Superhighways to Superblooms
Author: Andrea Binz
Institution: University of Southern California
Instructor: Jessica M. Henson
Studio: Edge Conditions: Overcoming Infrastructural Barriers in LA; Graduate Landscape Architecture, Fall 2020
Los Angeles County is crisscrossed by 515 miles of freeway. Due to traffic on Interstate 5 and the Ventura freeway, the cities of Burbank and Glendale endure the worst 1% of pollution burden in all of California. We have spent decades and billions of dollars expanding highways to “solve” gridlock, but this strategy has failed completely. This means we need to radically rethink our transportation networks. This framework proposes to address pollution burden through public transportation investment, pollution mitigation with green infrastructure, road diets, vehicle electrification, high-speed rail, and finally by reclaiming highways into linear parks. The existing infrastructure will be transformed from an impermeable, 10-lane, pollutant-spewing barrier into a vegetated, job-creating, carbon-absorbing connector between communities. Each element of a freeway becomes something new. Roads become the backbone of a linear park system, with several options proposed depending on programming and site context. Strategic use is made of existing storm drains, and clean, manufactured soil is added to create a new topography planted with native vegetation. Clovers would be naturally suited by their grading to become stormwater infrastructure to filter, infiltrate, or retain water. Finally, former interchanges become community hubs, with the space and location to support recreation, cultural and educational centers, and resource generation. Transforming the freeways of the most polluted areas of Burbank and Glendale could be just the first step. Freeways bisect many of our most polluted, underserved communities. As our transit patterns change, we can choose to promote a healthier, more equitable Los Angeles.
The current inequities of our civic realm are often the result of our infrastructural systems, whether through forced displacement policies, air and soil pollution, damaged ecosystems, or inaccessibility of parks and transit. Often our infrastructure divides communities and creates edges and boundaries, limiting social and environmental interaction. Best laid plans for managing floods, for creating housing, and for transportation have often led to unfortunate results. This burden is disproportional on our most underserved communities, compounding issues of carbon emissions with social inequity. Interstate-5, a main artery through the State of California, cuts a path through many City of LA, Glendale, and Burbank communities. North of Griffith Park, I-5 crosses the LA River and the Ventura Freeway near where the Verdugo Wash and the Burbank Western Channel meet the LA River. Further, this area includes a critical rail connection that links Southern and Northern California. Together, these six elements create a series of community divides and various edge conditions that impact carbon, urban heat island, job availability, and environmental justice.
Despite the proximity of the massive Griffith Park, residents in these communities cannot access the park given the urban divides and edge conditions between communities. The steep topography of the park forms a barrier as well. The layering of railroads, flood channels, and eventually highways into this landscape occurred relatively quickly over the course of the 20th century as the LA River and most of its tributaries were channelized. While edges can be valuable in urban contexts, defining districts or neighborhoods, these edges seem to divide communities. Projects seek to understand and evaluate the edges and create urban design proposals to mitigate or strengthen the edges.
The primary focus is the neighborhoods flanking these infrastructural edges, such as Riverside Rancho and Grand Central where pollution and environmental burdens are significant and housing pressures are growing. The studio explores urban design strategies to improve quality of life, parks, opportunity, and connectivity, while preserving the character of the existing neighborhoods, maintaining the flood capacities of the three channels, and developing methods to retain current residents such as affordable housing. Issues of equity and social justice are central to the studio discussion. Currently many of these areas rank among the 10% worst environmental conditions in the State of California due to pollution from I-5 and nearby industrial lands. Air pollution, access to parks, and health issues are significant concerns. In response to these challenges, proposals create an anticipatory landscape framework and strategies that can create more equitable futures.