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Environmental Quality / 2013

Serious Game: Los Angeles 2050

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by The River Project

Have you ever played SimCity & thought “Wouldn’t it be cool if this virtual city was an accurate representation of Los Angeles?” Our geography, our neighborhoods, our roads, freeways, buildings, landmarks - from South LA to the San Fernando Valley & down to the Port… Wouldn’t THAT be interesting?

How about we do that? How about we build a 3D virtual LA using actual GIS data on all the natural & built environments here, add in social & economic data, make it relational & run it all through existing hydrologic & climate models that’ll let us move through time to 2050?

Ooh, ooh! What if we took that & made a game the public could use?! That would be some SERIOUS GAMING!!

Imagine what you’d learn from that game. You’ve always had GREAT ideas about how we could do things better. What choices would you make to create a healthier, more resilient LA in the face of climate change? How can we integrate & prioritize the cycles of air, water, soil & fire in urban planning & design for a truly sustainable LA? Can we do that & be economically vibrant, too? Can we do it quickly enough so that our investments help us ADAPT rather than RECOVER?

What if you could play the game with that friend who also has ideas about how to run the city, but….he’s just wrong, y’know? Play the game WITH that guy, & watch the impacts of his choices & yours as you play! What happens if we invest in public transit, add park space, revitalize existing neighborhoods, ramp up home solar, install cool roofs, capture stormwater, revitalize the river? What happens if we expand freeways, demolish crumbling neighborhoods to make way for new development, build more in the mountains, add concrete to the river walls, invest in desal? You can play until you find an approach that meets common goals. In fact, that’s a major objective OF the game: to prompt informed collaboration.

Imagine doing this with students in a classroom, or with your local Neighborhood Council? Making sound decisions about how we invest scant resources is challenging. The problems involved are complex & the various interests are often at odds. A solution seems logical to one partner, but makes the problem more complex for another. Playing the game, all parties see impacts of any approach & work toward common ground, learning that collaboration really does reap better solutions. Imagine being able to show the results of your choices to the public by projecting it on the side of a building downtown? Cool, huh?

LET’S DO IT! ‘Cause guess what? We need to make serious decisions NOW. And now we have the technology to make those decisions more quickly, in a more informed & equitable way – collaborating on what LA 2050 will be. Let’s start with 2013 & see what challenges the game presents:

20th c. LA relied on the idea that resources could be extracted from afar & that the city should promote car culture. This had huge ecological & social effects: air quality degraded, resource lands paved, groundwater depleted, agriculture extirpated, public health & quality of life in decline. Our freeways’ promise of mobility gave way to the reality of congestion & immobility - neighborhoods are physically & socially isolated, the single-family housing model turned people inward rather than toward community gathering spaces. In addition to ambient air pollution, freeway traffic directly affects the health of people living & working nearby. The flow of goods inland from the Ports exacerbates this effect & compromises the livability of communities near goods movement corridors. As LA grew, so did its dependence on imported water, with impacts to distant communities & regional competition for water resources. The energy needed to deliver & treat water, & to mimic compromised ecological functions, caused environmental impacts on a scale reaching well beyond metro LA.

Reestablishing ecosystem services is key to ameliorating impacts & rethinking urban form for the future. As the city reshapes itself with public transit & density, the time is ripe to require strategic, concurrent open space set-asides that provide critical ecosystem services. Strategic densification, coupled with green streetscapes that enhance pedestrian, bicycling, & public transit opportunities, can provide local water supply, reduce air pollution, increase public health & significantly enhance our quality of life. But how do we accomplish this while supporting existing key services & keeping the economy strong?

Angelenos hold an illusion that the existing grid & infrastructure are permanent, yet our long-term success may depend on re-shaping that grid to integrate natural processes with sustainable urban design - to see ecosystem functions as critical infrastructure, while anticipating the need for resiliency & local resource security. Serious Gaming provides a means to test both the reality & the value of that permanence in the face of a climate change & post-carbon world.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

The River Project organized the Coalition for a State Park at Taylor Yard and led the successful fight to establish the first state park on the Los Angeles River - Rio de Los Angeles State Park.

We produced a comprehensive watershed management plan for the Tujunga Wash subwatershed, and are actively engaged in partnership with the City of Los Angeles and the Department of Water & Power in it's implementation. The plan received an award for Innovation in Green Community Planning from the American Planning Association.</p.

Our educational program has been named in the state board of education's California Guide to Environmental Literacy as one of the best environmental education projects in the state.

We are currently partnered with the State and the City on bringing Low Impact Development strategies to residential homeowners throughout the City through our Water LA program.

We are active in the development of water and land use policy at the local and statewide level.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We will work with the software and gaming designers from Tygron who pioneered the serious gaming the Dutch Government uses in making collaborative decisions about their climate future.

We will work with the County of LA, the LA Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability at UCLA (LARCC), & our partners in the Urban Waters Federal Partnership in organizing the data & models.

A preview of the Serious Game will be debuted at the “Room for the River: Los Angeles” Symposium produced in partnership with the City & County of Los Angeles, the Consulate General of the Netherlands, The River Project and other local partners including TreePeople & LARCC, in late May 2013.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Everyone who uses the Serious Game will be given the means to provide online feedback to us in the form of a survey. This will help us gauge increases in awareness and willingness to participate in contributing their ideas and voice in planning their future city. The feedback will also help local agencies better understand the public’s priorities and concerns, and vice versa.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

We expect to see a broader awareness of the specific challenges Los Angeles will face in the era of climate change, a better grasp of what each individual can do here at home, a clearer understanding of how each choice affects another, increased collaboration and communication among stakeholders, education, empowerment, participation, vision, a shift in priorities, more local vocal engagement.

We will be able to move more quickly in deploying the critical changes necessary to adapt to a shifting climate in a timely, cost-effective way while at the same time not merely protecting but improving the livability of the city and its environmental function and quality.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Our priorities have shifted. The region no longer relies on imported water supplies, nearly everyone has access to parks and transit, more local food, better air quality, large segments of our rivers, creeks and streams are alive. The Sacramento Bay Delta and the Colorado River Estuary have rebounded, relieved of the pressure of extraction from 9 million users in Greater Los Angeles. The air feels good to breathe in deeply when you walk and hike.

We have rebuilt an ecologically functioning landscape with green infrastructure, an extensive public transportation network, pristine air, swimmable rivers and beaches, a vibrant economy, and a healthy populace equipped to be resilient in the face of whatever climate change brings.