Our western waterways

The Arroyo Seco in South Pasadena
The Arroyo Seco in South Pasadena in early April 2019

As you move further west in the country, water becomes all the more scarce, and thus its sources become all the more precious. Yet the relationship between water’s preciousness and how it has been treated through our infrastructure is really an inverse one – especially in California. While water is gold here, its sources, and the rivers and streams that carry it, have been treated like nothing more than garbage – the above photo a case in point, which we snapped while taking a hike through Nature Park in South Pasadena. While there are indeed many efforts to improve our stormwater retention, daylight channelized rivers, and expand rainwater harvesting efforts, we cannot stop there. It behooves us as a state to treat water as the precious giver of life that it ultimately is, on all levels and in all ways.

John Kamp

Does our infrastructure truly reflect our values?

A workshop James Rojas and I led at Walk SF on rethinking our transportation infrastructure
A workshop James Rojas and I led at Walk SF on rethinking our transportation infrastructure

The prevailing adage goes that our infrastructure reflects our values. Thus our transportation systems, with their high investment in roads and personal auto ownership, and low investment in rail and other transit networks, reflect our cultural propensity towards the individual and our reluctance to embrace a more collective cultural model. Yet what if this adage is wrong? What if the infrastructure we see does not so much reflect our cultural values but instead reflects the limited ways in which we plan and conduct outreach for our transportation systems in the first place?

See the full article on Streetsblog SF HERE.

John Kamp

The walking tour as sights, sounds, and memory

On the walking tour of South Colton, underneath a huge jacaranda tree
On the walking tour of South Colton, underneath a huge jacaranda tree (Prairieform’s John Kamp pointing out the effect of the canopy on the space)

There’s no better way to intimately familiarize oneself with an environment than through walking. You notice so many more details – both physical, such as the width of a sidewalk, and sensory, such as volumes and kinds of sounds, the amount of sunlight along a particular street, and smells (good and bad). Yet of utmost importance to any walking tour is ensuring that it includes local residents who live and breathe and feel the neighborhood every day.

In our walking tour of South Colton this past Saturday, we didn’t simply focus on pointing out flaws or improvement areas in infrastructure; a large part of the tour consisted of listening to residents about their stories and memories and what has made the place meaningful to them. Seventh Street, said one resident, used to be the “Broadway of South Colton.” Yet, once the 10 Freeway was built and cut the city in half, Seventh Street essentially became a dead-end street, and slowly the vibrant commercial and cultural life that existed on the street died away. Absent this resident’s story and this history, one would have no sense of just how integral the street was to the neighborhood, as today many of the lots along it stand vacant, with the remaining commercial buildings abandoned or locked up. Given the existing conditions now and the memories these residents all hold within them, how could Seventh Street become a new kind of bustling corridor for the neighborhood in which these memories and experiences are woven into its newest incarnation?

These are the kinds of questions and the kind of inquiry that planners and designers need to begin taking on if there is to be any hope of creating meaningful places that are truly unique, place-based, and for all residents and visitors to experience and enjoy.

To see more photos of the tour, click HERE.

John Kamp

Place It! landscape workshops

New flyer for Place It! landscape workshops, designed by Prairieform's John Kamp

New flyer for Place It! landscape workshops, designed by Prairieform's John Kamp
New flyer for Place It! landscape workshops, designed by Prairieform’s John Kamp

While we’ve been working with Place It! Interactive Planning for some time, we are now launching a new set of workshops with a specific landscape focus. Through these interactive model-building workshops, participants are able to explore memory and ideas of place and belonging. From there, participants work to build what they would like to see in a landscape, all the while trying to infuse those memories of place and belonging into their designs. The result is design recommendations for design teams and municipalities that not only have greater depth than what would come out of a conventional outreach process (re: merely asking people what they want) but also are the result of a more inclusive and welcoming process, as in these workshops there is no right answer, and everyone has a chance to share, not just the most vocal of the crowd.

We’ve already done landscape workshops for new parks in Oregon, Texas, and Minnesota. And we’re in the midst of doing more. Contact us!

Rethinking the magnolia

Two dead magnolia trees in Alhambra, California. Victims of drought and a lack of foresight.
Two dead magnolia trees in Alhambra, California. Victims of drought and a lack of foresight.

While past peak, the years-long drought in California is showing its effects in slo-mo delay, coming on in the form of many a street tree stressed to the point of just not being able to take it anymore. Nowhere can this phenomenon be seen more than in Southern Calfifornia, where one of the street trees hardest hit has been the southern magnolia / Magnolia grandiflora. A tree native to the rain-abundant American South, it probably never should have been planted in Southern California at all, where rainfall is typically a scant 12 – 15″ during a good year. But, alas, like so many consumer goods, trees come in and out of fashion, regardless of what practical considerations there may be. In the ’50s and ’60s, street upon street were planted with magnolias in places like Hollywood, and Beverly Hills, and Alhambra – all arid regions and all requiring that the magnolias be irrigated generously in order to survive and thrive. Then, when the watering bans then hit a few years ago and folks were told to let their lawns and parkways go brown, the trees were never ready for the suddenly parched conditions. Many became stressed, and now, some years later, many are dying. As a result, the cooling shade and outdoor-room-creating canopies will be lost, and we will be left with wide streets and excessive sunlight and heat.

A jacaranda, cactus, and yuccas growing and thriving in hot Riverside County.
A jacaranda, cactus, and yuccas growing and thriving in hot Riverside County.

While devastating for the character of so many neighborhoods and the quality of life of our cities, we need to view this loss of trees as an opportunity to rethink what we plant and how. Even before the drought and worsening global warming, LA was a dry place. This simple truism is not going to change in the foreseeable future, and thus we must start planting trees that can handle these hotter and drier conditions – and that can handle them for the long haul. All it takes is a little observation to see which trees are still pushing on and looking good. In the photo above, you can see that this jacaranda – a tree actually not considered one of the most drought tolerant – and its surrounding plants are doing just fine – more than fine – and this is in hot hot Riverside County, in a parkway space surrounded by heat-absorbing asphalt and concrete. What other trees do you see still doing well? What other trees that you haven’t seen could be invited in, to create amazing tree-lined boulevards for the 21st century? Mesquites, acacias, jacarandas, palo verdes, tristanias – and the list goes on. We cannot keep doing what we’ve always done; it’s simply not working, and we’re seeing our lack of foresight in the form of sadly dying trees and sunbaked parkways. Let’s do better this time around.