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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.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Drylands Competition

Image from Drylands Competition.  All Rights Reserved.
A very interesting new competition has been announced this month by the California Architectural Foundation, in partnership with the Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University and the AIACC Academy for Emerging Professionals.  The competition is is the 2011-2012 William Turnbull Competition: Drylands Design: An Open Ideas Competition for Retrofitting the American West.  The competition asks design teams to generate progressive proposals for creative alternatives for the American West in the form of new architecture or community design prototypes. The competition features a great jury of architects and landscape architects, and final proposals are due in December.  More information is on the website, and part of the competition brief is provided below.

The Challenge

Water scarcity is both the history and the future of the American west. Re-thinking water use, particularly in the face of climate change, will be central to the region’s survival. The work exceeds the grasp of a single discipline, and touches all dimensions of the way people live and work. Sustaining the US West in the face of water scarcity and hydrologic variability brought on by climate change will require strategic architectures, infrastructures, and urbanisms that promote adaptation and resilience. Drylands Design seeks innovation in architecture, urban design, landscape architecture, regional planning, and infrastructure design that addresses water supply, water quality, water access, water treatment, and the water/energy nexus. Drylands Design seeks integrative proposals from multidisciplinary design teams that anticipate science and policy perspectives as necessary dimensions of intelligent design response, and exploit beauty as an instrument of resilience and adaptation.

Competition Objectives + Priorities

The purpose of Drylands Design is to generate a portfolio of long term design strategies for the arid and semi-arid west’s water-scarce future. Proposals must recognize and address:

The Water-Energy Nexus
The relationship between water, energy use, and heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions is intertwined and self-limiting; uncoupling water’s capture, treatment, distribution, and use from energy-intensive delivery systems is critical to a new western drylands design.

Scarcity + Variability
The twin effects of climate change on the American west’s hydrologic cycle are expected to be scarcity (prolonged drought periods and diminished snowpack) and variability (increased intensity of flood events). Design for variability will replace engineering for stationarity.

Localized Resources
Rain water, storm water and single-use municipal supplies, currently treated as waste or flood hazard, form the largest “undeveloped” sector of western water. Converting local liabilities to assets will offset dependence on carbon-intensive imports.

Social Equity
Recognizing that no built environment achieves true vitality without social equity, Drylands Design seeks proposals that actively benefit low- and middle-income communities, urban and rural. More specifically, Drylands Design seeks proposals that promote an active and participatory civic engagement by citizen-users.

Thus, Drylands Design seeks responsive, variable, localized, and low-carbon alternatives to energy-intensive, 20th-century centralized water engineering solutions. Drylands Design seeks a portfolio of strategies for the west that actively remediate the environmental sterility, economic monocultures, and cultural lethargy induced by the West’s dependence on an obsolete engineering paradigm. Drylands Design seeks proposals that tactically promote a place-specific built environment of both ecological and cultural vitality.
Site – Beyond the Hundredth Meridian
Drylands Design seeks proposals for the arid and semi-arid regions of the US West, using John Wesley Powell’s historic, and imprecise, designation—the 100th meridian—as its starting line. The 100th meridian, as Powell pointed out in his 1878 Report on the Lands of Arid Region, is the approximate demarcation line corresponding to a radical shift in US hydrology. Simply put, it is, more or less, where humid East ends and the arid West begins. All proposals must be sited in the United States, west of the 100th meridian.

Design proposals may be for a real or speculative project, for one or more real sites, and must be as yet BE unbuilt by Spring 2012. All design proposals must be sited conceptually within three scales: the local, the regional, and the global.
Local Specificity
All design proposals are required to be sited within a specific location in the U.S. arid or semi-arid west. Locally, even hyper-locally, site-specific design is required.

Regional Relevance
All design proposals are required to identify the ‘typicality’ of particular site conditions, and address or speculate on scalability and replicability of design strategies to other comparable sites throughout the west.

Global Context
All design proposals are required to speculate on scalability and replicability to drylands in other parts of the world. If sprawl is arguably the West’s most enduring global export, could intelligent drylands design be its next?

Although this competition is not site specific, a site in Fresno, California may be used for the project if the team desires. Click here for information regarding this site.

Architectural Proposals With the above water issues in mind, design a building on a specific drylands site in the American West as defined in “Site” above. Architectural proposals may include, but are not limited to:

  • Single Family or Multi Family Dwellings
  • Commercial/Industrial Complexes
  • Mixed Use or Hybrid programs
  • Civic/Educational Buildings
  • Community Design Proposals
    With the above water issues in mind, develop a community design proposal on a specific drylands site or region in the American West as defined in “Site” above. Community design proposals may include, but are not limited to:

  • Civic infrastructures
  • Urban Landscapes
  • Regional Planning
  • Friday, May 6, 2011

    Playa Vista Central Park: A Park Waiting for People

    View to the performance shell that functions as the visual icon for the park.
    Recently I had posted an article from The Architect's Newspaper about innovative design projects in which Architecture and Landscape Architecture combined in new and innovative ways.  One of the interesting projects in the article was Central Park by the Office of James Burnett in Playa Vista, and, as promised, here are some photos and thoughts on the unique and engaging park.
    (Editor's note:  As I was crafting my write-up, Archinet published a nice review of the park, including some great images.  Interestingly, we had some similar feelings about the public-private nature of the park.)
    The verdict?  Central Park is a new, contemporary park full of promise and dynamic design moves, but suffering right now from something (mostly) out of its control:  It is a park without people.  The feeling after visiting it three or four times is akin to an empty house or a high-design piece of furniture placed behind glass - it is beautiful, striking, but incomplete without its use and users.

    Completed in the summer of 2010, the park sits at the eastern end of the Playa Vista development, bordered on the north by a new contemporary commercial development, but surrounded on all other sides by graded, empty plots waiting for eventual completion of the far-reaching Playa Vista Development.  The park itself is comprised of both bold and subtle design moves that create a rich experience for those that are able to find it. The park is broken into three primary activity sectors: active recreation facilities such as a soccer field, basketball court, and Noguchi-esque play areas comprise the western third of the site; an amphitheater flanked by Oak allee strolling gardens and bocce ball courts sit in the center of the park; and a naturalistic stream and reflection pond bookend a playful garden composed of large, angular berms planted with drifts of accents plants on the eastern third of the site.  Geometric bands of trees and pathways run across and diagonally through the site, creating strong circulation and site lines on the site, eventually extruding into the series of angular, engineered berms on the eastern edge of the park. 

    Beyond the groundplane geometries and bold berms, the designers spent a lot of consideration on massaging grades on the site to not only manage topography and drainage but separate functions in small, but meaningful ways.  The most noticeable is the sloping amphitheater with the bisecting circulation path (akin to a romantic haha wall) that allows people to traverse the park without being seen.  However, gestures such as lowering the synthetic turf soccer field to help contain activities and retain water, and elevating a sand play area for small children away from foot traffic also create significant experiential gains in the park.

    Environmentally, the park also showcases a contemporary ethos.  The drought-tolerant, largely native or near-native plant palette is entirely irrigated with graywater (as is all of Playa Vista), and the amenities double as habitat providers.  Some birds from the nearby Pacific Ocean and Ballona Wetlands are already beginning to colonize the water features.

    As is true of all new open spaces in park-starved Los Angeles, early colonizers are soccer players both during the week and weekends.  However, passive users, and casual visitors to the park are either absent or few and far between.  In part, this is a result of the hidden nature of the park (it is not visible from any nearby streets, nor highly publicized), but also from the tenuous nature of privately developed, public access parks such as Central Park.  While the park is open to the public, it was developed by private owners and sits on private land, dictating a different set of concerns and liabilities.  The result is a long list of rules restricting use of the park and a highly-present group of security guards tasked with protecting the park.  While undoubtedly this security has prevented the park from disuse, graffiti, and other forms of human entropy, it clearly engenders a feeling that you are not welcome at this park, especially in larger groups (On visits by myself  I had no problems, but on a visit taking 15 students from a landscape architecture program to see the park's design I was questioned extensively by security before we could tour the park.) The result is a park that wants to be used, but isn't being used yet, despite the carefully designed spaces found within.

    Other implementation issues of lesser, and perhaps more typical, degree of a large-scale, recently completed project are also present.  At my last visit in March, at least 4 or 5 Oak trees had failed on the site, potentially due to issues with standing water or drainage.  Also, as a park exploring new design ideas, some are destined to work great, while it appears others may potentially prove short-lived.  For instance, low groundcovers were planted beneath the Oaks in organic geometries to promote a circuituous, modern strolling garden, but are already struggling to establish  properly, and will likely fail due to trampling.  Also, the long-term health and stability of the berms will be interesting to observe, if nothing else because their form seems so dependent upon engineering that may degrade over time.

    Overall, Central Park is an impressive project, both in its scope and execution, and is full of rich ideas for designers and visitors.  Not only does it create a number of distinct and carefully constructed spaces, but an obvious financial commitment and dedication to customization by the client and project team has a created a park with a unique and compelling identity.  Now all it needs are the people the project deserves.
    Concept Rendering of Park.  Image from Archinect  All Rights Reserved.
    View own circulation spine towards berm garden.
    View down circulation spine from the playful berm garden.
    Redwood allee and horseshoe area
    Western entry plaza with depression and extrusion
    Oak Allee
    View to the sunken soccer field
    Contemporary play area recalls a Noguchi playground
    View of the reflecting pond and seating.

    Stepping stone path across riparian feature.
    Stepping stone detail across riparian feature
    Geometric strolling garden that may not survive use
    One of the dead oaks on site.

    View to sports facilities across pond with island tree plantings.
    Custom Ipe seating elements provide vantage points for the geometrically planted berms.
    Detailed view of Berms planted with succulent and grass mix
    Custom seating element echos the topographic moves on site
    Custom seating and planter
    Star Jasmine covers a custom fence surrounding the performance space.
    Integrated signage detailing

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    Venice Garden and Home Tour -this Saturday

    Image from Venice Garden and Home Tour.  All Rights Reserved.
    This weekend brings another installment of the annual Venice Garden and Home Tour.  Running from 10am to 5pm on Saturday, May 7th, the walking tour will feature over 30 gardens and homes throughout Venice for people to ogle and muse over.  Should be another interesting installment, especially with the continuing onslaught of contemporary homes being designed and built in Venice.  More on this year's tour is shown below, as well as some pictures from previous years:
    This annual self-guided walking tour will feature 30 gardens and homes in the charming, secluded Walk Streets neighborhood and streets south of Venice Boulevard. The tour is a showcase of how architects, landscape designers, and homeowners have crafted gardens and homes to make lovely living oases. These private spaces, sequestered behind carved wooden doors, contemporary metal gates and imaginative fences, are open to the public this one day of every year when tour-goers can walk the streets, meet and enjoy the community, and be inspired by the inventive design, surprising spirit and whimsy that is uniquely Venice.

    The Walk Streets through tranquil neighborhoods where the homes face one another are actually pedestrian paths that bring people together. When Venice was being developed, workers lived in modest bungalows that later became summer beach homes for Angelinos; many of the remaining old bungalows are reworked now to meet today’s standards and tastes, and sit side by side sleek contemporary cubes. Local architects Barbara Bestor, Tom Carson, Talbot McLanahan, Tim Petersen and Robert Thibodeau, along with local landscape designers such as Jay Griffith, Pamela Burton, Naomi Sanders and Di Zock, have influenced the constantly evolving development of these distinctive neighborhoods.

    The gardens and homes on this tour exemplify Venice's creative energy: the homeowner’s love of living inside or outside with nature, the use of lanterns and crystal chandeliers found hanging from trees or cleverly placed antique neon signs and sculptures in just the right places to enhance gardens. In these rustic enclaves, rooftop gardens and solar panels pop up into the trees, and tiny vegetable gardens thrive next to shady children’s play yards.

    Now in its 18th year, the Venice Garden and Home Tour is the much anticipated annual fundraising event that draws visitors from all over California. The tour gives financial support for NYA’s Las Doradas Children’s Center, a licensed child care facility that provides full-time, education-based child care to low-income working families.
    Image from Venice Garden and Home Tour.  All Rights Reserved.
    Image from Venice Garden and Home Tour.  All Rights Reserved.

    Sunday, April 24, 2011

    Landscapes for Living: Bunker Hill Steps

    Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.
    Even more follow-up to the Cultural Landscape Foundation's recent symposium this week from the LA Times' Christopher Hawthorne.  He takes a quick look at Bunker Hill Steps, one of Lawrence Halprin's downtown projects, as a kick-off to a new series called Ground Level bringing attention to street-level design in Los Angeles.  
    One theme of last week’s Landscapes for Living conference at SCI-Arc, which I write about in a Critic’s Notebook in Wednesday’s  paper, was the continuing, puzzling obscurity of landscape architects and their work in Southern California. As it happens, a main goal of our new Ground Level feature is to bring attention to overlooked street-level design around the region. Serendipity!

    So today we’ll devote this space to one of many pedigreed-but-under appreciated examples of postwar landscape design in downtown Los Angeles: Lawrence Halprin’s Bunker Hill Steps, completed in 1990 directly across 5th  Street from the Central Library and in the shadow of Pei Cobb Freed’s U.S. Bank Tower, the tallest building in the city. In romantic as much as literal terms, Halprin’s design is meant to recall the Spanish Steps in Rome, a debt that makes this project a textbook example of postmodernism in landscape architecture. More practically, the steps provide a pedestrian link between downtown’s historic core and the newer architecture of Bunker Hill.

    Bisected by a stream-like water feature, the 103 steps flow around and past artworks by Robert Graham and others. The project is one of a number downtown from the period by Halprin, a giant of postwar landscape architecture who lived in Marin County and died two years ago at age 93.

    Halprin’s nearby designs include the Maguire Gardens at the foot of the library, Grand Hope Park and the glass-enclosed Wells  Fargo Court (formerly Crocker Court) at 3rd Street and Grand Avenue. According to Charles Birnbaum — founder of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, which organized last week’s conference — this loose network of L.A. projects contains Halprin’s “most diverse vocabulary of indoor and outdoor spaces.”

    Landscapes for Living

    In response to the Cultural Landscapes Foundation's recent symposium "Landscapes for Living: Post-War Landscape Architecture in Los Angeles," Christoper Hawthorne had a great article pondering why landscape architects and their work remains so anonymous in Los Angeles and beyond.  Definitely worth a great read to ponder some ideas as to exactly why landscapes are valued so different than architecture in a city full of such great designers.  Below is an excerpt:
    "In Southern California," the architect Charles Moore wrote in 1984, "the part that is planted is very likely to be more sophisticated than the part that is built."

    If that's the case — and I'd say it has been in nearly every phase of the region's design history — how to explain the fact that Los Angeles architects have for so long been much better known, locally and around the world, than their counterparts in landscape architecture? Why have our best gardens tended to be even more susceptible to neglect or demolition than our best houses, which are themselves infamously vulnerable?

    Why is it that everybody in L.A. seems to remember that Bertram Goodhue designed the original Central Library downtown, but few know that the acclaimed landscape architect Lawrence Halprin is responsible for the Maguire Gardens at the building's feet, added when the library was restored and extended by architects Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer in 1993?

    . . . .
    Explanations for that obscurity came in a rush all day long. Landscape architects don't publish or promote their work the way architects do. They don't create objects, easily photographed and quickly understood, the way architects do. And perhaps most obvious of all: Their work is ephemeral by definition, quicker to decay and easier to modify than buildings are, to say nothing of a painting, a symphony or a novel.

    All those explanations make sense, but they are mostly universal: They don't say a whole lot about the particular battles fought, and often lost, by landscape architects in Southern California.

    . . . .

    To get at the peculiar anonymity of the Southern California landscape architect, it seems to me, requires exploring a notion that barely got a hearing at "Landscapes for Living," at least during the panels I attended: the L.A. garden as a vehicle for — and expression of — a certain democratic impulse.

    Because Los Angeles was built from its earliest days around the primacy of the single-family house, garden space here has always been widely available to families with a range of incomes and backgrounds. Instead of a
    Central Park by the famous Frederick Law Olmsted at the very heart of our metropolis, we developed tens of thousands of private amateur parks in our backyards, to go with a relative handful of parks and plazas by prominent designers.

    Another question I didn't hear any of the panelists address directly, though they seemed to circle around it all day, was this: In a world quickly turning every artistic discipline into digital form — even architecture, with fancy computer renderings of unbuilt projects now routinely splashed across the front pages of newspapers and the covers of books and magazines — how can landscape architecture possibly compete? If gardens are nearly impossible to appreciate in two dimensions, they are also best understood over time.

    Friday, April 22, 2011

    Happy Earth Day!

    Happy Earth Day!  In celebration of making today, and every day, a celebration of our biosphere, here are a few links to making live in Los Angeles more earth-friendly:
    Sustainable Living
    Green LA 
    Be Waterwise

    Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition
    Bike LA

    Urban Greening
    Million Trees LA
    LA Guerilla Gardening
    Los Angeles Community Garden Council


    Friends of the LA River
    Friends of Ballona Wetland

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Spring Garden Events

    Springtime means a lot of things in Southern California: blooms, the return of beach weather, and garden tours.  The LA Times has a comprehensive list of upcoming garden tours and events for the LA area.  Below is a brief list of some of the upcoming tours and plants sales.
    April 28-May 1: The 21st annual Southern California Spring Garden Show      .

    April 30:
    The self-guided Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase

    April 30-May 1:
    The Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour

    May 1:
    The Garden Conservancy's Open Days tour of private gardens in Pasadena.

    May 1:
    The 52nd annual garden tour of the Santa Monica Bay Auxiliary, Children's Hospital Los Angeles will feature six Westside gardens.

    May 1: 
    The Westlake Village Garden Club hosts its 38th Annual Garden and Patio Tour  of five gardens in Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks.

    May 3: 
    The Sherman Library and Gardens Volunteer Assn. presents its 15th annual garden tour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at private homes in Corona del Mar and Newport Beach.

    May 6:
    This year’s self-guided Gate and Garden Tour in Laguna Beach.

    May 7:
    The annual self-guided  Venice Garden and Home Tour

    May 13:
    Friends of Robinson Gardens will present the 23rd annual “... Into the Garden” benefit tour 

    May 15: The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour of Los Angeles.

    May 15: The Huntington Botanical Gardens 36th annual spring plant sale .

    June 4:
    The San Clemente Garden Club Tour

    Saturday, April 9, 2011

    Public Parking in LA - A Room to a View

    Free parking and views across the urban matrix out to the ocean.
    Parking in LA can definitely be a hassle, but it can also be a great opportunity to survey the landscape, or so I discovered this week in downtown Santa Monica.  As part of some business there this week, I ended up parking on top of one of the many public access parking garages, only to discover spectacular 360 degree views of the surrounding area.   Including pretty amazing views out to that asset of all Southern California assets, the Pacific Ocean.  Parking is free for two hours, or you can also just walk up to the top of the roof and enjoy views out to the ocean, Santa Monica Mountains, and downtown LA. 
    On a clear day, you can see different nodes of LA urbanism.

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    CicLAvia Interview

    The Architect's Newspaper had a nice interview with Aaron Paley, the founder of CicLAvia, today.  It provides some interesting perspective on the challenges and opportunities for organizing CicLAvia, while getting the word out about the great event.  Below are some interesting excerpts:
    We look at this as molding and shaping public space through this temporary intervention. We’re hoping this is the kind of thing that reshapes the way people perceive their city, which will change the way they use their city and change their expectations for the city. We think this can have as big an impact as building a park. We are adding this whole element of new public space, which can be done efficiently and sustainably and cheaply without actually building something.

    . . . 

    The thing that people said to us was: "Oh my God, I didn’t realize how small LA is. I didn’t realize I could get from here to Boyle Heights in ten minutes." The feeling was that LA is much more intimate, and who knew how beautiful it is? That is the right to be able to look at your city and own your city when people are not in their cars.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011


    CicLAvia is back!  After a hugely successful debut last year, the second go-round (and the first of three scheduled events this year) is this Sunday, April 10th from 10am to 3pm.  The free, bike and pedestrian-oriented event should be even bigger and better and will be taking over even more real estate in neighborhoods ranging from Silverlake, Hollywood, and Koreatown down to Downtown. More info is below from CicLAvia's website:
    Los Angeles’ second CicLAvia will be Sunday April 10th 2011 from 10am-3pm. It’s FREE, fun, family-friendly! Click for: route map, flier, or volunteering. RSVP/share on Facebook – or just show up! Check FAQ page for answers to CicLAvia questions. See the activtity map page for scheduled events or to add your own. (More 2011 events: July 10, October 9!)

    Monday, April 4, 2011


    It has been a while between posts, but what better way to start up again than with a SEEDBOMB?  Ran into a SEEDBOMB dispenser while out to dinner in the Miracle Mile area on Saturday night.  For only 50 cents, you can buy a SEEDBOMB, not for consumption but for an act of ecological insurrection.  Not sure how successful the dispenser has been in terms of sales, but I would imagine it has been highly effective at communicating a measure of ecological literacy and spreading the good word. 

    Saturday, March 12, 2011

    Free Fruit Trees!

    Image from LA Times. All Rights Reserved.
    Speaking of urban agriculture, on Sunday 400 fruit trees will be given away on a first come, first serve basis at Milagro Allegro Community Garden in Highland Park.  The LA Times has the info below:
    Thanks to an anonymous donor, the Milagro Allegro Community Garden in L.A.'s Highland Park neighborhood will give away 400 bare-root fruit and nut trees starting at noon on Sunday.

    The donor contacted Milagro Allegro's resident master gardener and teacher Milli Macen-Moore after stumbling upon the garden's blog. "He wanted to do something nice for our garden," said Macen-Moore, adding that the donor kindly picked fruit trees that grow well in the area.

    Those trees include: almond, apple, apricot, Black Mission fig, Desert Delight nectarine,three types of peach, Monterrey pear and dwarf Santa Rosa plum.

    Trees will be passed out first-come, first-serve for as long as they last. Community and school gardens may request up to five trees; households may request two. Gardeners are asked to bring newspaper and plastic bags to transport the trees. If you miss out, don't fret: Macen-Moore said thousands of organic vegetable plugs, courtesy of school garden guru Mud Baron, also will be given away.

    "Sharing the abundance is beautiful to me," Macen-Moore said. "I feel honored that the gentleman made this donation. What a great gesture."

    115 S. Avenue 56, Los Angeles

    Venice Community Garden

    Venice Community Garden at Mildred Avenue
    The success of community gardens in LA has been enormous, but all that success has not satisfied the immense demand from the public for growing space.  (Anecdotally, I have been on a waitlist for a nearby garden for over a year, and am still 367th on the list for an opening.)  So, it was with minimal, but well needed fanfare, that the Venice Community Garden opened last year, providing nearby residents a place to grow some vegetables.  Perhaps even more, the story of the garden from the LA Times provides an interesting look at the potentially toxic realities facing community gardens in our urban areas.  The garden, located on a rare vacant lot on Mildred Avenue, was discovered by a couple of burgeoning Master Gardeners, who dreamed up the idea of the garden, and convinced the land owner to lease it to them for their use.  However, initial hopes for the site plummeted when initial soil tests discovered an urban soil profile consisting of a long list of contaminents, pollutants, and carcinogens. 

    The garden began to take shape when Kip Wood noticed a “For Rent” sign on an empty lot on Mildred Avenue, down the street from his house. The rent was steep but not impossible. “He probably could have made more parking cars here,” Wood says of the owner. “It’s an empty lot. What else are you going to do with it?”

    At an organizing meeting he teamed up with Norma Bonilla, then living in Marina del Rey and, like him, about to start the master gardener course at the time.

    “The first thing we did was test the soil -- in five different places, going down about five inches” says Bonilla, pictured at top. “We got the results back and there were exorbitant amounts of arsenic, lead, cadmium, everything. The very worst at dangerous levels. Don't-come-in-here levels.”

    They decided to take the topsoil out, removing mounds of debris, broken asphalt and glass, bringing the lot level with the street. The Los Angeles Conservation Corps came in and built 54 4-by-12-foot plots and the gardeners were all instructed to dig down a foot within each space and remove the dirt.

    “That was the first time I used a wheelbarrow,” says Mary Barbour, a self-described city girl and one of the original Venice gardeners. Together they amassed a 100-ton pile of toxic soil in the center of the garden that needed to be removed. Then all the gardeners tested their soil one foot down -- just to be sure.

    “When the first test came back with a high level of arsenic, we were devastated,” Bonilla says. Adds Wood: “We almost gave up at that point. We took about two weeks off. Our energy was out of the garden.”
    After speaking with a number of consultants and experts, the team decided to, in essence, "cap" the soil by placing an impermeable plastic barrier between the existing soil and the new raised planting beds.  In addition, the first wave of plantings featured indicator crops that would noticeably respond to the presence of any contaminants.  Following a successful test period, the garden was up and running, and today's provides a great bounty for the residents using it. 
    . . .  they returned to the consultants, horticulturalists, chemists and agronomists, who helped devise a solution: The wooden bed walls were lined with 2-millimeter plastic sheeting, going down two feet. The bed was covered with gypsum, to break up the clay soil, then in rock, to aid drainage. A 50-50 mix of compost and organic soil went on top of that in most beds. Walkways were covered in eight inches of mulch.
    In August they began planting, mainly shallow-rooting vegetables. If arsenic is affecting the plants, it will kill them before they start fruiting, Bonilla says. If gardeners are nervous, they're told to grow cherry tomatoes only.

    From the street the bounty of the winter garden is obvious: towering kale, basketball-sized cabbages, epic artichoke plants. Wood, initially concerned that 4-by-12 plots were too small, says he and his family can’t keep up with the kale, peas, chard and root vegetables. Son Conrad has stopped being a picky eater, grazing like the adults as they walk through the garden.
    The garden should continue to be an interesting case study into how we can convert urban brownfields into productive garden space in a safe and effective manner.  Because judging from their popularity in LA, and the growing need for more locally produced food, even more conversions will need to be done in the future.

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    National Tree Benefit Calculator

    Speaking of the importance of well-planned and supported street trees, The National Tree Benefit Calculator is an excellent new website from Casey Trees and Davey Tree Expert Co. that allows you to calculate the benefits of a street tree in your neighborhood.  Just type in your zip code and select an extensive list of tree species, and you can determine how much the tree is, or could be, adding to your property value, air quality, stormwater management, and utility savings.  Even better, the result also points out how much more benefit the tree is if nurtured and allowed to grow to even larger diameter, and provides a conceptual summary of how a tree can impact site performance.  The website is only in BETA-testing right now, but this is going to be a great outreach tool for engaging the public,and potential clients, in the value of planting, and maintaining, trees.  Below is a bit more about the assessment tool:
    The Tree Benefit Calculator allows anyone to calculate a first-order approximation of the benefits individual street-side trees provide. This tool is based on i-Tree’s street tree assessment tool called STRATUM. With minimal inputs of location, species and tree size, users will get an understanding of the environmental and economic value trees provide on an annual basis.

    The Tree Benefit Calculator is intended to be simple and accessible. As such, this tool should be considered a starting point for understanding trees’ value in the community rather than a scientific accounting of precise values. For more detailed information on urban and community forest assessments, visit the i-Tree website.

    The National Tree Benefit Calculator was conceived and developed by Casey Trees and Davey Tree Expert Co.

    This tool is powered by i-Tree; the data generating the results comes from the i-Tree Tools CD ROM:

    Significant text and graphical content was originally published by the USDA Forest Service’s Center for Urban Forest Research through their Tree Guide series of publications. Credit should be given to authors of these publications.

    Facts about personal carbon production based on driving and flying courtesy of Conservation International

    For questions about this tool, contact Mike Alonzo (Casey Trees) or Scott Maco (Davey Tree Expert Co.)

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    LA Streets: Existing Conditions

    I am pulling this one out from the files of design and construction miscues.  Ran into this tree while on a field visit in San Gabriel.  Why in the world a tree ever got planted here is beyond any reason, but, apparently, an ongoing testament to a miscue in a design office, missed plan checks in permitting, and a disastrous installation process in which the contractor refused to question the plans, and construction observation went out the window.  We put our street trees through enough (note the 4' x 4' planting area, massive surrounding imperviousness, residual nursery stake, and largely ineffective staking efforts), but planting them underneath a guy wire for an electrical pole just seems cruel.  There is no doubt this is a losing proposition from the get go.  While trees, always the optimists, make a good go of it, I am sure DPW will be coming to chop this tree back before long to make sure the electrical pole is not compromised.  With street trees being at a premium in Los Angeles, effective planning and installation for healthy, long-living trees can't be a luxury, but must be a necessity to build an effective and long-lasting urban forest.  Given that the well could have easily been installed ten feet to the left, I think it is fair to say we collectively dropped the ball on this one.

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011

    LA Projects Showcase Living Architecture

    Playa Vista Park.  Image from The Architect's Newspaper.  All Rights Reserved
    The Architect's Newspaper had an interesting read this week on how the increasing trend of merging landscape and architecture is producing innovative building and site designs.  Even more pertinent, they included a number of LA design firms and projects in the mix.  Prominently featured was James Burnett's and Michael Maltzan's recent collaboration on Playa Vista Park, (I have yet to visit, but will hopefully post some pictures and thoughts on it in the next few weeks), and other LA-related examples include Belzberg Architects' Museum of the Holocaust, and work by Morphosis, SWA, and Freeland Buck.  Definitely very exciting and impressive work, with hopefully even more to come.

    Playa Vista Park.  Image from The Architect's Newspaper.  All Rights Reserved.

    Friday, January 28, 2011

    Santa Monica Civic Center Parks - Sustainable Park Workshop

    Tomorrow at 1pm, the design team for the Santa Monica Civic Parks project will be hosting an educational workshop on sustainable park landscapes.  The talk will focus on, among other things, how native plants and ecologies in Southern California work, and how they can inform and participate in the Santa Monica Civic Park project.  More on the workshop from the project's website below:
    As part of the series of workshops to engage the Santa Monica community in the design process for two new Civic Center parks, an educational workshop on sustainable park landscapes will be held on January 29. Members of the park design team under the leadership of James Corner Field Operations will make in-depth presentations on sustainable landscapes and discuss opportunities for the new parks. (pdf announcement)

    Bob Perry
    , professor, author and preeminent expert on ecology, water conservation and California native plants

    John Greenlee, internationally-recognized horticulturalist, grass and meadow expert, author and lecturer

    Lisa Switkin
    and Sarah Weidner Astheimer, lead park designers with James Corner Field Operations

    :   Saturday, January 29 at 1 pm
    : Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, East Wing (1855 Main Street, Santa Monica 90401)

    Questions? Email

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    SoCal Moments: Views of Los Angeles

    Image from LA Times. All Rights Reserved.

    The LA Times debuted a great online feature for 2011 called SoCal Moments.  The daily photo feed features a selected photo taken by one of the LA Times's readers of the large socio-cultural and environmental entity known as Los Angeles.  So far, the citizen-photographs have provided an diverse, and interesting, look at LA's landscape from the people who experience it everyday.  Below is the project's description:
    What have you seen in Southern California that was compelling enough to make you stop and take a photo? We'd like to feature these moments you captured.

    Every day of 2011, we'll choose one photo to share with our readers. Photos will be posted each day on L.A. Now and on Highlights will appear on Framework
    Image from LA Times. All Rights Reserved.
    Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.
    Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.
    Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    Replace Your Lawn Workshops all Month!

    Killed my Lawn Bumper Sticker
    Image, and bumper stickers, from Tree of Life Nursery.  All Rights Reserved.
    Is your 2011 resolution to finally get rid of your lawn?  Well, you are in luck!  Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano is hosting "Replace Your Lawn" workshops every Saturday during the month of January.   And, it's all FREE!

    Sadly, this post is too late for the first workshop, but three great workshops remain.  Definitely worth checking out for expert advice on re-imagining your front yard without lawn, and the opportunity to find quality native plants for your new outdoor space. Upcoming workshop descriptions are presented below.  But, don't worry, if you can't attend the workshops, Tree of Life has handouts for every workshop (see the link below the descriptions), and a great cheat sheet on 30 California Native Plants to help you get started: Thirty Basic California Native Plants.   Go Green - Plant Natives!

    Replace Your Lawn!

    Start the New Year right by getting rid of that expensive water-guzzling, care-intensive lawn, and make way for a gorgeous native landscape!  Back by popular demand, we are presenting our Replace Your Lawn (RYL) workshop series in a four part installment about the basics of converting your lawn into a beautiful, carefree, sustainable habitat.

    These workshops will be held SATURDAYS at 10 AM in the month of January, beginning January 8, 2011.  This RYL series is unique because we will hold two sessions on plant selection covering evergreen native plants and flowering perennials seperately.

    All of these workshops are FREE of charge and each session lasts about an hour and a half, (depending on questions!).  Hopefully you will be able to attend each of the sessions at least once.  No reservations are required.

    Saturday, January 8, 2011 - 10:00 AM

    Replace Your Lawn I: Kill the Grass

    Step one - get rid of it!  This may be more involved than you would expect and the methods to get rid of a lawn are quite varied.  Avoid unnecessary labor and learn several successful methods for lawn removal, depending on you turf type, budget, and timeline. First in our popular four-part series.
    Download the handout:icon Replace Your Lawn: Kill the grass!

    Saturday, January 15, 2011 - 10:00 AM
    Replace Your Lawn II:  Creating and Caring for Your Native Garden
    Second in a four-part series about Replacing your Lawn. Now that you have killed your grass, what are supposed to do?  Mike Evans will share from our booklet, "Creating and Caring for your Native Garden", that you can download here.  Learn how to create a thriving native garden.

    Saturday, January 22, 2011 - 10:00 AM
    Replace Your Lawn III: Plant Selection - Foundation Plants
    Learn about the backbone of every native garden: neat, evergreen and carefree foundation plants.  While California’s flora offers a wide variety of flowering perennials to choose from, be sure to use plenty of hearty evergreen woody shrubs to provide an attractive backdrop to showcase your flowers as well as to keep your native landscape looking full, lush and neat.

    Saturday, January 29, 2011 - 9:00 AM
    Replace Your Lawn IV: Plant Selection - Flowering Perennials

    After you have determined the look and feel you wish to achieve in your garden, the fun begins – plant selection!  We will present a group of plants we call our Thirty Plants.  These are the “must-haves” for any native California garden.  This selection of thirty plants represents a handsome mix of the most authentic native plants for Southern California gardens.  As we discuss the Thirty Plants, we will expand our knowledge of natives in general, and learn how to chose the right plants for any particular design theme.

    Download the handout:icon Thirty Basic California Native Plants

    CicLAvia is Coming Back!

    Image from CicLAvia. All Rights Reserved.
    CicLAvia is coming back to Los Angeles in April.  After a hugely successful inaugural event, the bicycle and pedestrian-focused fete is going to be taking over Los Angeles streets again on April 10th.  Although the route of the event will be similar to the first, the hope is to expand the event with future dates planned for July and October.  The LA Times has more:
    Last October, CicLAvia drew an estimated 100,000 pedestrians and bicyclists to a long stretch of city streets that were cordoned off to traffic. Now organizers say they are ready to do it again.

    The next incarnation of CicLAvia will take place April 10, according to Aaron Paley, CicLAvia's producer and a member of its steering committee. He said its footprint will be similar to October's route, which zigzagged from East Hollywood through Westlake and into downtown and Boyle Heights.

    Paley said the committee, a diverse collection of bike activists, transportation experts, academics, artists and event planners, plans to host two more events in 2011, in July and October, and would one day like to see a monthly CicLAvia in L.A.

    "We have tremendous momentum," said Paley, who reported that city officials had approached the group after the first event to start planning the second. "There wasn’t any question of whether this was gonna happen again. It was just, 'How soon can we do it, and how high should we aim?' "

    The concept of the ciclovia, which is Spanish for bicycle path, originated in Bogota, Colombia, three decades ago. Now each Sunday there, hundreds of thousands of people take to the temporarily car-free streets. Many other cities around the world, including New York, have hosted similar events.