Monday, April 25, 2011

Rose Window

The Easter message remains the same. The regenerative power of life needs to be central to human action and our creation of place in the world. The natural world is what sustains us, not cold, hard concrete. That was the also the message of the Arts and Crafts Movement a hundred years ago, except this time our global environment is at stake.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Justice 4 Earth Day

The photo above, taken in La Tuna Canyon, is among the most endangered woodlands in our region, according to the Urbanwild Network. You can see that this ancient oak has been tagged for removal, along with most of the other magnificent oaks in this habitat. This group has also listed as under immediate threat of destruction the remaining 10 acres of Arcadia woodland and the Hahamongna watershed, where plans are to clear woodland for sediment disposal and build soccer fields. A detailed examination and discussion of the La Tuna site is here at LA Creek Freak, by Josh Link, who accompanied Cam Stone on the excursion into the canyon.

Yesterday the Urbanwild group assembled for a protest of the arraignment of the four tree sitters at the County Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. The Arcadia Four were present, as were spokespersons Darryl Hannah and Ed Begley, as reported by the National Examiner. This group vociferously defended the tree-sitters and condemned the LACDPW's process and exclusion of public input on their destructive activities in compensating for historic lack of maintenance in order to stay on budget within the County's fiscal constraints.

The tree-sitters were arrested during the January 12 razing of the Arcadia woodlands, which was carried out with a blockade by the County to keep out reporters and citizens, ostensibly for their safety. The Arcadia Four were offered the option of community service, which they refused, presumably because they've already performed it with the actions they are being arrested and indicted for. The County is determined to make an example out of this kind of interference, which will happen on Earth Day, April 22nd. Going beyond the County's provocative actions, Cam Stone is now asking for a probe of LACDPW and its activities.

Update: Arcadia Patch reports that the pretrial conference has now been rescheduled to May 26 at the Alhambra Courthouse.

In further developments, a "listening session" was opened up at the LACDPW headquarters in Alhambra on Monday, April 18th, the day before the arraignment, for the purposes of developing the sediment management plan which includes the most endangered areas. While not an official public session, the representatives of Urbanwild Network were in attendance and made their positions known, as was reported by the Poetic Plantings Blog. In a move to make actual public input known, they were prepared to mitigate the Delphi Technique employed in this and earlier sessions by the County, intended to defuse public opposition to the County's methods of dam and sediment management.

The agenda consisted of the following:

Goal: Manage sediment in order to provide for the flood protection and water conservation needs of the region while balancing environmental, social, and economic impacts.

1. Welcome
2. Sediment Management Strategic Plan: Follow-up from 1st Task Force Meeting
3. Listening Session: Project Development Process Feedback
4. Sediment Management Strategic Plan: Alternatives Screening Tool.
Additional comments on the evaluation criteria may be sent to Dan Sharp
5. California Department of Fish and Game and California Regional Water Quality Control Board Permits
6. Upcoming Reservoir Cleanout Projects: Big Tujunga, Cogswell, Devil's Gate, Pacoima, and Morris.
7. Wrap Up

Update: Environmentalists feel that Cooley should respond to the Arcadia 4 with a "Courageous Citizen Award" rather than arrest and incarceration. The Tattler has an excellent article about the County's response to the public protest of the DPW's actions.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Unbuild Freeways

Another way of traffic-calming our way to a vibrant and livable community with open space and pedestrian access instead of impassable concrete structures carrying traffic is presented on StreetsBlog. The full post can be read here.

It's a good site for examining the arguments for removing existing highways that have become barriers to central city development and community engagement. It's called "Moving Beyond the Automobile" and presages the coming era of expensive gasoline and far fewer resources to maintain large infrastructure projects. The history of the highway and freeway in the USA is that of a military legacy that was ultimately offloaded to the states and counties to maintain, which is becoming more and more burdensome.

In this presentation, CNU president John Norquist stars in this video from Streetfilms about the problem of inner-city highways and the steps some cities are taking to get rid of theirs.

"If you look at the real estate anywhere near a freeway, almost always its degraded," says Norquist. "You'll get surface parking lots, or buildings that have high-vacancy rates. No walking. Because it's really hard to design a freeway that would look good in a city."

Freeways are a problem of divisively clashing scale in an urban network, which famously isolates parts of cities from each other, creating areas of lower valued real estate that is essentially left to blight. Cities are in the process of undoing freeways, undergrounding their viaducts as in Seattle, the removal of the Embarcadero in San Francisco, or creating lids over existing freeways to connect the fabric of the city together. It's an opportunity to make these locations part of the urban fabric and “lid” the freeway and incorporate parkway (like the High Line in NYC) or water (like the Freeway Park in Seattle). A decent-sized lid can create pedestrian and small commercial opportunities as well – the precedent for that is the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy. Ljubljana, Slovenia is building more pedestrian/shopping bridges to complement its old bridges in newly traffic-free zones around the river and weave the fabric of the city together. Seattle is in the process of replacing its old viaduct with a deep-bore tunnel which will reconnect the waterfront to the city and provide open space as well as opportunities to rehabilitate the areas that are currently down at the heels, facing directly into the viaduct structure.

This new paradigm makes the effort by LA County to ram the 710 freeway extension through South Pasadena to the 210 freeway in Glendale seem to be quite a retrograde and piecemeal project. The highway system is an old answer from another era - a little 710 history here - and it needs to move into our evolving sustainable future. New alternatives have been proposed for this problem, such as the rail extension of the Alameda corridor which would keep freight traffic off the freeways and minimize the impact of a below-grade route for these clusters of impacted cities.This alternative concept originates from a new vision of the Port of Long Beach transformation into a completely green facility that eliminates the need for the 710 tunnel for freight, as presented by David Alba. In addition, a light rail solution to this problem for human transit is proposed at, once again, LAStreetsBlog.

Update: Seven Cities Consider Removing Major Urban Highways, from The Architect's Newspaper Blog.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

More Hiatus

It's that time of year again, same issues.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Urban Watershed Restoration

I was formerly involved with a nonprofit, North East Trees, that uses nature's services and mimics hydrological cycles to restore natural conditions in the urban environment. This includes creating rain gardens, green streets, unpaving the concrete jungle, and providing pocket parks in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Some of this work, like tree planting, is done through the youth program that involves kids in stewardship of their local neighborhoods.

Examples of this are the Oros Street project, and the Garvanza project, which is ongoing and updated here. A map of other projects can be found on this web page. These projects implement specific stormwater conservation measures as they have been adopted by the County of Los Angeles. They also incorporate local works of art as part of their functional design elements.

Stormwater conservation techniques, known as Best Management Practices (BMP's) can be applied through management techniques specified by Los Angeles County. There's a stormwater quality page here, and a Low Impact Design Ordinance page here, as well. These strategies need to be incorporated early in the design phase, using urban design tools and planning integration. The full LA County Southern California LID Manual is available for download here, as a 6 MB pdf file.

There are four distinct Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) planning regions within Los Angeles County: Greater LA, Gateway Cities, Upper Santa Clara River, and the Antelope Valley. All of them have strategic plans for integrating these watershed management techniques using the the BMP tools for implementation. Planners and designers should become familiar with these tools very early in the process so that their plans throughout the County comply with these regulatory measures.

In summary, North East Trees is about involving the local residents in youth and community networks to restore their neighborhoods with green spaces that work to save water and replenish our aquifers.