Posts tagged Long Beach

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Photo by Jenni Zell

Like most employees of AHBE Landscape Architects, I ride public transportation to get to and from work. Riding public transportation in Los Angeles can feel like an act of defiance against the dominant automobile culture. The protective bubble of autonomy and self-determination that accompanies driving a car is dissolved when riding the train. Sharing destinations and overlapping zones of personal space are a few of the trade-offs one makes for the economy and reduced environmental footprint associated with riding public transportation. The train also offers a dramatically different experience of moving through the landscape of Los Angeles.

Photo: Creative Commons, by METRO96

Creative Commons photo by METRO96

My daily route is on the Metro Blue Line train, beginning from the Willow Station in Long Beach traveling to the 7th Street/Metro Center station in Downtown Los Angeles. Based on the direction the train is traveling (northbound or southbound), the direction of the car (north or south), and the position an individual stands within the car (facing east or west), there are eight ways to ride the Blue Line train. In the morning, I prefer to ride facing north while sitting nearest the east facing window. The sun is behind me, and the San Gabriel Mountains are in front of me. Crossing over the Los Angeles River, I enjoy watching black-necked stilts fish along the edges of the low flow channel, and I occasionally spot great blue herons and snowy egrets along the soft bottom section of Compton Creek (a tributary of the Los Angeles River).

Los Angeles Metro Light Rail Blue Line arriving at Slauson Station. Creative Commons by Justefrain

Los Angeles Metro Light Rail Blue Line arriving at Slauson Station. Creative Commons photo by Justefrain

However, the most picturesque view to be seen from all eight various riding positions on the train comes into focus near the Slauson Station, where the train car is elevated about 25’ above street level. From here the view’s fore, middle, and background vibrates with visual interest. The San Gabriel Mountains (sometimes snowcapped) form a backdrop to the industrial landscape of Vernon – neat piles of wrecked cars and towers of wood shipping crates – our city’s version of the ox carts and windmills that once littered the paintings of 17th century Dutch landscape and cityscape artists’ works. Anchoring the foreground of this particular view near the Slauson Station is a caricaturization of a television with the hand lettered message “UNN PLUG IT NOW,” an unexpectedly resonant statement most likely rendered with spray cans under the cover of dark.

If I travel southbound after dark, the ride always feels claustrophobic. The landscape is compressed into silhouettes and the dark outlines are disrupted by sharply detailed views into the private lives of people living along the Blue Line route. If I’m fortunate enough to get to the top floor of the Willow Station parking garage before dark, I’m rewarded with a striking view. The parapet walls of the garage act as a horizontal framing device, blocking out the pedestrian landscape and directing the eye toward the distant landscape of Downtown Long Beach and the hills of Palos Verdes, with the mellowed light and soft focus of the rosy atmosphere framing a pleasing return back into my private car and a return to my private life.

For nearly seven decades, Long Beach has not seen a wave reach the shore of its beaches. Once known as the “Waikiki of Southern California” because of its popularity as a surf spot, residents mostly avoid the city’s beaches, well aware the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers have stagnated and stagnated the water between the Long Beach Breakwater and shoreline.


At 10:40am on Sunday, June 7, I took a picture of the Long Beach coastline. The weather was beautiful; a perfect day to be at the beach. But, nobody was swimming, or even near the water’s edge. At the same time in Huntington Beach, my husband was surfing and reported that the parking lots, beach, and water were packed with people.

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The Long Beach Breakwater (essentially a 2.5 mile long pile of stones) was built in the 1940’s to shelter the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet. The ships are long gone, but the pile of rocks remains, trapping water near the shoreline by inhibiting the natural flow of the ocean currents. The rocks impairs swimming and water based recreation due to elevated bacteria levels, trash, and debris in the water and along the shoreline. According to a 2010 report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), in Long Beach “an average of 4,000 tons of trash and debris is deposited on City beaches annually.”


The bright spot in this story is that earlier this month, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia announced the City and the USACE have reached an agreement on funding of the San Pedro Bay Ecosystem Restoration Study. The study’s title sounds small and toothless, but it is not, for it could provide the political muscle (read: funding and federal approval) needed to reconfigure the pile of rocks that have exacerbated the substantial ecological stress of near coastal habitats.

A vision of what the Long Beach shoreline could one day look like once the rocks are Breakwater rocks are removed.

A vision of what the Long Beach shoreline could one day look like once the rocks are Breakwater rocks are removed.

The study is scheduled to start in early 2016 and will evaluate how different reconfigurations of the breakwater can direct river water away from the shore to divert effluent from recreational areas, improve water circulation, and restore kelp and eelgrass populations. I hope along with the bathymetric and hydrologic models, someone studies how to engineer the perfect Long Beach surf break.