Arizona-based Local Motors introduced Olli, a 12-passenger van.

How self-driving vans and minibuses will change the transit landscape: “Car ownership is no longer practical. Why own an expensive asset like a car when you can summon one with a switch? Why buy an apartment with a parking spot when you can summon one from a fleet of autonomous vehicles that are ready for people to share?” 

The Curbed guide to Southern California’s deserts: Early spring rain might yet awaken desert blooms. “The Colorado and Mojave deserts span millions of acres, from the dusty Mexico-U.S. border to the poppy fields of the Antelope Valley to the neon of Las Vegas. Here, we turn our attention to the vibrant, curious, and colorful places in LA’s backyard, and the people still trying to preserve and adapt to the arid landscape.”

Beyond the sea wall: a changing climate calls for dynamic solutions: “San Francisco and Christchurch may not exactly be twin cities, but when it comes to rising sea-levels and ground water, they face similar challenges – and an opportunity to rethink coastal protection.”

Landscape Games: “The video game Minecraft has become a new tool for community engagement. The landscapes, created by the kids using the video game Minecraft, were blocky by nature, but three dimensional, and from their laptops, they could explore the park designs from all directions.”

Wildlife corridor will connect O.C. coast to Cleveland National Forest: “Ground was officially broken last week on a $13-million effort to restore a wildlife corridor that will connect the Cleveland National Forest with Orange County wild coastal terrains. The project, in the making for more than two decades, seeks to encourage biological diversity in the animals that dwell in the more than 20,000 acres of coastal chaparral surrounding Laguna Beach.”

Photo by Steve Boland(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

While distances may vary, the average walk most people will comfortably travel to public transit falls somewhere around one-quarter mile. My own comfort zone falls a little further, somewhere between a half and a three-quarter mile, or a 10-15-minute walk. But the quarter mile rule of thumb exists for a reason, a distance promoted by TOD, or Transit-oriented development, stipulating urban development focuses upon land uses around a transit station or transit corridor “within one-quarter mile, or a five to seven minute walk”.

However, not everyone lives or works near a public transit service within a quarter mile, or even a full mile. This is probably part of the reason why nearly 80% of Angelenos commute to work by car (not including out-of-county commuters).

Assuming participation in public transit would increase if there was a method of closing the gap between the first and final mile between commute destinations, what would be the best and most feasible solution to increase public transportation use?

Here’s one idea: Bird.

Following the models of ride-sharing services and bike sharing rentals now readily available across the city, users can now tap their smartphone to call up the service of a Bird – an electric scooter that does not require a dock, keys, rental booth, or even a drop-off location. You simply find your scooter after making a reservation by app, hop on, and go! Their website provides some basic rules:

  • Do: Wear a helmet, as required by law. Keep both feet on the footboard while riding. Ride in bike lanes when available. Park adjacent to
    bike racks when available. End your ride by locking the Bird with the app.
  • Do Not: Ride on sidewalks. Block public pathways or driveways. That’s about it.

Good morning little Italy! #lovebird #enjoytheride

A post shared by Bird (@bird) on

As soon as the scooter is unlocked, the vehicle becomes the responsibility of its user. But considering how prevalent GPS is today, the scooters are tracked in real time, no matter how far they wander, almost guaranteeing they can be found before, during, and after use.

Every evening the fleet of scooters are picked up and taken back to the mothership to recharge. And like clockwork, between 5 am and 6 am the next morning, the electric scooters begin to reappear throughout the city, ready for a new day of use. Initially I harbored some of the same concerns as when ride-sharing apps began proliferating. “Are there really going to be enough supply to meet a demand?” I wondered. Fortunately, anyone can log into the Bird app to check on the availability of scooters throughout the day.

As population of cities grow, density increases, and dependency upon personal automobiles decline, the availability of public transportation will increasingly become a topic of public discussion. But considering it’s much easier to bring riders to an existing station than it is to build a new rail station to riders, the proposition of adding an element of fun to public transportation by way of electric scooters seems a strategy I can support.

Photos by Wendy Chan

It was eight years ago when I was asked me to take photos of Camino Nuevo High School in the Rampart Village neighborhood of Los Angeles, a charter high school project completed by AHBE. I can still remember feeling inspired by the project’s planting design, with its projection of a streetscape experience matched with a color palette of blue and yellow complementing the dynamic graphic of the building facade. The striking contrast between the fine soft texture of Helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Oat Grass) against the thorns and structural foliage of Agave americana (Century Plant) was particularly memorable.

When I took these photos, the project was already a year into its growth after the project’s completion. Just a year later, there were already signs of maintenance issues: invasive weeds, overgrown plants, and volunteer palms emerging uninvited from the parkway.

Recently, I found myself back on the grounds of Camino Nuevo High School. I was driving  to the office from a meeting when I happened to pass by the high school. I decided to stop to inspect how the project’s planting design was holding up eight years later and compare my memories of yesterday with the realities of today. I particularly wanted to investigate which plants proved to be the most resilient eight years later.

Unfortunately, upon closer inspection, the planting areas once so thoughtfully designed and planted revealed to be in a complete state of disarray. The Helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Oat Grass) planted on the parkway are now gone, with weeds and voluntary plants like Cortaderia selloana (Pampas Grass) taken over the planters. On a positive note, the agaves have grown beautifully and considerably, with pups spread throughout. I also noticed the bougainvillea lining the walkways was pruned to control its height. Exposed and damaged drip tubing informed me the irrigation systems was no longer functional.

What began as a cohesive vision is currently a mish-mash of new plants and old plants. Some new plants were obviously added, including a plant pruned into the shape of a globe. Turf lawn was also reintroduced.

I wasn’t completely surprised at the sad state of the planting areas. Los Angeles schools have been struggling for funding, and landscape maintenance costs are secondary to budgetary concerns within the classroom. A lack of maintenance is not entirely to blame.

As landscape architects, we’re constantly charged to find a balance of aesthetics, functionality, and plant resiliency, all within a budget. Even so, we’re cognizant of the challenges and struggles related to maintenance, including the increasing scarcity of water available to keep landscapes healthy. Thus, solutions to provide resilient landscapes requiring as little maintenance as possible is our profession’s ideal.

I believe now is the time to progressively move landscape design forward in promotion of planting designs capable of surviving – or even thriving – with a minimum of maintenance. Our profession should make efforts to choose plants capable of surviving with little or no irrigation, and without the need for constant pruning or supplemental fertilizer. Guided by these goals,  native California plants that once covered our state’s landscape might yet again become a common sight and an example of native resiliency.

The global blockbuster Black Panther reveals an unexpected and uncredited star – Birnin Zana – the film’s fictional capital city of African nation,  Wakanda. Organic and dense, the city of Birnin Zana exhibits a preference for street life flowing through a medley of architecture constituting a wondrous and energetic cityscape – an imaginary example of a “traditional city” (a term coined by urbanist Andrew Alexander Price in reference to urban development that emerges organically over a span of time “by people colonizing and building close together”).

Day by day we are becoming more powerful!

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The government of Wakanda does not wield technology, economics, architecture, or planning as a means of control. Nor does capitalism manifest as sterilizing culture. Instead, the capital of Black Panther is portrayed as a colorful and vibrant metropolis, one manifested in people with their own distinct music, language, fashion, dance, all surrounded by a dazzling polychromatic palette of patterns representing the numerous tribes unified under the singular banner of a country. Wakanda illustrates an ideal of technological supremacy, but not one antithetical to strong ties to ancient traditions and cultures.

Black Panther’s artists and designers undoubtedly looked to real world architecture like the Reunification Monument in Yaounde, Cameroon (top) and the National Museum of African American History & Culture, Smithsonian Institution, Washington,  (bottom) for real world inspiration for their imaginative depiction of Afro-futuristic urbanism. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 photos by Mark Fischer and  Adam Fagen).

Cities are living beings; they consume, respire, and excrete. What makes each city unique is how culture and history manifest in their planning, open space, and architecture. But in modern times, cities now reflect a sterile landscapes devoid of the identifiable unique characteristics traditional cities exhibit – a reflection of the influences of imperialism, capitalism, and globalism erasing regional and human-scale developments. This is not a fault of cities, but instead express the eventuality of a Western notion shaped by mechanized culture and easily replicable architecture. The city of Black Panther diverges away from this notion noticeably.

As someone obsessed with exploring ideas about experiencing urban form, watching Black Panther inspired numerous thoughts related to design, urbanism, and culture. The following are reasons why Black Panther depicts an urban ideal worth aspiring toward:

Technology strengthens tradition: In typical depictions of the future, highly advanced technology coupled with trans-national economies results in a homogenized global culture, one where clothing, architecture, vehicles, and people adopt uniformity. Diversity in culture has given way to globalism and the ‘design’ of new technologies. Everything is sleek, colors are muted, and the city is building upon building, connected through flying cars, transport tubes, and transport pods. Machines, infrastructure, and technology are in the forefront of urban form, and life occurs inside. In Black Panther, Wakandan culture and tradition plays ever prominent. Coupled with the efficiency and power of technology is the expression of culture through color, pattern, and form.

Urban form targets human-scaled interaction: One critique of the modern city is it focuses architecture over its inhabitants. Modern cities have lost touch with human scale, trading in human interaction for mechanical and technological transactions. Commerce was once local, and life was centered on the street. One of most memorable scenes of the film unfolds within the capital city of Birnin Zana, on its streets, where people are shown in relation to the surrounding urban form. Even in technologically advanced Wakanda, the street remains the place for social interaction,  shopping, dining, and play.

Culture expressed through architecture: Instead of a city of shiny glass towers, Wakanda’s architecture is shown spanning various ages with numerous traditional motifs applied across buildings. Old one-story buildings stand proudly next to 10-story buildings, with skyscrapers reminiscent of the real-life La Pyraminde in Abidjan or Kigali International Airport interspersed. This futuristic marriage between old and new architecture parallels the aforementioned merging of technology with tradition characterizing Wakanda as a nation and culture.

Respect of Nature and Organicism: Wakanda portrays an imbued respect for the natural environment. The city is shown embedded within a beautiful natural environment, and throughout the film, the power and awe of the surrounding vast and pristine natural landscape is alluded to. Here, the landscape is not merely a backdrop, but the actual stage on which the capital city sits.

The city is not a machine: Contemporary urbanism and planning tends to focus upon creating machines for living. Capitalism fed this notion as a form of public process and urban culture. Conversely, the traditionalist would say a city should serve the people, citing human interaction as the defining attribute of urbanism. Cultural nuance and variety physically expressed in urban architecture is important in establishing a city as purposefully human, and not a machine. Wakanda follows this standard.

This is only a quick list of observations and thoughts after watching Black Panther. Someday I’d love to dive deeper and explore the influence of urban form in shaping the landscape of the city and their effects upon urban behavior. For now, Wakanda can serve as an imaginative ideal, one melding culture, nature, and architecture.

Wakanda Forever.

Photo: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

61st Annual Bonsai Show
“Discover the timeless appeal of an ancient horticultural art form as the California Bonsai Society presents its 61st annual show, featuring dozens of beautiful specimens created by bonsai masters. The show takes place in The Huntington’s Brody Botanical Center. Additional examples of bonsai can be seen in the permanent display in the Japanese Garden’s Bonsai Courts, where more than 70 world-class trees are on permanent display. Entry to the show is included with general admission to The Huntington.”
When: Saturday, March 24 at 10 AM – 5 PM
Where: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

Night of 1,000 Drawings
“Night of 1000 Drawings is a community fundraising initiative that asks everyone in L.A. to ‘doodle for a difference’ – draw anything, with anything, on anything 6 x 8. All donated doodles will be exhibited at a one-night-only art exhibition and sale, which will take place on March 22, 2018, from 5-8pm, at the Globe Theatre. All attendees will get to choose a doodle to take home, and be entertained by award-winning musicians. All proceeds go directly towards funding a music program for Metro Charter Elementary.”
When: Thursday, March 22, 2018, 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Where: Globe Theatre, 740 S. Broadway Street 90014

Pasadena Heritage Spring Home Tour: Better Homes and Gardens
“Tour extraordinary historic homes and gorgeous gardens as Pasadena Heritage presents architectural and landscape design spanning more than 130 years. Inspired by the legendary magazine that has epitomized American living since 1922 with articles such as, “Create the Perfect Front Yard” and “Backyard Landscapes with our Gardening Tips,” Better Homes and Gardens continues to be one of America’s favorite magazines.”
When: Sunday, March 25, 2018, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Where: Locations to be provided.

King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh
“In a dramatic new presentation, dazzling multimedia complements rare artifacts to take guests on an immersive journey of the pharaoh’s quest for immortality. Examine exquisite rings found on King Tut’s fingers, opulent jewelry that adorned his body, and the gold sandals placed on his feet upon burial. Discover how the scientific analysis of King Tut’s 3,300-year-old mummy has revealed new information about his health and lineage, and how cutting-edge technologies have played a role in discovering new tombs and analyzing existing ones in ways never before imagined.”
When: March 24, 2018 – January 6, 2019
Where: California Science Center, 700 Exposition Park Drive, 90037

The Unreal City
Installation Gallery and Installation Magazine host a group exhibition of Los Angeles artists each examining the facade of the city they call home as part of the Santa Monica Airport Artwalk 2018.
When: Saturday, March 24 at 12 PM – 5 PM
Where: Installation Magazine, 3021 Airport Ave Suite 102C, Santa Monica 90405