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Photo: Gary Lai

Congratulations, Los Angeles, you’ve won the title of city with the worst traffic in the world! According to INRIX, a transportation analytic company, Los Angeles has won the title now six years in a row – a distinction I was completely unaware of when I wrote this piece about LA’s traffic back in 2016. Back then, I mistakenly believed we only had the worst traffic in the country. Silly me.

With a recent move bringing me closer to work, my commute has dropped down to just 25 minutes from door-to-desk, and thus I’ve fallen completely out of the loop about average commute times. But last week, I got reacquainted with the plight of the average Angeleno. I had to travel across town to the Westside for a seminar. I needed to be at the Sunset Luxe Hotel by 9am, and I cheerfully left my Little Tokyo apartment at 8am believing this would be sufficient, with time to spare.

For those of you who regularly commute across Los Angeles, you can stop laughing now.

The distance between Little Tokyo to the Luxe is about 16 miles. The trip took me an hour and 25 minutes to arrive, even while aided toward the fastest routes by GPS. This comes out to an average of a little over 11 mph, or roughly, the speed of a bicyclist.

I don’t have to tell you how our city’s congested traffic affects our health, air quality, pocket books, and the overall economy. We’ve already voted to tax ourselves several times over the past decade in an attempt to alleviate these problems. Unfortunately, as with every large infrastructure project, relief will not be realized for another decade. For now, let’s just look ahead:

  • Our investment in public transportation will transform the city of Los Angeles. Planned rail lines and the development around those rail corridors will get thousands of people off the city’s freeways. The effects may not be apparent for a number of years, but our investment in rail will define the landscape of Los Angeles beyond mere transportation.
  • Ride sharing services like Lyft and Uber are here to stay for the foreseeable future, contributing in ways we have not yet foreseen, for better or worse.
  • Autonomous vehicles are coming. A paradigm change, autonomous vehicles will ideally allow Angelenos to maximize the use of our existing automobile infrastructure, while hopefully still reducing overall congestion.
  • Dedicated express busways will fill in the gaps where rail will not and cannot go. Express buses like the Orange Line and the 720 Wilshire will need to bridge the gap for riders currently using  our current road infrastructure until full rail implementation becomes available. Over time, like in the case of the Orange Line, ridership will hopefully reach a tipping point where demand from bus to rail emerges. Express buses are the proof of concept properly implemented transportation corridors can work.
  • Pedestrians and bicycles will have a large role in shaping our commute, helping us stay healthier. Believe it or not, people will walk (and bike) in Los Angeles if the facilities are safe, well designed and take us where we want to go. In many instances, walking or biking might actually be the fastest mode of transportation available. This is certainly true in Downtown LA right now.

Buckle up fellow travelers! The evolution of transportation in Los Angeles will take awhile to complete, but brighter days glow ahead across our horizon. But till then Angelenos, we’ll all have plenty of time to ponder these improvements as we crawl to and from work, stuck along the 10 or 405.

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As 2017 year comes to a close, the AHBE LAB contributors are taking time to look back at our year’s worth of posts. We are each identifying the most memorable post and sharing what we found interesting, informative, and inspiring. Enjoy the flashback, and let us know which post you thought was most memorable.

I remember my colleague Clarence Lacy offered an excellent post in July chronicling his visit to the Salton Sea. His post’s title, Is the Salton Sea a Temporal or Failed Landscape?, asks an important and specific question about this fascinating oddity of the California landscape.

The Salton Sea is a manmade anomaly born out of our thirst for water and a consequence of creating the state’s water infrastructure. The Salton Sea is both a living monument to Southern California’s historic water-grab in the early 20th Century, and also an example of how our natural environment adapts to humankind’s follies.

Clarence’s photos are memorably beautiful, haunting, and disturbing. His post represents what I consider to be the best of what the landscape architecture profession aims to accomplish, asking the questions that help us understand our relationship with the earth and our place in it.

The original post here: Is the Salton Sea a Temporal or Failed Landscape?

All photos: Wendy Chan

I recently visited the city of Marrakech in Morocco, where I found myself captivated by the city’s various medinas – the maze-like network of narrow streets that weaves to create dense and distinct neighborhoods. A medina is characterized by walled-in narrow streets containing public facilities like souks (traditional markets), fountains, and mosques, and found within North African and Maltese cities.

Some of the walls surrounding the Marrakech medinas date back to the 12th century. Made with locally sourced orange-red clay, it becomes obvious how Marrakech earned its nickname of the “Red City”.

The buildings within a medina are all enclosed with tall walls which adds to a sense of spatial enclosure and the maze-like setting. But just when you think you are completely lost, the narrow streets open up to various public squares and plazas bustling with activities. These open markets and food stalls help re-orient visitors and locals
alike.

As I was exploring the medina, I stumbled upon various markets where local residents do their daily shopping. There are open markets dedicated to produce, alongside swap meets for trading and selling of used houseware and clothes.

We visited various medinas within the city of Marrakech, noting each one representing its own character. But they offered easy walkability, a great sense of community, and were all populated with friendly people, their hospitality often accompanied with the offer of delicious mint tea.

A traditional two-step altar with a modern touch.Creative Commons Photo:Luis Rojas (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tomorrow, November 2nd, marks Dia de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead – a long observed Mesoamerican tradition born from a marriage of indigenous folklore and the pre-existing All Soul’s Day Catholic festivities. The holiday began as syncretic practice, later evolving into a clear example of enculturation. Its celebration has long been a recognizable part of the Mexican-American experience and woven into the Los Angeles cultural landscape.

Traditional altars are set up during Dia de los Muertos to honor and prayer for the souls of the dead, each equipped with an arrangement of necessary spiritual and physical accessories to aid the deads’ transition to the afterlife. Below is a list of the most common components of a Dia de los Muertos altar.

Photo by Lemad.resaeva (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Fragrances, plants and flowers

The infusion of some flowers and herbs like bay leaf, thymus vulgaris, rosemary, and chamomile in a pot covered by a prickly-pear cactus leaf is said to produce a pleasing fragrance that helps guide souls back to Earth. Other aromas like copal resin and incense are also used.

The key component of a Day of the Dead altar is the floristic color, prominently characterized by the Mexican/Aztec Marigold (Targetes erecta). Their colors may vary, ranging from white, pink, yellow, or orange. Its flowers are used to form shapes and platters to make the altar more attractive; the flowers are often combined with other plants like the Chenille Plant (Acalypha hispida) and Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila paniculata). Other flowers not native to Mexico, like birds of paradise and tulips are also used to add to the color themes of the altar arrangements.

Another element is the inclusion of an ‘arched portal’ at the top level made out of vegetation using reeds, ferns or ferns. The portal symbolizes the entrance or gateway to the netherworld.

Here is the Targes erecta, the characteristic flower that surrounds all ‘Dia de Muertos’ representations of altars. Creative Commons photo: Ana Rodriguez Carrington (CC BY 2.0)

Sugar skulls
With the importation of sugar into the New World, the indigenous people of Mexico began sculpting sugar in the shape of skulls to portray their beloved departed.

Steps or Levels
Steps are used to represent the dualist perspective of the physical world, both sky and ground. When three levels are used, each level represents a plane of the spiritual world: Heaven, Earth & Purgatory (or the netherworld = Hades or Sheol in Hebrew [שְׁאוֹל]). Seven levels references the Seven Deadly Sins faced and overcome during a lifetime.

Papel Picado
The Aztecs used amate bark paper for carving or painting figures, deities, and sceneries as a codex. With the introduction of other paper types by the Spaniards, the indigenous population began using other colors and patterns. Yellow and purple symbolize purity and grief respectively, but other colors are used commonly as well.

Fire
The element of fire is represented using candles, their flame believed to be essential to guide the souls toward their afterlife journey. Some people arrange candles in the shape of the cross or to point out the four cardinal directions.

Water
A glass of water is meant to satiate the thirst of the souls. Mayans believed cenotes (sinkholes) were sacred entries to the netherworld, therefore some altars include a larger receptacle of water symbolizing cenotes.

Earth
The earthly plane is represened with fruits, seeds, spices, and other objects extracted from nature. Usually, corn kernel and cocoa beans are used to form artistic patterns at the foot of the altar. The arrangement also connotates a connection with the Book of Genesis/Bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית) and its devotion, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

Food
Since the journey of the dead is deemed long and difficult, the family of the deceased usually cooks his/her favorite meal, offering it as pleasing sustenance for their journey. Traditional food like mole, pozole, tacos, and tamales are often depicted, representative of Mexican cuisine. Pan de muertos (“bread of the dead”) is another important and characteristic component on its own, representing the bones and the tears of those souls seeking rest.

Some candles, sugar skulls, pottery and food are placed surrounded by flowers. Creative Commons photo: Angelica Portales (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Other elements
Families may also place personal items of the deceased like clothing, favorite objects, etc. at the altar. Some even quietly play the deceased’s favorite music while the altar is up.

Religious items may include imagery, rosaries, crucifixes, etc. while others add sculptures like the traditional black Itzcuintli Dog believed to guide souls across the Itzcuintlan River in the netherworld. For the same reason, coins supposedly made out of gold are placed at the altar – the fee to pay the boatman Caronte to sail his/her soul to the other side of the river.

Want to know more? The Chicago Tribune just shared a great post about the Anatomy of a Day of the Dead altar we highly recommend checking out.

 

Toyon photo by Katherine Montgomery

I find it comforting to meditate upon the subtle evidence of life buzzing all around us: the mundane movements of ants, the funny chattering of birds, and the slow growth of plants. Even in the urban setting of Los Angeles, wildlife finds a way to nestle into the smallest cracks. Lately during the morning, I’ve observed a mating pair of red-whiskered bulbuls grooming one another while perched on the electric line outside my kitchen window. An introduced species brought from Southeast Asia as pets, the bulbul was once prized for its beautiful song.

In the evenings, I notice my Epiphyllum has grown new buds that will bloom while I sleep. The iridescent green Japanese beetles have arrived, and the pomegranate tree has large, unripe fruit growing already. Recognizing these signals of life has given me a deeper understanding of the layered ecosystem of Los Angeles.

Cercis photo by Katherine Montgomery

One detail of the landscape that always catches my eye is the perfectly notched leaves left by leaf cutter bees. Often mistaken for caterpillar bites, these notches look more like deliberately decorative edging, as if a hole-puncher was taken to the leaf. The bees cut these semi-circles from leaves with their mouths, adding the plant matter into their nests to protect their eggs. Numerous leaf cutter bees are native to North America, and they rarely sting.

Bee hotel photo by Linda Daley

A solitary species, they can sometimes be found nesting near one another in existing tree cavities. Gathering pollen on their bellies instead of their legs, leaf cutter bees are an efficient and important pollinator that should be encouraged in any open space. One way to invite them into your garden is to build a bee hotel (or mixed-use development) by stacking hollow bamboo or drilling holes in wood. They are difficult to spot in action, but you can keep an eye out for the evidence of their delicate handiwork on nearby greenery.