Posts by Gregory Han

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As another winter storm system fast approaches to immerse Los Angeles in torrential rain to threaten to our state’s infrastructure and landscape to the limit (this one supposedly the biggest one yet), it’s easy to forget only a short while ago we were all praying for rain. Little did I know California has employed the aid of rainmakers utililizing alternative methods to manifest results and mitigate the drought.

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Photo by Michael Chen (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Photo by Michael Chen (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“In the last 10 water years, eight have been dry, one wet, one average. Although this year may end up being wet, we can’t say whether it’s just going to be one wet year in another string of dry ones.” – Nancy Vogel, spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Agency.

The observation above seem to represent a bit of a Debbie Downer moment in light of the general relief Californians are celebrating after enduring years of warm and dry winters, inundated by a weekly parade of significant rain and snowfall up and down the Golden State. But indeed, Vogel’s words aren’t intended to “dampen” spirits,  but to remind us all of the dangers of complacency, mistaking short term changes in weather versus the long term patterns of climate.

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All photos: Gregory Han

All photos: Gregory Han

Sixteen and a half hours is a long to time to be confined to a single seat, especially if the flight is for purposes of business, not leisure. A  person’s patience, alongside the fortitude of their bladder and their endurance for humanity in close proximity are all tested in the span of such a flight. Yet there I was, flying across the globe, crammed into the corner of a window seat, burrowing into the 14° incline seating like a rodent readying for hibernation, each attempt to find a comfortable position unfulfilled. It was the promise of exploring the Middle East for the first time that allowed coach fare discomforts to be endured.

Several single serving meals and not-so-critically-acclaimed films later, I landed in Dubai to attend Dubai Design Week. I unraveled my spine first, then turned to do the same with the city before me, a metropolis still very much in the midst of creating its own identity and history in parallel.

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The surrealism of Dubai is immediate – a gigantic Sim City development of competing corporate egos materialized into high rise forms. Edifices of metal and glass jut obscenely erect against the hazy-sandy canvas of a true desert sky, some notably unique, the majority indistinct. Their placement were planned years advance, but their presence seems to communicate a perpetual state of “…to be continued” in the sum of a city. The saline-perfumed Persian Gulf is temptingly nearby, but often forgotten, as if the city’s planners deemed the natural landscape insufficient an expression of their wealth and dreams, the haze of sand and urban pollution obscuring the view for miles. The sprawl of artifice this city lays out before the eyes an urban statement makes Los Angeles seem downright undeveloped country in comparison!

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At 125 floors above ground level, you might expect to feel dizzy or discombobulated. Instead, I found a strong desire to pinch to zoom.

Dubai is in beta stage, with countless experiments in the realm of architecture, landscape design, and infrastructure unfolding concurrently. Things happen here in real time, visibly and invisibly. One moment, I was surveying enormous construction vehicles slumbering across a dry canal bed from my hotel window; the next morning the same canal was opened with zero fanfare, with millions of gallons of sea water passing through the newly constructed thoroughfare where hours before wheels tracked across it (the canals were designed for solar-powered shipping boats). Where other cities plan, Dubai executes.

A scale model of Dubai Creek Harbour, currently being constructed. Upon completion, the development will be three times the size of Downtown Dubai and include the world’s tallest twin towers, alongside eight million square feet of retail space, 39,000 residential units, 3,664 office units, and 22 hotels with 4,400 rooms.

A scale model of Dubai Creek Harbour, currently being constructed. Upon completion, the development will be three times the size of Downtown Dubai and include the world’s tallest twin towers, alongside eight million square feet of retail space, 39,000 residential units, 3,664 office units, and 22 hotels with 4,400 rooms.

Later that same day, I was rocketing upward on an elevator traveling at 3 floors per second up to the highest observation deck inside the tallest building in the world. At 124-125 floors up the landscape below takes on a whole new persona, one more akin to computer game simulation or real time strategy level rather than the reality of life unfolding below. The urban landscape of yet-to-be-finished developments, sprawling shopping centers, checkerboards of pools glistening aqua, and large squares and strips of lands still left barren, all intersected by freeways as busy as Los Angeles and trains as perfunctory as Paris are revealed. The view is so unrealistic, the mind is lulled into disbelief rather than vertigo.

As the sun began to set, the desert landscape ignited in a spectacular display of reds, oranges, and yellows.

As the sun began to set, the desert landscape ignited in a spectacular display of reds, oranges, and yellows.

Only a few days later I was boarding onto an Emirates flight to make the same 8,000+ mile trip back to Los Angeles. Besides the complete open row of seats – the best surprise ever – I found one last surprise awaited.

About a half an hour into the flight a desert landscape never seen before revealed itself below – an arid realm I had only seen in science fiction movies…or dreams. The land appeared shaped by the nocturnal kicking of once slumbering, long forgotten titans, like bedding kicked into folds and piles. A range of mountains, dunes, and other indescribable geological formations stretched for hundreds of miles without the sight of habitation.

“Where am I?!”

I was flying over Iran – the modern lands of the ancient Persian Empire.

In realizing the plane was traveling over a country I was very unlikely ever to set foot upon in my lifetime, a tingle of excitement shot through my body. I was flying over a forbidden landscape, and everything laid before me was stunning. For those several minutes, with nose pressed against glass, my coach fare felt like first class.

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When autonomous vehicles become the rule rather than the exception, what we’ll witness across Los Angeles and the rest of the nation will be the greatest change in transportation infrastructure and habits since horses and carriages gave way to the automobile. We’ll turn from a nation of primarily single occupant drivers into a society of passive passengers left to our own devices (literally). The question is whether self-driving vehicles will evolve into an affordable communal resource easing traffic or become an ever present hindrance related to the economics of driving vs. parking, as explained below:

Back in 2008 the USDA Forest Service conducted a survey and study to determine the extent of tree canopy coverage throughout Los Angeles. The study discovered Los Angeles’ existing tree canopy coverage is 21 percent, comparing favorably with 20 percent in Baltimore and 23 percent in New York City. Data also estimated the number of existing trees across Los Angeles numbers around 10.8 million – equaling about 3 trees for every Angeleno.

Some of the 114 Cedrus deodara trees along White Oak Avenue, planted in 1932 between San Fernando Mission Blvd. and San Jose St. in Granada Hills. View is to the south from Tribune St. The trees are Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 41. Creative Commons photo: Junkyardsparkle

Some of the 114 Cedrus deodara trees along White Oak Avenue, planted in 1932 between San Fernando Mission Blvd. and San Jose St. in Granada Hills. View is to the south from Tribune St. The trees are Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 41. Creative Commons photo: Junkyardsparkle

The interactive Google Map above via KCET’s SoCal Connected displays this 2008 data in color-coded form, with percentages assigned to each city district. One immediately recognizes the disparity in tree canopy coverage between certain sections of Los Angeles. The intensity of color on display demarcates both an affluence in trees and economic wealth, making it clear there is a connection between the two symbols of green: the higher the average income, the more trees lining the streets and inhabiting yards.

Trees will increasingly play an important role as a natural mechanism for improving overall life of the citizenry over the span of decades, especially in relation to climate change and drought here in Southern California. Beyond the beauty of living within a tree-rich environment, benefits also include the buffering of noise pollution, improving air quality, providing habitat for urban wildlife, and the curbing of the effects of urban heat islands. Of course, as any gardener already knows, trying to get a young tree to establish during a time of drought requires patience and a lot of water. But in time, the welfare of established trees far outweigh the initial investment and effort, sometimes over the span of generations depending upon the variety.

Graphics: Los Angeles 1-Million Tree Canopy Cover Assessment/USDA

Graphics: Los Angeles 1-Million Tree Canopy Cover Assessment/USDA

Recognizing these beneficial perks to humans and ecosystem, the City of Los Angeles and the DWP are offering residents free trees, some delivered and planted straight to your home. Residents can apply for shade trees, parkway trees (the space between your sidewalk and the street), or even trees in front of businesses. Those who want to meet and pick their tree of choice in person can attend one of the numerous tree adoption events throughout the year by checking this calendar.