What Does Sustainability Look Like?

Photographs by Krista Sloniowski
27 November, 2002 – 28 February, 2003

Photographs of the Exhibition

As an Urban Planning student with a background in ecology and alternative technology, I have always been interested in how human communities interact with and affect their surrounding natural environment. Historically, that impact has been an afterthought or side issue. As environmental well-being becomes more of a problem affecting the overall quality of our communities, our buildings, infrastructure and open spaces may be designed so that they are integrated with the functional needs of the surrounding ecosystems.

It would appear that sustainable-development design does not follow any specific form. But in each case I have examined, the form was designed to include environmental function. This quality is essential to the projects’ success within the community and within their environment.

Most people have a general concept of sustainable development, even if they cannot provide you with an actual example or with some model of what it would look like. For what makes something sustainable is its function, not its style. But we are likely to identify and understand something through its image. So it is natural to wonder if there is an emerging form that follows the sustainable function. Is there some kind of consistent style or image for the sustainable urban landscape? It is very hard to imagine that an idea that promises to transform all developed space, and society’s relationship to nature, wouldn’t look like anything specific and generic. I decided to find examples of sustainable development in the Los Angeles area and document what they looked like, whatever that turned out to be.

I soon realized that this would not be very easy. Sustainability is a very popular idea. But its application is so broad and ambiguous it is used to describe almost anything that could somehow be considered natural or “green.” This includes anything from botanical shampoo to green glass pebbles used as lawn art. There is a lot of discussion and coverage of sustainability programs, as well as of activities in distant third world countries that are supported by a variety of local California environmental groups. But programs are not physical developments, and the efforts in far away places do not exist in our built environment here. I kept looking, and I finally found some examples of sustainable development in Southern California that met more stringent criteria: A design that intentionally integrates the project with the surrounding ecosystem processes; one that reduces the environmental impacts of the project and its waste products as much as possible; and one that serves as many purposes as possible in order to get the greatest amount of utility out of a single development project.

All of the examples I found were built under different circumstances for different reasons. They have different degrees of sustainability. Some are very proactive and thoroughly integrated with their environment in a number of ways, while others have a few sustainable components that serve a particularly critical environmental purpose. But in every case the idea of sustaining the larger environmental system was part of their purpose and design.

Krista Sloniowski
Master of Planning Student

The Projects

Ballona Wetlands Restoration
Friends of Ballona Wetlands Education/Ecology Center
318 BE Culver Boulevard
Playa del Rey, CA 90293

Village Green
14509 Village Way Drive
Sylmar, California

Sepulveda Flood Control Basin
(address for the Japanese Garden within the project area)
6100 Woodley Ave.
Van Nuys CA, 91406

Center for Regenerative Studies
The John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies
California State Polytechnic University
4105 West University Drive
Pomona, CA 91768

Southern California Gas Company
Energy Resource Center
9240 E. Firestone Blvd.
Downey, CA 90241