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Environmental Quality / 2013

Urban Forest

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Mia Lehrer + Associates, LA-Mas, Arid Lands Institute

Since the inception of the automobile, Los Angeles has been dramatically altered by the increasing amount of asphalt and concrete covering ground surfaces, which absorb incoming solar radiation and reradiate it as heat energy that raises the local air temperature. The higher temperatures increase the formation of smog, heat-related illnesses and the demand for energy as well as decrease the health level of people, plants and wildlife. Exacerbating this trend is the impact of the overall heating of the planet caused by global warming – something has got to give.

With a population of over 12 million people, the Los Angeles region is a major contributor of ozone and other pollutants that adversely affect climate and temperature as well as air and water quality. As the population continues to grow, the demand for land and services near Los Angeles’ urban center continues to increase, thereby increasing the amount of traffic, concrete and asphalt. The city is expected to reach a population of almost 40 million by 2050 - so the time to approach this problem- increasing heat island effect- is now. This problem is a significant opportunity to create a robust and effective program that addresses the issue in a truly innovative way. The City has already embraced tree planting programs with admirable results however, we propose to address this problem holistically in a two-fold manner – by providing more trees while also mitigating the effects of the asphalt surfaces already in abundance throughout the urban core.

Urban Forest is a pilot program for a nursery on private property, such as a private-sector business, that will provide trees to be planted in public spaces. Built on the idea of partnership, collaboration and exchange, the business (in this case American Apparel) will house the trees on their parking lot, allowing them to grow and be cared for in boxes. The Los Angeles Conservation Corps, a non-profit organization, will lend a hand in maintaining the trees - offering up their expertise to American Apparel to ensure that the trees are properly cared for. When the trees are large enough to be transplanted, they will be picked up by partnering non-profits and government agencies to be planted in public spaces throughout the City.

In return for space allotment, utilities, operations and maintenance, American Apparel will create a greener, healthier, and more beautifulparking lot that reverses the heat island effect and the City will gain more trees. In addition, Urban Forest also has the potential to be replicated in parking lots across the City - positively impacting even more acreage through the production of more trees at more locations around the City. As an increasing number of businesses join the program, the amount of trees available to be planted in the City will grow exponentially.

Through this program, as a true multi-benefit solution, several indicators will be addressed, primarily impacting health and environmental quality but also positively affecting the education, income and employment indicators. Initializing a program that not only improves upon existing in-use parking lots, but simultaneously provides trees for the greening of the City, will improve the environmental quality of the City and provide a healthier environment for both the employees of American Apparel and the locations where the trees are eventually planted.

The program will not only improve the environment, but also provide jobs for local urban youth (through the participation of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps) as well as educate staff and create new jobs at American Apparel. Through the visibility of the parking lot at American Apparel, the trees that are planted throughout the City, and a campaign initiated both online and through signage, awareness will increase about the program and the importance of green space in the City enhancing human development and making Los Angeles a better place to live.

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

We have a history of partnering with non-profit organizations that are focused as a core part of their mission on urban reforestation missions especially in underserved communities throughout the region. Significant projects that contribute to urban greening include:

Natural History Museum North Campus – Los Angeles, CA
TreePeople Center for Community Forestry – Beverly Hills, CA
LAUSD Campus Greening – Los Angeles, CA

We have also partnered with multiple municipalities in master planning efforts that can be developed over time, directly relating to urban greening and infrastructural greening. Examples include the following:

Pacoima Wash Vision Plan – Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan – Los Angeles, CA
Orange County Great Park Comprehensive Park Design – Irvine, CA
Compton Creek Garden Park Master Plan – Los Angeles, CA

Mia Lehrer + Associates
Selected List of Parks, Open Spaces and Recreation Facilities:
Baldwin Hills State Park Master Plan – Los Angeles, CA Ballona Outdoor Learning and Discovery – Los Angeles, CA Confluence Park – Los Angeles, CA El Cariso Community Regional Park, County of Los Angeles – Sylmar, CA Grandview Park Master Plan – Rancho Palos Verdes, CA International Friendship Forest - Badaling, CH Los Angeles Riverfront Greenway Phase II – Studio City, CA Lower Hesse Park Master Plan – Rancho Palos Verdes, CA Mullholland Highway Trail Head – Los Angeles, CA Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Program Phase 7a – Lone Pine, CA Patton Park - Los Angeles, CA Piggyback Yard Conceptual Master Plan Piggyback Yard Feasibility Study - Los Angeles, CA Peck Park Canyon – Prop O, City of Los Angeles – San Pedro, CA Riparian Parks #12 & #14 at Playa Vista – Los Angeles, CA Silver Lake Reservoir Master Plan – Los Angeles, CA Silver Lake Reservoir Pedestrian Path Improvements – Los Angeles, CA Silverwood State Park Visitors Center – Temecula, CA South Los Angeles Wetland Prop O, City of Los Angeles – Los Angeles, CA The Painted Turtle Camp – Lake Hughes, CA UCLA Teaching and Learning Center for Health Services – LA, CA Union Station Master Plan - Los Angeles, CA Vista Hermosa Natural Park – Los Angeles, CA Westside Children’s Center – Culver City, CA Westside Rainwater Park Prop O, City of Los Angeles – Los Angeles, CA Wilshire Boulevard Temple Campus - Malibu, CA

Mia Lehrer + Associates
Selected List of LEED Certified and Sustainable Projects:
Annenberg Community Beach House – Santa Monica, CA. LEED Gold California Environmental Protection Agency Headquarters – Sacramento, CA. LEED Platinum Pitzer College – Claremont, CA. Pursuing LEED Platinum Rand Corporation – Santa Monica, CA. LEED Platinum Santa Monica Village – Santa Monica, CA. Pursuing LEED Platinum Silverlake Branch Library – Los Angeles, CA. LEED Platinum TreePeople Center for Community Forestry – Beverly Hills, CA. LEED Platinum Water + Life Museums – Hemet, CA. LEED Platinum

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

American Apparel
Los Angeles Conservation Corps
Northeast Trees
Hollywood/Los Angeles Beautification
City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks

Potential Partners:
Million Trees Program
Public Works Street Trees Program

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

The Urban Forest project will be evaluated primarily based on the following criteria:

  • The amount of trees planted in Los Angeles by December 2013
  • A set of design guidelines and a production schedule for future implementation and replication

The Urban Forest will also be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • The amount of under-privileged youth participating in and affected by the program in 2013.
  • Evaluating the number of visits to digital presence as a metric for increased public awareness and contributions to Los Angeles in 2013.
  • Evaluating the amount of organic items sold at American Apparel (percentage of which will be donated to the project) as a metric for increased public awareness and contributions to Los Angeles in 2013.
  • The amount of businesses that adopt this program during the project period.

The Urban Forest will continue to be evaluated after the initial project period:

  • The amount of trees planted in Los Angeles by December 2014, 2015, 2016 etc
  • The amount of businesses that adopt this program after the project period.
  • The amount of under-privileged youth participating in and affected by the program after 2013.
  • Evaluating the number of visits to digital presence as a metric for increased public awareness and contributions to Los Angeles after 2013.
  • Evaluating the amount of organic items sold at American Apparel as a metric for increased public awareness and contributions to Los Angeles after 2013.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Today, Southern California has the poorest air quality in the United States. The combination of copious amounts of asphalt, a distressed urban forest, and low amounts of accessible public park land are the largest contributors of this effect. Not to mention that city temperatures are getting higher – but this trend can be reversed!

As a catalyst for sustainable thinking and partnerships, the Urban Forest program has the potential to improve the overall environmental quality and positively impact the public health of the City transforming Los Angeles from a concrete jungle into a greener city – perhaps to be known as the City of Trees.

The trees will be planted throughout the City with a special emphasis on low income neighborhoods, industrial corridors, public school and public parks. The trees will provide cooling through evapotranspiration and by providing shade. The trees will also help improve our air quality by removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere and replacing it with oxygen, making it easier for Angelenos to breathe and decreasing the asthma and respiratory health problems in the City. Furthermore, vegetation acts as a natural filter for water, picking up contaminants that will improve the overall water supply.

In sum Los Angeles will greatly benefit from this program through improving air quality, decreasing the heat island effect, improving water quality, increasing awareness, decreasing health related risks and creating a healthier, more livable Los Angeles for generations to come.

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

In 2050, Los Angeles will be transformed from a City of Asphalt to a City of Trees and a true Urban Forest will have been created. The heat island effect will decrease and the City will be more livable for future generations to come.

One of the most exciting possibilities of this endeavor is its ability to be replicated in parking lots across the City creating a greener city at an expedited pace as the program grows. This means that over time, Los Angeles will become greener at a faster pace with the potential to be fully transformed into a sustainable city of the future in 2050.

This will only increase the positive effect Urban Forest will have on all the aforementioned indicators. Environmental quality and health will be improved while there will be an increase in education and employment of LA city at risk youth, the work sector that engages in the program, and the City’s community at large.

In addition to a citywide adoption of private parking lot nurseries for public benefit, the awareness and education that is raised could also spur other projects that capitalize on this type of private public partnership for the good of the City overall increasing the City’s well being and changing the course of the City’s future into a sustainable regenerative metropolis.