Thursday, December 22, 2011

Renewal



A meditation on the natural world: Ave Maria (Gounod), performed by Edward Simoni

This time of new birth in deepest winter reminds us to pay attention to our strategies for regenerative landscaping and watershed restoration. Our global forests are the crucial carbon sinks needed to reverse the effects of climate change. Progress made in recent years shows that mankind is not doomed to strip the planet of its forest cover. But the transition from tree-chopper to tree-hugger is not happening fast enough. Read further in this article from The Economist.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Third Year, After the Rain

Sun's out again after a few dreary days, following a record windstorm here in the San Gabriel valley. We're still digging out after that event, unprecedented in its fury and destruction of the urban tree canopy and the electrical power infrastructure; snapping power poles all through the region, downing trees that were over a hundred years old. While this is a needed rain, due to the overbuilt human environment and its demands, the seasons are tumbling around each other now. That calm, abundant existence of resources has come to an end. We find ourselves fighting to retain stability in things previously taken for granted, such as the turning of the seasons, the replenishment of rain, the chill of the snow that slowly melts and provides the water we've designed all of our systems around.

I reflect on the failure of our country to even cooperate in the Durban climate agreement, let alone establish leadership in a critical area of global threats to the future. There's uprisings all over the world against the kind of oligarchical control that exists in many countries for the benefit of the few, and we're seeing the same now here in the USA with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. This control by power and money has diminished the human ability to creatively address these critical issues and craft new approaches that respond to the changing climate conditions created by our industrial era development. The greater good is no longer served, and the deterioration of natural processes and environment continues unabated due to the blindness of this control in the name of profit.

I've taken a position that this "need for profit" can be re-channeled in constructive ways to benefit the global community and provide the massive profit opportunity that the corporate world demands. This enhances sustainable energy production, clean industrial development and communication infrastructure (the real value investments) as opposed to sales of tons of junk and cheap housing all over the planet and marks a shift away from the "consumer economy" that has proven to be so destructive to PEOPLE (not "consumers") and the systems that support life on this planet.

The economic argument for shifting the global fiscal engine to a larger infrastructure reflects the argument made by Joseph Stiglitz in a Vanity Fair article, wherein he explains that the economic shift that ultimately lifted the globe out of the Depression was the public spending for World War II:

It is important to grasp this simple truth: it was government spending—a Keynesian stimulus, not any correction of monetary policy or any revival of the banking system—that brought about recovery. The long-run prospects for the economy would, of course, have been even better if more of the money had been spent on investments in education, technology, and infrastructure rather than munitions, but even so, the strong public spending more than offset the weaknesses in private spending. Government spending unintentionally solved the economy’s underlying problem: it completed a necessary structural transformation, moving America, and especially the South, decisively from agriculture to manufacturing.


The global community needs to prevail over destructive corporate entrenchment in "old economy" approaches so that the transformation to a larger infrastructure is possible. Thus an abundance of life can re-establish itself once the earth is protected from the impacts of industrialism; we need to work as networks and communities of people to re-engage in the natural environment and make constructive change. This change amounts to allowing the earth to regenerate its natural processes while human civilization moves to a larger technological, energy and manufacturing framework that supports our desires to keep expanding our civilization and moving through ever higher levels of scientific and industrial development.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Point of View



The crucial approach to reversing the immense, critical impact that our exponential growth as a species has had on this world involves changing our point of view and shifting the scale of our vision. This 5-minute video by Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams, based upon their book, "The New Universe and the Human Future," makes the very succinct point that right now is the point of necessary inflection of the traditional human expansion and resource consumption in order to preserve our planetary resources for the future.

In urging us to make this change, there's no specific course charted for moving our point of view from a lowly, parochial way of seeing and moving into a larger framework that lets us arc over the globe and understand how to drastically restructure our living conditions and our culture to adapt to a needed dramatic change in our way of living. I think there's a way to sketch out this future.

First of all, understand the reality of the situation. Then take the larger view that we've been expanding upon with our necessary space developments and satellite network, those first fine filaments, and weave them into a viable industry that can accommodate our expansion yet focus its purpose on miniaturizing our impact and reversing the damage we've done. A very logical vehicle for doing this would be to take the vast resources of our military and corporate industrial complexes and turn them towards the objective of creating profitable and constructive industries outside of the biosphere that produce energy and the needed materials for industrial production, scientific research and exploration. These are the big payoff strategies for this world, not the annihilation of people and life on the planet for private profit and governmental gain. It would enlarge our focus and allow us to see solutions that are not readily apparent now.

The big view of our global culture finds that we've stayed too long in the resource extraction phase and have fouled our nest. The only way to harness the expansionary nature of our Darwinian impulses is to expand our wings and fly out into the bigger space of the solar system and the larger vision of a planetary network. We have to cease the destruction on the earth that we're engaging in for power and money, and turn to the values of life and regeneration, and re-frame our concepts of capital investments and understand the real risks of systems. This challenge will lay the groundwork for a shift in our human ideas about what truly matters.

And then we can begin to heal the environment and our society. It's a human problem, a problem of the dying natural world that's struggling under our weight, and a critical juncture in the kind of future this planet will see. We do have the power to make this choice now, as Primack and Abrams are urging us to do.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It Deepens Us

The traditions and hopes of the Advent season are upon us again. We look to the future with an enhanced understanding of our place this world and the burdens we're placing on it. Enlightenment comes in the shape of science, history and ethics.

As we forge a path forward in the changing global future, we'll necessarily have to make a conscious shift in our values and cultural patterns, which have outraced the capacity of this new Eaarth that we now inhabit to sustain our unthinking consumption. Our resources as a global society will have to be put towards repairing the damage of climate change, as well as ongoing efforts at ecosystem restoration. But this won't be easy. To cite the linked article:

The countries that are most powerful and most addicted to fossil fuel aren’t ready to come to terms with it. You can’t really have an AA meeting while everyone’s still in denial. In each of the last three years, Exxon Mobil made more than any company in the history of money. That may give them enough political power to keep the U.S. in denial for years to come.

Here in the US, we're the key to unlocking a sustainable future. A commitment by the people, the businesses and ultimately the corporations are imminently necessary to change this course. We've seen what economic collapse has done to the world, and now the ecological systems are being pushed to the same brink. Hopefully we've learned something from this first collapse, so as to correct our ecological course through the power of human networks and a deeper connection to the natural world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eyes of the World

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael K├Ânig on Vimeo.

Every once in awhile a reminder surfaces about the importance of intelligent data in understanding the things that we're doing on our home planet. The International Space Station, currently marooned without adequate US funding or a Space Shuttle program, relies on the European Space Agency to keep the research platform aloft and functioning. As this video shows, it provides a way of opening our eyes to a vital understanding of how our planet works, and the effects of human habitation have had on it over the last few hundred years. It's also part of a network of earth satellite systems that provide not just information, but communications and earth studies that are critical to our industries on earth.

As a joint project with Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada, it represents a collaborative model as well as a potential alternative methodology of developing an on-orbit infrastructure for lunar settlement and mining, as well as Mars exploration. It could be of the biggest elements of a strategy to deal with climate change management and new resource extraction that doesn't affect our planet. Moving some of the industrial and energy activity to orbital and lunar facilities avoids carbon pollution as well as moving the focus of global attention to an exciting and dynamic strategy that creates partnerships and generates wealth for participating countries. It creates a larger frame of reference that puts resource and water conflicts on this crowded planet into perspective, thus helping us solve the problems on earth as well. It presents us with the alternative model of "many futures" rather than just the old military grandstanding of the one-shot deal space race.

An article published in the December issue of Scientific American lays out an incremental approach to developing a Mars mission, published by two scientists from JPL. It has great diagrams of how to make the incremental process work for a Mars mission, which involves multiple feedback loops, recycling of materials that steps out of the gravity well into an industrial space infrastructure that supports many kinds of futures that we couldn't possibly envision now. The article (preview only) is available online, the meat of it is in the published magazine or digital subscription.

The information and technologies involved with multi-platform satellite earth observation data can be critical drivers of a new on-orbit infrastructure that serves clean industry and technology. Then you can truly benchmark cause and effect, provide a science-based methodology for dealing with the water, agricultural and resource extraction activities that we are now facing from climate change. Growing this infrastructure gives industry a place to expand and push the leading edge in all kinds of sciences, and escape the limits of gravity and resources that our planet necessarily imposes on us in the unforgiving laws of physics: cause and effect.

Link

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In Memoriam: Scott Wilson

I wanted to note the passing of a good friend and a gifted teacher who cared about people. His leadership by example with a passion for restoring the earth - by getting his hands dirty and teaching people of all ages how to care for the natural world - is unsurpassed. It's rare that you see that kind of single-minded focus on a goal that grows into many pockets of nature cared for by so many hands, and which has changed the public dialogue about what resource-challenged neighborhoods can do for themselves.

Scott's favorite story of how he got started planting all those trees was the one he told on his wife, Clarli, and he's got her saying, "For better, for worst, but not for lunch, go," instead of laying around the house after he retired from teaching horticulture. As a result, he committed himself to planting five trees per day for the rest of his life. And he well exceeded his goal, too, and created North East Trees in the process.

He tells his own story about how he got started by rounding up people, donors and resources to plant a stand of trees at Occidental College back in 1989. Then North East Trees grew into a topnotch creator and builder of people's parks, with bioswales and self-sustaining landscaping along the LA River, including the Oros Green Street Project, the first in Los Angeles, and Steelhead Park. It appropriated grants to build these parks and get the residents involved in regenerating their neighborhoods while directing water back into the aquifers.

The expertise built up by Scott, and the design and planting teams he fostered, delivered very high-quality projects to these neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles, adopting Best Practices and Low Impact Development strategies that are now part of the regulatory standards for the city's project planning and design guidelines. He did his own projects, too, like a greywater system installed to water landscaping through the dry summers.

Scott's story goes on for many chapters, but I will best remember him for his absolute values of caring for life and for people. And he could be tough about it, and realistic in the face of extreme adversity, but he almost always managed to carry the day. And came out in the end of it with a lot of friends, no matter what.

I have learned much from him and will miss him.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Warlords R Us



“Warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development. States shall therefore respect international law providing protection for the environment in times of armed conflict and cooperate in its further development, as necessary.” – 1992 Rio Declaration.

With all the talk about climate change and environmental disasters, one major issue seems to have skittered under the radar: the endless propensities for war due to tribal conflicts, formal wars and terrorist activities as defined under Homeland Security regulations. War is the most hideously damaging enterprise of all human activity, and we now have the Military-Industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about in high gear all over the globe.

In particular, the environmental impact of war is devastating.This page has a war timeline that examines the destructive impacts of wars over the last century, and you'll notice that they have escalated significantly in the last 20 years.

From the Learn Peace site:

The earth’s environment is battered by war, its preparation, practice and aftermath. It is destroyed as an act of war; it is used as a weapon of war; and its destruction is expensive and sometimes irreversible. Its integral involvement with war is often secret, widely ignored, and easily forgotten – until now.

Now, some people are beginning to talk and listen. Some people are beginning to act. There is a treaty to ban landmines now. There are moves towards tackling the problems of nuclear waste and weapon stockpiles. There is a growing global awareness – with charters to prove it – that war has created consequences which cross boundaries and ignore territories. Natural disasters are costly enough; the cost of war damage is much higher. Even if politics don’t achieve change, economics might.

Corporatocracy has fueled this unending war strategy for profit, and is now complicit in the global encroachment into human rights that has purchased governments and legislatures, created its own armed enforcers, engaged in systemic economic fraud, and plundered treasuries and ecosystems. Democratic rights even in the US have been eroded as corporations buy police departments with their "donations" to these public instruments of government, and turn them to squelching public outcry against corporate control of government and finance. Corporations fomenting war and weapons of repression (from artillery to guns to financial wealth transfer from sovereign nations and citizens) have become bigger than many countries. A step in the right direction would be massive disinvestment in corporations like Halliburton, Boeing, Rockwell, Northrup Grumman, Blackwater/Xe and this list of war profiteers. Another important step is to increase transparency of corporate money flows and extinguish the corporate shelter tax havens so that corporations carry their share of supporting governments operating under the rule of law, which reduces global systemic risk as well.

The point is, of all of our strategies to combat climate change and achieve sustainable habitation on this planet, ending conflict and repression is the biggest sledgehammer in the toolbox. Corporate influence in this out-of-control war machine must be removed. We've got to make this issue a priority as we pull back on carbon emissions and learn to live within the energy budget that will pass a healthy world onto future generations.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reinventing Fire

"Imagine a world where carbon emissions have long been steadily declining—at a handsome profit, because saving fuel costs less than buying fuel; where global climate has stabilized and repair has begun; and where this planetary near-death experience has finally made antisocial and unacceptable the arrogance that let cleverness imperil the whole human prospect by outrunning wisdom."

--Amory Lovins, Co-founder, Chairman and Chief Scientist; August, 2007


In 2004, when the Rocky Mountain Institute released "Winning the Oil Endgame", Lovins received funding from the Pentagon, the world’s largest oil buyer, to outline a plan for making the United States oil-free through the use of modern technology and smart business strategies. “We’ve had a remarkable consistent vision of the kind of world we are trying to help create. Our current statement of that is a world thriving verdant and secure for all forever,” he said. “And the best way we know to do that is to create abundance by design. That is, turn scarcity by in-intention into abundance by design. By using a different kind of design called integrative design, to achieve very large savings of energy and resources.”

The Rocky Mountain Institute has now come blazing out of its corner with a new vision to move the world off of the fossil fuels that have become so destructive to this planet and the carbon emissions that are creating this climate instability and acidifying the ocean. They've come out with a book that outlines the very effective and immediately doable things that can be done about our situation in a constructive way and that are also a path to profitable businesses. This amplifies existing efforts to deal with the damage inflicted by destabilizing climate change.

So in solidarity and support, I dedicate this post to the Rocky Mountain Institute. Get involved in a sustainable future; it's the only thing that matters now.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's Real

Spent the weekend at a conference sponsored by the Claremont School of Theology and the Center for Process Studies, among others, called "Brave New Planet, Imagining Ecological Communities". The headliner and main plenary speaker was Bill McKibben, author of "Eaarth" and the climate change activist who recently led hundreds of people to get arrested in front of the White House during the massive D.C. protests against the Keystone oil pipeline project. Now that catastrophic climate change is actually occurring at an accelerating rate, the question is whether real people will act responsibly and decisively to pursue ethical outcomes in the face of what is sure to be widespread and unprecedented suffering.This conference is particularly timely in response to Richard Muller's "Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (BEST)" that just recently has verified that climate change is accelerating even faster than initially projected, much to the dismay of the climate deniers who hired him, the Koch brothers.

If one looks at the global oil consumption charts we have now (above) which is, along with coal, a main driver of climate change due to the release of carbon, it's quite obvious that the United States is by far the major producer of climate change. And if one further checks out the projections for oil and other fuels in the Energy Outlook published by the US Energy Information Administration, you can see that out to 2035 this only increases as energy demands rise.

If we're already into an uncontrolled ecological collapse (McKibben), how can this continue? Some answers are emerging in the form of eco-communities and campuses such as the Oberlin Project. Self-sustaining communities that don't consume lots of energy are one response in moderating the built form. Regeneration of natural processes and landscapes go hand-in-hand with highly efficient structures.

Other responses come from the global engineering profession, ahead of December’s COP17 climate change talks in Durban:

“While the world’s politicians have been locked in talks with no output, engineers across the globe have been busy developing technologies that can bring down emissions and help create a more stable future for the planet.

“We are now overdue for government commitment, with ambitious, concrete emissions targets that give the right signals to industry, so they can be rolled out on a global scale.”

In other words, rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The Rocky Mountain Institute has come out with an entire 6-point program for immediately reducing the carbon output of human civilization as we try to stabilize our energy use. They emphasize that it's a synergistic approach that involves many strategies in concert with each other.

Since the world governments are not taking the lead on the collaboration and regulation that's desperately needed in order to bring these emissions and habitations into alignment with the earth's ability to support human activities, it's become apparent that people will have to take things into their own hands and just begin to take the initiative to tackle these problems. Some of the ideas for this kind of action have been presented in very humorous and inventive ways, such as Greg Craven's sequence of videos on the subject. They're snarky, smart and creative. He's clear about addressing the need for policy changes and immediate action in his latest video, particularly because of the accelerating climate destabilization we're now seeing.

So, it's real. And so is the need to move very quickly into a new vision of sustainable life for this planet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Titanomachy

Or otherwise known as the original "Clash of the Titans" in Greek mythology. The plot of these stories is usually epic generational struggle between the dominant Elder God and the rebel generation, with one side winning out and establishing alternative hierarchies. These battles were fought before the existence of mankind, setting the backdrop of the fates and the direction of history.

In a similar fashion, the struggle of forces between cap-and-trade, just adopted by the State of California as part of its AB 32 legislation, and those who feel that a more appropriate solution is a direct carbon tax, has been playing out at the highest levels in government here in the US. However, the Federal government has yet to enact a program at the national level.

This clash between all sides can be appreciably viewed as "animation wars" as well. Annie Leonard kicked it off with her wonderful cartoon animation, "The Story of Cap & Trade" in December of 2009. Countering this is an animation from Clean Energy Works in January of 2010 called "The Facts of Cap and Trade" featuring Nat Keohane, economist for Environmental Defense Fund and a special assistant to President Barack Obama on energy and environmental issues in the White House’s National Economic Council.

Nonetheless, the California Air Resources Board approved the final adoption of a cap-and-trade system on Thursday, Oct. 20, per the Sacramento Bee:

Dubbed the economic equivalent of "a moonshot" by its backers and a "job killer" by detractors, the "cap and trade" system adopted Thursday sets limits on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be produced by 350 of the state's largest industrial polluters starting in January 2013.

The state will issue a set number of "carbon allowances." Companies that pollute less than their limit can sell their unused allowances to companies that pollute heavily, creating market incentives to reduce emissions.

The program will create the nation's largest market for trading pollution allowances. Congress in 2009 rejected legislation that would have created a federal cap and trade system. In California, 90 percent of the allowances will be given out free, but 10 percent will be sold on the open market, which some say could raise $500 million a year for the state's climate-change programs.

PCL Insider summarizes the challenges this puts before the state, which makes California THE model for national air pollution control:

This new market approach to lowering carbon emission will likely create a new industry, where firms functioning much like stockbrokerages and financial consultants will manage permit purchases and other trading tools for polluters to distribute from one to another. The Intercontinental Exchange (NYSE:ICE) powered organization Chicago Climate Exchange is such a company, being the largest and longest running carbon exchange firm in North America.

Let the Games begin!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A New Vision

The Hahamongna Watershed Park is undergoing a public review as a result of the public outcry against the devastation of the Arcadia Woodlands and the discovery of the LA County plans to move massive amounts of sediment into the park, which provides for the natural drainage of the Arroyo Seco. Hahamongna is a precious natural resource, not a sediment dump, as chief citizen defender Mary Barrie has documented extensively in public hearing. This has forced the County into an EIR process to show the public what it intends to do in response to the sediment piling up behind Devil's Gate Dam, as a result of lack of maintenance as well as a consequence of the Station Fire. The announcement for the scoping meetings by the County is here on their website.

Karen Bugge, the Altadena Hiker, has posted her story for the EIR process here. I have also participated in the scoping meeting, and submitted the following recommendation for management of this watershed in a new era that is "post-hydraulic" in terms of dealing with nature's processes and the consequences of treating natural water systems like a plumbing project:

Dam reconstruction is effective and entirely feasible in the restoration of natural processes which carry away the sediment instead of trucking it from behind an outdated and unmaintained dam. The short-term costs to change the dam structure and clear out the obstructions to natural flow are vastly smaller than ongoing sediment removal programs which are not actually carried out, for cost reasons, endangering all the communities downstream of the dam. Life cycle estimates (100 years) should be the basis for cost comparisons that include the maintenance and repair for all structures, and this would integrate the value of natural ecosystems into the equation.

Sediment management is the self-inflicted result of placing dams in the way of natural water processes that carry the sediment to the base of the mountains and create a fertile alluvial plain. In order to replenish nutrients in the soil, as well as recharge the natural aquifers that supply well water, these natural drainage patterns must be restored. That doesn't preclude artificial water storage, but these strategies must engage the natural terrain properties that exist free of charge. Water flow moves sediment, and managing that flow rather than stopping it provides a sustainable way to provide water, soil nutrients, sand, gravel and mud into areas that sustain the ecology of the region.

Natural flood protection can be attained by protecting and restoring wetlands and floodplains, and by restoring a river’s natural flow and meandering channel. Giving at least some floodplain back to a river will give the river more room to spread out. Furthermore, wetlands act as natural sponges, storing and slowly releasing floodwaters after peak flood flows have passed.

The following steps should be taken:

1. Adopt a strategic conceptual plan identifying the watershed region and its component functioning parts. Begin implementation of this concept by adopting public-private partnerships that can continually fund the ongoing restoration efforts through private fiscal investment repaid with bond or tax structures. Partner with communities and their leadership, mountains conservancies, conservation nonprofits and the County. Everyone working together can make this happen.

2. Implement reconstruction/modification of the dam to allow water and sediment flows downstream into the areas that need these natural flows. Develop water storage strategies that are effective and multivalent, possibly a series of check dams that work in optimal natural locations and recharge the Raymond Aquifer.

3. Establish a flood plain easement program to minimize flood impacts, reduce repeat damages and store floodwaters for benefits of downstream residents and communities.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Baby Steps

The maps above show the intermodal density maps for several large rail operators, and reveals the volume of rail activity across the country. Rail is a huge part of the equation for energy consumption and pollution in all regions, but the picture is immediate and obvious in the scale of activity locally here in the Los Angeles basin. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the busiest container seaports in North America. The two ports combined move more than $350 billion worth of goods and materials annually. (Here's my earlier discussion of the rail network.)

That, combined with our unique geography of mountains that ring the regions and capture pollutants under an inversion layer, makes our environment the third worst air quality region in the nation, even under the old EPA standards that remain in force as Obama just recently scrapped new EPA regulations.

The ports have made a commitment to reducing these pollutants as well as lowering emissions of toxic chemicals. They are among the biggest contributors to the environmental problems we're dealing with, as well as the player with the largest capability of making major changes to the big environmental picture. Since the ports require upgrades and rebuilding in order to handle the growing cargo traffic, major upgrades are being incorporated into the rebuilt infrastructure. Many strategies are being implemented to deal with the transport issues.

These include The improvements to existing port rail stock and enhancement of the short rail system for "first-mile" and "last-mile" cargo loading and unloading. Their Clean Trucks Program was just recently decided in favor of the ports, which means that trucking companies are responsible for keeping the rigs in compliance with the emissions guidelines, weak as they are.

BNSF Railway has proposed a Southern California International Gateway (SCIG). This near-dock rail facility, located a few miles from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, could allow cargo to be transferred onto rail closer to the ports, increasing use of the Alameda Corridor and improving local traffic and air quality. This is controversial due to its impact on residential areas near the ports, but it gets the truck traffic off of the 710 freeway by relocating the rail yards 20 miles closer to the ports.

This is among many steps the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are undertaking, but some game-changers would rapidly transform the region and move it towards Net Zero energy consumption and emissions. The ports have technology incubators that are developing new initiatives to address these issues. PortTechLA and San Pedro Bay Port Technologies Development Center
are examples of the kinds of incubators that can team with cities and universities to bring innovation into the redevelopment picture.

For example, at the international scale, energy is the biggest single driver in the environmental picture. China is buying energy in this country in the form of extractive oil and tar sands with its contracts and investments within the USA to foster its growth. A better scenario would be for the ports to be part of an energy production center on the coast, with biofuels from algae, which can be produced and sold without the destructive impact of mining and drilling. These renewable fuels are easily and most cheaply shipped from the ports to global destinations, as well as burning the biofuels as they go. In this very big picture, it's a major impact that can also clean up the ports and eliminate the toxic load of oil production and refining. When you have a clean port, then people will be interested in living in the area. Port cities have been the most vital and dynamic cities throughout history, and an integration of living areas, commerce, and restored environmental marshes and habitat could create a new nexus for Los Angeles that actually regenerates the environment rather than retaining the old destructive industries, even as it accommodates more living space for people in a sustainable way.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Closed Loop



The earth as an entire system is interrelated, and everything that happens in this system propagates throughout its harmonic structures. Its energy is subject to a strict global conservation law; that is, whenever one measures (or calculates) the total energy of a system of particles whose interactions do not depend explicitly on time, it is found that the total energy of the system always remains constant. So the release of carbons from mining, energy and manufacturing industries, as well as the removal of forests and watersheds, increases the carbon energy in the biosphere which spent eons sequestering it and increasing the diversity and complexity of living systems. These are now in decline, which means the earth is less capable of supporting life as we've known it, in the face of the increasing demands of human population.

So how do we change this direction? Here's the rationale behind the building known as NASA's "Sustainability Base", which I discussed earlier; it is now complete and operational. Its myriad sensors are measuring its performance and establishing the benchmarks for high-performance building structures.


The building demonstrates how closed loop systems developed by space-based technologies can be applied to structures on this planet to bring their energy and carbon impact down to zero. Ideas such as the structural exoskeleton, use of natural light and processes, as well as a "bare-bones" approach to materials use can reduce human habitation demands on ecosystems as well as assist in the restoration of the natural world.

The planets we imagined exploring turns out to be the one we're living on.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Confluence of Harmonics

We live within an incredibly dynamic and unique planetary structure; it's actually a remarkable dual body that has created the cycles of life on this planet from which life, and ultimately humanity, arose.

Isaac Asimov's "Tragedy of the Moon" is a collection of non-fiction essays on science. The second chapter, The Triumph of the Moon, points out how the earth-moon dual system created the conditions for evolution of life due to the tidal forces it generated. Asimov also describes how made it possible for the development of mathematics and science; it created the conditions for humans to transcend Earth and conquer space.

This dual system has the effect of not only a dynamic of the two bodies, but creates a planetary stability that allows for a regular seasonal variation that influences the evolution of plant life with strong, repeating cycles of warmth and darkness over the course of the year. These stable and repeating cycles are among the drivers of evolution.

For example, on Mars there are indications that the North Pole was actually warm enough in the recent past for water ice to become liquid. The Mars Reconaissance Orbiter, or MRO, used radar pulses to peer beneath the surface of the ice cap. These data reveal that the ice, just over a mile thick, formed in a succession of layers as the climate alternated between warm and cold.

Our planet avoids mood swings like this in part because its spin is stabilized by a massive moon. Mars' spin is not, so it can really wobble, with the pole tilting toward the sun for long periods. New observations by the MRO spacecraft show that these wobbles can lead to dramatic releases of CO2, and warming periods due to an increase in the greenhouse effect.
The earth itself is also a changing structure, with the landmass expanding on tectonic plates over the millennia, moving and shifting in the seas as they balance out over the globe. This is driven by the molten core of the planet as well as the gravitational tides created by the earth/moon dynamic. This progression is animated here. This has transformed the ecosystems with the creation of massive mountain ranges and subduction zones that create startling and unique life forms and feed the ocean's creatures with upwellings of nutrients. The variety of life thus increased in range and structure.

As life evolved out of the seas while the plants terraformed the atmosphere with oxygen and captured CO2, the system developed the anti-entropic qualities that supports all life. Since its creation 4.5 billion years ago, it has evolved into highly complex ecosystems that interact in tremendous diversity to produce an abundance of life. A brief timeline is here.


We've been here for but a relative nanosecond of earth's history, yet have managed to rapidly bring its ecology to the brink of destruction with the reduction of forest cover, the diminishment of the natural processes and the dumping of formerly sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere. Our failure to understand the uniqueness of our planetary system and its harmonic properties is leading us, and the life that has evolved over millennia, to a bleak conclusion.

Carbon emissions have drastically impacted this planet before.
National Geographic recently ran a report, “World Without Ice,” on a period 56 million years ago when, relatively suddenly, huge amounts of carbon flooded the oceans and atmosphere -- about the equivalent amount, scientists suggest, to “the total carbon now estimated to be locked up in fossil fuel deposits” on this planet. The Earth heated up drastically, turning life upside down. This interval of global warming that scientists call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum lasted 150,000 years before Earth reestablished its equilibrium, with different ecosystems and species in place.


If we can move swiftly to understand these living systems and work within them, perhaps this conclusion isn't inevitable. Otherwise, as the article states,
tens of millions of years from now, whatever becomes of humanity, the whole pattern of life on Earth may be radically different from what it would otherwise have been—simply because of the way we powered our lives for a few centuries.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Great Turning

All is not lost. US global warming emissions are headed lower in the near future, and much lower if strong implementation of the EPA guidelines is in effect, thanks to environmental regulations now in place.

While the current session of Congress has seen attempts by the big corporations and special interests to water down the EPA, there is a growing resistance to this attempt to erode the standards that address climate change. The anti-environment votes taken by the House include 20 votes to block actions to address climate change. These include votes to deny that climate change is occurring; to block EPA from regulating carbon emissions from power plants and oil refineries; to block EPA from regulating carbon emissions from motor vehicles, which also reduces oil imports; and even to eliminate requirements that large sources disclose the level of their carbon emissions.

But there is a counterrevolution brewing. An example of the framework proposed for corporate responsibility in the realm of equitable economies is laid out by the New Economy Working Group. It envisions an economy in which life is the defining value and power resides in people and communities. It contrasts with the popular New Economy 1.0 fantasy of a magical high-tech economy liberated from environmental reality and devoted to the growth of phantom wealth financial assets, the current state of affairs driving the corporate effort to roll back EPA standards.

Its main proponent, David Korten, has established a forum for dialogue on moving the world's economy forward into a truly sustainable business model. His proposal for changing the existing economic model calls for building a money/banking/finance system of local financial institutions that are transparent, accountable, rooted in community and dedicated to funding activities that build community wealth and meet community needs. The proposed system will look quite similar to the one that existed in the United States before the wave of financial deregulation that began in the 1960s.

Since the basis for the old industries has proven so destructive to our social and environmental well-being, it's necessary to move ahead with a new model that regenerates our resources even as it provides the growth potential that businesses require to be profitable. We're running out of "earth" to consume, so we're at the turning point of managing our resources and developing ways to restore natural processes, by creating new economic models that work for the benefit of all of us, not just a small few at the top who can't see into a future that works for the next generation.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Shards of Hope

The days of intense focus on the WTC memorial have concluded, and what remains is to sift through the shards of hope remaining after a decade of our country's self-destruction in the name of revenge.

The WTC Memorial disappoints. This memorial amounts to a hole in the ground, a blank nothingness, a relevant metaphor for the Great Hole in our country's policies and the lack of respect for democratic process and transparency in government. This site has been about immense greed and unthinkable evil. That hole is robbing us of a vision of renewal and life, which is a fundamental necessity for the kind of regenerative work that must be done in our physical environment. The vision initially proposed was one of life, renewal and that of greater horizons filled with light.

So how do we move on from here? Turn around and look up, with a renewed commitment to restoring the processes of the natural world that give us life. There are ways to use economics of rebuilding cities and repairing nature that produce cycles of renewal for nature and humanity. The engagement of the people, the corralling of resources that exist and can be reintegrated into cities that foster creative ways of living, establishment of Natural Capital benchmarks, can all be accomplished with a greater vision of how living environments increase in depth and complexity, building on itself year after year.

Storm Cunningham has outlined a process for civic revitalization that goes deeply into ecology and economics. His book, Rewealth! is an outline and a case study of cities that have started revitalization around their dying port cities, specifically Chattanooga, Tennessee and Bilbao, Spain. To cite the book:

Revitalization programs differ from renewal projects in three key characteristics:

DURATION: A program is ongoing, or very long term, whereas projects normally have end dates measured in months, or a few years;

SCOPE: A program addresses the entire community or region, whereas a project normally focuses on a specific property or asset;

PURPOSE: A program has softer, harder-to-measure goals, such as inspiring confidence in the community's future (to attract investors, employers, and residents), reversing a decline, raising quality of life, enhancing overall environmental health, etc. A project's goals are usually more tangible, such as attracting a particular employer to a particular site, widening sidewalks to make a downtown more pedestrian-friendly, etc.

Mr. Cunningham has also established the Revitalization Institute to help other cities develop these P3 partnerships and keep them alive with renewal vision and renewal culture. There is also a RevitalizFORUM for the discussion of the integration of resources to do these processes.

This process of engagement, focused on life and its meaningful expression, can take these shards of hope and bring them fully into a regenerative vision that restores our world to us, rather than the destruction that the old industries and extractive energy sources have wrought on our planet. Mr. Cunningham's presentation at TEDxMidAtlantic 2010 is a 22-minute presentation of his material on how to restructure our vision.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Sabbatical of Grace



This song was written in the late 18th century by John Newton, an English minister who once took part in the slave trade to the West Indies. Realizing the cruelty of the trade he became one of the most ardent abolitionists of the 18th century.

From 1970 on, this song was regarded as a political anthem of protest by anti-Vietnam War demonstrators, much like "We Shall Overcome" became associated with civil rights and is sung in remembrance of Martin Luther King.

"Was blind, but now I see."


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Limits to Growth, Final Version

Increasing urban density is a false solution to human habitation and the resulting climate change we're experiencing. It's not just the traffic and crowding, it's the expanding footprint of human activity that is creating the heat, pollution and carbon buildup, as well as the consumption of resources beyond what this planet can provide. The destruction of common assets and planetary resources are driven by human population growth; there isn't another species on earth that consumes as much as humanity does.

"Solutions" that involve packing people together and reducing transit aren't addressing the real issue of resource depletion and carbonization of the biosphere, it's just ducking the problem and denying a decent future to our descendants. It's time to face the realities of slowing population growth by all intelligent means, before nature takes care of that situation in her own fashion. With global population expected to surpass 7 billion people this year, the staggering impact on an overtaxed planet is becoming more and more evident.

It's been a relief to see this population limit being discussed recently in the popular press, particularly since the climate change projection numbers are driven by expanding human population and its impacts. As we approach our limits, and the limits of life, food and water, we've got to understand our responsibilities with respect to natural systems. Our intelligence has allowed us to appear to escape the natural limits for awhile, but now it must be engaged in bringing our impact back in line with the resources that can sustain us. Surely we should be able to make those decisions in a way that pulls us back from the brink.

Limits to growth can be a creative challenge that sees opportunity in a problem that has not faced any other human generation in history.

Time to make it happen.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mindfulness

The act of paying attention to the patterns of things in calm concentration is an eastern meditation practice that makes the "self" aware of the unifying structure of life and its interconnected existence.

One lets go of the immediate physical needs and wants, moves into an awareness of existence and a quiet state of observation. Paying attention to the ebb and flow of living systems and natural processes becomes part of dealing with nature: its rhythms, relationships and power. We're beginning to get a sense of the way its scale is now changing along with its former predictability. People who rely on its cycles and patterns for their way of life have started to notice that the seasons and typical weather patterns are no longer reoccurring, thus endangering their food and water supplies as the climate becomes more extreme.

This connection of humanity to the natural world has been severed at a time when it's increasingly necessary to observe and be mindful of the changing phenomena and its impact on natural systems. The destabilization of the world's precipitation patterns and the intervening severe droughts are not conducive to food production or the maintenance of natural systems and its supported wildlife. People who have used science and analysis to see into the future of this are not optimistic about the scenarios that emerge. While there are many projections, they all point the same way into disrupted systems and a degraded biosphere that can't support human populations even as they exist now.

So whether one uses an experiential lens or a scientific lens, the impact of human activity remains apparent, and a rational approach to this would be a rapid change in behavior and human industry. There must be a fundamental change, not just some attempt to minimize damage and rope off some natural areas, systems don't work that way.

A proposed strategy for counteracting human activity in the biosphere as a comprehensive approach is called the Contraction and Convergence model. It sets up the framework whereby all countries accept a carbon budget that shrinks rapidly during the convergence phase between 2000 and 2030, resulting in a diminishment of carbon emissions to the levels seen in 1900 within 200 years. Will this be sufficient to preserve the planetary systems as we know them today? We may have a difficult time maintaining human life, not to mention the rest of the life systems that give us sustenance.

Mindfulness is concentration on the nature of life and all its parts. This way of seeing can allow us to act in effective ways that return our world to its natural balance and respect for life, rather than mindlessly burning resources into destruction. The science says that, and the experiential says that. Even simple logic says that.

So what are we waiting for?

Monday, July 18, 2011

How'd We Do?

GreenBiz reports out on a study that ranks 27 US and Canadian cities on a "green cities" evaluation matrix, and San Francisco, of course, came out on top. It has implemented a 2003 ordinance based upon the Precautionary Principle that guides its decision-making in planning, economics and transit. So it has been moving rapidly in the direction of "Green" for a long time, based upon the principles of science.

The rankings in the study were done using a scale of quantitative indicators for each city that measures different kinds of improvement in urban environmental qualities.

The cited study, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and commissioned by Siemens, is part of the Green Cities Index, an ongoing research project that looks at global regions and their major cities. The index, which covers Europe (where Copenhagen topped the list), Asia and Latin America, was expanded to North America and Germany this year. Los Angeles, surprisingly, ranked seventh out of the 27 cities examined in this study, partly due to its early partnership with the Better Buildings Challenge, and adopted Green LA in 2007.

The photo above is from the report, which is available directly online from Siemens.

What other innovative and effective conservation ideas can this region come up with? Planet Forward, partnering with PBS, has received a few ideas for Los Angeles, but there's way more that can be done to change the equation for carbon reduction and regeneration of natural resources and processes.

The Siemens report, which is an excellent discussion of how the ranked cities are scored in their efforts to improve their efforts at not only reducing pollution and conserving water, also notes the public policies that engage people in achieving sustainable lifestyles. This human social media is key towards connecting people to the solutions to changing the destructive practices formerly implemented in the name of profit.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Light Through the Cracks

Well, the cracks are starting to show. Rupert Murdoch is now all over the global news because of his shuttering of News of the World due to a phone hacking scandal that is mushrooming into a viral plague within his media empire, which includes the formerly venerable Wall Street Journal. This while heat wave after wave, drought and flood are climatological plagues in the midwestern and eastern United States. Positively biblical.

Where this truly comes to rest is highlighted in an article from Treehugger, which shows Murdoch giving his initial speech to the WSJ staff after acquiring this conservative news organization. While positioning himself as a green campaigner, he has done far more to place articles discrediting climate change in his media empire than to provide any science on global warming or reporting on the impact of the global climate summits. His global holdings are firmly positioned to serve as the corporate megaphone to protect polluting and extractive industries from any incentive to reduce their destructive impact on the planet. Everyone else can just pay for that and suffer the consequences.

With his control over conservative media now becoming discredited, proactive environmental organizations have begun to get the word out in a refreshingly informative way. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a science-based nonprofit, has partnered with Earthwatch Institute to put up an interactive Hot Map to get people involved with the realities of global warming and the implementation of solutions to it. They note that in particular, The National Academy of Sciences has released a series of reports (2010) emphasizing the urgency of climate change and why the U.S. should act now to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases. "The longer the nation waits to begin reducing emissions, the harder and more expensive it will likely be to reach any given emissions target." The deadline for these emission and carbon reduction goals is to meet the 2030 Challenge to go to zero.

Also ramping up their efforts to meet these critical action deadlines is a new public engagement effort from Al Gore, RePower America. Acting through the Climate Protection Action Fund, it is launching a new public action project called Climate Reality on Sept. 14th. This is another effort to start grassroots action in a direct, urgent change movement in the face of corporate profit protection.

This climate awareness is seeping into communities and companies all across our now global network, and the 2030 Challenge to reduce the impact of building industry practices has become its practical measure.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Old Habits Die Hard

In August of 2010, California legislature passed a bill establishing the most extensive carbon dioxide (CO2) emission controls yet in the United States. The law requires a 25 percent reduction in state CO2 emissions by 2020, with the first major controls taking effect in 2012. This action is the result of the widespread implementation of the LEED standards in the building industry, the largest single generator of Greenhouse Gasses by category. LEED categories and points are structured to account for the embodied energy in building materials and their transport.

What this requires is a means of benchmarking the energy content of materials and their supply chain, which can be a very complex calculation with many different approaches. The industry is beginning to use some standardized digital tools to compare the impact of different materials by computing the energy embodied in the material itself.

For example, concrete has the highest embodied energy of any traditional building material. While concrete itself has an inherently low embodied energy, it must be quarried, produced and transported. Additionally, it is the most widely-used material in existence, thus producing a high net effect of emissions. So widespread is the use of concrete, that nearly 2 tons is produced for every person on the planet. Famously in Italy, its vast use has become a source of toxic waste.

In the US, recycled concrete is becoming a very commonplace material now that codes and regulations are starting to require conservation of energy and resources, such as California has done. It's becoming standard practice to recycle concrete either in place or locally to reduce carbon fuel usage in its transport. The impact that this will have on our building and development practices will be profound. We'll be more like Europe in that buildings will be preserved and salvaged, rather than ripped down every 25 years for a new cheap structure. This affects the design approach for all facilities, which will emphasize long life, low energy and loose fit (flexibility).

This is a sea change in how we value our towns, cities and environments. If we see how buildings and structures actually subtract resources and processes from the ecosystem that sustains us, at the cost of depleting the energy sources we have left, we begin to understand the path we must take in recreating human habitation patterns and begin to change our culture.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Roundaboutaboutabout

In recognition of our Independence Day from the British Crown in 1776, I note that a new British invasion is occurring which could potentially tame our suburban traffic nightmares and cure the red light camera syndrome. Wouldn't it be terrific if this "walkability" theme included attractive intersections, much like the issue surrounding Prince Charles' famous "carbuncle" pronouncement to the RIBA in 1984? Which in fact generated a backlash to the imported American strip mall retro-experience (another exchange across the Pond?) and instigated a movement towards even more radical modernism that reflects the changing aesthetic towards creative, energy-conserving minimalism. The humble element in this case is the roundabout.

In this way, a humanized traffic experience as part of the urban fabric is becoming a popular adaptation here in the US, as is covered by an article from BBC news. Unlike the vast, complex autopian circles shown above, these are the small, single circle suburban street intersections that generally host a tree and shrubs that link the allees of street trees with a marker that indisputably creates a "stop!" point for pedestrians. This slows traffic because of the change of scale and the subtraction of the "highway" visuals from many of our suburban arterial streets.

However, to note the cultural differences cited in the BBC article, the Brits have famously learned to navigate these in a rather frightful fashion. I had "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" on a visit to Southampton, with my cousin merrily ripping through the traffic circles as if they didn't exist on the way back from the local pub to the train station. Only in England.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Special Place: Hahamongna



Another video produced by Time River Productions, involved with the Urbanwild Network, provides an excellent documentation and background of this endangered watershed and Arroyo Seco floodplain. This watershed is still under threat of destruction by the LA County DPW, and public objection is on the rise. Even MWD Director Tim Brick has given testimony before the Pasadena City Council last year in July regarding the critical importance of Hahamongna. This video writeup is below:

The Hahamongna Watershed in California consists of the stream drainage in the Arroyo Seco as it exits the San Gabriel Mountains near Pasadena and La Canada. Hahamongna was the name of the original Tongva Indian Village that occupied the Arroyo Seco area from at least 1200 CE until the European invasion. In 1920 the County of Los Angeles build Devil's Gate Dam across the Arroyo to help control flooding and to aid water conservation. Silt, mud, and debris collect behind the dam. The 2009 Station Fire in the San Gabriel Mountains has led to an increase in the debris accumulation such that the dam's operation is becoming impaired. The County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works put forth a plan to remove the debris, which also involves removing well established native trees and vegetation such as California Black Willow Trees and threatening the habitat of the endangered species, The Arroyo Toad.

Earlier in 2011 the Department of Public Works created a public outcry when it destroyed 11 acres of over 200 old growth native oaks and sycamore trees in the Arcadia Woodlands to make a temporary storage area for mud and silt Concerned citizens demanded an independent environmental impact statement be drawn up for County's Hahmongna Plan. Questions were raised about why the County allowed silt and debris to build up behind local dam to a point that tthe problem has become an emergency. The dams were built in the 1920s and 30s, so it has been argued that the County has had more than adequate time to clear the build up behind dams.

This video provides a mosaic of the Hahamongna watershed area, so the viewer can see the area in question and make up their own minds about the proper course for this natural ecosystem.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Nature's Services

Call it green coin. The movement towards accounting for natural capital in the equation of the economy in general and the accounting of its benefits as well as the risks of extraction and pollution has begun to take hold. Financial Times has laid out this argument in a recent article, which uses a National Ecosystem Assessment for the British economy.

Closer to home, Winrock International has developed a tool that measures the balance of ecosystem benefits of carbon sequestration for Shasta County in California. From an excerpt of their newsletter:

Winrock International recently developed a tool to assist landowners in Shasta County, Calif., who are exploring whether to pursue forest carbon sequestration projects involving reforestation on their land. The Winrock Land Use Planner (WinLUP), which can be
downloaded from Winrock’s website, calculates the potential net financial return from planting trees for a carbon project by taking into account the potential income through carbon credits and timber and the potential opportunity cost and planting and maintenance costs of the tree planting activities. In addition to potential economic benefits, land reforestation results in multiple environmental benefits such as land enrichment, erosion reduction and the enhancement of biodiversity.

WinLUP was developed as part of the
West Coast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (WESTCARB), Phase II, implemented by Winrock International and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. WESTCARB, Phase II was a partnership that evaluated carbon capture, storage and sequestration options to determine the most suitable technologies, regulations and infrastructure needs for sequestration as a climate change mitigation strategy.


This brings environmental planning, urban planning and design, economics and development into closer synchronization and starts to account for the true costs and balances of the "whole systems" view of planning. No longer do structures, roads and infrastructure stand apart from the ecosystem and the site's terrain and energy exposure. No longer is it about generating metal coin for a few large pockets, ripped from individuals and the public sphere.

Shepherding natural resources to work in natural processes more effectively will allow human habitation to have a regenerative effect on the globe rather than a destructive one. If we assist Nature's Services rather than consume and pollute them, there will be resources left for the next planetary generation and a vibrant, living future.

We've got our work cut out for us.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Challenge is Here

California's climate change has kicked in now, since nobody paid attention to things around the first Earth Day over 40 years ago, when we began to see the early signs of climate impact and the results of our carbon pollution. Lots of discussion lately in the planning blogs as well as the State legislature about how to cope with our own seemingly unstoppable carbon emissions which are creating devastating weather impacts all over the planet and in the oceans. We need to put the brakes on pretty fast.

Over at The Planning Report, which is one of the more important public policy newsletters centered on planning in California, there are some notable discussions about how to implement the necessary societal and organizational change that this will require.

In addition to that, these climate impacts are going to cost the local governments and residents lots of money just to keep things status quo. Given the economic climate right now, it seems to be a daunting prospect; the solution to both of these major issues must involve very fast shifts to new technologies and ways of managing resources so as to regenerate the natural processes that we've spent the last couple of hundred years destroying.

Did we not understand that the natural world is what supports our civilization and provides the water, food and air that keeps our global ecosystems viable? Evidently that fact managed to escape us.

The large corporate utilities and the respective government agencies which are supposed to provide oversight have known this very well for years, and we now see that a discussion about solutions is taking place, with an understanding that emissions need to go to zero right away.

Unfortunately, they're still in the old mode of consume just a little bit less and keep the old systems going while they look around for some technology that protects profits. This isn't going to get us far enough fast enough to avoid systems collapse, so the costs and impacts will be borne by everyone living today. And a lot of people who aren't born yet.

Monday, June 20, 2011

LA: Emerging Parks

One always thinks of these wonderful old urban parks in NYC, Paris, Washington DC, London, and in major urban cities worldwide. This association isn't generally held for Los Angeles, which tends to make us think of an endless urban concrete dystopia except for the suburban areas. Suddenly this issue has erupted in the form of an exhibit geared towards a new impetus in this metropolis that has resulted in the design of many new parks which are in various stages of implementation. This is meant to open a dialogue about parks in Los Angeles and how they can emerge from the urban fabric.

To quote the LA Times writeup,

We were warned. In 1930, in
“Parks, Playgrounds and Beaches for the Los Angeles Region,” the Olmsted brothers and Harland Bartholomew urged the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to set aside land and funds to create 70,000 acres of parkland running from the mountains to the Pacific. Considerable lengths of the “pleasureways” would trace natural rivers where parkland could double as flood control boundaries.

“Study has unearthed no factor which indicates that the people of this Region will be permanently satisfied with lower standards than those of other great communities,” they wrote, “and many that point toward the expediency of higher standards. The big question is whether the people are socially and politically so slow, in comparison with the amazing rapidity of urban growth here, that they will dumbly let the procession go by and pay a heavy penalty in later years for their slowness and timidity.”

Unafraid to appear socially and politically slow, never mind dumb, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce ignored the fathers of landscape architecture and urban planning. Preserving open space didn’t compute in a region whose business model was growth.

But in the intervening decades, local efforts were implemented, and plans developed. Small community-based parks and restoration efforts have been undertaken in a patchwork over the last 30 years, most of them around the LA River and its tributaries. They are tree-planting and watershed restoration projects that are revitalizing neighborhoods, rather than the big Olmsted kinds of visions. Many of the designs shown in the exhibit have the underlying theme of restoration of discarded land and connecting it to the communities and public areas, more of an evolutionary process, driven by conservation and urban reforestation needs. Other projects result from the restoration of underutilized civic and industrial areas.

These are now beginning to coalesce via the LA River project into a major element of watershed restoration and urban planning projects along the river and its tributaries. Communities are no longer turning their backs to the waterways and creeks, but rather restoring and enhancing them as part of the movement that is breaking the city out of its concrete straitjacket and restoring life and diversity to its urban character. The old fabric of the historic LA settlement is now emergent in these rediscovered networks of creeks, pathways, old roads and hills that weren't good for development, the Audubon Center at Debs Park being a good example of parkland restoration as well as green building and conservation.