Tent City

P80224KIn the autumn of 1989, small and temporary tent cities appeared in parks and other public spaces around the San Francisco Bay Area and the Monterey Bay Area, where many homes had been damaged or destroyed by the Loma Prieta Earthquake. They were necessary at the time, but were not intended to be permanent features of the landscapes. For a while, they were unpleasant reminders that some people could not go home until their homes were repaired or rebuilt.

In more recent history, ridiculously expensive real estate and rents have increased homelessness in the same regions. Even gainfully employed people are homeless because they can neither purchase nor rent a home, either because of expense or because of a lack of availability. Those who live in homes complain about the unsightliness and other problems associated with the homeless living in homeless encampments and small tent cities.

We get it. Tents are bad.

So then, what is this small tent city on one of the main roadways in town?

Good planning and bad planning.

First the good. Each of the shop spaces in the contemporary retail building behind this tent city needs its own water meter and valve manifold. Each of these meters and manifolds must be easily accessible. Because they are accessible, they are also exposed, so they need to be insulated so that they do not freeze during the very rare occasion (in our mild climate) that the weather gets cold enough to do so. This explains why the water meters are next to the sidewalks, and the upright valve manifolds behind them are covered with these billowed tents.

The bad? Good landscape design should have been considered with the location of these meters and manifolds. A water main line should have been routed so that this whole complex could have been constructed within a utility closet or shed, or even a small utility yard that could have been fenced in a less prominent location. If constructed inside a utility closet or shed, the insulating tents would not be necessary. Now that it is too late for that sort of planning, there is not even enough clearance from the sidewalk for hedging or low fencing to obscure the meters and manifolds without obstructing access. It really would not have taken much of a landscape modification to obscure the view of all this infrastructure, if only more space had been made available where it is needed.

Sadly, landscape design was not a priority on this building. Although the water meters and manifolds are completely exposed, shrubbery obscures window and more appealing features of the buildings, such as ornamental stonework. The view from inside many windows is of the unsightly backsides of pointlessly shorn shrubbery. Trees were crowded and planted directly in front of signs, even though there is plenty of frontage without signs where trees could have been planted. It is amazing what some landscape designers get away with.

Dreamscape at the Jungalow

B80128The Jungalow is my colleague Brent’s bungalow home, surrounded by a jungle of a landscape, just about a block off of the Santa Monica Freeway in Mid City Los Angles.

This picture very effectively illustrates that Brent has no business taking pictures . . . and that he should have had a V-8.

The landscape really is spectacular though. You might have seen bits and pieces of it in Sunset Magazine or other horticultural magazines. Pictures of specific flowers and plants were used to illustrate the Sunset – Western Garden Book.

Brent likes his garden to be spectacular. He uses it to trial a few plants before using them at the homes of clients, and to demonstrate how effectively his home garden functions as a lush jungle oasis in the middle of the city. The dense hedging obscures views of neighboring homes, and muffles the sound of the Santa Monica Freeway and La Brea Avenue. Fountains obscure more of whatever outside noise that happens to get through. Although the situation is completely synthetic, and includes species that were imported from all over the World, to be pruned, groomed and trained to do unnatural things, Brent likes to think that it mimics nature. The straight lines, square corners and flat surface of the compact urban lot are invisible behind curvacious borders, terraces, lush foliage and sculptural trees. There is way too much material for such a compact space. It is all so completely contrary to the big city that surrounds it.

Three hundred and fifty miles to the northwest, on acreage in the forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains above Los Gatos, my garden could not have been more opposite. Despite the abundance of more space than I could possibly use, the area used for gardening was quite confined to less than an eighth of an acre. The hilly terrain was flattened as much as possible, and surrounded with straight retaining walls and walkways. Native vegetation was removed to allow more sunlight through. There was no need for hedging because there was nothing beyond the garden to obscure the view of. There was no need for fountains to obscure outside noise because the only outside noise was that of Zayante Creek at the bottom of the garden. For efficiency, plants were installed in rows and grids, and very evenly spaced. It was completely contrary to the surrounding forest.

That is why Brent is a landscape designer and I am just a horticulturist and nurseryman. Who is right? I am.