to the significant number of landscape studies on display, and the joyfulness Neutra took in exploring various representation modes in architectural drawings.  It was also warming to see trace paper lovingly preserved by the curators despite torn edges and the effects of time on such a fragile, but vital, communication medium in the design fields.  Definitely worth the visit.

Postcard LA

The Los Angeles Central Library is a treasure in the heart of LA.  Not only is it a beautiful building flanked by the charming Maguire Gardens, it also puts on great programs and exhibits.  While in downtown this morning, I stopped by the Annenberg Gallery, and found a "Hollywood" themed exhibit of pieces from their special collections.  Among the maps,movie posters, and citrus labels, was a grouping of old postcards depicting the homes of celebrities in LA.  Seeing them got me thinking about how much postcards and media images craft our expectations of LA's landscape as a paradise on earth.  For non-residents and residents alike, these images of glamorous LA spoke of economic empowerment and a verdant paradise, leading people to move west and craft an LA much in this image.  And, looking at them today, they still feel quintessentially LA.  They still remain an image of something people aspire to in the land of dreams.  But, as we face serious water supply issues and the realities of sustainability in Southern California's Megapolis, isn't it time for a new image of LA?

LA makes list of 50 Top Low-Car Cities

Human Transit had an interesting group of observations today about how we move towards a low-car city based on a listing of the Top 50 Low-Car Cities in the US (defined by populations of over 100,000) pulled from Wikipedia and the Carfree Census Database.  Not surprisingly, the New York Metro area dominated the top three spots, and was followed primarily by east coast cities in the top 10.  California did make the list though, with San Francisco taking the 14th spot, and East LA sitting at #32 and LA at #49 overall. 
1. New York City, New York 55.7%
2. Newark, New Jersey 44.17%
3. Jersey City, New Jersey 40.67%
4. Washington, D.C. 36.93%
5. Hartford, Connecticut 36.14%
6. Baltimore, Maryland 35.89%
7. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 35.74%
8. Boston, Massachusetts 34.91%
9. Buffalo, New York 31.42%
10. New Haven, Connecticut 29.74%
. . .
14. San Francisco, California 28.56%
32. East Los Angeles, California 21.24%
36. Oakland, California 19.62%
45. Berkeley, California 17.01%
49. Los Angeles, California 16.53%
And, as Human Transit notes, the list deals with "incorporated cities, which are things of very unequal size and shape bearing little relation to the organic form of urban regions.  For example, Los Angeles at #49 would score much higher if the vast low-density San Fernando Valley were not part of the incorporated city, and high-density innermost suburbs like East Los Angeles (#39) were included instead."  In other words, on the bright side of things, car happy LA is actually more of a low-car city than expected.

The article posits three key factors behind low-car ownership: age, poverty, and dominant universities.  As such, older cities score well because they were built well before the car was commonplace, producing a functional urban infrastructure for residents without a car.  Poverty obviously mitigates the economic ability of residents to own cars, and a dominant university population increases density without a need or ability to own cars.

Interestingly, green guru city of the West, Portland did not even make the top 50th low-car cities, prompting another fascinating question from the article:
How long will it take for a city that lacks age, poverty, or dominant universities to achieve the kind of low car ownership that these 50 demonstrate?  How soon, for example, will a city be able to create a combination of density, design, and mixture of uses that yields the same performance as an old city that naturally has those features?

Portland is probably the most promising such city in the US, and it's not on the list.  Only 14% of households there don't have a car, so it's probably well down in the second 50.  Like many cities, Portland has been doing everything it can to build a dense mixed-use urban environment.  It's the sort of city that convinces the Safeway supermarket chain to rebuild their store with townhouses and residential towers on top.  But while people are moving into the inner city, they don't seem to be selling their cars when they do, nor do they seem to be going to work by transit

While Portland is successfully moving towards a dense urban condition, is appears people may not be willing to give up their cars yet.   So, is there much hope for traffic clogged LA?  No doubt we need to reduce the number of automobiles, and even more importantly, automobile trips in Los Angeles to improve environmental quality and alleviate traffic.  Hopefully downtown's resurgence and improved urban design and transit initiatives throughout the city will keep moving us toward this lofty goal.  While much remains to be done, at least our place on the list provides some hope that a less car-centered LA may be in our a future.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Santa Monica Palisades Garden Walk Finalists Announced

View of Project Site and Context.  Project will take place in large dirt area east of the Santa Monica Pier. 
(image from

I am a bit late on this announcement, but the City of Santa Monica has selected 6 finalists for the high-profile Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square project.   The impressive group includes: Peter Walker and Partners, Gehry Partners, James Corner Field Operations, Studio Works, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, and SWA Group.

The project will redevelop a large patch of dirt between the Santa Monica Pier and the Santa Monica City Hall (see detailed view of project site to the right - image courtesy of City of Santa Monica).  The project will include 7 acres of park space bordered by future residential development with the goal of creating a dynamic open space that will connect the Santa Monica Civic Center to the rest of the city. The project scope is summed up well by Architect's Newspaper, which first reported the finalists in December:
According to the project’s RFQ, the Town Square, adjacent to Santa Monica’s City Hall, is set to be a space for cultural and civic events, while the Palisades Garden Walk, to its south, will focus on the city’s unique “cultural” and “horticultural” offerings, including a botanical element and water features. Adjacent streetscape improvements, as well as pedestrian and bicycle paths, will connect the parks to the city, while Moore Ruble Yudell’s Santa Monica Village will sit just adjacent. The city has committed $25 million for design and construction of the project, and construction is planned to begin in August 2011.
Funding for the project was approved in June, and interviews will occur this month with a winner chosen sometime shortly thereafter.   The selection panel is said to include Ken Smith and USC architecture dean Qingyun Ma.  A public process will be implemented by the winning team to help develop the final plan.

More coverage of the project can be found at the following websites:
The Dirt
Curbed LA
Santa Monica City Government - RFQ and Base Images

Peter Walker's South Coast

 Here is a little taste of a part of Peter Walker's South Coast Plaza Tower and Town Center Park project.  Sadly I was there a little bit too early in the morning to get the project in its best light, but the sculptural quality of the clipped boxwood hedges remains impressive on my second visit to the project.  The ability of the hedges to create space and exhibit light at different times of the day is really spectacular.

Beyond the rhythmic design quality, though, I was also struck by two thoughts as I wandered through this landscape.  One, I was intrigued by the opportunistic spider webs that have begun to cover the tops of the hedges.  It seemed to reinforce the reality that any design, particularly landscape architecture projects dealing with living organisms as materials, will have unexpected outcomes.  Perhaps some spider infestation was expected, but the large prevalence on the tightly clipped tops of the shrubs suggests that the design's sculpting of the hedges actually generated a more positive condition for spider habitat to flourish.  Second, in this day and age of sustainability concerns, I was left wondering whether projects with large maintenance inputs will be worth maintaining long into Southern California's future?  To be fair to the designers, I am not being critical of their choices as this project is over 20 years old and reflects a different era and attitude.  But, the question remains as to whether the aesthetic quality of the project still merits the costs of its upkeep?  And, how do clients or designers make that decision?  Or, in a related question for issues of preservation, at what point does a project's significance justify the energy it takes to maintain it, not just culturally, but ecologically?  Especially as concerns over water use, restoration of biodiversity, and energy use increase in the near future, Los Angeles's design community and citizenry are faced with the challenge of balancing regenerative design with aesthetic expression in our existing and future designed landscapes.

Wednesday Jan. 20th - Public Workshop for 2010 Urban Water Management Plan

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is holding a public workshop tomorrow, Wednesday Jan. 20th, at 5:00pm to elicit views on the future of Los Angeles’s water supply.   

What:     LA DWP 2010 Urban Water Management Plan Public
When:    Wednesday, January 20, 5:00 P.M.
              Los Angeles River Center – Los Feliz Room
              570 West Avenue 26

Last updated in 2005, the City is now preparing its 2010 Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP).  The UWMP
deals with the management and development of water resources, including efforts relating to the efficient use of water, existing and future water conservation measures, water recycling, and management of the City’s groundwater basins.   The workshop will feature a presentation followed by a group discussion.

More information on the workshop is available at LADWP's website or by contacting Simon Hsu at (213) 367-2970, or

Monday, January 18, 2010

Go Green Expo - Jan. 22nd - 24th

The Go Green Expo is coming to the Los Angeles Convention Center Jan. 22nd - Jan. 24th.    Friday is dedicated to a business-to-business expo, with both Saturday and Sunday open to the public.  The expo will feature environmentally friendly products and services, speakers, and a career fair related to the green industry.

Well Needed Rain!

Great news - a week full of rain is on the forecast, something we desperately need despite the inconvenience it may add to our lives. According to the Metropolitian Water District of Southern California, water reserve levels have dropped consistently since 2006 (see graphic from MWD's website to the right).  For example:
In June, 2005 the elevation of Lake Oroville was 897.12 feet. By February, 2008 the elevation had dropped to 719.86 feet. The lake lost 2,079,738 Acre Feet of water during that time.
They have some telling time lapse photos of Lake Oroville and other regional reservoirs on their website.  Hopefully this week will help bump water levels up locally, and build up a large snowpack regionally for our water supply throughout the year.

To find out ways you can reduce your water consumption, check out MWD's great outreach website: BeWaterWise

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Wayne Thiebaud + Frances Gearhart at PMCA

Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) is hosting a retrospective of Wayne Theibaud's paintings and a selection of Frances Gearhart's block prints of the California and Pacific Coast landscapes.  Although the shows have been up since October, I finally visited today, and all I can say is wow!  I have always been a fan of Thiebaud's work, but was blown away by how vibrant, graphic, and textural the paintings are in person.  And, I continue to appreciate his rich, quirky paintings of the California landscape even more since moving into the field of landscape architecture.  There is something about the bright palette, skewed perspective, and joyful presentation that rekindles a deep appreciation for the beauty of California's natural and urban landscapes.  In contrast, the skillful block prints by Gearhart showcase an Arts and Crafts sensibility that celebrates a naturalistic vision of California.  Gearhart's attention to detail and compositional ability also shine through in the exhibit.  While both artists provide unique representations, a common appreciation for California permeates with equal measures of compositional and graphic inspiration for all designers and artists to draw upon.  Hurry, as the exhibitions close on Jan. 31st.

"Empty LA"

(images from All rights reserved by Matt Logue)
The LA Times showcased the most recent project by photographer Matt Logue the other day.  Titled "Empty LA", the four-year project depicts an uninhabited Los Angeles.  Logue used a method he describes as a digital mosaic to piece together hundreds of pictures of recognizable locations shot during low-traffic times to produce images without a trace of people or cars.  The work is both lonely and peaceful at the same time, and generates a quiet appreciation for the city.  You can order copies of his book or see more of the work here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A + D Museum: Spring Urban Hike Schedule Announced

(image from All rights reserved by A+D Museum Los Angeles)
Don't know much about Los Angeles, or ever wondered more about the urban environment in which you live?  The Los Angeles Architecture + Design Museum have teamed up with Mike Sonksen (aka Mike the PoeT) to showcase the hidden jewels of LA.  Each "hike" explores a diverse and interesting community of Los Angeles, offering cultural, historical, and architectural backgrounds to the neighborhoods along with a  unique poetry performance by Mike. Their Spring Urban Hike schedule includes:
1/31 -   Downtown's Historic Core
2/7 -    Koreatown
2/27 - Boyle Heights (Including a Goldline Ride)
All tours start at 11AM, and are free for A+D members.  General admission tickets are $15, or $5 dollars for students per tour.  A three-tour package is also available for  $30. RSVP at or 323.932.9393.

Orange County Great Park

Is there a bigger project potentially affecting the future of the Los Angeles / Orange County region than the Orange County Great Park?  After hearing all of the press, and getting a chance to listen to designers Ken Smith and Mia Lehrer talk about the project at this year's ASLA Convention, I finally got to visit the initial offering of the park this past October.  While only 27-acres of the 1,347 acre project, the 2009 ASLA Award winning Preview Park project is functioning as a prototyping ground for the rest of the park.  Design ideas, details, and materials are being tested while initial events are being implemented to promote use of the space by nearby residents.

The Balloon Observation platform provides the showpiece and primary activity of the Preview Park.  Guests get a free ride 400 feet in the air on the balloon with great views of the surrounding landscape, and what will eventually become the rest of the park.  As of yet, there is little to see, but the ride does provide an interesting opportunity to understand the true scale of the project.  Protected by large berms covered in deergrass and slopes of reused concrete slab, the element of arrival at the balloon is well conceived.

Also well-conceived are the various site furnishings and details throughout the preview park, including a number of bench, light, and swale concepts.  The only criticism is that they feel a bit incongruous once you leave the observation platform, most likely because different styles, materials, and ideas are being tested all in one location.  Future editing will probably help resolve this lack of cohesion.  The last major element in the Preview Park is the beginning of the graphic  timeline which tells the story of the park's cultural history for visitors.

Overall, the Preview Park intimated a graphic-oriented, highly-detailed, and richly textured future for the Great Park that builds off the history of the former airfield.  Beyond some lack of cohesion across the whole 27-acres, the biggest concern that jumped out to me was the need for ongoing maintenance throughout the park.  While the vivid orange chosen for the balloon and park details effectively brands the project, it is not performing well in an exterior environment.  The faded balloon provides the most notable example of this,although efforts are underway to use a different material and coating to project the longevity of the color.

While the ultimate success (let alone funding) of the massive park is still up in the air, the Preview Park is full of interesting design ideas, and provides great potential for the future outcome of the park.
(images from author, all rights reserved)

Thursday, January 14, 2010


For those not sure what Guerilla Gardening is, a few quotes from LA's Guerilla Gardening Chapter (LAGG) website sum it up:
"The illicit cultivation of someone else's land." - Richard Reynolds
"Gardening public space with or without permission." - David Tracey

Guerrilla Gardening is a grass-roots, worldwide movement begun in London that has a radical name and what some might perceive as a revolutionary agenda because of its manner of appropriating public or private space towards a communal good.  Empty lots, barren planters, weed filled right-of-ways, and even posters are appropriated under the cover of darkness to grow plants, and so-called "seed bombs" are thrown to propagate wildflowers and beautify neighborhoods.  Most often these unused spaces are converted into flower beds, but some groups have converted these spaces into productive urban agriculture landscapes or native plant havens.

This appropriation of spaces could be illegal depending on the locality, although the (il)legality of the act is lot more murky in Los Angeles.  Interestingly, though, many groups have found not just community members but property owners, and even municipalities, receptive to these initiatives.  In large part this has been the case in Los Angeles, probably due to the LAGG's mission which seems to be more of a community-based approach to improving our often neglected public spaces than an assault on private property.  As LAGG describes it, their mission is:
"To not only get our hands dirty and start gardens all over Los Angeles, but to become a resource for other potential Guerrilla Gardeners and a homebase for people interested in brightening their own communities."
That doesn't mean they aren't stirring things up, and enjoying the anti-establishment edge of the movement.  Many members have adopted clever pseudonyms (Phil O'Dendron and Lord Aloe are two personal favorites), and the group coordinates a number of social outings with the air of cloak and dagger ecological missions.  Ultimately, that might be the greatest success of the Guerilla Gardening movement is interjecting some intrigue, coolness, fun, hipness, and sexiness into gardening.  They aren't just planting a few shrubs, they are part of an anti-establishment movement.

Whether the groups mission seems overly radical to you, it is certainly an opportunity to work together to maximize the limited open space we have in urban areas to transform them into functioning aesthetic and ecological elements within the urban fabric.  Perhaps the key for even wider adoption is working to create partnerships that don't require the cloak of darkness to achieve this, even if the bandanas make it hip to be an urban gardener.

Some cool links about Guerilla Gardening in LA and beyond:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Wanted to share M&A (or Materials and Applications), an interesting architecture and design collective in los angeles exploring temporary spaces, community involvement, and sustainable design through ephemeral art projects.  They have a permanent display space in Silverlake, and work on a variety of projects throughout LA.  Their summer 2009 installation, Back to Basics, was a "rainwater-fed aquaoponic fish taco farm".  Their current project is in production right now and will open at Barnsdall Park on Jan. 31st.  The LA Times provided a great profile of the group a few weeks back, and more info can be found at their website.