Posts tagged Eric Garcetti

Image: AHBE Landscape Architects

Graphic: AHBE Landscape Architects

This month Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Los Angeles will be joining the 100 Resilient Cities initiative, revealing our first citywide Resilience Strategy. In addition, the mayor signed an executive directive to create Chief Resilience Officers, new positions for leading the way in taking steps to make Los Angeles a more resilient and stronger city. The Rockefeller Foundation has been taking charge in supporting governments, residents, agencies and designers to reimagine solutions to the complex problems facing our cities today.

By joining the 100 Resilient Cities initiative, the city of Los Angeles taps into the momentum of other places sharing common problems and solutions. After Hurricane Katrina, a strong partnership was forged between engineers, designers, and policy makers from the Netherlands to address water disaster issues and to plan in Louisiana. Similarly, The Bay Area Resilient By Design is forging new knowledge and solutions to strengthen the region’s resilience to sea level rise, severe storms, flooding and earthquakes. AHBE submitted a proposal with Tetra Tech, Restoration Design Group, and Professor Barry Lehrman of Cal Poly Pomona (view our video here), working together to create small-scale implementable, testable, and scalable strategies for sea level rise.

A still from Resilient By Design Bay Area Challenge by Evan Mather for AHBE Landscape Architects.

Southern California can learn from the research and site-specific design proposal generated by the Bay Area Resilient By Design initiative. These privately funded efforts and partnerships with local research universities are a force in creating a vision for mitigation and adaptation challenges facing our communities. We hope to see similar collaborations between the scientific and design communities addressing the issues specific to Los Angeles and Southern California coastal cities.

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A poster designed to spread awareness of the urban homeless population by Seattle-based, Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets.

A poster designed to spread awareness of the urban homeless population by Seattle-based,
Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets.

Last week, the LA City Council voted to adopt Mayor Garcetti’s $8.76-billion budget proposal aimed to address the increasing homelessness problem in Los Angeles. The proposed measure would specifically improve housing and public services for those without shelter. During the last winter of 2015, the council already announced a $12.4 million budget to help provide more shelters for homeless people during the predicted El Niño season (which officially just ended according to weather-monitoring agencies around the globe). Together these proposals are just part of a broader $100 million plan to address homelessness in the city. Data indicates there has been a 12% increase in homelessness in both LA County and Los Angeles as a city since 2013. And there is an estimate of 70% among the homeless population that do not live within proximity of a shelter – about 18,000 in the city.

A mortared cobble bed in front a gym in Downtown Los Angeles along 6th street designed to deter homeless from sleeping in front of the entry. Photo by Yiran Wang.

A mortared cobble bed in front a gym in Downtown Los Angeles, designed to deter homeless from sleeping in front of the entry. Photo by Yiran Wang.

Though government policies play an important role in battling socio-economic issues like homelessness, designers too can play a significant role in reshaping the city as a whole. Previously my colleague here at AHBE Lab briefly mentioned thoughtfully designed and built shelters or affordable apartment as improvements in LA’s Skid Row: “Perhaps there are small things can be done, such as rethinking the use of intermediate armrests on benches which are used to prevent individuals from sleeping at bus shelters, public plazas, and parks.”

A bench shelter by the Vancouver nonprofit group RainCity Housing.

A bench shelter by the Vancouver nonprofit group RainCity Housing.

Honestly speaking, the invisible nomadic population living along the streets and parks of Los Angeles often come up against an invisible wall, one fermented by increasing urban gentrification, and further facilitated by political acts based upon inequality defined by an infrastructure increasingly separating the classes of haves from the have-nots. Unfortunately, many of the physical manifestation of this wall – both visible and invisible – were designed by architects and landscape architects.

Have you ever heard of the Camden Bench?  It is an angular concrete street bench first installed in London 2012, a design awarded as the “masterpiece of unpleasant design” aimed at deterring the presence of unwanted loitering of both the homeless population (who use benches as beds and resting areas) and skateboarders.

Camden_bench

Mike Davis Bus bench in his book

A page from “City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles” by Mike Davis

Many other similar “disciplinary architecture” or “hostile architecture” designs are dispersed across cities everywhere. Social historian Mike Davis noted in his book “City of Quartz” the appearance of barrel-shaped benches at bus stops in Downtown LA way back in 1990s. In 2014, another “masterpiece” pinched the public nerve: a series of small metal spikes outside a luxury building in London. Such “sadistic street environment” – as described by Mike Davis – only functions to repel people away, not just the homeless, resolving none of the problems for the city as a whole. Once public spaces shed a welcoming humane environment, it is not only the targeted “undesirables” who lose their dignity, but also the entirety of the city’s population itself.

American urbanist and organizational analyst William Whyte once commented about the relationship between cities and the population of “undesirables”:

“Places designed in distrust get what is anticipated, and it is in them, ironically, that you will most likely find a wino. You will find winos elsewhere, but it is the empty places they prefer. It is in them that they look conspicuous – almost as if the design had been contrived to make them so.”

Perhaps it’s time we – architects, city planners, and landscape architects – move beyond designing cities operating under suspicion and distrust, and return to the more noble goal of shaping a city serving the many, instead of the few.