Posts by Jenni Zell

All photos: Jenni Zell

For decades Lewis MacAdams, cofounder of Friends of the Los Angeles River, has dreamt of making the Los Angeles River a swimmable, angler and boat friendly destination – a river more similar to the one that flowed across the Los Angeles basin a little over a century ago before the river was channelized and paved in concrete. A fragment of that former cottonwood-willow-and-gavel-lined river still exists today in Long Beach near the Willow Street Bridge. It is where the concrete-lined channel ends its 20-mile run, allowing the freshwater of its flow to mix with the saltwater of the Pacific
Ocean.

It is also the place where Calvin Abe and I recently witnessed an angler catch and release a 29.5” long, 14 lb. carp (a.k.a. Golden Bonefish). Calvin and I were photographing this location to document the astonishing diversity of resident and migratory bird species that can be found in the Willow Street Estuary and upriver, a location where the in-channel baffles slow water and collect sediment. The sediment builds all summer and autumn, supporting communities of vegetation and insects – an annual accumulation of refuge and food available for local wildlife until the Army Corps of Engineers removes the sediment and vegetation every fall in anticipation of winter rains.

Before the riverbed was lined with concrete there were at least seven species of fish that lived within the L.A. River and its tributaries, including southern steelhead and Pacific lamprey. The fish spawned in the river and spent their first 1-2 years in the waters before moving onto the open ocean waters.

Today, most of the fish in the river are washed out to sea along the low flow channel before they can grow more than a few inches. And, because the river is lined in concrete there is no place for the fish to bury their eggs. The ecological consequences of paving and channelizing L.A.’s River are stark, with native fish faring much worse than the birds and the other generalist species of wildlife that make their home in and near the L.A. River.

San Francisco Civic Center, 1991. Image: Jenni Zell

I don’t remember my favorite class in undergraduate school, it was after all the late eighties and early nineties. What I do remember is my favorite period of development. During my junior year I began experimenting with representation, and simultaneously ideas. It was also the period of development when I received my first “D” grade on a mid-term assignment.

San Francisco Civic Center, detail. Image: Jenni Zell

I liked what I produced for the class, and it is the only school project that I have lugged around with me through my many moves up and down the California coast and across the country. It represents the time after I had begun to internalize the rules of landscape architecture and bend and break those rules in ways that interested me.

Image: Jenni Zell

I’ve begun to notice a sense of urgency and focus surrounding coastal resiliency planning in Southern California lately. Scientists at institutions like NOAA, USGS, Scripps, and many other organizations have been sifting through data, modeling, mapping and making projections. All the while interest in this type of research amongst the science community and public also seems to be increasing.

At AHBE Landscape Architects, we recently partnered with Cal Poly Pomona landscape architecture students, to work together focused upon the goal of resiliency strategies for the coast of Long Beach. I have also been attending a class at the Aquarium of the Pacific , a course with the pessimistic title, “Can We Make our Coastal Cities Resilient to Climate Change or Are They Doomed?” Research from scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSB, UCLA, and the National Academy of Sciences have resulted in a variety of proposals: complete coastal retreat (let nature do her inevitable thing), reduce our collective carbon footprint, and generate durable and dynamic sustainability planning efforts.

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Welcome to our ongoing series of Cal Poly Pomona Coastal Resiliency posts, featuring the observations of 4th year undergraduate students in the Landscape Architecture program.

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Working Scope of Site; Diagram by Amanda F.

The Lower Westside of Long Beach is an area especially vulnerable to sea level rise. Between three and six feet of sea level rise will cause significant impacts to public safety and property damage in this area. Both the NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer and the newly updated Coastal Storm Modeling System (CoSMoS v3.0) issued by USGS for Southern California help with spatial understanding of the potential impacts related to these environmental changes.

The Lower Westside of Long Beach is also one of the sites selected by a group of students to develop strategies for adaptation. According to student Amanda F., “Various strategies involving wetland habitat restoration will be implemented for the various scaled archetypes available within our overall 215-acre scope.” Her strategy is shown above.

Graphic by Iliana V.

Amphibious Neighborhood Adaptation Strategies graphic by Iliana V.

One strategy shown above and developed by Iliana V., permits the rising seas in by digging canals along existing roadways and right of way corridors, using the fill material to create new high ground. People living in this neighborhood might abandon their cars to high ground and travel around in shallow bottomed boats while waiting for water from storm events or tides to recede. This approach harkens back to a time when waterways were the dominant transportation and trade superhighways. While the strategy is burdened with a myriad of challenges, it shares some allegiance with the Dutch Room for the Rover Programme, which is redesigning the city to give the river space to flood safely.

We look forward to learning more about the student’s strategies during their final presentation at AHBE this Friday from 3-6pm.


For previous Cal Poly Pomona Partnership posts see:

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AHBE Landscape Architects is collaborating with Cal Poly Pomona landscape architecture students on a coastal resiliency design studio with Professor Barry Lehrman and his fourth-year undergraduate students. AHBE Lab will be highlighting selections of the student’s work nearly every Wednesday for the next several weeks. The project site is the coastline from the Port of Long Beach to Anaheim Bay. Students are in their third week of class (field-trip week) and this week they will be meeting with Dr. Christine Whitcraft of Cal State Long Beach Wetlands Ecology Lab; Carrie Metzgar and Larry Rich from the City of Long Beach’s Office of Sustainability in addition to exploring areas around the Long Beach waterfront.

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