Posts from the Friday Five Category

Congestion can be good, study reports: “Our findings suggest that a region’s economy is not significantly impacted by traffic congestion. In fact, the results even suggest a positive association between traffic congestion and economic productivity as well as jobs. Without traffic congestion, there would be less incentive for infill development, living in a location-efficient place, walking, biking, and transit use, ridesharing, innovations in urban freight, etcetera. And if your city doesn’t have any traffic congestion, there is something really wrong.”

L.A. Metro unveils plans to link San Fernando Valley with Westwood and eventually LAX: “The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) has unveiled six potential alignments for a forthcoming transit project that could link L.A.’s San Fernando Valley with the city’s Westside neighborhoods and—eventually—with Los Angeles International airport (LAX).”

The little-known behavioral scientist who transformed cities all over the world: “Ingrid and her husband took the first steps on a journey to create city spaces for the full range of human needs. The Danish couple’s ideas have since made life better in cities like New York, Moscow, Buenos Aires, Sydney, and London. Of course, many parts of many cities still seem optimized for buildings and cars. But the story of Ingrid and Jan is a model for what partnerships between behavioral scientists and designers can look like today.”

Beaver dams without beavers? Artificial logjams are a popular but controversial restoration tool: “From our 21st century vantage, it’s hard to conceive how profoundly beavers shaped the landscape. Indeed, North America might better be termed Beaverland. Surveying the Missouri River Basin in 1805, the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark encountered beaver dams “extending as far up those streams as [we] could discover them.” Scientists calculate that up to 250 million beaver ponds once puddled the continent—impounding enough water to submerge Washington, Oregon, and California.”

Retrofitting with Green Infrastructure: “Why retrofit cities and suburbs with green infrastructure? Re-inserting the landscape back into the built environment helps us strike a better balance with nature, boost neighborhood health, and solve stormwater management problems. In a session at the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) in Savannah, Georgia, a landscape architect, an urban designer, and a civil engineer offered fresh takes on why green infrastructure is so valuable.”

Vacant lots are full of nature. How do we keep them that way?: “Vacant lots are islands of wildness in the urban jungle: small and scraggly yet bountiful and biodiverse, a place to enjoy nearby nature and a home to city creatures. Yet there’s a tension inherent to them. Unless people protect vacant lots, they’ll eventually be developed — and they are “often considered a neighborhood eyesore, a place for crime and trash,” write researchers in the journal Sustainability. “Vacant lots are usually deemed a local problem for neighborhood residents.”

Who will save LA’s trees?: “It’s a pretty precious resource in cities, and you don’t want to take them down—you want to be adding to them,” he says. Instead, since 2000, many neighborhoods in the LA region have seen a tree canopy reduction of 14 to 55 percent, according to a University of Southern California study published in 2017.”

Marvel at Bodys Isek Kingelez’s spectacular cityscapes made of everyday materials: “On the third floor of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, a gallery is currently filled with colorfully fantastical visions of the future. Crafted by the late Congolese artist Bodys Isek Kingelez, the cityscapes are part of Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams, the first retrospective of his work.”

Californians approve bond measure that will provide $200 million for Salton Sea: “Supporters said they hope the infusion of funding for the Salton Sea will help state officials get moving with the construction of ponds and wetlands on sections of the exposed shoreline, as envisioned under a 10-year plan released last year. The projects along portions of the shoreline are intended to help control lung-damaging dust while also creating wetlands to revitalize bird habitats.”

How to Design Our Neighborhoods for Happiness: “The way we design our communities plays a huge role in how we experience our lives. Neighborhoods built without sidewalks, for instance, mean that people walk less and therefore enjoy fewer spontaneous encounters, which is what instills a spirit of community to a place. A neighborly sense of the commons is missing.”

All photos: Katherine Montgomery

Monarchs in My Garden, at Last: Finally, I decided to take the same approach to my pollinator garden I had once adopted for my vegetables: I watered and I weeded, after a fashion, but mostly I let it go its own way. Any number of things might have killed those caterpillars last year….Everything you touch in nature touches everything else. Even when you’re determined to do things right, there’s only so much you can control, and it’s not very much at all.

Willful Waters: “For much of its history, Los Angeles was a river city. Yet a mere 30 years ago, most Angelenos knew little about their local river, dismissing its concrete-encased trickle as a joke when they didn’t ignore it altogether. This is no longer the case. In the last decade, interest in Los Angeles’s urban river has skyrocketed.”

How Cities Can Prepare for Autonomous Vehicles: “Cities need strong policies to guide the future of automation and help communities shape powerful technologies around their goals, rather than the other way around.” These policies include reducing speed limits; continuing to invest in active modes of transit such as walking, cycling, and mass-transit; pricing curb access; and using data to create safer and more efficient streets.”

Sunkist Skies of Glory: “The ‘booster era’ of Los Angeles spanned roughly 40 years, from 1885 to 1925. Over these pivotal decades, rough-hewn and optimistic pioneering city leaders worked with creative writers, real estate barons, and artists to bring new settlers and new businesses to their dusty Wild West town. In creating a narrative to sell Los Angeles, these boosters often rewrote the city’s history and present situation to suit their idealized, European-American values.”

When Designing for Livable Cities, Resiliency and Inclusivity Go Hand-In-Hand: “The formula for the 21st Century city rising around the world, is predictable: Build a collection of sleek towers for housing, offices, and hotels; locate services, entertainments, schools, parks, walkways, and bike paths on the ground plane—then connect this healthy (read: car free) lifestyle by mass transit to the rest of the city and beyond. If you are among the high-salaried newbies looking for sanitized urbanity, you’re in the right place. But what if you’re a teacher or other essential service provider?”

Indoor Use Limits, Water Budgets and Aerial Data Gathering: California’s plan to wean us off water waste: “In the next 18 months, a small plane will fly over every city in California, recording data on what kind of plants are growing in our lawns, parks and street medians. That data will help determine where we’re wasting water, and help cities use it more efficiently.”

A Real-Life Enchanted Forest: “Finding echoes of Japan’s ancient past, and of the woodlands of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece “Princess Mononoke,” deep among the trees of Yakushima island.”

Neri Oxman and Bio-Inspired Design: “In the first three industrial revolutions, new inventions were assembled from parts – as opposed to grown, like in nature. In the fourth industrial revolution, designers are operating at the intersection of the material, physical, digital and biological. In this presentation for the World Economic Forum, Neri Oxman – Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT Media Laboratory – discusses ideas including additive manufacturing using biopolymers and wearable devices involving microorganisms.”

ASLA Business Survey Presents a Mixed Picture for Landscape Architecture Firms: “Business conditions for the first quarter of 2018 reflected a mixed picture for landscape architecture firms, according to a new American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Business Quarterly survey. Leading indicators in the survey remained generally positive—inquiries for new work and plans to hire jumped. But billable hours dipped.”

Things Are Not Always As They Seem: “Now, here is where it gets really interesting. Results regarding the measurement of VAM mycorrhizal spores per gram of soil were shocking. About 95% of vascular plant species in the world belong to families that typically form mycorrhizae with specialized mycorrhizal fungi. These fungi are essential components of ecosystem dynamics and involved in many biological interrelationships. Vegetative areas measured 16 spores per gram of soil – Good. The grassland returned 67 spores per gram – Excellent, and the Rectangle of Death tested at 132 spores per gram of soil – Really Excellent. These data points had now completely altered our anticipated plan and changed our train of thought. How could a dying ecology return such high measurements?

This SimCity-Like Tool Lets Urban Planners See The Potential Impact Of Their Ideas: “UrbanFootprint makes it easy to run simulations to see how a new plan might change traffic and commute times, the ability of kids to walk to school, access to jobs, energy use, the local economy, health, and carbon emissions.”

Elon Musk Unveils Video of His First Underground L.A. Tunnel: “Angelenos may be able to hitch a ride through town on Elon Musk’s first underground tunnel in just a few months — at least for a very short distance. The entrepreneur offered a glimpse Thursday night of what riders can expect from his proposal to help unsnarl the city’s traffic problems.”

Treeconomics: How to Put a Fair Price Tag on Urban Forests: “Recently, a band of “treeconomists” have begun to put a fair price tag on trees, accounting for the services they provide, from keeping our buildings cool to preventing skin cancer. The results are sometimes startlingly large – and can help people like Rodger plead the case for our cities’ trees.”

The History of Those Beautiful Jacaranda Trees in Bloom Around L.A.: “When you look up at a vibrant purple jacaranda tree—or a bush of bougainvillea, sprout of birds of paradise, or fragrant patch of jasmine, for that matter—you can thank Kate Sessions, a pioneering female horticulturalist who helped make over the natural environment of Southern California.”

We Can’t Forget About Mass Transit When We Talk About the ‘Future of Transportation’: “The best ideas for improving public transportation are simply not flashy. “More buses,” a crass distillation of the more intricate idea of a bus rapid transit system (which is arguably one of the better ways a city can improve the flow of its citizens), is just not as scintillating an answer as “fleet of self-driving cars,” or “flying cars,” or that blasted jetpack. Upgrading existing systems — hell, even our roads — would go a long way in making transportation better in this country.”

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