August 12, 2013 § 5 Comments
As part of coursework for Dr. Susan Mulley’s Research Methods seminar in the graduate program in Landscape Architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, Hieu Nguyen chose to examine landscape changes to the Arroyo Seco through the technique of repeat photography. By comparing historical photographs to contemporary views taken from the same location, Nguyen hoped to detect changes in the parkway landscape throughout the years. “I was mainly looking for vegetation changes, urban development, physical deterioration, and obstructed viewsheds.”
Nguyen had treated the Arroyo Seco in a previous Urban Planning project, and was drawn to the topic again because of “the history, design, and uniqueness of the parkway’s scenery.”
Narrowing down available historical photographs to 10-15 that could be feasibly be physically located, Nguyen headed into the field. But things did not go quite as expected. Nguyen’s narrative offers a poignant view at how physical access to the arroyo has changed:
During the trip, I found out that I could not locate all of the camera angles that I intended to shoot due to the urban development, fencing, private properties, etc. For one photo, the walkway was so narrow, I had to grab onto the handrail on the bridge to keep myself balanced while I was taking the photo as the cars were passing by me at 40-50 mph.
For another photo, I had to climb down the Arroyo Seco Channel to get the camera angle that I wanted. However, I was not satisfied with the angle and wanted to take it from the other side of the shallow running water way. So I tried to jump across, almost slipped and got myself all wet from knee down. But when I went home and overlaid the historical photo and the current photo, I realized that the current angle was incorrect because the channel bed today was much lower than the historical one due to the flood management and channelization of the Arroyo Seco (Fig 4a).
One of my biggest disappointments was finding a lot of chain link fences on the bridges along the parkway. Because most of my camera shots were taken from the bridges, most of the photos were obstructed by the fences (Fig. 1a). Nonetheless, my professor, Dr. Susan Mulley, and classmates all agreed that the fences were significant landscape changes to the grand viewshed of the originally designed parkway and an important part of my research analysis.
Just as starkly, the historical photographs themselves show a channel that was anything but pristine. Creek Freak co-founder Jessica Hall notes that the Arroyo Seco was once characterized as a shallow and broad river. But even the earliest of the historical photos above already show levees and other substantial encroachments onto the Arroyo’s broad floodplain, which confine flow to a narrowed and deepened channel.
Such encroachments suggest that channelization did not happen in one fell swoop– attempts to control the flow of winter stormwater dated from the beginning of development in the Los Angeles basin and intensified with the changes in stormwater flow regime wrought by devegetation and proliferation of impermeable surfaces. The Army Corp’s famous post-1938 feats of flood control are merely the culmination of this history of efforts at confinement. The final result– a smooth and clean channel so conveniently free of vegetation or anything that might obstruct the swiftest flow of precipitation toward the sea. Gone is the disorderly seasonal dynamism of the original floodplain connecting the foothills to the coast. Channelization creates a streambed as neat as a conveniently placed pipe. One might imagine that streamflow originates from a magical tap in the foothills, rather than from the seeping of precipitation into the soil, and its slow under- and aboveground migration to the sea, which happens to leave in its wake a messy mosaic of vegetation and wildlife habitat.
Nguyen’s photographs also illustrate how armoring of banks with concrete did more than just alter hydrology and habitat. Channelization thoroughly severs any natural functional relationship between various parts of the larger watershed — literally paving the way to the radically featureless flat urban landscape we know today.
July 13, 2013 § 10 Comments
A recent article in the society pages of Vanity Fair details the woes of property owners along Broad Beach in Malibu, where the narrowing of a beach by 60 feet over the last decade has alarmed wealthy residents. Property owners built a 13-foot high stone revetment wall to protect their houses. Now, they are planning to spend $20 million out of their own pockets to import 600,000 cubic yards of sand, hoping to widen the beach by 100 feet.
Apparently even the residents understand the addition of sand (“beach nourishment”) is at best a temporary solution. To maintain the width of the artificial beach, nourishment would have to be supplemented every 5-10 years—a cosmetic solution that JPL climatologist Bill Patzert called “botoxing the beach.” (Cohan and Grigoriadis 2013)
Nor are revetment walls a real solution. Though they appear to protect property immediately behind them, they actually reflect wave energy to other parts of the coast, where erosion is then accelerated.
Some attribute the erosion of Broad Beach to winter storms. Impending sea level rise certainly will not help. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 4, 2012 § 2 Comments
As the heat of summer slowly (hopefully) begins to wind down, so too has the second season of the pioneering L.A. River kayak and canoe excursions. The final group dropped into the River this past Sunday, an undoubtedly leisurely paddle between willows and sycamores, shopping carts and plastic bags. The 2012 installment hosted approximately 2,000 participants, an impressive increase from 2011, when the count for the pilot program was 260. The number of outfits operating on the River has also doubled and now includes Paddle the L.A. River (organized by L.A. Conservation Corps, MRCA, The River Project, FoLAR and Urban Semillas) and L.A. River Expeditions (organized by George Wolfe and the San Joaquin River Stewardship Program). I had the pleasure of paddling with both groups as a guest educator (thanks to Melanie Winter and George Wolfe for getting me out there!), a journey every Angeleno within reach of a buoyant non-motorized vessel should be able to experience at least once. « Read the rest of this entry »
August 23, 2012 § 4 Comments
This week’s New Yorker magazine cover, dated August 27th 2012, depicts a lush green Manhattan. It’s Times Square; there are tall buildings, green roofs, a waterfall, a river, grazing buffalo, a canoe, a horse, people sitting around. To me, it kind of looks kind of like paradise – a city in harmony with nature. « Read the rest of this entry »
August 19, 2012 § 5 Comments
I love to see people get creekfreaky, so it was a good day last Friday when friends posted the Eastsider’s story linking to the El Sereno Historical Society’s post on Arroyo Rosa Castilla, the creek that formerly ran along the 710 Freeway. (Creek Freaks have long observed the propensity for Caltrans-and others-to lay major roadways in the beds of creeks – viz. Arroyo Seco/110, LA River/5 and 710 Fwys, San Gabriel River/605 Fwy, Topanga Creek and Topanga Canyon Road – and Rosa Castilla here among them). A little sign on the freeway will tell you it is called the Sheriff’s Range Gulch. « Read the rest of this entry »
June 18, 2012 § 2 Comments
OK, thanks to Rick Grubb, I’m getting this with time for you to put it on your calendars!!
The County of LA is having a joint meeting with the USFS on sediment removal of Big Tujunga Dam. Dirt’s all the rage here at LA Creek Freak, as you know. Rick’s also communicated that he wants to see Arroyo Toad back in his region, one of many species that have been impacted by our flood control system.
Here’s the details:
Tuesday, July 24, 2012 6 to 8 p.m.
City of Los Angeles – City Council District 2
Sunland-Tujunga Field Office
7747 Foothill Blvd.
Tujunga, CA 91042 (map)
The United States Forest Service (USFS) and the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works (DPW) will jointly present the Big Tujunga Reservoir Sediment Removal Project. Information will be provided about the project, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The public will have the opportunity to ask questions of the USFS and DPW and comment on the project. Please plan to join us for this meeting.
For More Information:
June 15, 2012 § 2 Comments
Done with our touring of the Colorado River (1, 2, 3) and speed-reading about its issues, my 2nd year graduate landscape architecture design studio dove into planning and design solutions for the river. In the analysis phase, over and over, it was observed that the river ecosystem needed to regain its flooding and sediment dynamics. And over and over, it was observed that the political, human dimension would almost certainly never allow that to happen -regardless of the ecological desert created at the river’s mouth, and regardless of the obvious and dire future of the watershed due to climate change, population growth, and accumulating pollutants (including radioactive spoils behind reservoirs ya’ll!)
Clearly designing for what humans want usually comes at an environmental cost. The ecosystem loses! Even when it’s billed as sustainable, it’s more likely the design is about incrementally less harm to the ecosystem. So in this studio, designers were challenged with having the Colorado River as their Client. How do you work to meet human needs within that mandate? It becomes a much different conversation. Since many students don’t wish to explore “visionary” projects (visionary of course being the polite synonym for politically impossible, er, unrealistic), the studio was structured so that students could also provide concepts that inch us toward’s the River’s restored state, accommodating more of contemporary human uses while weaning us from an unhealthy allocation system. This combination of visionary plotting (mwaahaha) and phased steps towards rehabilitation put together make for a nice master plan.
You can read more about the studio and download most of the studio’s presentations at When the River is Client: Design Explorations of the Lower Colorado River. I hope you will! There’s some great ideas the students came up with.
June 11, 2012 § 2 Comments
It is likely that many folks living in Los Angeles County are either entirely unfamiliar with hydraulic fracturing (fracking for short) or are under the impression it occurs only in distant places such as the Appalachian Basin (Marcellus Shale). This resource extraction process utilizes the high-pressure injection of thousands (and in some cases, millions) of gallons of water, sand and a proprietary blend of up to 600 chemicals (potentially including known carcinogens such as lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid and/or formaldehyde) into deep wells to open fissures that enable natural gas to flow more freely out of the well. While the practice is primarily associated with the natural gas industry, fracking is also a method used by the petroleum industry as a means of squeezing more production out of what were previously thought to be exhausted wells.
For the vast majority of Angelenos, it might come as a surprise to find out that there are two local petroleum wells, VIC-1-330 (Baldwin Hills, Plains Exploration & Production Company) and DOM-1 (Dominguez Hills, Occidental Oil and Gas), that have been fracked as recently as January of this year (SOURCE: FracFocus) and according to a recent report by Christine Shearer of Truthout, fracking has occurred in the L.A. basin for some time: « Read the rest of this entry »
May 16, 2012 § 2 Comments
Creek Freak has written about LID – Low Impact Development. It’s basically a sort of “green building” standard that requires new buildings to detain and/or infiltrate rainwater. While I think that LID is a step in the right direction, at least compared to development as usual, it’s nowhere near the end of the work on getting to healthy creeks and streams.
I read a good concise critque of LID (also LEED and green building in general) at Strong Towns today. Strong Towns is a site I’ve been enjoy a lot lately; it’s written by an engineer who has a lot of common sense. He mostly critiques heavily car-centric development patterns. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 15, 2012 § 6 Comments
On the heels of a critical piece of writing by Emily Green on the state of sediment management in Los Angeles (published in the May 14th edition of High Country News), the L.A. County Department of Public Works has completed (as of April) its draft 20-year Sediment Management Strategic Plan for 2012-2032 and is currently soliciting public comments until Wednesday, May 30th. The enormous document (524 pages) is available for download at www.LASedimentManagement.com (the downloadable document entitled “Community Meeting Boards” is a conveniently concise summary of the larger plan). « Read the rest of this entry »