Imagine if you could call for your car to drop you off at work and then come pick you back up later.  While in the car you could do work, watch the news on the way home, or perhaps jump onto one last conference call without having to worry about driving at the same time.  The car could pick up the kids along the way, then drop you off at the grocery store before continuing on its way home to drop them off, then return to pick you up.  The car would be able to do this automatically, without a driver.

Autonomous vehicles are coming sooner than you think, as noted by Patrick Sisson’s fantastic article over at Curbed summarizing the state of the autonomous vehicles – a must read.

A couple of years ago, I had a heated discussion at a sustainability networking meeting about the California High Speed Rail and whether it would be obsolete as soon as it opened with the eventual rise of driverless cars. At the time the promise of driver-less technologies seemed too far-fetched  – well beyond the norm of what an average person would tolerate. Besides, Southern California is the ultimate symbol of car culture, something anyone sitting in an outdoor cafe in Hollywood, Beverly Hills, or even Brand Boulevard in Glendale can attest.

Shiny, modified cars with real estate-worthy price tags roar past onlookers, each a symbol of success and power.  But after reading the Curbed post, I have to admit, the promise and ease of autonomous vehicles may actually convince Angelenos to give up driving.

Self-driving cars would be a revolution for Los Angeles. Driverless vehicles would not only change in the way Angelenos think about transportation – it would change the way we live.  Here’s how:

Reduced traffic:  I’ve said it before – we have the worst traffic in the country. Autonomous vehicles would be able to drive much closer together at a steady speed, reducing stop-and-go traffic.  Automated cars would essentially become a single entity moving throughout the city, picking the best routes and lining up orderly to get to each of their destinations.

Thanksgiving traffic on the 405 that went viral.

A reduction in pollution: Moving vehicles produce less air pollution. Coupled with electric (you could send your car to a charger when you don’t need it!) or hybrid technology, emissions due to vehicles could become virtually non-existent.

Economic relief: The Federal poverty-level income for a family of four is $24,600/year.  An average car costs about $8,000 to own, including repairs, insurance, and fuel. This means a family at the poverty level might be paying as much as 1/3 of their income for their car. Los Angeles is designed to necessitate at least one car for nearly every household of its citizenry.  Autonomous vehicles can be easily shared and rented, vastly reducing the ownership cost for low income households.

Reduce fatalities: There were 32,675 car-related deaths in the United States in 2015. This is about the same as the entire student body at the University of California, Davis, my alma mater. Driverless cars have the possibility of being much safer by taking control of the vehicle away from flawed human decision making.

Promote urban renewal: Think about how much space we allocate for our cars.  We have the 2 car garage at home, plus the parking space for where we work.  We have parking spaces at every store, school, and business we frequent. Our streets and freeways are wide. If we sent our car home after it dropped us off at work, we would not need the parking space at work.  We would not need as many lanes on our streets because the cars would take up space more efficiently. Suddenly, high density housing wouldn’t seem so bad. Pedestrians and bikes would have more room. Parking garages in our economic centers could be torn down for living spaces, new businesses, or for communal open spaces. Think about how different our cities would look and feel freed from the shackles of car parking.

Reduce the Heat Island Effect: Less road and more open space means a cooler city. All of the asphalt and concrete we dedicate to driving and parking our cars is responsible for our cities heating up.

Provides safe transportation for an aging population: In 2050, the population aged 65 and over is projected to reach 83.7 million – almost double its estimated population of 43.1 million in 2012.  I don’t know about you, but my mom really should have stopped driving at 70 instead of 82.  However, with a desire to remain active, what choice did she really have? Maybe my wife and I will have a choice of buying or using an autonomous vehicle in the twilight of our lives.

As we densify here in Los Angeles, every argument in every community meeting about development will begin and end with conversations about parking and traffic. We will spend our time and money debating, voting, and pointing fingers at each other over car transportation. However, I believe eventually we’ll need to admit to an addiction to the automobile. We spend too much money on cars and the infrastructure supporting its use.

The promise of an autonomous vehicle society will shift the paradigm away from this addiction and move us toward a more sustainable future.  I say we try it.

Our backyard, from about a year and a half ago, lush after the autumn rain. Photo: Gregory Han

The concept of the garden has loomed heavily on my mind lately. This is in no small part because my wife and I have been working diligently in reshaping and remediating our minute slice of Los Angeles land from the serpentine invasion of ivy, grasses, and the unabating appearance of Ailanthus altissima (anything but a tree of heaven in my book). Dreams of reconstructing an interpretation of something closer to the original landscape that once blanketed Mt. Washington guides every swing of the mattock, advises each planting, directs every placement of rock. We’ve collected a small library dedicated to gardening respectful of the existing environment and ecosystem, attempting to learn how to work with the land instead of against it. It’s a humbling process of perpetual attempt and failure…heavy on the failure.

Every stone and rock pulled from our backyard is reused to create paths or protect erosion. Photo: Gregory Han

Musings about the garden also weave in and out of my daily thoughts in due part to a healthy dose of online series like the Nowness Great Gardens videos, NHK’s At Home with Venetia in Kyoto, and books like Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher’s Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change. Even my playlist has been seeded to provoke botanical action. If all those fail to tempt, the views from my home office glimpsing out toward our side and backyard hillside are always enough to remind me there’s work to be done.

Gardening in our hillside section of Mt. Washington is regularly an archeological affair, with remnants of previous generations revealed within the dirt.

With sandstone and rock and embedded like nuts in nougat, our steep clay soil hillside provides a difficult challenge, the stingy canyon sunlight even more so. Erosion is perpetually a concern, the invasive species relentless, and the sunlight passes with a speed that results in tall plants with supermodel stalks. Even so, work in the backyard is always satisfying, constantly educating. Where navigating a mouse and pecking at a keyboard barely registers as activity, swinging a pick axe, shoveling dirt, shouldering rocks, and arranging plants with hand in soil feels like a sort of homecoming, an earthly pleasure satiating the innate desires to shape, nurture, and move.

Our greatest successes reveal themselves when our efforts result in the appearance of more life local to Los Angeles. Native and migrating insects, birds, the occasional foraging mammals, and even rarer amphibian all play a part as friends or foes to our plans. Connections between flora and fauna unfold at every corner, more exciting than any Game of Thrones episode (with equal likelihood of sex and violence to witness).

“We have increasingly less and less control of what is going on out there, and in our gardens we can make the sort of world we that we wished lived in.” – Anna Pavord, author of The Tulip.

A path along the Cedars Sinai Plaza Healing Gardens designed by AHBE Landscape Architects. Photo: ©

In Rebecca Solnit’s “Wanderlust: A History of Walking“,  architects Charles W. Moore (who worked on my favorite residential stretch of California coast, Sea Ranch (1963) with landscape architect Lawrence Halprin), William J. Mitchell, and William Turnbull’s express a poetic affinity for the garden path: “a thread of a plot, connecting moments and incidents into a narrative. The narrative structure might be a simple chain of events with a beginning, middle, and end. It might be embellished with diversions, digressions, and picaresque twists, be accompanied by parallel ways (subplots), or deceptively fork into blind alleys like the althernative scenerios explored in a detective novel.”

It’s a comforting thought, one I try to remember as I wipe away the sweat while extracting yet another large sandstone from the clay soil – a barbaric dentist armed with gardening tools. Slowly a garden path is forming, this personal novel of our backyard being written. But where writing an article, poem, or novel eventually concludes with the final page punctuated with a period, the pages of a garden disappear quickly to be rewritten again with every passing season…a lifetime of writing chapters, with unimaginable pages and stories to spring forth, most we’ll never be around to ever read.





Landscape architects are often challenged to add “context” to our design projects, to show the existing road network and buildings surrounding the site. And in 3D. Yet often we lack the time, budget, or knowledge to integrate the modeling process as an efficient and accurate task. In this post we will discuss three different tools that can help professionals achieve quality results with nominal investment and effort.

Urban planning and major landscape architecture projects often include the necessity to show realistic scenarios, creating a context for the proposed solution within an existing environment. Thus, depending upon the project, variations will occur from time to time in terms of scale and level of detail. The following workflows have the ability to cover massive schematic-looking surroundings, from 2-3 blocks, to an entire district or town.

The first tool is ESRI City Engine, a program that allows users to generate or download entire 3D cities out of 2D GIS datasets. Depending on the level of detail and flexibility desired, CityEngine ranges from $500 (Basic) to $4,000 (Advanced), and the export formats range widely (not to mention that it is also compatible with Lumion).

However, if quick and simple solutions are desired, then Lumion’s newest version is recommended. Using data from OpenStreetMaps, Lumion offers an option that allows users to place a model into any context. This operation is practically the inverse of Google Earth’s KMZ exports, where models are loaded into Google Earth. Here the context comes to the user, plus it can be rendered. Since this is only a beta version, there are currently some limitations regarding the site’s footprint and its appearance in relation to the context. Nonetheless, we can be sure that this tool carries promise, and it will continue evolving into the near future. Lumion Pro costs about $3,400, and only the Pro version offers the features noted above.

A good balance between the last two options with an economic price tag is the Sketchup plug-in, SU Placemaker. Sketchup’s user-friendly interface, alongside this plug-in can facilitate the integration of 3D environments into the site without requiring a lot of file formatting conversions. Without the need for extra software, SU Placemaker can be acquired for the affordable price of $200, and the software developers recommend users to try before they buy!.

All of the above-mentioned options can be combined with other technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D printing, helping harken in a new era where architectural projects can be transformed into different and innovative experiences for both designer and clients.

Forbidden City Walk
Walkers will explore once-common building types like bungalow courts and dingbats that were outlawed or suppressed – sometimes on purpose, sometimes unintentionally – by changes to zoning and building rules. We will end at a ‘backlash building’ – one of the places that inspired the height limits, downzonings, and other development restrictions common in the city. All participants will receive a timeline of significant land rule changes that created our forbidden city. Walk leader Mark Vallianatos is director of LAplus and a former LA Walks advisory board member.
When: July 29, 2017 at 9am – 12pm
Where: Vermont / Santa Monica Metro Red Line Station

Summer Nights at the Hammer Museum
KCRW and the Hammer Museum present four free nights of live music in the Hammer courtyard. A happy hour with food and cash bar starts at 6:30 p.m., KCRW DJ sets start at 7:00 p.m., and live music starts at 8:00 p.m. The museum’s gallery hours will be extended to 9 p.m. so guests can enjoy the exhibitions. Bring your dancing shoes every Thursday night in July! Amber Mark and Maria Del Pilar and KCRW DJ Liza Richardson.
When: July 27th at 6:30pm
Where: Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, 90024

Abundant Housing L.A. – Pro-housing Happy Hour!
No speeches, just good times! Co-hosted with our friends at Happy Urbanists and Santa Monica Next. We’ve got the back patio at Arsenal reserved starting at 6:30pm – make sure to show up on time if you want happy hour prices! Food and drinks are both cheaper before 7pm. If you really, really can’t go a whole evening without talking policy though, we’ll have a table set up in the back where you can weigh in on the pro-housing policy agenda the policy committee is helping to assemble. Here’s a hint: upzoning. Upzoning everywhere!
Hosted by Happy Urbanists
When: July 24th at 6:30 PM – 9 PM
Where: The Arsenal, 12012 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, California 90064

Silent and Classic Movie Nights at Heritage Square
Take a trip back into LA’s storied architectural past, bring your chairs, blankets, and picnics and enjoy classic films under the stars at Heritage Square. Projected onto the side our historic boxcar, enjoy the film amid our historic structures. Admission: $10 for adults, $5 for children (12 and under), and Free for museum members. Beverages, popcorn, and snacks will be available for purchase. July 29 – “On Moonlight Bay” (1951). Relax “with the mundane distractions of small-town life, the sweet innocence of period songs and the uncertain course of young love.”
When: July 29th, 7:30 p.m. and film will begin at 8:15 p.m. (or as darkness allows)
Where: 3800 Homer St, Los Angeles, CA 90031

Politicon will be toasting to a third term as the quintessential non-partisan event of the year. We’re upping the ante with some of the biggest names in politics and the wittiest voices in comedy and entertainment, representing all sides of the political spectrum. Join us at the Pasadena Convention Center for a full weekend of panels, debates, art, podcasts, comedy shows, Q&A’s, book readings, interviews and meet & greets. With rooms ranging from 50-seaters to large-scale auditoriums, you’ll be able to get up close and personal with political heavyweights, revel in the endless humor, dissect documentaries and parodies with filmmakers, and maybe even interact with a few of history’s greatest leaders.
When: July 29th and 30th (various times)
Where: Pasadena Convention Center

with it which it as it if it is to be: A film by Eve Fowler
​Eve Fowler’s film with it which it as it if it is to be is an intimate study of the working practices of artists captured in their studios. Partially scripted as a feminist critique, the film features artists reading off-screen from queer feminist icon and writer Gertrude Stein’s short story Many Many Women. Part of a larger project informed by Stein’s writing, Fowler’s with it which it as it if it is to be is a film that seeks to bring Stein’s writing forward into the contemporary moment.
When: July 27th, 7pm
Where: MOCA, 250 South Grand Avenue, 90012


It Takes More Than Bollards to Build a Bike Paradise: “Some cycling capitals are less well known. Take Nijmegen, a mid-sized Dutch city near the German border, where bikes boast an inner-city modal share of 60 percent. Last year, the Cyclists’ Union of the Netherlands voted it the best bike city in the country (and thus probably the universe)—toppling other towns that regularly garner international praise. What’s the city’s secret? A new documentary by Streetfilms shot during Velo-City, an international biking conference recently held in Nijmegen, hits on key points.”

Atlas for the End of the World: “Coming almost 450 years after the world’s first Atlas, this Atlas for the End of the World audits the status of land use and urbanization in the most critically endangered bioregions on Earth. It does so, firstly, by measuring the quantity of protected area across the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots in comparison to United Nation’s 2020 targets; and secondly, by identifying where future urban growth in these territories is on a collision course with endangered species.”

LANDSCAPE: All Night Menu Stirs the Plot: “Here’s how Sam Sweet describes his All Night Menu project: “A periodic index of lost heroes and miniature histories. Its only objective is to make the invisible equal to the visible.” The series of five handmade booklets explores Los Angeles’ sprawl with gritty elegance. Each story unveils multilayered narratives from otherwise overlooked corners. On this episode of LAndscape, Sweet joins Frosty on a jaunt around Los Angeles to flip some stones. Hear about the extraordinary, unsung characters who’ve roamed these streets and the music that moved them.”

California Plant Communities by Zipcode:
These lists are an attempt to define what plant community(ies) exist for every city, town and zipcode in California. Although we’ve traversed most of California, it seems humanly impossible to track every road and village in one lifetime. Works like Munz’s California Flora, McMinn’s Shrubs of California, Abram’s Illustrated Flora of the Pacific States, or the original Jepson Manual (Manual of the Flowering Plants of California, by Willis Linn Jepson) continually amaze me with how few hillsides they missed. They didn’t have zipcodes then.”

The Last House On Mulholland – HOME: Stories from LA: How will we live in 20 years? Or 50? Or 100? A one-of-a-kind, only-in-LA plot at the very end of Mulholland Highway inspired some of the world’s best designers to think hard about the home of the future, in Los Angeles and beyond.