Election Day: A Watershed Moment?

On this day when the people of Los Angeles will choose the next mayor, a leader who will be called on to prepare our city for the severe weather that is forecast for our future, including droughts and floods, it is heartening for me to reflect on what we learned from our Dutch colleagues during the Room for the River: Los Angeles  symposium cosponsored by TreePeople May 16–17.

In the Netherlands, they have taken very seriously and responded to the threats posed by climate change to their urban populations, threats that include severe flooding and water shortages. Their responses have been bold, visionary, and immensely practical. To make urgent climate adaptation and mitigation affordable and doable, they have coordinated the resources and knowledge of multiple agencies at the local and national levels, and are deeply engaging their people in understanding the issues and guiding the decisions. The Dutch are not only using great science but also computer “serious gaming” simulations via social media to support decision makers, community leaders, ordinary citizens, and young people in confronting the challenges and options.

The Room for the River: Los Angeles symposium combined the more than 100 years’ experience of the visiting engineers, architects, and planners from the Netherlands with the knowledge base of L.A. agencies, engineers, and community groups. It resulted in a clear call and viable path to protecting L.A.’s environment, economy, and people by making room for our rivers and bringing them, and the entire urban watershed that supplies them, back to life.

In addition to the management and engagement strategies listed above, approaches included creating a water-retaining urban landscape to capture, clean, store, recharge aquifers and efficiently use precious rain water wherever it falls, via region-wide acts of urban acupuncture. This means using every opportunity to punch holes in our over-cemented and over-turfed ground, to restore soil health and spongelike absorbency via mulch, trees, constructed treatment wetlands, swales, cisterns, and other no-regret tactics. Doing this safely holds, slows, and cleans the storm water, delivering it safely to our creeks and rivers. The result: healthier, safer, more resilient communities and neighborhoods.

Get inspired by the Dutch model by reading more about Room for the River.

By Andy Lipkis

Andy Lipkis is a practical visionary who has dedicated his life to healing the environment while improving the lives of individuals and communities. He founded TreePeople in Los Angeles in 1973 at age 18 and continues to serve as its President. Andy has spearheaded an approach using trees and forest-inspired technologies to make cities sustainable while mitigating floods, drought, pollution, and climate change. Called “Functioning Community Forests,” it is being demonstrated in L.A. as a model for cities everywhere.