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

First landscape of 2019

Photo of Prairieform's work on its first landscape of 2019, for a front yard in Glendale, CA
Working on our first landscape of 2019, for a front yard in Glendale, CA

We are excited to announce our first new landscape of 2019, in Glendale, CA. It will be a front-yard lawn-to-landscape conversion involving drought-tolerant deliciousness, eye candy in spades, and habitat for a whole host of fantastic winged and four-legged friends (and humans too). While the landscape will have an irrigation system, we will be reducing the amount of water used over time, so that ultimately much of the landscape can thrive on its own, whatever may come its way. Stay tuned for more updates.

John Kamp

Happy Holidays from Prairieform

An agave in Colton, CA, adorned with Christmas bulbs
An agave in Colton, CA, adorned with Christmas bulbs

Who says you can’t decorate an agave for Christmas? This resident in South Colton, California, indeed knew the answer to that question.

We’ll be in South Colton on January 19 leading a walking tour as part of the Active Transportation Overlay we are working on with Place It! and Dudek. Details forthcoming, but all will be welcome, and everyday, vernacular landscapes such as the one above will be featured as part of the tour.

-John Kamp

Where’s the give and take?

Four-foot-wide sidewalk with no trees along 50-foot-wide Claremont Boulevard
Four-foot-wide sidewalk with no trees along 50-foot-wide Claremont Boulevard

In our quest to add more and denser housing along commercial corridors in California’s cities, we are thoroughly short-changing both the residents of these new developments and those who walk down the sidewalks of these evolving commercial corridors. The sidewalks are staying impossibly narrow, while the roadways are staying too wide. In short, we are creating corridors of dense housing along dry creek beds of public space and along rivers of asphalt-lined roadway. Landscape in the broader sense of the term – the spaces in between buildings, the spaces that really make or break urban space – is simply not considered.

We wrote about this situation – the missing role of landscape in the housing discussion – for the Los Angeles Chapter of the APA a few months ago, and you can find that here.

There needs to be some give and take when we are asking people to give up four walls and space and a yard to move into a building of shared walls and no yard. The sidewalk and the spaces in between buildings need to be given just as much thought and care as the buildings and units themselves. But this, alas, we are simply not seeing.

Long-term learning from a landscape

What is so fascinating about this documentary on Southern California’s Descanso Gardens is that it really traces the evolution of our understanding as a culture of nature, ecology, and gardening. And this evolution can be seen through what the Gardens have prioritized and modified over the years – such as moving water-loving camelias (the early cornerstone of the Gardens) away from the live oaks (which hate summer water), and an increasing focus on water conservation and habitat landscaping. The documentary even weaves in the ugly history of Japanese internment, its connection to the Gardens, and how that story, once buried, is now told very openly.