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As 2017 year comes to a close, the AHBE LAB contributors are taking time to look back at our year’s worth of posts. We are each identifying the most memorable post and sharing what we found interesting, informative, and inspiring. Enjoy the flashback, and let us know which post you thought was most memorable.

I remember my colleague Clarence Lacy offered an excellent post in July chronicling his visit to the Salton Sea. His post’s title, Is the Salton Sea a Temporal or Failed Landscape?, asks an important and specific question about this fascinating oddity of the California landscape.

The Salton Sea is a manmade anomaly born out of our thirst for water and a consequence of creating the state’s water infrastructure. The Salton Sea is both a living monument to Southern California’s historic water-grab in the early 20th Century, and also an example of how our natural environment adapts to humankind’s follies.

Clarence’s photos are memorably beautiful, haunting, and disturbing. His post represents what I consider to be the best of what the landscape architecture profession aims to accomplish, asking the questions that help us understand our relationship with the earth and our place in it.

The original post here: Is the Salton Sea a Temporal or Failed Landscape?

All photos by Clarence Lacy

When I moved to Southern California, I arrived with an understanding of some of the challenges related to landscape design in a semi-arid and arid climate. Prior to my relocation, I had experiences with turf renovation projects and low water landscape projects in the California Central Valley, another region facing similar water scarcity issues as Southern California. With these projects, I became fascinated with the desert and desert plants, specifically the harsh environments that host unique ecosystems of flora and fauna, life easily missed if one doesn’t recognize their subtleties underfoot.

My fascination with the desert has inspired me to make a list of arid destinations in Southern California, all with the purpose of documenting one of my favorite ecologies. On that list is the Salton Sea, a curious large body of water with an interesting past and present hydrology (a curiosity shared by others here at AHBE).

The Salton Sea is a 343 square mile saline lake located in the Coachella Valley. Inflows include the Alamo River, New River, and Whitewater. The wild part is? There are no outflows.

The lake is actually a historically dry bed that only filled after a catastrophic canal flooding and overtopping after a late storm. The storm caused unprecedented peak flows from the Colorado River into the lake bed, forming what we know as the Salton Sea in 1905. This landscape is another great example of nature’s adaptability after human intervention.

Over time the Salton Sea has become a stopover for migrating birds. Various small wildlife can be found taking advantage of the landscaped spaces and the created water body.

While a new ecology has existed since the lake’s unforeseen creation, the lake is continually shrinking with every passing year due to surface evaporation and decreased inlet flows related to drought and lower volumes of irrigation runoff. Salinity and boron concentrations continue to increase, decreasing the chances of a habitable environment for the various aquatic plants and animals that currently call the Salton Sea home.

The Salton Sea – once a popular freshwater lake used for recreation – has continuously become more and more polluted, its increasing salinity unideal for most recreation. Eutrophication and alageblooms from concentrated runoff have caused fish populations to decline among all introduced stock fish, with only the Mozambique Tilapia, Oreochromis mossambicus, eking out an existence. Dead fish litter the shores of the lake, the results of fish kills, their life cycle, and the fact there are no outlets from the lake.

As the lake shrinks in size, the landscape will begin to take another form. The dry lake basin and its salt deposits will become an ever-changing dynamic landscape. The birds that have used the space along their migration paths will (have to) find a new place to stop. Fish will continue to scatter the shores, and the place will take on a new ecological form.

What was a heavy-handed anthropologic destruction of a natural ecology became something new. How will nature’s resilience continue to adapt to these changing conditions? Is this a temporal landscape, nature’s way of healing a wound. Or is the Salton Sea just another example of a failing ecology?

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Vacant lots are full of nature. How do we keep them that way?: “Vacant lots are islands of wildness in the urban jungle: small and scraggly yet bountiful and biodiverse, a place to enjoy nearby nature and a home to city creatures. Yet there’s a tension inherent to them. Unless people protect vacant lots, they’ll eventually be developed — and they are “often considered a neighborhood eyesore, a place for crime and trash,” write researchers in the journal Sustainability. “Vacant lots are usually deemed a local problem for neighborhood residents.”

Who will save LA’s trees?: “It’s a pretty precious resource in cities, and you don’t want to take them down—you want to be adding to them,” he says. Instead, since 2000, many neighborhoods in the LA region have seen a tree canopy reduction of 14 to 55 percent, according to a University of Southern California study published in 2017.”

Marvel at Bodys Isek Kingelez’s spectacular cityscapes made of everyday materials: “On the third floor of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, a gallery is currently filled with colorfully fantastical visions of the future. Crafted by the late Congolese artist Bodys Isek Kingelez, the cityscapes are part of Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams, the first retrospective of his work.”

Californians approve bond measure that will provide $200 million for Salton Sea: “Supporters said they hope the infusion of funding for the Salton Sea will help state officials get moving with the construction of ponds and wetlands on sections of the exposed shoreline, as envisioned under a 10-year plan released last year. The projects along portions of the shoreline are intended to help control lung-damaging dust while also creating wetlands to revitalize bird habitats.”

How to Design Our Neighborhoods for Happiness: “The way we design our communities plays a huge role in how we experience our lives. Neighborhoods built without sidewalks, for instance, mean that people walk less and therefore enjoy fewer spontaneous encounters, which is what instills a spirit of community to a place. A neighborly sense of the commons is missing.”

Image credit: Tao Wu and Kristin Schwab/UConn Illustration

A new approach to social resilience through landscape architecture: “Landscape architecture is not a subject commonly associated with refugee settlements. But in a field of study where resilience is often applied to help fortify coasts against erosion or to safeguard habitats against loss, UConn landscape architecture researchers have begun using their expertise to encourage resilience in a different form”

Ballot measure aims to preserve Salton Sea: “A project to protect Californians who live near the Salton Sea from deteriorating air quality could sink or swim based on the outcome of a June ballot measure. Proposition 68 would allow the state to borrow $4 billion through bonds to fund parks and environmental protection projects, including $200 million for a plan to preserve the rapidly shrinking Salton Sea.”

8 photos shot by Ansel Adams of 1940s Los Angeles: Fortune magazine sent Ansel Adams in the early 1940s to photograph Los Angeles to capture images to accompany a piece about the area’s booming aviation industry. He left with more than 200 photos that capture what the city was like at the time. The magazine ultimately ran just a few of his images.

ASU grad sees landscape architecture as a path to social justice: “I think it’s important that landscape architects transition from working for typical firms to working directly with neighborhoods because in terms of sustainability, social equity is highly under-addressed…There were no street trees. The first thing I started to do was pull historical maps from 1930 until now and you can see there were almost no trees from then until now.”

The Lichenologist: A short documentary about Kerry Knudsen, curator of lichens at the University of California, who just gave a talk at The Huntington Library about the various lichen species found in Southern California. We also recommend this profile titled, “The Ex-Anarchist Construction Worker Who Became a World-Renowned Scientist“.

Photo: Ted Soqui for LA Weekly

Meet the Former Angelenos Living in a Rent-Free, Ramshackle Desert “Town”: Slab City: “The last hour of the 190-mile drive inland from L.A. to Slab City is a sensory-deprivation dash through frowning, scrubby nothingness where humans go only to escape or to hide, or because they’ve simply been priced out elsewhere. Beyond manicured Palm Springs and the featureless fields of the Coachella Valley, the increasingly toxic Salton Sea forms a dying mirror of the vast Colorado Desert sky, State Route 111 a thin thread of civilization between its apocalyptic abandoned resorts and the distant Chocolate Mountains.”

Ridership on Metro fell to the lowest level in more than a decade last year: “Despite a growing population and a booming economy, the number of trips taken on Los Angeles County’s bus and rail network last year fell to the lowest level in more than a decade. Passengers on Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses and trains took 397.5 million trips in 2017, a decline of 15% over five years. Metro’s workhorse bus system, which carries about three-quarters of the system’s passengers, has seen a drop of nearly 21%.”

Everyone Deserves the California Dream. It’s Time We Build Enough Housing to Provide It: “Unfortunately, this rail infrastructure is massively underused, largely because we have failed to capture the value of new transit by not building housing around them. By having so much exclusionary single-family housing around these stops, everyone has paid for something that only a select few can easily access.”

Architecture Books You Can Borrow (For Free) From The Internet’s Largest Library: “Have you registered for your free library card? If you haven’t, you’re missing out on some serious perks! The Internet Archive has a lending feature that allows users to electronically “borrow” books for 14 days. With over 2,000 borrowable books on architecture, patrons from across the globe can read works by Reyner Banham, Walter Gropius, Ada Louise Huxtable and Jonathan Glancey. There are also helpful guides, dictionaries and history books.”

Promising New Ways to Finance Urban Nature: “A few start-up organizations are trying to figure out to how to make it easier for cities across the country to turn the carbon stored in urban forests into credits and offsets. If well-designed, implemented, and monitored, these new models have the potential to provide new revenue streams for strapped urban parks systems, protect existing green spaces from development, and bring more greenery to our cities and suburbs.