Posts by Jennifer Salazar

Photo: Jennifer Salazar

During a recent weekday lunch, representatives from local transportation organizations – including the MTA and OCTA – gathered in a small banquet room at the Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles for the Women in Transportation Seminar-sponsored presentation entitled, “Infrastructure State of Good Repair & Asset Management”. The panel focused upon the “useful life” of moving vehicles (i.e. buses and train cars), specifically their long-term maintenance costs and the necessity to prioritize these needs. During the presentation the panel admitted repair and asset management was not one of their more exciting topics, but it was a critical for keeping the city’s transit systems operating long into the future.

By the end of the discussion I was left with a few questions, most importantly, “What about the investment in green infrastructure, both long and short term?”

AHBE and other landscape architects integrate and prioritize around green infrastructure, designing for various transit facilities like train stations, and bus and train maintenance facilities. I wondered about the span – or “useful life” – of green infrastructure in similar terms to transit. What investment would be required for a “state of good repair”?

True monetary landscape costs are not just represented by funds allocated for the purchase of materials and labor costs upfront for installing trees, paving, irrigation systems, infiltration systems, and site furniture. There are also the ongoing costs related to maintenance: annual plant pruning, weekly debris removal, the removal and replacement of infiltration plants that have absorbed contaminated roadway runoff (approximately every 5 years), and water costs required to irrigate the plants. All of these maintenance costs certainly need to be included in any green infrastructure project’s budget.

The next obvious question is, “What is the ROI – return on investment – of those green infrastructure costs?”

Colleagues have remarked about various studies citing monetary figures related to a landscape’s worth, quantifying and placing a value upon environmental benefits like the removal of air pollution by urban trees and shrubs. According to a 2015 USDA study – The State of California’s Street Trees – the monetary value placed on these trees from energy conservation, stormwater management, and property value averaged $110.63 per tree. Another online calculator factors in geographic location to identify the monetary value associated with the benefits of specific tree species.

Looking beyond monetary costs and benefits, we as a culture should be asking additional questions related to the investment in green infrastructure:  Are we willing to pay for lowered ambient air temperatures produced by trees, so our cities are more comfortable to walk, bike, or roll in?  What is the perceived value of large, mature tree in a park or plaza?

As a culture, we need to remember the intangible benefits of green infrastructure sometimes escape quantifiable value, but deserve to be appreciated nonetheless. Each tree adds immensely to the quality of life for all citizens, something with a long-lasting return on investment benefitting many generations.



About a year ago I began a post with this photo, accompanied with plans for growing a “lush, overflowing garden of kitchen ingredients” intended for backyard backyard fêtes. All photos: Jennifer Salazar.

Ah, yes…summer officially arrived a week ago on June 20th at 9:24pm. It was at that exact moment the sun reached its most northern apex from the equator. Given the passing of the season into the next, alongside the extreme temperatures torching across the entire southwest United States recently, I found myself inspired to offer an update about my kitchen garden.

Sadly, I begin with a bit of disappointment: some of the strawberries have not survived, and I have yet to see any fruit. The sugar snap peas and sunflowers sprouted without any problems from seed, while my tomatoes – old standbys like Early Girl – are thriving as well, and filling up the bottoms of their cages. Thyme and fennel continue to thrive, while the hot colored marigolds bloom and dry out in a continuous floral cycle of bloom and bust (the flower even coordinate with my orange gardening Crocs!).

Surprisingly, the basil plants which I always have trouble keeping alive are doing ok. The hot pepper bush, cilantro, and a couple Italian parsleys are withstanding the heat, continuing to grow.

A couple of squash plants are spreading their vines out confidently, my fave being this watermelon’s variegated and highly articulated leaves – its expanse creating a pleasing flat carpet of green over one of the beds.

The large pomegranate shrub at the back of the beds continues to set fruit, so I hope that will produce a bounty of pomegranates to enjoy this autumn.

Another favorite is the Geranium (though not the botanically correct Pelargonium species) – a favorite because their constant bright blooms appear even during drought conditions, and also because of the everlasting memories connected with my grandparents’ Inland Empire backyard growing up.

Unfortunately I had to install a set of plastic green stakes with fencing to keep our 2 dogs from digging up the beds before we planted. It was the least visually obtrusive solution, though I cannot say I am a fan of it.

Who knows, there may still yet be a chance my backyard will one day produce a summer harvest to meet my goals of this ideal backyard feast!

Photos: Jennifer Salazar

This is the first in a series of posts examining city streets, identifying how and which landscape elements can help provide benefits to the local community. First, we begin with a general description of what many Los Angeles streets look like today. In the future, I will take a look at other street options, including some AHBE projects, and also the challenges related to improving streets, alongside looking at other options for inspiration.

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Street: noun \ˈstrēt\
1a :  a thoroughfare especially in a city, town, or village that is wider than an alley or lane and that usually includes sidewalks b :  the part of a street reserved for vehicles c :  a thoroughfare with abutting property

Elements of our typical streets today include the asphalt roadway, concrete curb and gutters, sidewalks, and sometimes tree wells (spaces in the sidewalk where trees are planted, often covered with metal tree grates). Vehicular drive lanes of varying widths, sometimes parallel parking at the curb, turn lanes, and occasionally built medians make up the roadway. On the sidewalk – besides trees – site furniture including benches, trash receptacles, bus stops, and/or shelters also exist. Signs – directional, street name, standard traffic – also inhabit space along the sidewalk.

Streets are one of the few remaining outdoor public spaces we have in our built-out cities. And in many cities, these spaces make up much, if not a majority, of the total square footage of public outdoor space in a city. Because of this significant amount of real estate, environmental mitigation by the installation of street trees can be significant, providing shade to encourage the use of more alternative modes of transportation, mitigating heat island effect, and providing habitat for insects and birds.

I think we need to be addressing and providing smart solutions for increased multi-modal uses of our streets, with increased use of trees as transportation methods change. As populations grow older and live longer, as obesity rates increase and threaten the health of so many of our population, and as environmental conditions worsen the need becomes more significant. We should re-examine what these thoroughfares should become to better serve the communities in which they exist.

So, I hope you will stay tuned as we look closer at the Landscape of Street Design over the next couple of months.

At one time massive oak trees like this one captured growing from Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena, circa 1890 held prominent presence. Check out The Oak Trees of Southern California: A Brief History over at LOST LA. Courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

How long ago did trees of significant size cease to be identified and used as wayfinding elements? I still harbor romanticized memories of large specimen trees holding court in the center of small towns, or trees of substantial size guarding the entry of a home’s long dirt driveway back in the “olden days.” Besides the scarcity of space for trees of significant size and age in most urban centers today, I have to wonder how many people could actually even identify a Jacaranda or Coral tree, especially when it was not flowering?

This very question arose last week while attending, “Movement Matters: Wayfinding: what, how, where and why?”, a seminar sponsored by Steer Davie Gleave. Seminar presenters, Evan Weinberg, Policy and Advocacy Manager, Toronto Financial District BIA and James Brown, Principal Consultant, Steer Davies Gleave led what turned out to be an interesting discussion about the importance of wayfinding elements in our cities – from economic benefits, to the physical interaction with one’s city.

I especially enjoyed the Legible London project that they described, a project envisioned with the goal to give people the “confidence to get lost.” The very legible wayfinding signs stationed right outside all the Tube Station stops in London proved extremely helpful during a recent trip, a firsthand account of the benefits of wayfinding elements in a city.

The other point I was glad to hear during the seminar was that Weinberg and Gleave still recommended producing an actual map of the area. Perhaps one that was extruded, or be presented on a dynamic digital board, but nevertheless advocate the production of an actual map of an area. They said many clients immediately ask for an app as a wayfinding tool; but these consultants still abide by the conviction, a “map before the app.”

On a related note, I still distinctly remember preparing for my first – and sadly only – visit to Venice, Italy. Travel advice I read soothed concerns about getting lost as a visitor, since it was a small island; my fears were allayed by promises that any small alley would eventually reveal signs to guide visitors back to open identifiable sections of the city. Venice proved a great locale to safely give into this “confidence to get lost” – to go without a map, wander, and simply explore.

Jardin du Luxembourg in spring. All photos by Jennifer Salazar.

Ask me which garden in the world is my favorite and I won’t hesitate to reply, “The  Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris!” Also known as the Luxembourg Gardens. the park and garden is renowned for its beautiful long rows of large shade trees, array of individual chairs visitors are welcome to move around, its collection of formal fountains, and the network of golden paths of decomposed granite. This public space is as comfortable as it is beautiful – my definition of excellence in design.

Well, during another trip to Paris I may have discovered another fave: Jardin du Palais Royal, aka Palais Royal.

I had heard about this place before, but missed it during previous trips. I was reminded of it again recently while watching the movie Charade (1963) with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant – a movie with a climax staged amongst the arcade columns of the Jardin du Palais Royal at night. I was also reminded of the park by Lauren Elkin’s newly released book, Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London. In her book dedicated to the “determined, resourceful individual keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city and the liberating possibilities of a good walk,” she cites the Palais Royal as one of her favorite destinations to walk in Paris.

The Jardin de Palais Royal – like the Luxembourg – also includes rows of large shade trees, but has fixed benches, and is surrounded by a tall arcade supported by columns. This structure provides shelter for walking and window shopping along the adjacent high end stores, while also covering outdoor diners at the adjacent cafés.

During a beautiful spring afternoon I observed people picnicking in the open area. Some were playing a wood bowling game of sorts. It was such a great outdoor communal space for relaxing and people watching.

Attached to the Jardin is a smaller courtyard to the south with a reflective ball sculpture at the center of a fountain. Another more interesting courtyard is further south, one that contains Daniel Buren’s 1986 installation,  “Les Colonnes de Buren.” Buren placed 260 black and white vertically striped columns in a grid varying in height. Though formal in their layout, these columns in their unique material and heights allow for a more playful and fun take on the very regimented and formal spacing and material of the 17th century columns that surround the courtyards. These Buren columns prove to be very attractive for climbers of all ages!

I am grateful that these Parisian gardens, designed and built hundreds of years ago, are maintained to retain their beauty. They continue to be enjoyed by so many visitors many years after their creation, the sign of great landscape design.