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 »
May 21, 2013 § 3 Comments
Look a new post!
The good folks at Western Resource Associates, a regional nonprofit focusing on the Colorado River, have created a really cool interactive map that neatly summarizes many issues facing the once-mighty Colorado River. Check it out! Click the hyperlink (cool interactive map) or just paste this into your browser: http://coriverbasin.org/maps/
February 3, 2013 § 3 Comments
The Bronx River Alliance (BxRA) is a non-profit working to foster a healthier Bronx River. Somewhat similar to Friends of the L.A. River, they do events, education, advocacy, and work closely with communities and governmental agencies to get stuff done on the river.
I’ve worked there two days, and they’ve been great days! « Read the rest of this entry »
January 30, 2013 § 7 Comments
Hearing the plug on NPR last week for the upcoming exhibition Never Built at the A+D museum, I was reminded of a very bizarre project that I came across in a 1968 issue of California Tomorrow’s excellent journal Cry California, for building a causeway across Santa Monica Bay. The caption to the picture reads: “Santa Monica Bay is the preposed site of a massive earth-filled causeway that would take 120 million cubic yards of fill from the Santa Monica Mountains. The plan would serve developers and oil interests primarily. The plan is actively supported by the City of Santa Monica, the County of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Mayor Samuel Yorty. While the program was blocked by the Los Angeles Council, the proposal is by no means dead.”
Sure enough, this project turns out to be included in the Never Built exhibition, though we can be relieved that this particular “visionary work” never left the drawing board. In that sense, this project would seem to run counter to the apparently positive tenor of the exhibition; the curators write wistfully of “a reluctant city whose institutions and infrastructure have often undermined inventive, challenging urban schemes.” While this certainly applies to projects like the celebrated Olmstead plan for preserving the flood plains of LA’s rivers as parkland, I assume that the curators have not uncritically equated “visionary” with “good.” Obviously, the visionary can cut both ways: the critical point is how to sort out the good visions from the bad ones. Unfortunately, plenty of bad visions have been realized in Los Angeles, but some of the worst, like the Santa Monica Bay Causeway, were stopped. The role of historical groups such as California Tomorrow in generating a discussion about how to develop California responsibly should not be forgotten.
More about the history of the Santa Monica Causeway can be found online here.
Update: I just found a more modest version of this proposal (parkways instead of freeways on the causeway!) in the admirable 1930 Olmstead plan for Los Angeles. The idea was most likely a vestige of the original plan to put the Los Angeles harbor at Santa Monica.
January 28, 2013 § 6 Comments
A couple weeks ago, I got a chance to bicycle a few miles of the Bronx River. It’s not unlike the Los Angeles River: a very urban, relatively industrialized freshwater river, in the process of making a dramatic comeback – with new parks and bike paths along its degraded banks. « Read the rest of this entry »
November 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
A year ago, my Thanksgiving post was a tribute of sorts to an endangered species, the Vaquita marina, and a reflection on our consumption of water – an important cause of distress for this brackish-water dwelling, small porpoise:
I can tell you now, I thought that the tribute was an elegy to a dying species, the pitch for water conservation quite possibly a lost cause. But I needed to learn more, to see this in person – even if that meant dragging out the melancholy. And so, I teamed with Josh Link on a series, Explorations of the Lower Colorado River – a humbling and amazing trip in which we saw how a people’s love for a land, commitment to all species, and creativity and capability was being rewarded, poco a poco, with adjustments and agreements and funding and projects that kept some habitat on life support. But what was really needed was water for the river, for the delta.
This week, the hard work of these environmentalists in the Mexico and US border region has been rewarded: a landmark pact between the two nations recognizing the delta’s need for water, and other measures. It is a five-year treaty, so the flows are not secure. But it is an incredible beginning.
Today’s Thanksgiving celebrates an newfound abundance for a long-withered waterway, a lifeline and hope.
Congratulations, to all involved.
In the news:
National Geographic: A historic binational agreement gives new life to the Colorado River Delta
Huffington Post: An historic step towards saving the Colorado River and Delta
You can also see photos and news about the delta at the Save the Colorado River Delta Facebook page. They’ve also posted video of Mexico’s Director General of the National Water Commission talking about the pact.