Posts by Linda Daley

Life threw me another curveball recently. A casual walk one afternoon turned badly when I tripped, landing into a few weeks of back and knee pain. The whole experience made me appreciate the physical activity I took for granted before. It also gave me insight into how people with disabilities experience public spaces.

Coincidentally, two work associates are also dealing with physical injuries much worse than my own. Although I did not depend on a mobility aid to get around, my colleagues have been using crutches, a knee-walker, or cane. As we struggled with our individual physical limitations, our sudden connection with the disabilities community was transformative, leaving us much more aware of the design of public spaces.

All photos by Linda Daley

Urban streets in major cities like Los Angeles are often challenging even for the able-bodied. We became acutely cognizant of uneven sidewalk surfaces along the streets we traveled. In one occurrence, I was forced to walk along the side of a busy road to avoid a raised sidewalk that I could not manage. I have a new appreciation for curb ramps at street crossings, now wishing them everywhere. The slightest pitch in the path of travel could result in exhaustion by the end, while a shady seat to rest is a rare helpful sighting across urban streets.

A quiet moment captured at the South Park Streetscape project in Downtown L.A.

My injured colleagues and I also lamented over the only set of elevators at the Metro rail station nearest our office. When you are using crutches or a scooter, escalators are not an option. They are crowded, fast moving, and just plain scary. The elevators at our local station are unfortunately located furthest away from our office building. Imagine the emotional and physical toll when faced with another two blocks downhill through crowded downtown sidewalks while relying on crutches — and then upslope at the end of the day.

I recall a class I took many years ago as a student of landscape architecture. The course focused on designing for ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliance. For one session, our instructor asked us to meet him at a spot on the college campus. He arrived with a wheelchair and required each of us to take turns using it as the group walked around. He drove home his points about accessibility as we struggled with the smallest slopes and maneuvered through many circulation barriers. Our last task was to find our way from the upper entry of one building to its lower entry without taking an elevator. The final leg of our path of travel took us to an underlit and isolated corridor. I remember feeling if I was alone, I would be in fear for my safety.

The newly opened Stoneview Nature Center in Culver City.

Although ADA regulations have improved since my university days, the lessons of the ADA-oriented session came back to me vividly after my recent fall. I am older now and do not recover from injuries as I once did. Designing to meet minimum federal or local standards is not good enough when you consider your own aging. For our practice, it is ultimately about people, and enhancing the experience of outdoor environments for everyone.

Everyone.

That one word represents our broader responsibility as designers.

Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters. Creative Commons photo by Jose Olivares.

Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters. Creative Commons photo by Jose Olivares.

On a recent trip to New York City, I made a visit to the Cloisters in upper Manhattan, a museum dedicated to medieval art, artifact, and architecture. Located within Fort Tryon Park, I made my way through the park, enjoying the idyllic setting and views of the Hudson River. By the time I arrived at the Cloisters, I left behind the pace of the city, mellowed by the orchestration of hilly paths, forested enclaves, flowering gardens, and river views by the park’s designers, the Olmsted brothers. Once inside the Cloisters, I felt a quietness and calm inside myself, despite the crowds of visitors.

The slowing down of time seemed stronger for me as I sat in one of the inner open-air courtyards, where nature came alive. Bird sounds interrupted the quiet, and I was able to distinguish different sounds. But I wished I knew more about our diverse bird species.

Photos by Linda Daley

The Cloisters_2759

Photos by Linda Daley

When I closed my eyes, I could hear the flow of the distant Hudson River. I became aware how much of nature’s sounds I tune out or miss as I go about my daily routines—a process of “learned deafness” that we experience as a result of our urban lifestyle.

“My advice is to go to your protected areas and experience what you are missing.” – Derrick Taff, social scientist at Pennsylvania State University

Good advice when you want to unlearn urban deafness! For fun, find a quiet room and take this auditory tunes test to determine your sense of pitch. Good luck!

 

I made a trip to the East Coast which included a short visit to my former hometown, New York City. Armed with a long list of places to see in a few days, I experienced only bits of Manhattan’s thriving neighborhoods between my stops. Strolling down 42nd Street one weekday afternoon, I stopped to buy a soft pretzel from a street cart vendor – salted, of course – and found myself standing in front of the Main Public Library. I climbed the library stairs toward Bryant Park and passed outdoor tables filled with art supplies and kids creating their own masterpieces. I rounded a corner into Bryant Park and was stunned by the vibrant scene in front of me.

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Creative Commons photo by Dan DeLuca.

I remember working in Midtown in the early part of my career and using shortcuts through the city in an effort to avoid the constant crowds on the streets. Bryant Park was not a place I would cut through. Known to locals as Needle Park due to its criminal activity, the park’s mature trees provided much needed shade along the streets and views of nature, although the latter was appreciated from afar. It was not a safe place to wander into by accident, day or night.

Decades later, with improvements in design, programmed activities, and operational oversight, my memory of Bryant Park unraveled as I discovered lessons in urban design that will remain with me professionally and personally.

by LDaley_yellow flowers

Photo by Linda Daley

I recently attended a lecture featuring Dr. Heather Tallis, Acting Chief Scientist of The Nature Conservancy. Dr. Tallis was presenting her study on the positive relationships between views of nature and elementary school test scores, beginning with raising questions about people’s perceptions of nature: What is the nature we are talking about? Does it have to be green? Is there something about the structure of trees and shrubs, or is there an element of naturalness that matters to people? Dr. Tallis posited that the answers to these questions will reveal the values people have about nature and broaden the understanding about how greener views around schools might improve learning.

“Imagine: raising inner city test scores just by planting some trees.” – Dr. Heather Tallis

According to research, our diverse perceptions of nature result from our cultural history, socio-economic status, and other influences. I reflected upon my own childhood in the Bronx. I don’t remember much about the green-ness of our neighborhood. We played where space was available—primarily the sidewalks and streets in front of our apartment buildings. I have no memory of street trees on our block, but distinctly remember the high school yard across the street. The all-asphalt yard (absent of trees or other vegetation) was surrounded by a very high chain link fence, providing our neighborhood with a place to hang out and play dodgeball, handball, or whatever. Our parents felt the yard was a safer alternative for us than the streets—and we were quite aware of their watchful eyes upon us from the windows of the surrounding buildings. Did we miss having nature? I doubt we thought about it in that way. In the context of time and place, being outside with friends was all that mattered. Being outdoors was experiencing nature.

While in college, I had a favorite poster on my dorm room wall which I kept for a number of years after graduating. The poster was actually an image used in a full-page magazine ad for silverware—an elegant composition of a single flower growing within a sidewalk crack. At the bottom of the poster was the line: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

CC-licensed photo by Doug Scobie.

CC-licensed photo by Doug Scobie.

The poster is long gone but the image and its personal meaning about perceptions and connections have stayed with me. I am inspired by nature wherever I am. How I see nature however is likely different from the way someone raised in suburban St. Louis would see it, or for that matter, anyone raised in Los Angeles’ many diverse neighborhoods. Although I don’t think about nature all of the time; I think about it as present in my daily life rather than some distant destination or place of naturalness I go to. As represented by a flower growing from a sidewalk crack, I experience moments of awareness when my urban-nature reveals itself to me in a way that engages me anew.

I follow a variety of research being conducted to support theories about nature’s benefits. According to Dr. Tallis, there is enough evidence to shift the discourse among scientists, educators, healthcare professionals, conservationists, and many others. Even if my childhood interactions with nature can be construed by some as less than ideal, I believe the absence of nature led me to landscape architecture. Through our work, we can discover and reveal the distinct narratives of nature that resonates with the diverse cultures and experiences of the people we serve.

All photos by Linda Daley

All photos by Linda Daley

Los Angeles was blessed with rain again, the first of the spring season. It’s been awhile since I last enjoyed the rain’s ephemeral effects on the pace of the city. The sound of rain — especially its drumming in allegro rhythm against a window – triggers memories of my childhood fascination with storms. I’d sit by a window for long periods and watch a downpour empty the streets of people, leaving a sense of tranquil solitude in its wake.

by LDaley_storm sky

by LDaley_succulent

by LDaley_flower (2)

I remain connected to rain in this way. When it arrives, I become a bystander, entranced as nature takes control and the city transforms. After a storm, the city is rewarded with a sense of renewal, brought on by the bright skies and clear views of distant mountains. I feel re-introduced to the city after a rain, and ready to engage with it once again.

by LDaley_clear sky

I decided to capture the rain, but not utilizing rainwater harvesting as you might expect from a landscape architect. I set out to capture my sentiment about it through photography. I also discovered a poem by California State Poet Laureate Dana Gioia which beautifully captures the sense of spiritual renewal emerging within us following a storm event. I end with his poem Los Angeles after the Rain.

by LDaley_raindrops on cercis verticalLos Angeles after the Rain – by Dana Gioia
Back home again on one of those bright mornings
when the city wakes to find itself reborn.
The smog gone, the thundering storm
blown out to sea, birds
frantic in their joyous cacophony, and the mountains,
so long invisible in the haze,
newly rise with the sun.

It is a morning snatched from Paradise,
a vision of the desert brought to flower—
of Eve standing in her nakedness,
immortal Adam drunk with all
the gaudy colors of the world,
and each taste and touch, each
astounding pleasure still waiting to be named.

The city stirs and stretches
like a young man waking after love.
Sunlight stroking the skin and the
promiscuous wind whispering
“Seize the moment. Surrender to the air’s
irrefutable embrace. Trust me that today
even seduction leads to love.”

Too many voices overhead. Too many scents
commingle in the stark perfume
of green winter freshened by the rain.
This is no morning for decisions.
A day to ditch responsibility, look up
old friends, and dream
of quiet love, impossible resolutions.