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Monday, May 31, 2010

30 Seconds of Awesome

Kudos to Streetsblog Los Angeles for posting about "30 seconds of Awesome,"  a recent project by a UCLA Architecture graduate student that basically co-opted the 38 seconds of pedestrian only crossing time at Westwood and Le Conte Boulevards as an urban playground for willing college kids. 
Krisztina Jozsef, a second year graduate student in UCLA's architecture department designed what she termed "30 Seconds of Awesome."  Basically, during the thirty eight seconds of "pedestrian only" time in the intersection of Westwood and Le Conte, a couple of dozen students run out in the intersection and basically play in the street.  First a couple of warm-ups then tug-of-war, water balloons (with a clean-up time), jump rope, hula hoops, limbo and, most impressively, volley ball.  The students were in and out of the intersection before regular car traffic resumed, with Professor Mark Mack wearing what looked to be an orange prison jump suit yelling out the remaining time into a mega phone.
The project was built off the success of ideas such as Parking Day, Critical Mass, Ciclovia, and Flash Mob events that look to reprogram existing urban spaces as pedestrian zones, and create new recreational places to encourage healthy living.  Unfortunately, the project was just a one-time event, but it reminds me a lot of when I was a kid, and the street was used by people for block parties or wiffle ball and football games.  Cars still drove by, but the game would simply pause amid cries of "game off" until the coast was clear, and then resume with a chorus of "game on."  Great idea, and a reminder of ways we can reevaluate our existing neighborhoods. 

More videos, including Yoga and Tug of War, are available on LA StreetsBlog YouTube channel.

California Scenario turns 30

Famed artist, sculptor, and landscape designer Isamu Noguchi's California Scenario project in Costa Mesa is celebrating it's 30th anniversary this year.  The Dirt reports that to commemorate the milestone, the Noguchi Museum in New York has a new exhibition discussing the work, complete with photographs, models, and video. 
The Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, New York, has marked the thirtieth anniversary of famed modern artist Isamu Noguchi’s California Scenario with a new exhibition. The public garden, commissioned by developer and philanthropist Henry T. Segerstrom, is located in Costa Mesa, California. The exhibition explores the design of garden through photographs, models, and video.
In 1979, Segerstrom asked Noguchi to design a public garden to enhance two office towers built on family land once used as a lima bean farm. While Segerstrom initially wanted a lush retreat, Noguchi instead created a simple stone plaza with a few green spaces. The Noguchi Museum writes that the artist first conceived the project as an “abstract metaphor for the state of California, from the Sierras, to the desert, to the woods. In addition to including redwoods and cacti, among other native plants, it encompasses a number of individual elements designed by the artist to evoke some of California’s salient characteristics.”

The garden features a crack filled with water and stones, which functions as a stream beginning at the thirty-foot-high sandstone triangle named “Water Source” and ending at “Water Use,” a granite wedge. ”Forest Walk” takes visitors past a patch of California redwoods and “Desert Land” features a “symmetrical mound planted with a variety of cacti, agave, and other desert plants.” The sculpture “Spirit of the Lima Bean,” twelve-feet-high carved granite boulders, educates visitors about the earlier use of the site.

Segerstrom and Noguchi worked on the project for two years. Today, it’s a well-visited (and well-maintained) site open to all. In fact, Segerstrom “personally ensured” California Scenario was well-preserved over the long-term.  The exhibition is open through October 24, 2010.
Sadly for us, the exhibit is in New York, but fortunately for us, the actual work is still open to the public in Costa Mesa. So, while you can't go to the exhibit without a plane ticket, you can enjoy the unique sculpture garden in person with a short drive to Two Town Center next to South Coast Plaza.  While there, you can also see a classic Peter Walker design. 

(images from The Dirt, courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.  All Rights Reserved.)

SSI - Pilot Projects Selected

The Sustainable Sites Initiative has selected over 150 Pilot Projects for testing out the new SSI rating system.  California has a total of  21 projects represented, with 6 in the Los Angeles Region.  The projects represent a broad cross-section of development types, and final results of the Pilot Project studies should conclude in June 2012.  Below are summaries of the 6 Los Angeles Area projects from the SSI website:
Annenberg Project at Lower Point Vicente
Rancho Palos Verdes, California

Project Type:
Project Team:
Annenberg Foundation, Melendrez, KPFF Consulting Engineers, Swatt / Miers Architects, Ganahl Construction Corporation
The vision for this education and family destination is to create an area that connects the community to the ocean and the land, providing education, interpretative facilities, and recreational opportunities, linking the site to the trails at the Vicente Bluffs Reserve and beyond. Careful consideration is being given to the potential impact of the improvements on the surrounding environment, especially to neighboring homes.

Bioswales and Landscaping at Glen Oaks/Sunland Boulevards
Los Angeles, California

Project Type:
Transportation corridors/Streetscape
Project Team:
Hollywood Beautification Team, City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works
This streetscape project will install bioswales, remove asphalt from medians, and install trees and plantings at the intersection of Glen Oaks and Sunland Boulevards in the San Fernando Valley. Storm water flooding will be mitigated and water will be captured and added to the water table for later use. The project is also associated with an ongoing job training program. 

Headwaters Corner at Calabasas
Calabasas, California

Project Type:
Project Team:
Mountains Restoration Trust
Headwaters Corner is a 12-acre interpretive center in the critical urban/wildland interface of Los Angeles and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation area. The goal of the project is to demonstrate to people how to be a positive factor in the ecosystem. The site contains a perennial headwater stream to the Los Angeles River, and representative examples of 5 plant communities: riparian, wetland, oak woodland, coastal sage scrub and grassland. Two single family structures are adapted for education and administration purposes with the intent to use them in green demonstrations. 

Magnolia Power Plant
Burbank, California

Project Type:
Project Team:
Burbank Water and Power; AHBE Landscape Architects
The Magnolia Power Plant, operated by Burbank Water and Power is an exemplary model in sustainable design from its high-efficiency heat recovery steam generator down to the shared bikes throughout the plant's campus for employee transportation. Examples also include the plant's power generation which uses recycled water for steam, landscape areas use recycled water for irrigation which are managed by climate-based irrigation controllers and are planted with native, and/or drought tolerant species and a vegetated green roof. Currently in the design phase is a public green street demonstration project that is planned along the western edge of the campus as a means to communicate innovative stormwater management technologies to the city and adjacent community.  


Rancho Mirage, California

Project Type:
Project Team:
Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, Ganahl Construction, The Cultural Landscape
This project will improve the sustainability of the landscape at this 200-acre estate that hosts world leaders and dignitaries and is open to the public for tours. There will be a significant reduction in grassy areas, more native plants, an updated irrigation system, multiple steps for water conservation, and more. Adaptations and enhancements to the care and maintenance will demonstrate the protection of a landmark site, while bringing it closer to sustainability.

The Annenberg Center at Sunnylands

Rancho Mirage, California

Project Type:
Project Team:
Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, Ganahl Construction, the Office of James Burnett
A new garden is being constructed at The Annenberg Center at Sunnylands. The garden design is based on Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art with repetition and massing of desert plants suited to the natural climatic conditions of the site. A highly efficient, fine-tuned irrigation system will minimize water requirements, while greenwaste will be recycled and reused. The importance of sustainability is threaded throughout the larger Center and will continue through the garden.  

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Freeway System for Bikes

 (Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved)
In the city known for its freeways, why shouldn't LA also have bike freeways?  I am late publicizing this effort, but thought it was a worthwhile one to pass along.  The L.A. Bike Working Group proposed a Backbone Bike Network to the City of Los Angeles to provide a network of continuous, long distance bike infrastructure for Los Angeles citizens.  The network would utilize major streets to help bikers get from one end of the city to the other successfully.  As the LA Times notes:
Conceptual maps of the proposed Backbone Bikeway Network envision a network of long-distance routes designed to provide cyclists safe passage between different neighborhoods along heavily-traveled corridors, including Wilshire, Venice, Whittier and Sepulveda boulevards.

"The city really is more palatable when you have a straight shot through it, with less lights and less stop signs," said Mihai Peteu, 28, who helped design the map after holding public meetings with cyclists throughout the city. "I think cyclists deserve to have something similar to the freeway system."

It's just an idea, Peteu said. But given a little funding to paint bike lanes, improve the pavement and create shared bike-car lanes called sharrows, such a system could give cyclists a speedier way around town.
There is no doubt that the strength of the plan lies in its focus on high-profile, direct corridors to different parts of the city.  As opposed to avoiding heavily trafficked areas, or creating circuitous bike routes out of side streets, the plan proposes affording bicycles the same direct routes through the city that cars use, with the potential to encourage more people to consider biking as a viable option for longer-distance trips, or daily commutes. It will be interesting to see whether the city adopts it. 

Walking in LA: Myth or Reality?

Ever since moving to Los Angeles, the pop culture myth cemented by the band Missing Persons has been traveling in my head: "Walking in LA, Nobody Walks in LA."  This concept has traveled with me on my own walks in my neighborhood, and even on my drives throughout the basin, leaving me with the question: Does really nobody walk in LA?  

My own anecdotal experience points to the contrary.  People do walk in LA, and bike, and actually do so on a regular basis.  In fact, beyond the traffic and large number of daily car trips that happen outside my window, my neighborhood also scores in the top 15% for walkability in the nation.  And, a recent series from GOOD magazine by Ryan Bradley provides some revealing statistics about walking in LA, pointing out that my neighborhood isn't unique in LA:
Everyone thinks they know L.A., even if they've never been west of St. Louis. Nobody walks in L.A., right? There's that Missing Persons song, or that line from Steve Martin's L.A. Story: "'s not like New York, where you can meet someone walking down the street. In L.A. you practically have to hit someone with your car. In fact, I know girls who speed just to meet cops."

But the truth is people do walk in L.A. And bike. Fully 12 percent of all trips in Los Angeles are by bicycle or on foot—that's more than Austin or Portland. In sheer numbers, L.A. has more bikers and walkers than Washington, D.C., or Chicago, or even San Francisco. And it happens to be far safer for biking and walking than all three, according to a 2010 Benchmarking Report by the Alliance for Biking and Walking. I lump walking and biking together only because, until very recently, so did everyone else. In the 1990s biking and walking were "alternative," like rock music. Fifteen years ago, Los Angeles spent "about $1 million" a year on pedestrians and bike services. This year Los Angeles has earmarked $36 million on walking alone. Could it be that this western cow-town, this place that's synonymous with self-reinvention, is reinventing itself?
Don't get me wrong, there is no doubt that car culture still reigns supreme in LA (partly because of custom and partly from a lack of alternative infrastructure resulting from decades of car-centric design), and that there is a long way to go to make LA not only a city designed for walking, but also a city dominated by pedestrian activity.  But, I was amazed to learn that LA outpaces alternative heroes Portland and Austin in the percent of biking and walking trips, begging the questions: is this myth of LA accurate anymore, and if not, why does the myth persist so strongly about LA?  Is it due to the extreme number of cars on the roadways? Or, shaped by repeated media images of a traffic clogged Los Angeles? Or, perhaps the narrow experiences of visitors whose only time in LA, often, is spent driving from the airport on a rush-hour freeway to a hotel and back? (I include myself in this group)  Or is it all of the above?

Ultimately, despite what may be a changing reality within LA, the image persists.  On the flipside, however, this image has also probably planted the seeds for a better future.  Both facts and perception undoubtedly helped push LA towards a greater focus on alternative transportation and pedestrian infrastructure, and has been a great motivator in mobilizing citizen groups all across the city to take back LA for bikers and walkers alike.  The myth, borne from a previous reality, has created an image for counterculture efforts to rally against.  For it to be hip to be out of your car, and onto the sidewalks.  Reality or not, the myth that nobody walks in LA has helped change LA's once and future reality for the positive.    

Definitely look for some future posts looking at the issue of walking in LA, including whether this perception of LA is true, and if the myth is not true, or at least not as true as it once was, is it really possible to believe that LA can be a walkable city?  Or, even more importantly, wonder why LA isn't even more of a pedestrian city already? What prevents people from taking to the streets, and what opportunities exist to change people's behavior? 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gas Station or Stealth Bomber?

This is easily my favorite gas station in all of Los Angeles, and let's be honest, there are a lot of them.  Located at Robertson and Olympic, this gas station takes filling up to another level.  I can't tell if it is an ode to Frank Gehry, the Stealth Bomber, or America's obsession with stainless steel appliances, but its kitschy, unique, kinda awesome, and I love it. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Community-based Water Harvesting

My neighborhood just got a welcome, new addition.  A local community group recently built a raised planter / stormwater management cell in a parkway to help control runoff from a nearby parking lot.  The cell incorporates broken concrete slabs to frame the planter and provides raised beds planted with vegetables and flowers.  While the cell is definitely a small, primitive intervention compared to many of the well-publicized, pilot projects we see in Portland and beyond, the project underscores for me the power of simple, community-based efforts for reworking our urban landscapes in a more sustainable fashion. Something as simple as some concrete, small grade changes and soil can help reduce runoff and increase planting area along a street.  Can't wait to see how well the cell works in a rain event, and the maturation of the plantings. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Vote for Santa Monica Demonstration Gardens

(Project Site - from City of Santa Monica.  All Rights Reserved)
The City of Santa Monica is sponsoring a design competition for three demonstration sustainable gardens at 3200 Airport Ave, and wants your input.  Nine finalist designs have been selected from 27 entries, and now it is up to the public to vote for their favorite designs.  The gardens will be built side by side, and will provide examples of sustainable gardening along with design information, referrals and technical information to the public.  Voting closes on May 31st.  More information is available on the LA Times Home and Garden Blog and you can view the finalists, read more about the projects and vote here

Saturday, May 1, 2010

2010 AIA Housing Awards feature LA Projects

Formosa 1140 - Image from LA Times and Lawrence Anderson / Esto.  All Rights Reserved.
LA design firms keep bringing in the awards.  The 2010 AIA Housing Awards are scheduled to be officially announced on Tuesday, but the LA Times had an early peek at the winners, which include two LA area multi-family housing projects.  Congrats to architects!
Formosa 1140, West Hollywood
Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects

Jury comments: Elegant detailing, airy and uplifting, strong in many ways, with a delightful use of color. Skillful employment of Universal Design and sustainable strategies, all within a modest budget.... I love the fact that a park was born because of the thoughtful site planning.... This project brings dignity to an underprivileged population.

Step Up on 5th
Pugh + Scarpa Architects

Jury comments: A creative solution allowing light to penetrate deep into a site of modest width. The playful use of fenestration provides privacy and encourages the play of light and shadow.... Communal spaces for the residents convey a very significant social message for those who have never before had those spaces.... Elegance for the underprivileged.

2010 ASLA Professional Awards Announced

 From City Plates by Rios Clementi Hale - Image from ASLA. All Rights Reserved
The 2010 ASLA Professional Awards were announced this week, and Los Angeles has some great representation.  Four projects with connections to the LA area were selected, including a Master Plan for CalTech, and three different communication projects.  Congrats to the winners!

California Institute of Technology Landscape Master Plan
Nelson Byrd Woltz with Katherine Spitz Associates as the local landscape architecture)

Ken Smith Landscape Architect Monograph
Ken Smith Landscape Architect (New York based but with Orange County office)

Grid/Street/Place: Essential Elements of Sustainable Urban Districts
RTKL Associates

City Plates
Rios Clementi Hale Studios
From Caltech Landscape Master Plan - Image from ASLA. All Rights Reserved