Solutions for Dirty Stormwater

In these dog days of summer, its nice to see a fresh new video from NRDC on “stormwater runoff 101.” Starting with the end in mind, NRDC shows how people can do simple things to keep rivers, beaches, and oceans clean. I also like the video because they feature Elmer Avenue as an example of doing things right.

Let a Thousand Community Parks Bloom

Old Marengo Park April 2010

We don’t have enough parks in Los Angeles. Given the expense of land and the reality of built-out cities, we need to think about how we can create more parks in urban areas. We need to be creative in converting even small scraps of vacant land into places where people can enjoy nature, walk their dogs, and play. Almost five years ago a small group of people in Altadena got the idea to turn a small barren bit of dirt into a park for the community. Just 8,000 square feet and owned by the County’s Roads Division, the parcel was too small to be a true park. Also working against it, the land was on the border of Pasadena and Altadena – in the unincorporated County but with water from Pasadena. But this neighborhood had no park and thus the idea was borne – why not create a “pocket park?”

A neglected County property, circa 2006

Michele Zack, who had recently taken a “Watershed U” course run by the UC Cooperative Extension, decided the property would be ideal for construction of a “water-wise” pocket park. She found out the Metropolitan Water District was offering grants and she convinced the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy (then Altadena Foothills Conservancy) to apply one.I got involved in this project before I was even working for the LA & San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council, as the president of AFC.

The design included native, drought-tolerant plants designed to bring the mountains into the city, and dry wells to collect and percolate all of the rainfall, eliminating sheet flow runoff from the site.

Dry well installation

Several more grants and lots of hard work later, the hard, barren ground is blooming. We wanted to demonstrate low-water use gardening that people could replicate in their own yards. The park was completely a volunteer, community-led project from start to finish. It would not have happened, however, without the support of Supervisor Michael Antonovich and Metropolitan Water District. Mountain View Cemetery, Foothill MWD, Pasadena Water & Power, plus the members of Neighborhood Church were also major supporters. The list of supporters is long.

Here are a few more photos of the park, which is at the intersection of Marengo and Woodbury. We named it “Old Marengo Park” to acknowledge its origin as left over land when Pasadena and the County aligned Marengo Avenue. What neglected scraps of land can you turn into a park in your neighborhood?

Old Marengo Park, April 2010, looking west
Old Marengo Park April 2010 flowers