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Welcome to the first of our Cal Poly Pomona Coastal Resiliency posts featuring 4th year undergraduate students in the Landscape Architecture program. 

Julie Elise and SCMI's Adriana taking H2O quality readings.

Julie, Elise, and SCMI’s Adriana working together to take H2O quality readings offshore in Long Beach.

The students are barreling toward mid-terms (such is the student life in a quarter system), having completed their initial research and visited the project area in Long Beach. As these students learn and process the problems of sea level rise to a coastal community, their first impressions of the class are ones of almost awe and reverence at the issues at hand:

Student Elise A. writes:

“When I think of Long Beach, I think of the bright sun light and the spectacular cityscape along the seashore, and that is pretty much it. Even though I have been aware of the issue of sea level rise, it is still hard to imagine some local and historic parts of the city submerged in water in less than 100 years.

Even though regretful, I am excited at the same time to see what landscape architects, along with urban planners, civil engineers, architects and other professionals can do to mitigate this inevitable situation in a regional if not global scale. I can already see the more sustainable and responsive shore of Long Beach, transformed by innovative designs and renewable energy sources.”

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AHBE Landscape Architects is collaborating with Cal Poly Pomona landscape architecture students on a coastal resiliency design studio with Professor Barry Lehrman and his fourth-year undergraduate students. AHBE Lab will be highlighting selections of the student’s work nearly every Wednesday for the next several weeks. The project site is the coastline from the Port of Long Beach to Anaheim Bay. Students are in their third week of class (field-trip week) and this week they will be meeting with Dr. Christine Whitcraft of Cal State Long Beach Wetlands Ecology Lab; Carrie Metzgar and Larry Rich from the City of Long Beach’s Office of Sustainability in addition to exploring areas around the Long Beach waterfront.

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Driving along the 134 to the 210 Freeway, then south on the 57 through the flurry of cities situated across the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley, you cannot miss the oversized mountain monograms neatly resting across the foothills. Each letter represents the name of a city or place nearby (like a university, such as Cal Poly Pomona).

When flying over the foothills from LAX, heading toward Midwestern cities like Minneapolis, Chicago or Detroit, one can spy the very tall profiles of Canary Island Pines (Pinus canariensis) from above.  Traveling so high and fast, even the tall pine trees blend together into green blobs, intersected by spider web patterns of concrete, and dotted with tiny gray and brown rooftops with the occasional flash of sparkling blue swimming pools.  The one thing that clearly stands out while comfortably seated in a plane is the letter on the hillside!  Once I spot the letter “A”, I know where to geolocate my home.

These oversized hillside letters are a type of geoglyph – large, land designs made with stones, trees and shrubs, earth or other elements. Some geoglyphs have been traced back to 2,000 years ago, with various meanings and purposes associated to them: way-finding markers for earthlings, spiritual symbols, or perhaps – if you are into theories a bit more otherworldly – something related to the extraterrestrial.

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Australian Andrew Rogers designs and installs geoglyphs all over the world. Built in 2008, it was his first installation in America. Whether they’re  still maintained in Yucca Valley, CA isn’t unknown.

Last week, my husband Adrian and I got our hair cut at the Covina salon where my stylist and friend Liz works. I saw on the Azusa City News Facebook page that her husband Patrick and friends recently volunteered to repair the “A” in Azusa on the steep, rattlesnake infested foothills.  I really appreciate that he and others like him are trying to keep our communities looking good and giving back through the “Big ‘A’ Project”!

Volunteers replace the tarp that keep the “A” in Azusa looking good. Photos via the Azusa City News Facebook page.

Recently, they went up the ridge and entered with permission onto private property so they could access the “A” that lies on hillside property managed by Joint Powers Authority, on behalf of the City of Azusa.  I always wondered what the “A” was made of.

“Tarps,” was the simple and short reply.

They are currently raising money through YouCaring to redesign the temporary “A” design into a more permanent one, as well as collect funds for regular maintenance around the site. In hearing about their plans, it was impossible for me not to think about which materials could create a more permanent design, especially when factoring in the limitations of a site where material could not be delivered via truck or crane. Plants would be cool. I could think of a few wonderful options, but there would be regular maintenance needed to keep the “A” looking neat and tidy, and it is not an easy location to reach, unfortunately.

Back in 1928, during high school, my late grandfather Martin set the rocks that make up the “M” in Monrovia .  The “M” was constructed with lots of rocks, each painted white, but likely reset years later. Whenever Monrovia High School wins a football game, the “M” is magically transformed by lights into a “V” for “Victory.” It made me think of all the materials that make up other letters on the hillsides of California, how it all started, and whether there is a future for these letters and hillside designs.

There are at least 80 hillside monograms set into the hillsides of California.  The oldest known letter is the “C” in UC Berkeley. The collegiate geoglyph rests neatly between a clearing of trees and turf.  A number of other mountain monograms reside right here in Los Angeles County:

 Monogram    City
 A  Agoura Hills, CA
 A  Azusa, CA
 B  Burbank, CA
 CLU  Thousand Oaks, CA (California Lutheran University)
 CPP  Pomona, CA (Cal Poly Pomona)
 D  Duarte, CA
 H  Glendale, CA (Hoover High School)
 LA  Hacienda Heights, CA (Los Altos High School)
 LMU  Los Angeles, CA (Loyola Marymount University)
 M  Monrovia, CA
 W  Whittier, CA

The 2009 Toyota Prius Harmony Floralscapes. Photo: Toyota

My favorite modern geoglyph was created in 2009 using what looked like an arrangement of 20,000 4” Petunias within a 30’ x 60’ display by the now defunct marketing firm Greenroad Media with advertising firm, M&C Saatchi Los Angeles. One of the seven floral displays was created along the 110 Freeway in promotion of the Toyota Prius brand. Unable to safely pull over to investigate, I drove in circles to just see how it was set up on the side of the freeway (Note: it isn’t uncommon while traveling with a horticulturalist that they may insist driving back in circles to investigate a particular plant or tree over and over again until their curiosity is satiated).  The floral installation appeared overnight, like a Banksy mural – a colorful, rising sun with what looked like a car around it, but it really had no connection to the Prius.

Photo: Toyota

After its installation, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa remarked, “The commute for Angelenos will now be brightened by floral murals that embody the city’s progressive approach to solving environmental issues by merging beautification, sustainable design and reducing our carbon footprint.” Early into the region’s serious drought, the planting design with annuals may not have been as sustainable as the mayor proclaimed. It was a great start to something bigger, an interest in horticulture around the freeways – a living, beautiful branding opportunity paid for by a private venture. Nothing has happened since then on the slopes of the freeway, but it does not mean that something beautiful cannot bloom to feed hungry pollinators on the side of our motorways in the near future. There remains opportunities to further explore sustainable design in similar fashion.

As more people use Google Maps to virtually fly over hillsides and rooftops to way-find or seek out interesting points of interest, I can’t help believe we’ll see new geoglyphs come to life. Colorful, living, and sustainable designs may arise in relation to maximizing property use for commercial purposes. For example, the increasing use of drones could create a demand for marketing messages designed to be seen high above from a property. Just as cities brand their identity on a hillside, so will private property owners using their rooftops. Finding those arid-loving plants capable of tolerating reclaimed water and a small amount of substrate or soil on the rooftop will make the project even more complex. I am definitely interested in offering plants as a solution to the urban heat island in tight spaces or along steep slopes, as well as providing an opportunity to share a relevant message or colors through amazing sustainable planting design.

“The only biodiversity we’re going to have left is Coke versus Pepsi. We’re landscaping the whole world one stupid mistake at a time” – Chuck Palahniuk

I have two favorite California native trees and they are both endangered. The Coastal Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) and the California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa) are both under threat of being killed off by a new pest called Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer.

Unfortunately, this beetle is not only targeting my favorite natives, but are also found infesting many other common Southern California trees (110 by current estimates), including Avocados, London Plane Tree (a relative of the Sycamore), Palo verde, and Liquidambar, to name a few. There seems to be very little we can do except identify, contain, and very carefully destroy infested trees. I included a link to a PDF sheet that talks about current research and problem that the beetle is causing. Basically, the Shot Hole Borer carries two unfriendly fungi that causes a disease called Fusarium Dieback which chokes off the movement of water and nutrients in the tree.

Click here for a guide to symptoms in various tree species.

Click here for a guide to symptoms in various tree species.

Although there are plenty of PhD’s at UC Riverside and the Los Angeles County Department of Agriculture working on the problem, there are no solutions. I have direct experience with this devastating disease which is killing off dozens of mature California Sycamore trees at our new park in Burbank. We conceptualized the park three years ago using the existing Sycamore trees as the primary shade tree. However, today as we begin to construct the park these mature trees are gone because of the borer beetle infestation.

Just as the Eucalyptus Longhorn Borer wiped out the Eucalyptus trees during the 1980’s, this new pest is an another potential beetle that is quietly devastating to our natural and ornamental landscapes. Unfortunately, the researchers are telling us designers to stop using the 110 different species that have been identified to be susceptible to the beetle. The questions remain: which trees will be left for us to include in our designs? And more fundamentally, what are we to do as designers and stewards of our landscapes?

2×8: Interlaced – Opening Reception
2×8 is a competition, exhibition, and scholarship fund for students at institutions of higher education throughout California. Opening Party for the 2018 2×8 Student Exhibition, Competition, and Winners Announcement celebrates the work of architecture students across the region. Then, discover who won this year’s 2×8 student competition. Light Refreshments and Libations!
When: May 22nd; 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Where: Helms Bakery District

The Architecture of Mark Mills
Mark Mills was one of the most creative California architects of the last 60 years. His unique, striking homes in the Carmel/Monterey area reveal an exceptional concern for site, structure, and space. Janey Bennett, author of Fantastic Seashell of the Mind, the award-winning book on Mills, will lecture on the work of this remarkable architect on Thursday, May 24, at 11:00AM in Phillips Hall 06-124. Cal Poly is closely connected to Mills: the archive of his work is held in Special Collections and Archives, Kennedy Library.
When: May 24th; 11:00AM
Where: Phillips Hall (06-124), Cal Poly Pomona

UCLA A.UD This, Not That Lecture: Brett Steele
“THIS, NOT THAT” is UCLA Architecture and Urban Design’s lecture series for the 2017-18 school year. The series brings together engaging speakers “to present arguments for their respective positions, or ideological stances, toward the design of the built environment. Their arguments will be supported by presentations of their creative efforts in research, pedagogy, or practice.”
When: May 21st; 6:30PM
Where: UCLA Perloff Hall, Decafe

Growing Habitat: LA’s Wildlife & Descanso
Descanso Gardens is a habitat for many living things: From heritage oaks, to native gray squirrels, to the vast network of mycorrhizal fungi in the soil underfoot. Growing Habitat: LA’s Wildlife and Descanso examines the idea that a healthy habitat is more than just a space with food, shelter and water. Come learn about the “wild side” our urban green space, and about some of the “habitat heroes” who work to improve the health and strength of our ecosystems.
When: May 21st; 10:00AM-4:00PM
Where: Descanso Gardens

Native Bee Basics
Want to start your own bee hive? Bee Rooted is a San Bernardino organization dedicated to humane live bee removals, but also teach classes in the benefits of promoting the lives of happy and healthy urban pollinators. Learn the basics about California’s native bee populations.
When: May 26th; 11:00AM-2:00PM
Where: Upland Public Library, 450 N Euclid Ave, Upland, California 91786

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