Green Street Sidewalks in Downtown L.A.

November 19, 2010 § 1 Comment

When Creek Freak posted our article about the city of Los Angeles’ recent Riverdale green street project, we received a comment from AHBE – a landscape architecture and environmental design firm located in Culver City, headed by Calvin Abe. I’ve been aware of AHBE from their support of Friends of the L.A. River, their creative contributions to Park(ing) Day and their rain garden projects – shown in more detail below. AHBE’s video (above) gives a good context for green streets, then profiles North East TreesOros Street and AHBE projects downtown and proposed for South L.A.

AHBE’s sidewalk rain gardens are located in the South Park section of Downtown Los Angeles – just east of the Staples Center. The rain gardens are a streetscape component of LEED-gold-certified 2008 loft housing developments Elleven, Luma and Evo. This new housing was developed by the South Group, a partnership of Williams & Dame Development and Gerding Edlen, both of Portland, Oregon (where there’s quite a bit of innovative sustainable rain garden streetscape happening.)

Meander side note – not all that creek-freaky: One of my favorite things about this sidewalk project (and what makes it a “complete streets” project) is that the developer was able to do new construction with no street widening. Often, throughout Los Angeles, new development includes city-mandated street-widening. Wider streets generally impoverishes the street environment; widening means faster moving cars and longer crossing distances, hence a worse atmosphere for walking and bicycling. The developers were able to negotiate with the city and not widen the streets. This is no small feat. By not widening the street, the development has more sidewalk space to work with. Additionally, the South Group actually narrowed the street slightly at intersections, by adding bulb-outs. (In my opinion, the city of Los Angeles would greatly benefit from ending all street-widening, similar to current policy in Pasadena… but that’s another story.)

Rain garden planters at Luma on Hope Street in downtown L.A.

My favorite example of these South Park rain garden sidewalk planters can be found at Luma. The planter gardens are along the east side of Hope Street at 11th Street, extending nearly to 12th Street (visible on Google street view here.)

This photo (left) shows what they look like. The rainwater aspect is definitely legible, but also somewhat subtle. They’re not your typical raised planter boxes, but, if you don’t look closely, you might not notice that they capture and infiltrate rainwater. Both sidewalk areas (between buliding and planter, and between planter and curb) drain into the depressed planter box area.

On the building side of the lanscaped area is a low concrete planter wall, with slots where the rain flows through. The low slotted wall is visible in the above photo, and here’s a close-up showing one of the slots:

Rain flows into depressed garden area via slot in low planter walls

In a large rain storm, the gardens could overflow and excess water will spill into the street gutters via these outlets:

Rain garden outlet to street gutter

Just around the block, in front of Evo, there are even more subtle rain gardens. Here’s what they look like on the west side of Grand Avenue just north of 12th Street:

Rain garden planters at Evo on Grand in downtown L.A.

These work similarly, but without the low slotted wall. They appear to be merely at-grade planting areas, but they do collect and infiltrate rainwater.

As creek freak has described before, these green street (and other sorts of watershed management) projects are needed throughout our communities, so that we can slow down rain water and soak it into the ground. These projects reduce pollution and flooding in our creeks and rivers.

When it’s raining, go check these out!

(Thanks to the folks at Ahbe for doing these, and for bringing them back to my attention. For more information on these projects, check out the AHBE website and the Let It Rain article in the January 2008 issue of Multihousing Professional.)

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