The practice of landscape architecture seeks to engage in proactive decision-making rather than corrective post-disastrous action. Cities vulnerable to sea level rise are adopting new planning schemes that consider potential flooding scenarios capable of displacing current housing residents, then plan accordingly to ensure future development does not take place within that zone of risk. In doing so cities reduce loss and deploy natural landscape systems and infrastructures (restored wetlands, salt marshes etc) capable of partially consuming the looming threat.
Having gotten intimate with city regulations, strict codes, and precise landscape requirements of the city of Los Angeles over the past months of practice here, I wonder if there is a city scale zoning code relevant to city planning in relation to earthquakes, and whether open space availability in relation to built-up environment should be enforced? A code that allows the city to acquire land on the basis of providing open space accessible by either foot or bike.
This space – a new typology – is not necessarily a park. Instead, imagine a safe-marked street, an adjacent school court, a community garden, a collection of pocket open spaces, or a collective of other outdoor spaces designed for emergency situations. The area allocated for each of these sites would be calculated on the basis of being able to host the community in its direct proximity and in open air. The park would be planned according to a new set of park design standards and codes (e.g. the ratio of tree clusters/vertical elements to open space).
Think of a building emergency exit plan. Residents are trained about exits and safe destination outdoor sites to convene, while also being given a defined exit path – a number of them – precisely designed to lead people to safer spaces in case of an emergency. Street parking lots are not always the best refuge, but as landscape typology, they can act as a post-crisis refuge, an emergency center, and a first aid node, etc.
Now think of a neighborhood-scale emergency exit plan. This is definitely an over ambitious and impractical proposal that probably ends up with more open space than livable space. Nevertheless, as a resident of Los Angeles for a few months now concerned with the forthcoming threat of an upcoming historical earthquake, one wonders about the resiliency of our living environment and infrastructure, and whether building codes have served to reduce the risk and loss sufficiently in any significant way.
We have packed our neighborhoods, developed every parcel of land, and also have built up towers arguably disproportionate with the street/neighborhood’s own capacity. This idea of communal safety areas on the other hand is a conceptual resilient-focused approach to the planning and design of safe open space systems across the city scales. After all, parks are not only a matter of recreation.