Posts by Calvin R. Abe, FASLA

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All photos by Calvin Abe

Over the holidays I went up to Sacramento to visit my family. While there I decided to visit the Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant in nearby Herald, California, about 12 miles from my where I grew up. Although the plant was decommissioned back in 1989, it was built in the early 1970’s when I was in high school, and was operational for nearly two decades. The plant was eventually decommissioned due to operational problems.

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This post and accompanying photos are not presented to argue the merits or criticism of nuclear power, but simply to share a dualistic thought that popped into my head as I drove around the facility: the admiration for the bucolic beauty and sculptural qualities of the reactor towers as structures – each sitting atop the landscape – while at the same time recognizing their potential to alter the face of the landscape for thousands of years in an instant. Chernobyl in 1986, Three Mile Island in 1979, and the recent Fukushima incident still remain vivid memories of this dualism between potential and pitfalls.

Is the future of nuclear power a sustainable or resilient approach? I’ll let you decide. But here are a few of my photographs from the two days I was there to view and witness their history firsthand.

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All photos: Calvin Abe

All photos: Calvin Abe

Growing up in a small farming community east of Sacramento, my father use to take my brothers and me to a small river inlet which we called the “Sloughhouse”. What I remember most wasn’t the muddy river that we played in, but the surrounding fields of hop vines (Google “hop field” and you will see an amazing structured network of vertical vines). Apparently, beer hops were once the largest agricultural crops in Northern California before Prohibition all through the 1950’s.

Recently, I had the opportunity to redesign the gardens for an old vineyard in Sonoma County near the Russian River that was once a premiere hop farm called Walter Ranch Hop Kiln. I spent two days wandering the site to take in the history and natural ecology of the region. Being at the site from sunrise through sunset reminded me of those childhood days at the slough. Here are a few photographs of the main focal point of the vineyard, the Hop Kiln.

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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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All Photos: Calvin Abe

All Photos: Calvin Abe

Metaphorically speaking, our country has clouds overhead. We, as a nation, are facing  an existential dilemma on many fronts, including environmental challenges, political choices, demographic shifts, social justice concerns, and economic sustainability. One doesn’t need a crystal ball to see how our lives will be impacted by the choices we make as a country.

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As I get older I have the distinct advantage of seeing how the past has impacted our daily lives today. Let’s hope our country will ultimately see an enlightened view of the world and its citizens.

These photos are part of a diptych from my visits to Folsom Lake, a large reservoir near Sacramento. I’ve been monitoring the lake’s water level for the last year. With the winter and spring rains in the last few months, the lake is nearly full.

At one time Mormon Island was home to 2,500 residents, hosting four motels, seven saloons and a school. In 1955 the town was erased from existence after Folsom Lake was filled.

At one time Mormon Island was home to 2,500 residents, hosting four motels, seven saloons and a school. In 1955 the town was erased from existence after Folsom Lake was filled.

What I found interesting is the rediscovery of a forgotten mining town at the bottom of the lake called Mormon Town. With the lake nearly full, this bit of history is once again a forgotten memory…

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