At some point in nearly everyone’s career you’ll come to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”. I’ve questioned myself about why I’m a landscape architecture professional, and recognize it’s definitely not for the money nor for instant gratification. It takes years to see the project you worked on materialize into a thriving community space. So why am I passionate about this field? I’ve recently recalled a childhood memory that has lingered for years which helps explain why I’m a landscape architect.
I remember as a young girl eavesdropping on my mother’s conversation with her sister, distinctly recollecting her saying, “Living in America without a car is like being in jail.” My mother grew up in an urban and dense city in Asia where she walked to temples, markets, met for dates at street food vendors, and socialized with her school friends to play along alleyways. Her life unfolded within the context of a walkable community. When she immigrated to the States, the culture and urban density was so different and challenging – especially in Los Angeles –that it was a shock for her. She felt trapped and isolated.
For most of my childhood our family didn’t own a car, so my world was defined by a 30 minute walking radius around my house. During my college years, I busted out of this bubble and went out to seek opportunities and means to travel. I first went camping during college where I experienced nature – not urban nature – but the wild and unplanned ecosystems of plants, animals, and geology which inspire my profession today.
I also began traveling across Europe and Asia, where I witnessed how different those cities were compared to Los Angeles. They were walkable cities with a sense of place. Neighborhoods with accessible wide open public spaces for assembly, store frontages facing the sidewalk, short blocks with easy access to public transportation – they all added up to cities with unique urban energy. I fell in love with these cities. I wanted to move “there” and leave Los Angeles, the place I called home for all my life.
I no longer wanted to live in a city where not having a car is being in jail, so I began applying for opportunities abroad. What my mother casually said to her sister over the phone always stayed with me. I didn’t realize how important her observation was to me until I was practicing in the profession of landscape architecture. As I started dreaming of living in another city, I came to the eventual realization that Los Angeles is my home. I started looking for a place in the city to live where I could walk to supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops, and public transportation. A high Walk Score was my first priority when I was looking for a place to live, as I craved a walkable neighborhood.
Luckily I eventually did find a place that meets these requirements, and I couldn’t be happier. But now when I travel to other cities, I’m still noting the features which make these cities more walkable than my own.
“What defines a sense of place?”
“Why are the streets so inviting?”
“How can design change the way our communities are built?”
“How can we make community open space more accessible and useable?”
I see a shift in Los Angeles happening right now, one transitioning us from a city dominated and defined by car-based communities into a more pedestrian-friendly network of neighborhoods. I’m excited and passionate about landscape architecture because I see how our work has a direct effect in creating more walkable neighborhoods and accessibility for all to experience nature, and hopefully free anyone else from ever feeling like they’re trapped and isolated as my mother once felt.