Posts by millerjbrett

Intact wetland in Cahoon Meadow in Sequoia National Park, shown unaffected by erosion gully after efforts of full ecosystem restoration. NPS photo

A little over a month ago, I read about ‘rewilding’, a term used by one of our summer interns in a post titled, Rewilding the Los Angeles River. This discussion compelled me to explore the word further to ascertain other instances of where rewilding is occurring.

The dictionary defines rewilding as:

rewilding – verb
gerund or present participle: rewilding
restore (an area of land) to its natural uncultivated state (used especially with reference to the reintroduction of species of wild animal that have been driven out or exterminated).

This type of environmental effort strategized and executed by activists, non-profits, and even major international conservation organizations all seek to remove human interventions that prohibit natural ecosystems – ranging in regions from the Yukon, to Europe, to the grasslands of Africa – from establishing and existing. Nationally, rewilding efforts tend to focus on grader scales, like our National Parks and waterways, each with goals to remove infrastructure like roads and engineered water ways to encourage the redevelopment of natural systems.

The efforts of these “rewilders” are brilliant and necessary for the purpose of recovering our environment, but focus upon broad efforts executed on a macro scale. This made me wonder if there were other alternative and  appropriate ways to weave this concept into the urban fabric on a more intimate level. While efforts to remove roads in National Parks may reopen natural ecosystems for larger fauna and flora to flourish, what if smaller installations popped up across city streets, onto walls, or even across rooftops? What if we could revitalize patches of native plant materials and smaller habitats on a more limited scale to help recreate habitat to give birds and pollinators respite where concrete and asphalt currently rules?

Chicago City Hall Green Roof. CC BY-SA 3.0 photo by Tony the Tiger.

While such efforts would not encourage large mammals to work their way back into cities to cohabitate within our concrete and asphalt jungles, I do wonder what kinds of effects these interventions could provide smaller critters that share our urban cores. I believe these efforts would have a  huge residual benefit for humans as well: offering respite on hot summer days, providing educational opportunities, resulting in a reduction of the heat island effect, and even create water  improvement opportunities where storm water could be passively treated (e.g. the Zev Yaroslavsky L.A. River Greenway Trail).

At this moment the team at AHBE is exploring this idea of rewinding from a smaller context. Focusing on a single parking space, we’re imagining turning such an urban space into a micro ecosystem, and investigating what kind of observable metrics that unfold across such a small area. What kind of opportunities would this open up if two parking spaces on a block were dedicated to such micro ecosystem? What about three?

Image by AHBE

These interventions intentionally designed to rewild our urban landscape – as opposed to the sort of secondary effect that street trees or community gardens traditionally provide – could be an effective additional mechanism to weave environmentally impactful changes into future green streets and other eco-conscious development, all with the purpose of designing the cities of tomorrow with a healthier environment for all living creatures.

In 2005, San Francisco firm Rebar wanted to make a statement about the dwindling green space throughout their city.  They selected a metered parking space, acquired a simple bench, a roll of artificial turf, and a tree. There they paid the meter for 2 hours and set up their parklet. When the meter expired, they rolled up their park and went about their day.

The photo shown on the right was taken from across the street of Rebar’s parklet. It went viral, and when the correspondence started coming in from across the country, Park(ing) Day was born. For the past 12 years designers, artists, and activists have been taking to the streets on the third Friday in September to bring awareness to the public about much needed green space in the ever expanding world of asphalt and concrete.

In addition to green space, this has also provided an opportunity for advocacy about other hot topics affecting the communities and public realms across the world.  As landscape architects, this platform is usually taken on topics like water use, climate change, walkability, and urban design.

Photo: Brett Miller

My favorite aspect of Park(ing) Day is the role it plays in the community. Last year I organized the event at a train station, where we were able to bring commuters together in a space we had transformed from asphalt to green. The simple act of providing a communal green space in the midst of a parking lot provided commuters with an opportunity to come together and share a space. The impromptu parklet offered a space for people to sip their coffee and converse with someone they may have never met before, but shared a train daily.

Having an opportunity to set up these temporary parklets and provide this communal space offering social, environmental, and educational experiences for the community – even with something as simple as a parking space on a busy street in downtown Los Angeles – is what drives my passion for my profession. I’d encourage everyone to make it a point to seek out and visit a Park(ing) Day exhibit in your city.