Posts from the Editorial Category

Image Credit: Jenni Zell

AHBE interns, W. Zhou (left), Y. Tian. Image credit: Linda Daley

This past summer we had the pleasure of working with our interns to develop a speculative proposal to advance the Rio Hondo Confluence, which is a signature strategy identified in the Lower Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan (LLARRP). The LLARRP is an important document that will guide the transformation of the Lower Los Angeles River for decades. Our independent speculative project, outlined below, integrates strategies providing green infrastructure, ecological habitat, recreational and cultural use.

We selected one opportunity area identified in the LLARRP, the confluence of the Lower Los Angeles River and the Rio Hondo in the city of South Gate, as the focus of our separate investigation and developed a proposal which we entitled River Commons. The Rio Hondo Confluence is a place that presents significant possibilities to transform into both a cultural and ecological asset for the community.

Credit: Regional context and other graphics in post are by AHBE.

The 254-acre site has a complex history. In addition to hydrologic flows converging at this location, transportation and energy flows converge along the 710 Freeway and Imperial Highway. Although it is within a 30-minute walk of several cities including Compton, Lynwood, and Paramount, the flows of traffic, power and water have isolated people and adjacent communities from one another and from the natural resource of the Los Angeles River.

Image Credit: Calvin R. Abe

Located in a landscape where grizzly bears once fished for steelhead trout, the seasonally riparian and upper terrace upland habitat of the Rio Hondo Confluence provided critical habitat functions of the Los Angeles River ecosystem. Our River Commons proposal outlines building blocks to re-connect people and nature by interweaving cultural and natural systems. In addition, the proposal prioritizes the establishment of physical connections, habitat connections and ecological functions to the site while also providing support for wildlife species, stormwater capture and cleaning and new recreational amenities.

The concrete lined river channel has provided flood protection for decades and adjacent freeways have sped up the transportation of people and goods, but the benefits come at the tremendous cost of dividing communities, destroying significant habitats, and breaking ties of the surrounding people to the historic cultural and natural resource of the waterway for food, leisure and health. River Commons tackles the seemingly intractable problem of choosing between flood protection and economic progress and ecological and community health and vitality. Transforming what is currently a single purpose flood control channel into a civic asset, River Commons proposes to advance a signature strategy identified in the LLARRP.

Building Blocks Approach

The building blocks we explored in River Commons can be tested at the Rio Hondo confluence site and adapted and applied to other Los Angeles River and adjacent sites. We identified four key building blocks in our proposal.

  • Temporary and seasonal in-channel recreation is the first building block, which will build momentum for future projects. It will increase awareness of the river channel as a community resource and provides unique experiences not currently available in nearby parks.

  • Levee terracing will provide seasonal access to the river channel during dry weather and new in-channel habitat spaces.

  • Low-flow channel modifications: Creating meandering and multiple crossings of the low-flow channel create water movement and attraction to the water’s edge. Installing ecological concrete and widening the channel enhances biological value by supporting the growth of organisms including targeted fish species.

  • Bridge crossings to connect pedestrian, equestrians and bicyclists: Multi-modal channel crossings provide much needed connections of communities to one another, the river and river adjacent regional trail systems, along with viewing opportunities of local mud swallows.

Site Specific Design Strategies

Charles S. Dwyer, USACE. Credit: Linda Daley

Hydrological modeling and engineering principles were integrated into the analysis and design phase for our selected area through collaborations with local civil engineers and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). We acknowledge and thank USACE’s Charles S. Dwyer (shown at right) and Reuben Sasaki for giving generously to our investigation in terms of their time, LA River knowledge, and technical review and feedback.

By closely collaborating with hydraulic and civil engineers, we received feedback on the draft building blocks to determine the feasibility of our proposals. This collaboration was critical in identifying and evaluating potential design strategies, a few of which we share below.

  • Treating stormwater before it enters the river is key to improving water quality in the river and ocean. River adjacent properties can be utilized to collect and filter runoff while also increasing habitat and at some sites, recharging underlying aquifers.

  • Expanding the river channel to the bend in the 710 freeway presents a unique opportunity for adding substantial new habitat areas hydrologically connected to the LA River ecosystem. This area would flood during design storm events, but regenerate naturally.

  • Taking advantage of the water collected by a downstream rubber dam and utilizing control gates and drainage lines through the levee, river adjacent fisheries can be created to move water and create a hydraulic connection to the river.

  • Horse Camp at the Hollydale Park expansion builds on the rich equestrian culture in the area and provides a revenue source and river trail rides, connecting people and nature to one another and their river.

In developing our design solutions, we were guided by cultural investigations which foster an interconnectedness between the surrounding community’s citizens, environment, and cultural resources. By linking public health, air quality improvements, energy and water demands and supply, accessibility and mobility improvements with sound green infrastructure strategies, the River Commons proposal is an additional resource for community members and agencies to help visualize and build support for future projects.

Image credits: Wendy Chan (above left) and Jenni Zell (right)

 

Image by AHBE Landscape Architects

Perceptions of the Los Angeles River is a group exhibition featuring photographs by Calvin Abe, Cristhian Barajas, Wendy Chan, Chuan Ding, Andrea Klein, Clarence Lacy, Brett Miller, Susan Miller, Jessica Roberts, Jennifer Salazar, Darren Shirai, Morgan Thompson, Yiran Wang, Mateo Yang, and Jennifer Zell. On view at AHBE’s design studio, the collection conveys our photographers’ multiple points of view about the Los Angeles River’s identity and sense of place. Through their work, they challenge viewers to think about the LA River in ways they did not imagine.

Landscape architect, Wendy Chan, came up with the exhibition’s concept theme and curated the show. As she describes,

“Each participant was asked to submit a photo representing his or her perception of the L.A. River. As we started to lay out the photos in our gallery space, we were fascinated by the range and diversity of the images. A few photographers captured the river as a beautiful art piece. Some people focused on the river’s wildlife and habitats. Others explored its urban context and role as urban infrastructure. Interactions between people and animals resulted in a surprising scene of disruption in one work and peaceful serenity in another. Overall, the collection truly represents how the L.A. River inspires beauty, dreams, and possibilities for Angelenos.” – Wendy Chan

A selection of images from the exhibition are presented here.

 

Title of Work: “Layers”
Photographer: Wendy Chan 
Artist’s Statement:  My photograph was taken at the North Broadway Bridge, in the neighborhood of Lincoln Heights. When I was a child, I would cross the North Broadway Bridge frequently on my way to Chinatown and observed the river’s seasonal transformations from a trickling stream to a powerful torrent. Although the river was visually close from where I stood, getting to it was difficult. I felt the river was a world away. My photograph represents the multiple layers of roadway, fencing, railroad tracks, and walls blocking my access to nature within my city.

 

Title of Work:  “Do you feel the river tonight?”
Photographer: Chuan Ding 
Artist’s Statement:   

Nobody knows Los Angeles without knowing its river.” – Joan Didion

However, nobody truly knows the LA River without seeing it at night. When the sun goes down and the last light of day gives way to the night, the river and city take on an amazing filtered quality. Walking along the 7th Street Bridge on a winter night in 2017, I paused to admire the scene. In my mind’s eye, night turns down the city’s heat, chaos, and noise. Layers of railroad tracks were lined up in front of me; empty trains moved back and forth as tracks and rail cars were tested after-hours. Ahead, the glory of downtown shined and then faded away. Time seemed frozen. All I felt at that moment was the night, myself and the LA River, which became the witness to my love story.

 

Title of Work:  “Break”
Photographer: Clarence Lacy 
Artist’s Statement: As I traveled all along the lower portion of the Los Angeles River, I discovered spaces created by various planes of concrete. The multiple grounds are perfect settings for observing the play of light and shadows. At one point, I remember feeling as if I was in a middle ground, standing one plane above the base of the river but below the surrounding city. I was inspired by the overwhelming scale and its beauty.

BREAKby Clarence Lacy

This river does not feel urban.
I look up, I don’t see a city;
a blue expanse disorients me.

Where am I?

An altered state of urbanity,
strolling on foot,
along the river bottom.

A break in the expanse;
a hint of a city around.

I feel enclosed, not trapped.
This is only a short break.

 

Featured photographers (left to right, above): Chuan Ding, Clarence Lacy, Wendy Chan. Photos by Linda Daley.

Perceptions of the Los Angeles River is on view, for a limited time, inside the AHBE studio.

 

 

Image: prepared by Gary Lai for his presentation at the Net Zero Conference.

Water conservation is an ongoing topic of discussion and exploration here at AHBE. From simple water-saving tips to broader statewide drought-related issues, our staff and AHBE Lab contributors have advocated for smart water habits and policies.

Net Zero Water is the next step for water conservation supporters and serves as a concept and framework for water self-sufficiency. Simply put, Net Zero Water practices could help us achieve independence from the water grid and get all the water we use from nature and treated greywater.

In Southern California, achieving Net Zero Water is very difficult unless you have a huge parcel of land with a tiny house. A building-by-building solution is impractical. A household would have to implement the equivalent of a wastewater treatment plant in its garage, which is not economical for most people. Water independence through Net Zero Water strategies is possible for Californians if we think about them in terms of a collective achievement at the neighborhood, city, or county level.

I have become fascinated with the thousands of man-made lakes we built in our state in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Although they are lovely private and public amenities, these lakes were being supplied by millions of gallons of expensive imported water from the Owens Valley and Northern Sierra Nevada. At one point, the make-up water from private man-made lakes ranked number one for water usage in our state. Consider the impact on our water supply if the lakes were taken off the grid and used instead to supply treated drinking water to a whole community or eco-district.

Graphic by Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Works for Magic Johnson Park Phase 1A project.

I am currently working on a project in the South Los Angeles area. The project calls for improvements to an existing park called Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park which serves LA’s Willowbrook community. Among the new and improved park amenities, we are taking the 8-acre south lake off its current domestic water source and replacing it with treated recycled stormwater. We will then use the lake water to irrigate the remaining 120 acres of the park. Consider the following:  how much more effort would it really take for the next step toward Net Zero Water at an eco-district scale? The recycled irrigation water we are generating is almost at drinking water quality now. What if we treat the lake water for drinking quality and use it to supply the neighborhood?

California’s population is projected to grow to 50-60 million by 2050 and, according to the most recent climate models coming out of Lawrence Livermore Labs, the state will have 10-15% less water. We must explore options that will allow us to live, grow, and prosper with these challenges.

If you are interested in learning more about Net Zero Water, please join me at the 2018 Net Zero Conference on September 13. I have more to share on this subject and I look forward to meeting you at the conference.

Rendering by AHBE Landscape Architects for Magic Johnson Park Phase 1A project.

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All Photos Courtesy of AHBE Landscape Architects

The sharp ting! from my phone penetrated the silence of the early morning. I was expecting news any day but was not prepared when it finally arrived. Kiku Kurahashi, my friend and colleague, succumbed to cancer and passed away on July 19. She was 57 years old.

Kiku’s sister, Aki, requested a selection of pictures for her memorial service. Kiku started with AHBE in 1999, a year after I joined. So I had nearly two decades of photos to sort through in my own and the firm’s archives.

I experienced an avalanche of emotions at first as I observed her life captured in so many moments. The search turned into a healing process for me. Kiku and I spent a lot of time together over the years – during working hours and at occasional social events, garden tours, and other gatherings. I found comfort in reminiscing about her and feel lucky to have known her.

Team AHBE spells K-I-K-U after a game.

When news of Kiku’s passing spread, many people who knew her expressed their sorrow over the loss of this gentle soul and talented designer. They also shared their stories about how she touched their lives in positive ways.

I end my tribute with a special story Aki shared about her sister. It says so much about Kiku’s passion for our profession and her stand in the world. During a 1989 trip to Paris, Aki and Kiku visited the Luxembourg Gardens and stayed for hours. The visit was a breakthrough for Kiku and, according to Aki, her baptism into landscape architecture. While they sat on a bench in the garden, Kiku said to her :

“This is what I want to create for the rest of my life. A garden that lasts forever for people.”

Arigato, my friend. Rest in peace.

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris

 

Photos by Gary Lai

To many in the public and the A/E industry, the aesthetics of our infrastructure is considered an extraneous consideration. According to this pragmatic point-of-view, a bridge’s purpose is solely to move people from one side to the other, with innovation being defined by improvements in the speed and/or cost in which it’s built. A “beautiful” bridge is too subjective and not quantifiable, making the measure of success too tricky to gauge, and therefore too risky of a decision to make.

In the mid-2000’s, officials and engineers tried to use this argument for the replacement of the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, proposing a simple freeway-type overpass replacement. The ensuing firestorm from the public caused an almost decade-long delay costing millions of dollars for studies.

The eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, May 29, 2008. Photo by Brewdog (CC BY-SA 3.0)

People do value aesthetics, so much they are willing to spend money and consume products in pursuit of achieving some semblance of what they consider beautiful. Billions of dollars are spent on paint, paneling, and plants. Aesthetics are important because people think it’s important, and every project we do is for the betterment of people. It is really that simple.

From a landscape perspective, turf is the number one irrigated crop in the United States, even though it has no intrinsic practical value other than sports. I remember overhearing two engineers lamenting how they could never give up their lawns, even though they knew they were wasting water, while waiting for a conference call to start. Even though they intellectually knew the Northern European pastoral landscape imported into the US in the late 19th century is not sustainable here in California, they still could not bring themselves to deviate from the cultural and aesthetic norm. The English pastoral landscape motif is a deeply ingrained cultural and mental construct representing the wealth and success of the English ruling class that we’ve long admired. But, taking a step back, one must recognize it is a ridiculous idea: Californians wrapping Downton Abbey-ish landscapes around our high-tech, energy efficient, 21st century buildings and homes. Why don’t we create our own Californian 21st century aesthetic?

According to the National Resource Defense Council and the Pacific Institute,  commercial, municipal, and residential landscapes combined represent 41% of all urban water use in California. That amounts to roughly 4 million acre feet a year, or 1,303,405,708,000 gallons total. The EPA estimates 50% of all water wasted in the US is due to poorly managed and maintained irrigation systems. My back-of-the-napkin math calculates the wasted amount could service as many as 10 million more people in California, meeting the projected population growth of the next 15 years. In other words, simple adjustments to our irrigation controllers by knowledgeable professionals could save enough water to serve our growing population for the next 15 years without any improvements to our storage or infrastructure. Talk about low-hanging fruit.

What can each of us do?
1. Communicate to your design professionals the importance of the landscape as an integral aspect of your house or project.
2. Reconsider the turf aesthetic and replace it with California-friendly plants.
3. Value the expertise of a knowledgeable landscape maintenance professional, or become self-sufficiently knowledgeable with irrigation controllers and put improvements into practice.

Our population is expected to grow somewhere between 50 to 60 million people by 2050. Current climate models show a 10-15% decrease in the amount of rain California will receive. Now is the time for us to pick the low-hanging fruit.

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