Breaking Through with a Leader in Traditional Infrastructure

To further encourage you to take a look at the USC/workshop site and think about these issues, I'm going to mention a little story about myself and a fellow named Carl Blum. Carl is a nationally recognized civil engineer, and he is a central figure in the history of infrastructure in our county. Carl is also a man who once looked at me with great skepticism, but ultimately came to see the value of green infrastructure in Los Angeles, and a man who has helped enormously to bring it back into prominence.

Here's how I told the story of his involvement with our process at the workshop:

We re-engineered a house in south L.A., so not a drop of water or any green waste would leave the property, even in a heavy rainstorm. We then invited agency people to come and look at a demonstration. When they came, they literally got dizzy. Not from sickness. When they started connecting the dots, they got dizzy with excitement. One of the agency leaders who got dizzy when we did the demonstration was Carl Blum, of the Los Angeles Department of Public Works. 

At the workshop, I showed the film of the raingarden demonstration, but I neglected to mention that after the demonstration I got a call from Carl, He was very excited. He told me: "We think you've cracked it!"

Carl needed to solve a huge flooding problem for Sun Valley, an area of Los Angeles that floods whenever it rains. He saw that the solution we were talking about  -- to capture rainfall, to hold the water, filter it, and return it slowly to the land, as a forest does -- could work for all of Los Angeles. 

It's a solution that differs from traditional infrastructure, but what really  excited Carl was the idea of seeing beyond the one-problem, one-answer approach, to a multipurpose solution that offers many answers in one initiative.

Sun Valley has more than a flooding problem: it also has a water shortage problem, a urban heat island problem, and a depressed local economy, to name a few. A concrete solution can't solve all those problems, and will make some of them worse. Yet if we can open our minds to a multipurpose solution, and bring more people to the table, we have the potential to find a solution that offers multiple ecosystem benefits.

Carl thought Sun Valley would be an ideal spot to demonstrate the viability of the multipurpose approach.   Instead of a huge engineering project to solve the flooding problem, and then later a huge efforts to reverse the ocean pollution caused by that "solution," we can re-introduce a forest-like watershed system:  trees, mulch, and infiltration that is both natural and engineered with technology to mimic and enhance the services provided by the ecosystem and the neighborhood.

We can not only solve the original flooding problem more effectively, we can find solutions to other problems -- offering additional water, shade, and reduced air pollution -- while at the same time saving money and creating jobs.

To demonstrate the feasibility of this idea, we developed an integrated approach and solution with the county, the city and with the engineering firm MWH. Togehter we are now in the process of implementing this solution.

This is an example of what is possible if we can think in a new way. If we can redesign existing projects -- be they maintenance projects or new construction -- to see the bigger picture, and if we can engage the problems solvers and resource managers from different agencies, we can move past the single-purpose approach.

We can change our neighborhoods in a way that will solve more than one problem at once, and save money and time as well.

That's why we held this workshop, and that's why we want to reach out to others able to help us solve these problems.

Please take a look, or give us a call, or contact us by email. With your help, viable new solutions to some of our city's most intractable problems are within reach.