(pictured from top left to right: Azya Jackson, Joel Cesare, Mia Lehrer, Charles Kelley)
This month, ZGF’s Project Performance Team in Los Angeles hosted a conversation around water resilience, the first in our open-to-the-public discussion series, titled “FUTURE FOCUS: Conversations for a Sustainable Future.” This inaugural event included a dynamic panel from policy leaders to practicing architects, including Mia Lehrer, President, Studio-MLA; Charles Kelley, Principal, ZGF; Joel Cesare, Sustainable Building Advisor, City of Santa Monica Office of Sustainability & the Environment; and Azya Jackson of the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation and Environment.
“Water is life. Respect. Conserve. Advocate.” -Mia Lehrer
What are specific challenges to creating a resilient water system in the urban context of Los Angeles?
The discussion included heart-felt personal stories ranging from successful large-scale implementation plan at the Hollywood Park redevelopment to pursuing water resilience in our own residences. Here in Los Angeles County, even professionals find installing water resilient systems on a residential scale a challenge too great to solve individually! Joel told a story about how planting street trees is a great way to engage with neighbors, and an accessible way to provide one aspect of water resilience in our communities. He also posed the question why homeowners are rewarded for removing turf but not for diverting greywater (“showers to flowers”) for irrigation.
What does a next generation water infrastructure look like? And what will it take to make it happen?
Mia talked about how planting more trees should be one strategy for water resilience in LA (including palms, yes!)—as they provide shade, cooling through evapotranspiration, and are place-making—when combined with a local site water strategy to not rely on potable water irrigation. TreePeople, a local organization dedicated to reforesting LA, is a great resource that was mentioned often, as well. All agreed that urban re-forestation was a multi-benefit, low-tech, community-based solution that should be incentivized.
“We have to cultivate our city like a garden,” Charles stated.
(pictured: ZGF LA’s office with over forty attendees at the inaugural Future Focus series)
How can we create synergies between resilient water systems at both the urban and building scale?
Permeability was brought up several times in the pursuit of sustainable water in LA. The need for the ground surfaces of LA to capture water and replenish aquifers is vital for water resilience. This means revisiting large infrastructures with impermeable surfaces, including the LA River, the LA Zoo, and the coast of Santa Monica. All of these examples are big endeavors, and are being addressed regionally, albeit slowly. Charles stated that Los Angeles is leading the state and country on water resilience, due to the myriad of challenges the widespread climate diverse city faces.
“We need to find meaning and purpose on resilience in cities.” -Charles Kelley
Making water and resilient strategies tangible and visible was also an important point raised by everyone. If water infrastructure is visible and experienced, people would appreciate and take care of the precious resource more thoughtfully. Water, as a public resource, should be accessible to be experienced and therefore appreciated.
One thread that tied the evening’s points together was the importance of community participation. Charles summed it up with “wealth, wisdom, and work” as three diverse ways people can participate in creating water resilience in their own communities. The key to creating resilience is through and by people, through planting street trees, engaging with public projects in the proposal phase, and neighborhood equipment sharing “libraries” for small projects. There were many ideas that individuals can implement in their area, and the main driver is initiative in engaging with our communities. So, let’s get out there, get our hands dirty, and keep the water flowing!
“Be bold. How can we settle for anything less?” -Joel Cesare
(pictured from top left to bottom right: Olivia Lu-Hill, Anne Cotter, Amanda Snelson, Shanna Whelan, Jennifer Hindelang,
Avideh Haghighi, Jill Edelman)
ZGF looks forward to hosting and organizing more conversations around diverse topics surrounding our sustainable future, with two more events in the works for this fall.