Posts tagged #ThisIsLandscapeArchitecture

Life threw me another curveball recently. A casual walk one afternoon turned badly when I tripped, landing into a few weeks of back and knee pain. The whole experience made me appreciate the physical activity I took for granted before. It also gave me insight into how people with disabilities experience public spaces.

Coincidentally, two work associates are also dealing with physical injuries much worse than my own. Although I did not depend on a mobility aid to get around, my colleagues have been using crutches, a knee-walker, or cane. As we struggled with our individual physical limitations, our sudden connection with the disabilities community was transformative, leaving us much more aware of the design of public spaces.

All photos by Linda Daley

Urban streets in major cities like Los Angeles are often challenging even for the able-bodied. We became acutely cognizant of uneven sidewalk surfaces along the streets we traveled. In one occurrence, I was forced to walk along the side of a busy road to avoid a raised sidewalk that I could not manage. I have a new appreciation for curb ramps at street crossings, now wishing them everywhere. The slightest pitch in the path of travel could result in exhaustion by the end, while a shady seat to rest is a rare helpful sighting across urban streets.

A quiet moment captured at the South Park Streetscape project in Downtown L.A.

My injured colleagues and I also lamented over the only set of elevators at the Metro rail station nearest our office. When you are using crutches or a scooter, escalators are not an option. They are crowded, fast moving, and just plain scary. The elevators at our local station are unfortunately located furthest away from our office building. Imagine the emotional and physical toll when faced with another two blocks downhill through crowded downtown sidewalks while relying on crutches — and then upslope at the end of the day.

I recall a class I took many years ago as a student of landscape architecture. The course focused on designing for ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliance. For one session, our instructor asked us to meet him at a spot on the college campus. He arrived with a wheelchair and required each of us to take turns using it as the group walked around. He drove home his points about accessibility as we struggled with the smallest slopes and maneuvered through many circulation barriers. Our last task was to find our way from the upper entry of one building to its lower entry without taking an elevator. The final leg of our path of travel took us to an underlit and isolated corridor. I remember feeling if I was alone, I would be in fear for my safety.

The newly opened Stoneview Nature Center in Culver City.

Although ADA regulations have improved since my university days, the lessons of the ADA-oriented session came back to me vividly after my recent fall. I am older now and do not recover from injuries as I once did. Designing to meet minimum federal or local standards is not good enough when you consider your own aging. For our practice, it is ultimately about people, and enhancing the experience of outdoor environments for everyone.

Everyone.

That one word represents our broader responsibility as designers.

Superblocks: How Barcelona is taking city streets back from cars: “Modern cities are designed for cars. But the city of Barcelona is testing out an urban design trick that can give cities back to pedestrians.” Could Los Angeles ever integrate this type of city planning solution to turn the tide against cars and parking infrastructure defining the city?

A Guide to Watering Native Plants: “A new Tree of Life Nursery publication, Watering Native Plants, by nursery co-owner Mike Evans, covers important factors to keep in mind while planning – particularly for rain capture, and for decisions about irrigation methods.”

New urban parks and public spaces to see in 2017: “As spring weather begins to sweep the country, it seems like a good time to look at some of the parks and public spaces that have recently opened or will open later this year. Here’s a list of some of the projects—community gathering spaces, new examples of engineered nature, or important reflections of cultural heritage—that will continue to redefine the role of parks.”

How not to create traffic jams, pollution and urban sprawl: “Many cities try to make themselves more appealing by building cycle paths and tram lines or by erecting swaggering buildings by famous architects. If they do not also change their parking policies, such efforts amount to little more than window-dressing. There is a one-word answer to why the streets of Los Angeles look so different from those of London, and why neither city resembles Tokyo: parking.”

New Metro employer bike-share discount could boost ridership: “Los Angeles County Metro has launched a new discount program to encourage employers to offer bike-share passes to their employees. The short-term bike rental system, intended to bridge small gaps between destinations or transit stops, has lagged behind similar big city systems in ridership numbers.”

April is World Landscape Architecture Month, an international celebration of landscape architecture. WLAM introduces the profession to the public by highlighting landscape architect-designed spaces around the world. Today we visit Seoul, Korea to highlight the transformation of Cheonggyecheon River from concrete waterway to a revitalized urban park.

Photos by Wendy Chan

I like to visit urban parks while on vacation. Visiting parks allow me the opportunities to people watch and observe how different cultures use and interact within public open spaces, especially in dense cities where open space is often rare, but easily accessible by public transit.

I recently visited Cheonggyecheon, a 3.6-mile-long stream corridor located in downtown Seoul, South Korea that attracts over 60,000 visitors daily. For years, the Cheonggyecheon stream was paved over with concrete with an elevated highway built above it. But recently, the government removed the roadway and transformed the once concrete channel into a public open space. The stream was restored with vegetation, walkways, stages, crossings, water play, and seating areas, creating a multifunctional and sustainable public space for the citizens of Seoul.

Conceptual site plan presented in 2002 by the Research Center Director of the Seoul Development Institute, Seoul Metropolitan Government.

The Cheonggyecheon River is supplemented by potable water pumped from the Han River, but the benefits to the surrounding community, biodiversity, and quality of life is still apparent. Depending upon the access point, visitors can experience a slowly changing landscape – from an urban experience with concrete walls and edges to a more natural stream experience. The redesign kept remnants of the highway that once covered the stream. Art, historical photos, and monuments of cultural significance related to the stream were integrated in the design.

The park never closes. I’ve visited the park during the day, but also during the late evening and early morning. No matter the hour, I’ve always felt safe walking through Cheonggyecheon. The urban park is heavily populated at all hours with people leisurely walking, exercising, and commuting to their destination without having to worry about cars. While walking the Cheonggyecheon’s length I thought of our own Los Angeles River, an urban waterway slowly undergoing a similar transformation from an inaccessible concrete channel to a thriving open space. My only interaction growing up with the Los Angeles River was through the backseat car window driving across the Broadway Street Bridge in Lincoln Heights. I can’t imagine how amazing it would be if Angelenos one day are able to access the entire river from start to end at the ocean, our very own version of Cheonggyecheon River linear park.

“Garcia Trail, overlooking Azusa, Glendora, and beyond” – Photo by Jon Coyne / Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

When I moved to California from Louisiana over 25 years ago, I found solace hiking the Garcia Trail – a trail that leisurely swirls along the foothills behind my house and connects the City of Azusa to the San Gabriel National Monument. Over the years, I discovered that the architect who designed our dining room intentionally placed a row of long, narrow windows sky high so inhabitants could quickly spot a bright white cross at the top of the foothill and also watch hikers as they traveled through a narrow and dense chaparral passage.

From our dining room I’d witness morning hikers in joyful exuberance as they reached the top, their ebullient echoes cascaded down the hill – so loud they could be heard even under the bright lights of our chandelier!

Back at the trailhead, a small handmade wooden camp sign with “Garcia Trail” and an arrow can be found. It’s hidden behind a thick planting of Thuja plicata (Western Cedar), Cedrus deodara (Deodar Cedar), Pinus canariensis (Canary Island Pine), Lantana sellowiana (Creeping Lantana) and thorny Bougainvillea ‘Monka’ (Oo-La-La™ Bougainvillea) – a line-up following the slopes along the first switchback.


Photo by Brian Altmeyer / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Further along hikers are met by thick brush of fragrant native plants like, Heteromeles arbutifolia (Toyon), assorted Ceanothus (California Lilac) and Rhus ovata (Coffeeberry).  These bushy plants offer the only shady refuge along the southern side of the sunny and hot foothill.  Continuing up the trail, the fire road shrinks into a slippery and steep gravel-laden single lane. The trail becomes regularly worn from all of the constant foot traffic and water flow during the year.

Yet, the white cross at the trail top – perhaps with visions of God beckoning from the distance – seems to help motivate plenty of hikers ever upward. Regarding more earthly concerns: firemen can be seen regularly using the trail for endurance training, so I like to believe there are always earthly angels nearby.

This past Friday, I found myself pondering whether the Garcia Trail is used by the same mountain lion that was spotted in a tree across the street from the local park close by. Occasionally hunters can also be found on the trail; I’ve wondered after crossing paths if they thought we were dinner or just in the way.  Into late summer bears, snakes, tarantulas, bobcats, skunks, raccoons, or even coyotes spook/thrill hikers along the trail.

During these instances where a hiker confronts wildlife, who goes first, you or the coyote? I imagine freezing up and whispering to my hiking companion, “What should we do next?”  Probably the best advice is to take a deep breath, pause for a moment…then just walk/run down the hillside.

Photos by Suzan Beall Weathermon

I will never forget when a prospective wealthy neighbor purchased a property with an easement of the Garcia Trail dividing it. He wanted to build his family home against the hillside and spared no expense in attempting to realize his dreams. Urban legend has it that he was afraid animals would invade their homestead. In response the homeowner built the “Great Wall of Glendora” out of concrete blocks and rebar along the steep grade with the help of laborers. Note: large animals can still jump this barrier with ease.

It’s been 10 years since city officials signed off on this project, so it wasn’t like it was done generations ago without any thought of how it could impact the surrounding environment.  Ironically, the homeowner was unable to build to his home to desired specifications due to a hillside ordinance, so he moved elsewhere, leaving behind his unintended monument.

Something magical happened in 2007 as the recession began to sink deep into the Valley: locals decided to forgo renewing expensive gym memberships and rediscovered the calling of nature in its place. Or so it seemed from the sights through my dining room windows, where I would regularly watch an ant line of exercisers marching up Garcia Trail.

The Garcia Trail became a singles mecca and a regular activity destination for the Korean Hiking Club, a group that would arrive to the trailhead inside a 55 passenger tour bus. And then there were the cars…rows and rows of cars that eventually wrapped around the streets of Azusa and Glendora. Thieves randomly broke into hikers’ cars while they were busy ascending ever upward. Social media and local hiking professionals alike would tout the trail’s beauty, relishing in the trails demanding level of difficulty. Impressive photographs shared online even generated even more visitors seeking similar experiences. Azusa Pacific University’s annual volunteer trail maintenance team could not keep up with the increase of foot traffic or trash left behind.

The bright lights and loudspeakers of the Glendora sheriff and and Azusa police helicopters took over the surrounding landscape at all hours of the day and night. People were asked to leave. Rescues were a regular occurrence. Hiking around that big “A”, clearly visible from the 210, exuded an excitement not unlike clubbing in Hollywood (except outdoors).

There are over 20 different trails within Glendora and Azusa that offer a similar stellar valley view. But for some reason, the Garcia Trail 2.7 mile distance became the “it” trail.  In the end the Garcia Trail was unable to safely handle the influx of traffic, trash, and erosion across its length – a victim of its own popularity.

In 2013 the City of Glendora approved and installed “No Parking” signs along the city streets leading up to the trail. Even afterward, people walked their dogs and even small children in the middle of the road as if Sierra Madre Blvd. was an extension of the trail.

Then on January 16, 2014, the Colby Fire erupted, destroying the Garcia Trail in its scorched path. The multi-year drought turned the area’s naturally dry foliage into an even more potentially dangerous fuel source for raging forest fires. A reckless campfire set by a group of cold homeless men ignited the brush aflame. The surrounding chaparral was so thick and dense with highly flammable growth – the last fire having occurred way back in 1968 – the Colby Fire eventually ended up burning for 10 straight days.

The fire began over a mile and half away, but ended up burning within 300 feet from my home. Powerful canyon winds and the fast moving fire compelled my husband and I to gather our belongings and cat to evacuate in just fifteen minutes. According to hiking enthusiast Dan Simpson’s website, “officials issued an indefinite closure based on an assessment/report of the Garcia Trail condition by the collaborative efforts of the Burn Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team (U.S. Forest Service, L.A. County Fire Department’s Forestry Division, and USGS).”

A photo of the trail taken by the Azusa Police Department.

Online, heated debates whether the trail should, could, or will be rebuilt rages on. As urban development continues into the surrounding foothills, hiking trails have suffered similar challenges. The South Hills in Glendora rides along the edges of the 57 and 210 freeways, with a network of trails once surrounded by a couple of nurseries growing container plants within its boundaries. The Monrovia Nursery Company and Colorama Nursery leased properties from the City of Glendora; both both nurseries have moved their production of container plants elsewhere, leaving 20 acres for development or some other creative option.

April marks the observance of World Landscape Architecture Month,  as well as National Gardening Month. Now seems an appropriate time and opportunity to recommend government officials to hire a landscape architect to ensure safe passage through urban and/or historic nature trails. Landscape architects are professionals capable of providing site analysis, review grading, and conduct research. Landscape architects also partner with other related professionals, like grant writers, horticulturalists, ecologists, geologists, architects, engineers, or planners, to ensure an effective and enjoyable trail design for all.

Today, I still enjoy the sounds of happy hikers on the Garcia Trail – even though we rarely use the dining room anymore. But it will take more than a squad of volunteers to repair the trail. The trail will require a professional inventory consisting of site analysis, action, and funding plans to create a safe passage with an exceptionally written maintenance plan that can stand the test of time. If the trailhead is moved, we can only accept that it was done to ensure health, safety and welfare for all hikers, as well as approach the burden of liability and maintenance on the trails.

Those with a deeper interest in the Garcia Trail are invited to express their opinion during next week’s Azusa City Council Meeting on April 17th at 7:30 pm.

My trusty ’07 Toyota Prius, circa 128,000 miles old. Photos by Gary Lai.

I still remember my wife’s family’s 4th of July celebration even after nearly a decade later. I had just moved to Los Angeles and and was the proud new owner of a 2007 Prius. I was harboring high expectations about showing my wife’s family the car. We had been married for almost 15 years and I was already acquainted with my wife’s family ritual revolving around any new car. Family would gather around the shiny new vehicle to “ooh” and “ahh” appreciably in harmony. Just a year before I witnessed this tradition first hand when one of my wife’s cousins bought a new Subaru WRX.

Remembering this ritual I attempted to be helpful, parking close to the garage so that no one would need to venture too far away from the house during the summer heat to check out my new car. I walked in, set down our potluck dish, then proudly announced my $28k purchase.

The sound of crickets was deafening.

Needless to say, I could have parked in San Bernardino. No one even bothered to come out to look at the car at any time during our visit.

That was then, this is now. The boring, pedestrian, and weird Toyota hybrid is now the most common car across the city. My wife and I recently counted 97 Priuses pass by in just a span of an hour and a half while seated at a Silver Lake restaurant outdoor patio.

Hollywood has even taken notice. There a scene in La La Land when Emma Stone’s Prius keys are surrounded by scores of others on the valet board. Automobile anonymity.

Angelenos need to face reality: the era of the Mustang or the Mercedes SL500 convertible is over. The Prius is the car that most represents Los Angeles today.

A snapshot recently from Astro’s Coffee Shop in Silver Lake. From left to right:  Honda Insight, 2 Toyota Priuses (Third Generation), Chevy Volt.

Don’t kill the messenger! I’m a “car guy” too. I spent a sizable time during my 80s era youth salivating over Ferraris and Lamborghinis. I wasted most of my young adulthood tightly griping a controller in front of a TV playing Gran Turismo on the Playstation. I owned an illegally modified “rice rocket”, an Acura Integra, for 10 years. I even had the honor of driving on the track at Laguna Seca behind the wheel of a 2004 Dodge Viper. However, when it came down to buying a car for driving in Los Angeles a decade ago, I chose a Prius.

Why? Because…

1. …I am a Landscape Architect on a limited budget who lives in a very expensive city.
2. …our traffic is the absolute worst in the country. LA commuters waste an average of 81 hours a year in traffic compared with the next worst cities, Washington DC and San Francisco, tied at 75 hours of annual traffic purgatory.
3. …owning a BMW M5 capable of 0-60mph in under 4 seconds is meaningless in a city where you rarely afforded the opportunity to “speed” over 35mph.
4. …in a city with the worst air quality in the country, I drive a car that emits a fraction of carbon versus a gas-only internal combustion engine vehicle. I’m not the only one that made this decision. Los Angeles is now the leading city in sales of alternate fuel cars: Teslas, Volts, Leafs, and of course, new generation of Priuses.

Angelenos, I understand anyone’s apprehension and concern. Los Angeles invented car culture and its difficult to fathom Los Angeles choosing something so pedestrian as symbolic of our auto-loving city. Take heart, in the near future there will still be sexy, exotic fire-breathing sports machines rolling into parking lots along Sunset Blvd. or Beverly Blvd. for valets to lustily salivate over. For the foreseeable future certain cars will retain their status symbol.

But change is visible just over the hill of the proverbial 405 freeway: Millennials have stopped driving and are ride sharing; Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers have decided saving money and protecting the quality of air is more important than “status”, especially while stuck for hours every day in traffic.

The emergence of the Prius shows that we have, indeed, turned the corner on transportation.