Photo: Gary Lai

Photos: Gary Lai

At the moment the Silver Lake Reservoir is a large empty hole. Located 4 1/2 miles northwest of Downtown Los Angeles, Silver Lake was once a working reservoir of emergency drinking water for the city. The body of water was also the signature feature that helped create one of the hottest real estate markets in the country.

Now it’s empty.

After 9/11 – in order to protect our water infrastructure – new federal standards required all open-air reservoirs to be concrete capped or be disconnected from the water system. At the time, the decision seemed a no-brainer. But of course, the neighborhood wants to keep the lake a lake! So we’re here at an impasse, multiple parties trying to determine the future of a manmade body of water in a time of drought.

The initial proposed project was fairly simple: drain the lake, bypass the drinking water system, and then refill the reservoir. Unfortunately, by the time the project was ready to go in the summer of 2015, Los Angeles and the rest of the state were in the midst of one of the worst droughts in a millennia. Filling the reservoir back up was no longer a simple decision. Is it prudent for us to fill up an urban reservoir with potable water that is not meant as a part of the city’s water supply simply for non-essential use?

Even if we fill up the reservoir once, how would we maintain the level for following years? With more potable water? The Silver Lake Reservoir is too deep to be truly efficient for recreation and its concrete sides does not present a natural lake setting. There have been a few competing proposals to refill the lake; the most notable, one reimagines the 96 acres as a public park. There’s a consensus that the 400 to 800 million gallons of water required to maintain the Silver Lake Reservoir’s water levels annually would be a questionable use of drinkable water as a primary source.

But I still believe Silver Lake can become a great urban park. Echo Park Lake, located nearby down on Glendale Boulevard, offers a proof-of-concept of a reservoir redesigned and repurposed as a sustainable outdoor space. Echo Park Lake was once a dilapidated urban park, but with planning and funding it was reconfigured to treat urban runoff with planted integrated wetlands before entering the manmade lake.

Echo Park picture 3 Echo Park picture 2

All of the proposals for the Silver Lake Reservoir suggest some form of bio-filtration to handle urban runoff. But even so, there’s a problem…a big problem. The Silver Lake Reservoir is much larger than Echo Park Lake, and urban runoff alone would not be able to maintain the necessary volume for Silver Lake’s capacity.

However, the Silver Lake Reservoir might provide an opportunity for Los Angeles  to create an Eco-District for water – or in sustainability parlance, create an area of “Net-Zero Water”. An “Eco-District of Net-Zero Water” is designed to recapture and reuse any rainfall or pumped water brought into a neighborhood (or district).

The organization Silver Lake Forward envisions the Silver Lake Reservoir as a public space celebrating access, native flora and fauna, and conservation. Image via Silver Lake Forward

The organization Silver Lake Forward envisions the Silver Lake Reservoir as a public space celebrating access, native flora and fauna, and conservation. Image via Silver Lake Forward.

This has been particularly difficult to do because most urban neighborhoods do not have the area required to treat water from beginning to end. Silver Lake does not have this problem. As a self-sufficient water district, the neighborhood could use many of the most current technologies to create a great urban recreation area, while underneath and around the lake, a system could be designed to treat water from urban stormwater, reclaimed waste water, recycled water from treatment plants, and any additional runoff water from surrounding residential properties. Clean water from the Silver Lake Reservoir could in turn be used to irrigate expanded recreation facilities around the lake’s perimeter, and perhaps in the future, be polished to fully potable status.

Echo Park picture 1

In the end urban parks provide a great service to the surrounding community. Many Southern California parks use water as their centerpiece feature [see: MacArthur Park and Magic Johnson Park]. But even so, we need to remember these large artificial bodies are filled with potable water that must be maintained, serviced, and refilled. Echo Park Lake proved these bodies of water can be used to do work other than just providing a naturalistic backdrop. With a little imagination, the Silver Lake Reservoir could become more “lake” than “reservoir” for generations to come, and perhaps in time simply be known as Silver Lake.

Made in L.A. 2016 (Ending Soon)
“As part of an ongoing series, Made in L.A. 2016: a, the, though, only addresses Los Angeles as a center of activity inseparable from the global network of art production and reveals how artists move fluidly between contexts and respond to their local conditions. Subtitled by the minimalist poet and writer Aram Saroyan as his contribution to the exhibition, Made in L.A. 2016: a, the, though, only extends into such disciplines as dance, fashion, literature, music, film, and performance…It features condensed monographic surveys, comprehensive displays of multiyear projects, the premiere of new bodies of work, and newly commissioned works from emerging artists.”
When: Ends Sunday, August 28, 2016
Where: Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles

MEDIAN at WUHO in Hollywood
“Created by David Hartwell and Bill Ferehawk, MEDIAN is an immersive video and audio installation on both walls of the LA FORUM exhibition space, projected nearly life sized, that renders everyday collisions of contexts that make Los Angeles endlessly surprising and challenging. But concealed behind the familiar frame of Los Angeles, lies a potentially disruptive and subversive canvas, positioning the viewer in the most privileged and uninhabitable location in Los Angeles—the middle of the road. From here, MEDIAN presents a peculiar moving image view of the social and material proximities of Los Angeles, exploring a myriad of urban audio­visual­scapes, and draws out new perceptions and interpretations of the urban experience.”
When: July 14-August 25, 2016 (Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays), Noon-5pm
Where: WUHO Gallery, 6518 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles

Fast Forward: The Architecture of William F. Cody
“William F. Cody (1916 – 1978) was a legend in his own time. His architectural practice was prolific, diversified, and engaged a celebrity clientele that included Walt Disney, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby. His projects ranged from residential homes and condominiums, to commercial centers and industrial complexes, to city and community master planning. Although a majority of Cody’s built work was concentrated in California and Arizona, he had commissions in Texas, Nevada, Colorado, Hawaii, Mexico, Honduras, and Cuba. This exhibition is the first comprehensive overview of Cody’s architecture based on primary archival research. It is a tribute to one of the giants of the midcentury modern movement and celebrates Cody’s centennial.”
When: July 10-September 25, 2016
Where: A+D Museum, 900 East Fourth Street, Los Angeles

“In preparation for Los Angeles Times’ The Taste event, the LA Times will be taking over our weekly game night for a special evening of ‘Taste Bingo’ with a chance to win a pair of tickets to their Sunday Block Party. Noelle Carter, LA Times Test Kitchen Director, will emcee and provide a custom bingo card with phrases and images representing local food culture and trends. It’s free to play and prizes will, of course, be included! Plus, a handful of our vendors will be showcasing special $5 dishes as a way for people to have a ‘Taste-like’ experience while exploring the Market.”
When: Thursday, August 25, 2016, 6pm-10pm
Where: Grand Central Market, 317 South Broadway, Los Angeles

Barnegat Bay Remade, New Jersey. [SCAPE via Rebuild by Design]

Barnegat Bay Remade, New Jersey. [SCAPE via Rebuild by Design]

From Architecture to Landscape – The Case for a New Landscape Science: “Alexander Felson, Nelson Byrd Woltz, Sean Burkholder, Teresa Gali-Izard, Quilian Riano, and Michael Geffel are among the many practitioners and scholars who are transgressing the bounds of landscape architecture, adapting methods from fields as diverse as conservation biology and quantum mechanics, as they pursu­e more syncretic ways of understanding and shaping environments.”

Meet The Architect Who Is Radically Rethinking How We Age: “Inspired by the natural progression of growing older, the tower would accommodate people through every stage of life, interweaving spaces devoted to, say, education with those designed for older people who need instant access to health care professionals to create a more diverse, socially engaging community for all ages.”

Can a Public University Fix a City’s Achilles Heel?: “In Los Angeles, we’re going to find out. UCLA has issued a Grand Challenge: “achieving sustainability in energy and water while enhancing ecosystem health in Los Angeles County by 2050.” And more than 150 faculty members, researchers, and other scholars making up an entity called Sustainable LA Grand Challenge have committed to helping the university—and our city—succeed.”

“Living Shorelines” Will Get Fast Track to Combat Sea Level Rise: “As sea levels rise along U.S. coasts, it may soon get easier for people and local governments to obtain federal permits to build what are known as “living shorelines,” natural or nature-based structures designed to protect communities and infrastructure from extreme storms and flooding even as they protect habitat.”

Amsterdam Road Tests a Pollution-Zapping Flower: “Dutch engineer Ton van Oostwaard pitched a radical vision for fighting pollution in the city. The founder of the Dutch environmental organization MyEarth, van Oostwaard described how a “supercharged” honeysuckle, planted alongside Amsterdam’s busiest roads, could suck up pollution particles from the air and create “a future-proof landscape for generations to come.”

LA River from Isohale on Vimeo.

Photos: Kathy Rudnyk

Photos: Kathy Rudnyk

When I run into friends, they always ask about Penelope, my plant. Lately, they have been asking why I haven’t said much about her. The last thing you want to ask someone who is passionate about plants is if their favorite plant has moved on to become compost.

In December, Penelope, a Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus titanum) went dormant. Recently, a bud has emerged from her 20+ lbs corm, destined to become a very stinky flower or a very tall leaf.

My husband and I bought Penelope at the Los Angeles Arboretum at a live auction back in 2009.  After beating out the last bidder, I took home a small #1 container with her inside. Before leaving, I got some terrific care advice from Living Collections curator, Jim Henrich:  “Keep her soil dry during dormancy, but make sure her soil isn’t too soggy, or she will rot. Houseplant food is her favorite.”

Named after the actress Penelope Cruz, we told all of our horticulture friends about our plant on Facebook and Instagram, making mention of her at every given opportunity: at parties, the grocery store line, or work. She became one of the family, and she was easy to care for…until we realized that she would eventually reach 10′ tall and became too heavy to move. We eventually decided to move Penelope outdoors.


Winter came, and our flowering friend went dormant again as expected. She would always turn yellow – looking awful – like we were bad plant parents. We bought a 36″ fiberglass pot at the swap meet, as she had grown to such large proportions, her roots eventually broke through the container. We recently changed the soil within her pot, and her roots have now permanently anchored underneath a Morus alba (Fruitless Mulberry).

Over the years, I thought, there was no way she could survive temperatures under 50 degrees. According to everything I’ve read online, Penelope should be dead. When I went to the Huntington Gardens and Library in San Marino, California and inquired about this peculiarity, the collection curator noted that when they attempted to grow a Corpse Flower outside, their specimen expired. 

“You have something special.


Penelope is special. She is a rare and endangered flowering plant native to Western Sumatra. The Corpse Flower gets its name from the large, smelly inflorescence that it produces, a scent evolved to attract flies that pollinate the plant within a 48 hour bloom cycle. If the timing is just right, the bloom should happen within 10 years. It grows within a rainforest that is slowly disappearing, because development is threatening its limestone bluffs. Yet, here she is, living a much different life across the globe in Southern California.

All photos: Gregory Han

All photos: Gregory Han

Blistering triple-digit temperatures seemed a fitting forecast for an event dedicated to the appreciation of nature’s extreme condition survivors. The 31st annual Inter-City Cactus Show & Sale hosted by the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden is an unusual showcase put together by the Los Angeles, Long Beach, and San Gabriel Valley Cactus and Succulent societies dedicated to offer a stage to a spectacular array of exotic cacti and succulents sourced from arid deserts, semi-arid jungles, and mountain highlands from around the globe.

This is Comic-Con for people who love drought-tolerant plants.

All photos: Gregory Han

Outside the exhibit hall an array of cacti and succulents were made available across long tables for attendees to peruse and purchase, each ranging from a couple dollars for common specimens all the way into the thousands for rarities that might require multi-year loan approval (I learned to abide by “look, but don’t touch”, lest I find myself the new proud owner of a $1,300 Cyphostemma uter). I observed attendees shuffling and cradling cardboard boxes full of lithops (aka living stones), euphorbias, stapelias, and other recognizable varieties, picking each with the same recognizable furrowed brows expression I usually exhibit while deciding which pastries to add to my tray at a Chinese or Korean bakery.

The most unique and unusual specimens were offered by the aptly named, Rare Succulent Nursery, a dealer specializing in mostly African varieties, most I had never seen before. Many looked almost pathetic, small plants with the hunched stature of a dog caught chewing on a shoe and scolded for its misbehavior, attributed to the fact that any life that must survive the harrowing conditions of hellish daytime desert temperatures only to weather frost-forming cold nights is going to look humble by necessity. Even so, the prices attached to these plants reminded me to never assume price according to size.


As much as I enjoyed navigating the traffic jam of grizzled buyers and literally melting with every passing minute outdoors, I knew something better awaited within the walls of Ayres Hall (besides air conditioning): over 1,500 prized plants competing for ribbons and medals.

All manners of spikes, paddles, and numerous shapes defying explanation (one cactus was comprised of stacked spheres, obviously the inspiration for a Super Mario Bros. enemy) vied for prizes awarding health, color, and composition. My wife and I spent a few hours doddling slack-jawed, inspecting each entry with the same “OMG” expression of a child peering inside their first aquarium, overwhelmed by the diversity of otherworldly life before our eyes. We left with a greater appreciation for plants that can take decades to grow even a few inches, evolved to fight for every nutrient and stave back the elements with quiet fortitude.

It’s a wonder more Angelenos aren’t into growing and tending succulent and cacti, as our temperate to hot dry summers seem a good fit when compared to our city’s ongoing obsession with tropical plants and lawns for landscaping. The arid lands of Africa, South America, Australia, and our very own Southwest States all seem a better template for landscape design in a city challenged by drought conditions and increasing summer temperatures.

Who knows, perhaps in time xeriscaped cactus and succulent gardens will become the rule rather than the exception here in Los Angeles…but probably not in my lifetime remembering how much Angelenos love their lawns.

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