Project Tackles Extreme Urban Landscape Yet Buoys Up Community Pride
|Landscape architecture alumni Michelle Landis and Joel Schafor discovered Wilmington’s last remaining wetland environment.
Cargo cranes tower over the Pacific Ocean like sentry soldiers standing ready for battle. The oil refineries in the outer waters light up the night sky with their around-the-clock production. Industrialization, poverty and pollution have all taken their toll on the residents of this port city of Wilmington.
This is the extreme urban landscape that Gerald O. Taylor, ASLA, assistant professor of landscape architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, selected for his spring 2006 Advanced Landscape Design students. Their assignment was to explore the critical issues facing Wilmington and select a project that would improve the health of the residents living in this under-served community.
Two senior students, Michelle Landis, ASLA, and Joel Shafor, ASLA, discovered Wilmington’s last remaining wetland environment at the mouth of the Dominguez Channel, which empties into Los Angeles Harbor, and helped the community fight to preserve it. For their efforts, they were awarded the 2006 student award in community service by the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Though there were only a few plants and some puddles of water remaining, they envisioned a wetland restoration project to help clean up the polluted water and sediment. The Los Angeles Harbor is constantly being deepened to accommodate the vast number of cargo ships that move in and out of port. The dredged sediment contains high levels of toxins that pose a serious health risk to harbor residents.
The Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles requested that the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) handle the soil remediation project for this parcel of land. Their plan for the site was to fill 123 acres to a depth of 16 feet and cap with asphalt to make additional storage space for shipping containers.
Landis and Shafor were in attendance during a community meeting, and they questioned where the fill would come from. Trucking in clean dirt would cost millions, but polluted dredge soil was readily available. Instead of capping the area with asphalt to make storage room, the students suggested recreating a natural wetland environment to neutralize pollutants. Their master plan also called for recreational areas, a Ford Model-T museum and access to the waterfront. To support their case, they provided a historical overview of the site and also presented case studies to demonstrate how this plan was effective in areas with similar problems.
After their presentation to the DTSC and Wilmington residents, they realized they had hit a nerve with the community. They had an instant connection with community members, and their design ideas generated a lot of excitement and optimism.
When a local boat owner saw that bulldozers were poised to demolish the last remaining wetland, she put in a call to Landis. She was able to contact the California Department of Fish and Game to stop the bulldozers in their tracks. The Port argued that the wetland was manufactured through dredging to the area. Landis and Shafor were able to prove through historical maps dating back to 1851 how the natural wetland had diminished over time.
“Through our work with the community of Wilmington, we gave the residents something to rally behind,” Landis says. “Nothing can match that feeling.”
Michelle Landis and Joel Shafor both graduated in spring 2006, but their work and research will continue to buoy up this community’s chance of preserving the historical wetland and creating open space for residents to enjoy.
Cal Poly Pomona’s landscape architecture program celebrates its 50th anniversary this spring. For the past five decades, the university has trained landscape architects to be at the forefront in the preservation and restoration of natural landscapes. Cal Poly Pomona boasts the only accredited landscape architecture program offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees in California, ranking 9th among the nation’s top graduate, and 13th among the top undergraduate, landscape architecture programs. For more information, call (909) 869-2673 or visit www.csupomona.edu/~la.