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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase

This Sunday was the 2nd Annual Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase.  The tour is hosted by the Green Committee of the Mar Vista Community Council, and features over 80 different homes.  As the website describes:
This free, self guided garden tour is all about water conservation. These homeowners have all made choices to eliminate or reduce turf lawns and have created gardens that thrive in our Southern California climate while using minimal water. Many are investing the water they use to grow fruits and vegetables for their families to enjoy.
Fortunately, I live just down the road from part of the tour, so was able to hop on my bike, and enjoy the afternoon seeing about 10 houses that ranged from highly designed, horticultural gardens to self-described rock gardens.  Each garden provided a different look at water conservation, but all featured permeable surfaces, and low-water use plants.  Some of the yards had been converted to edible gardens, growing artichokes, lettuces, snap peas, chards, strawberries, and tomatoes among others.  I was also able to stop by the Venice High School Learning Garden, one of the more extensive school gardening programs in Los Angeles.  It was a great facility that features a range of demonstration gardens and plots tended by students at the high school.

Although I really enjoyed the aesthetics of some of the professionally or highly-designed gardens, there was something sort of wonderful about the home grown "rock people" and like-minded, willing amateurs who took a lot of pride in pulling out their lawn and putting in a few plants.  While the yards were certainly not showpieces, the owners took as much if not more pride in it as people might talk about their lawns.  But it wasn't simply about aesthetics, they felt a real sense of empowerment and pride about doing their part - displaying a sort of DIY ethos for sustainability.

Overall, it was a great event that not only provided inspiration for people to rethink their yards, but also a forum for community members to interact with each other.  Look forward to attending next year.
  Raised bed made out of straw waddles (erosion control devices)
  Traditional raised bed
 The Desert Garden at the Venice Learning Garden

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Casa Dominguez - Affordable Housings Goes Green

(image from LA Times. All Rights Reserved)
The LA Times had a great profile of Casa Dominguez, an affordable housing development in Compton that is poised to become the first LEED Platinum affordable housing project.  Hopefully the project will serve as an example for how to bring sustainability and green design to people often left behind by the marketplace, and underscore the power design has to change people's outlook.  As the article points out:
Geneva Mason, 23, who is transitioning out of foster care and is 7 months pregnant, began talking about her new lifestyle in the building by making a confession:

"I'm not going to lie. I was once a litterbug," she said. "But ever since I moved into the green environment, I'm more about picking up litter. Once you go through the gates … it's like a little town of its own — lovely, fresh. I'm excited about raising my child here."

Conservation Efforts Work

Despite a former vice president's belief to the contrary, conservation efforts work quite well.  Case in point,  Los Angeles.  The LA Department of Water and Power reported on Tuesday that "despite a population growth of 1 million people, the residents and businesses of Los Angeles are using the same amount of water now that was used in 1979."  DWP noted that the average residential customer has cut water use by 29.2 percent the past 9 months following the institution of mandatory conservation limits.
"Our customers' ability to reach 1970's water use levels at a time when our city's population has grown by more than a million people is truly remarkable," DWP Board President Lee Kanon Alpert said. "Angelenos understand the urgency for water conservation.
. . .
"Their actions show it, and we thank them for understanding the severity of the ongoing water crisis in our state."
. . .
During the nine months that these restrictions have been in place, Angelenos have cut their water use by nearly 30 billion gallons -- enough to serve 231,000 households for a year, according to the DWP.  As a result, the DWP is slated to purchase 16 percent less water from the Metropolitan Water District than it had planned to, during the current fiscal year.
. . .
The amount of water used last February was the lowest recorded water use during any February in 32 years, according to the DWP, which serves about 680,000 water customer accounts in Los Angeles.
It also marked the 31st consecutive month of reduced water use by the DWP's single-family residential customers. During that period, they collectively slashed consumption by about 30 percent, the DWP said.

"In a time when water resources are scarce throughout the state, Los Angeles is taking the lead and setting an example on how to conserve water and maintain a sustainable water supply," said James McDaniel, DWP's senior assistant general manager for its water system.

"The more we can rely on our city's available water resources, the better prepared we are to get through this water crisis as a state," McDaniel added.

Angelenos whose lawns are turning brown because of the water restrictions can take advantage of the DWP's turf removal program, which rebates customers $1 per square foot of lawn removed and replaced by drought- tolerant plants or permeable hardscape. The rebate limit is $2,000. (from NBC4-Los Angeles)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Council District Nine Neighborhood City Hall

 View from roof garden of arrival courtyard, stormwater pond, and solar panels.
As part of National Landscape Architecture Month, the SoCal ASLA Chapter hosted a lecture and tour at the new Los Angeles Council District Nine Neighborhood City Hall.  The lecture included a talk by Simon Pastucha from the City of Los Angeles Urban Design Department, and an introduction of the project by the designers and project sponsor, District 9 Councilmember Jan Perry.  Paul Murdoch Architects, Rana Creek, and Pamela Burton and Company designed the project, which offers an interesting approach to green urban infrastructure in the park poor, highly urban area of South Central Los Angeles.  The 37,000 acre site was envisioned as two things: first, a demonstration site for sustainable technologies for the surrounding community, and, second, as a new, safe open space for the community.  The resulting design incorporates a 7,000gallon underground cistern, a stormwater collection pond, green walls, parking lot bioswales, drought-tolerant plantings, solar panels, and a huge, accessible roof garden designed as a new community open space.  Open since January, the project has already been a huge success, and hosted a number of community events.  As Councilmember Perry noted, the site has provided a space for people of all ages to gather at night safely, and has also reintroduced a bit of nature into the highly urban environment.  Both squirrels and butterflies have been seen on the site, which most of us might consider seemingly common elements, but rare are features in District 9.  Great project, and great model for ways to retrofit our built environment.
Stormwater management pond with rain chain
View of the accessible roof garden.  A mix of succulents, grasses, and wildflowers fill the planters.  A strong scent of sage permeated the space when we visited.
View of the parking lot and bioswales used to manage runoff. 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Arid Lands Recap #2

(Image from Fritz Haeg.  All Rights Reserved.)
The Second Workshop in the Arid Lands Series was “Smart Landscapes: Yard, Driveway, Sidewalk, Street” and featured a talk by artist Fritz Haeg, architect Holly Harper, and landscape architect David Fletcher.  Fritz Haeg talked about his ongoing "Edible Estates" art project that has converted 8 lawns around the world into high-profile food producing gardens for the homeowners and residents.  Holly Harper discussed some of her work with the non-profit Northeast Trees which was founded by a landscape architect and installs urban green infrastructure in Los Angeles, including street trees and alternative stormwater infrastructure.  And David Fletcher discussed the different design strategies available for stormwater management, and presented some interesting case studies and conceptual work demonstrating how these tools can be applied to a site in a functional and aesthetic fashion.

By far some of the best quotables came from Fritz Haeg, in part because his project is designed to be provocative.  However, Holly's talk provided a nice technical case study of how you can build in stormwater capacity into an existing street with 95% impermeability, and David provided a nice conceptual framework for designers to think about how stormwater management can be part of an aesthetic language that has cultural meaning and beauty beyond the purely technical innovation these new strategies represent.  Below are some of the interesting tidbits (recorded and or paraphrased to my best ability) that came out of the talk:

“Lawn is the biggest crop in the United States (if you include our front yards in the equation)” - Fritz Haeg

"I like to create landscapes that demand participation. You can't learn to grow food from the internet, you have to interact with people." - Fritz Haeg

"People make decisions (about our built environment) that we are left with." - Fritz Haeg

"Multifunctional design is like the difference between a regular knife that can cut things and a Swiss Army Knife that can still cut like a knife, but it also has all of these other capabilities." - David Fletcher

Arid Lands Workshop Recap #1

The past few Saturdays, I attended the First (“Smart Buildings: Green Roofs and Green Walls”) and Second (“Smart Landscapes: Yard, Driveway, Sidewalk, Street”) Workshops of the Arid Lands Institute’s spring series.  The workshops provided a great overview of the design strategies and opportunities available now to rethink how we design our built environment.  Although the information was a bit general for any informed attendees, the workshops provided some poignant facts, great ideas, and inspiring project examples.  Below are some of the highlights from the First Workshop.

"Smart Buildings: Green Roofs and Green Walls"
The workshop began with an introduction by Hadley Arnold, Director of the Arid Lands Institute, on the importance of the Energy - Water nexus.  Hadley laid out critical goals for the workshops and the Arid Land Institute, and described the challenges facing our region relating to water and energy.  Some points of note from her introduction:
1. Los Angeles is roughly 70 - 80% impermeable
2. To produce energy requires a lot of water, and to use water requires a lot of energy.
3. The State of California is the single largest user of electricity in the state, using the power to pump water from northern to southern California.  The second largest user, Metro Water.
4. Slow it. Soak it. Sink it. Store it. Save it. (a familiar mantra for water management)
Given these challenges, she underscored the need for us to "rethink every surface of the built environment," and pull two ideas from the workshops:
1. Link Energy + Water
2. Localize Water Management 
After her introduction, Landscape Architect Stephanie Landregan, and Architects Deborah Richmond and Linda Taalman presented issues surrounding the use of green roofs and green walls.  Although they presented some interesting work and project examples, I found their ending of a working summary of Plant Rules to live by a nice, succinct expression of sustainable tenets for design professionals and citizens alike to embrace. Below is an abbreviated list of them:
1. Water Plants (not sidewalk and driveway)
2. Locals Only (use native plants)
3. Breath Air
4. Feed Bees and Butterflies
5. Launder your lawn (graywater reuse)
6. Eat your lawn (convert to an edible estate)
7. Raise the ground (put it on your roof)
8. Hang Plants (green walls and facades)
9. Save Gas, not Grass (stop mowing)

Friday, April 9, 2010

National Landscape Architecture Month

It's April and that means it's National Landscape Architecture Month. The Southern California ASLA Chapter has a number of good events lined up for the month, including a tour this Saturday of the Council District 9 Neighborhood City Hall by Pamela Burton and Company that features a green roof, solar panels, and a graywater reuse system (see poster below).

Other events include lectures by Mia Lehrer and Ken Smith, and tours of Vista Hermosa Park and Valley Crest Tree Nursery.  More information on all of the events is available at the Southern California ASLA webpage.

2010 AIA Los Angeles Spring Home Tour I

 (image from Interior Design Magazine.  All Rights Reserved)
This Sunday, April 11th from 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM is the AIA Los Angeles Spring 2010 tour.  This spring the tour is in Venice, and features homes by Abramson Teiger Architects, Bestor Architecture, Irani Architects, and Tighe Architecture.  Last day for online tickets is today with prices running from $65.00 - $75.00 depending on your affiliations.  Architects / Designers and docents will be on hand to answer questions and talk about the home.  More info available at AIA Los Angeles and a few images from Interior Design.

Theodore Payne Foundation Home Tour

This weekend is the 7th Annual Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour.  For $20, attendees get a chance to visit over 50 native plant gardens throughout Los Angeles.  Some great teaser images and more information are available at the Theodore Payne Foundation website.
7th Annual Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour
When Apr 10-11th, 2010
Description:  On Saturday, April 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. visit fabulous native plant gardens from Brentwood to the mid-Wilshire district to Santa Monica to Torrance. Sunday, April 11, same hours, view gardens in the San Fernando to San Gabriel valleys. Only $20 for your choice of nearly 50 native plant gardens on view through this self-driven tour. Learn how to save water and wildlife while creating a beautiful garden -- the Garden Tour is an educational and inspiring event! The plants are labeled at every garden, and docents and homeowners are there to answer your questions. Have some fun and invite a friend!
 (images from Theodore Payne Foundation.  All Rights Reserved.)