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.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fingers and Toes

California population 2010..........37,253,956
California population 2000..........33,871,648
California population 1990..........29,760,021

That's about 4 million more people every decade. So we're looking at a minimum of around 41 million people in 2020, more if you follow the "official" population projections from Sacramento. For which we don't even have the resources now, notably water. Not to mention the impact of climate change, which produces more extremes of heat and shifts in water patterns because of the climate change we're experiencing. So how is it possible to plan ahead for the world we're going to be living in over the next century?

These issues are raised on a map site for California provided by a joint effort by California Universities, the California Energy Commission and Google. It's an interactive tool at the website, which allows people to use climate prediction tools for themselves and use this for planning issues. The site encourages community involvement and local solutions from people.

An example and summary of making local use of the site is posted at Mother Jones.

Following the example of this exercise, I checked my local Southern California area and was distressed to find that that it's all just hotter and more vulnerable to wildfires and thus pollution. Add to this the very likely water shortages and one begins to wonder how any population increase is feasible at all, particularly given the challenges in our urban areas at the moment.

It's not just the physical and resource limitations. We're facing infrastructure degradation due to lack of maintenance, particularly the watershed and open spaces that provide what little relief we have now from the eroded urban landscape that has sprawled across the Southern California basin. The strategies discussed by public officials and planners, which involve greater densities and lower consumption of all resources, appears to be a dodge to the real issue of, can this continue? How do we repair the ecological damage and provide for the regeneration of natural processes? Where does the money come from now if we couldn't afford to maintain what we had even during the good times?

Clearly a major shift in priorities is called for, and one that will require a different kind of economic approach to business, lifestyles, quality of life issues and community. This shift will necessarily arise from a new frugality and economy of means that this situation is going to force upon us. If the natural environment can't support the scale of human encroachment that is occurring, we have a serious set of choices ahead of us, hopefully ones that won't be made by lurching from climate crisis to food crisis to energy crisis to water crisis. It will most likely mean coming to grips with population impacts and not trying to dodge the bullet with more "transit oriented development". More effective human habitation and less resource demand can only be managed by controlling the numbers, which means that a "market economy" will have to dramatically reconfigure to succeed in a shrinking market scenario.

These answers will arise, no doubt, from a younger generation that will respond to this bleak future with a new value system and new answers that potentially reject all the assumptions that the current leadership is operating from. Is Green Revolutionary?

It's certainly political.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


In a more mountainous land with an erratic overlord, it was a journey not easily undertaken. Having previously traversed the flatlands and foothills of Windows 95 and 98, and then beginning an ascent with the XP beast, it was clearly time to scale further heights and discard old trappings. The new beast of burden, a temperamental and stubborn creature, massive of code, is a lighting fast dual core creature mounted with Windows 7.

It took some particular struggles with new saddles and gear, but after conferring with an ancient wizard, the proper incantations took hold and the new beast began to form. With prayers to the ancient gods of DOS, leaving behind the fading incarnation of Norton, and expert hardware and tech sherpa support, the quest continues for the holy grail of a networked information platform that responds to the slightest gestures of visual command. Similar to a Tron world, the Master Control Program is operative and doesn't permit trespassers in its territory, and actively seeks out control over other processes and users. Its insistence on channeling specific online files into locked in folder structures resulted in difficulties in taming the beast.

This quest needs a platform capable of carrying large loads while scaling new heights, hence the necessity of strapping down the saddle and reining in this creature so that it can be trained to follow the proper leads over the winding ascent ahead. The landscape here grows as it's traversed and and begins to climb into the clouds, making navigation difficult for the traveler with a purpose. Armed with sketchy maps from other fellow adventurers, we're beginning to find our way through the ever-growing thickets and mountains of data in search of a means of arriving at the summit of engagement of a building team in charge of its information and processes.

We've found that the only way to climb the summit is to rope the beasts together and share our provisions, sending scouts ahead to scope out the way before us. Typical of historical exploration into new lands, it's a risk that has to be undertaken by the stakeholders in search of the final objective, which is a new way of using information to create built environments that will meet the challenges of our future. As the flame of extractive energies dims, we're wayfinding our path to new strategies that will move us into a place of regeneration of life, not the endless consumption of it.

Our smarter beasts should be able to get us there.