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All photos by Calvin Abe

I recently joined AHBE Landscape Architecture photographer, Sibylle Allgaier, during a Robinson R44 helicopter ride. She was on our firm’s assignment to capture aerial photos of the Johnny Carson Park in Burbank reopened back in July this year.

Seeing Southern California from the air is an extraordinary experience, especially when we have some control over where we fly. Taking off from Van Nuys Airport, we decided since we had the helicopter for a couple of hours, we’d head down to the Port of Los Angeles over the LA River and return along the coastline above the South Bay and Santa Monica. There is nothing like being above it all, especially since I spend many hours – along with my fellow Angelenos – dealing with some form of traffic congestion.

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Experiencing LA from above gave me a clear sense of why this city is both so functional and dysfunctional. First, one can see the economic functionality through the city’s diverse and interdependent land uses – from housing, commerce, manufacturing, and the vast networks of infrastructure that support it. This complex and diverse economy leads this region’s economic resiliency. You can actually see all this from the air.

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However, this same functional landscape also forms the city’s dysfunctional barriers, impeding the quality of life we all seek. This vast network of infrastructure and endless grid of parcelization directly affects our city’s livability, social mobility, and the construction of friendly communities.

So, one can ask: given these dualities, how do we find a balanced world? I think the answer has to do with nature: our re-creation and re-insertion of nature into our urban landscape (a quote I’ve imagined from a favorite book from the year 2020, “Natural Systems for Dummies”).

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