Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

In the eyes of the current administration, the U.S.-Mexico border is violent, in crisis, and must be redundantly fortified, concretized, and policed. But architect Teddy Cruz and political theorist Fonna Forman see that southern boundary as an ecological region—a shared territory of cross-border interdependence and exchange. To them, flow, not heated rhetoric, is the defining character of the San Diego–Tijuana crossing. Most obvious are streams of traffic, goods, and people through the point of entry. What goes unseen is the northward flow of waste and toxins, which disregards the jurisdictional boundaries of nationhood, traveling from the informal settlements in Tijuana’s Laurales Canyon via watersheds and tributaries to the Tijuana River estuary in San Diego and out into the Pacific Ocean. 

“The estuary is already a Federal protected zone—NOAA and the EPA are involved, but it has to be thought of as bioregional,” says Forman. “It is a circular system. Informal settlements recycle and repurpose urban waste, then the trash of the informal settlement ends up back in the estuary.” 

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Tree. Person. Bike. Person. Person. Tree. Anya Domlesky, ASLA, an associate at SWA in Sausalito, California, rattles off how she and the firm’s innovation lab team train a computer to recognize the flora and fauna in an urban plaza.

The effort is part of the firm’s mission to apply emergent technologies to landscape architecture. In pursuing the applied use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the research and innovation lab XL: Experiments in Landscape and Urbanism follows a small but growing number of researchers and practitioners interested in the ways the enigmatic yet ubiquitous culture of algorithms might be deployed in the field. Read More …

Guiding the transition of San Francisco’s Presidio from military base to national park may be the standout accomplishment of the landscape architect and parks administrator William Penn Mott Jr., who assumed the helm of the U.S. National Park Service in 1985, but it’s a little “monster” from early in Mott’s career that has received renewed attention.

In 1952, when Mott was parks superintendent for the city of Oakland, he commissioned the artist Robert “Bob” Winston to create a unique play structure on the sandy banks of Lake Merritt. Sculptural and organic, the chartreuse green piece was known as the Mid-Century Monster. It was one of the first designs in the United States to depart from conventional swings or slides and celebrate imaginative play, and from its opening, children climbed on and hid inside the Monster’s many haunches and niches. Read More …

Ed Rosenthal grows weed. He has for decades. The Oakland, California-based horticulturist, author, and activist is the go-to expert on home cultivation. He’s written more than a dozen books on the subject and the policies that surround medical marijuana and legalization. Their titles fall somewhere between what you’d see in your local nursery and your corner head shop: The Big Book of Buds (volumes one through four), Marijuana Garden Saver, and Marijuana Pest & Disease Control.

“Growing is addictive,” Rosenthal says with a laugh, and then quickly clarifies that the drug is not. “Given the right conditions and a sunny backyard, marijuana can be grown almost anywhere in California.” He speaks poetically about marijuana’s diverse morphology: It has male and female plants. Some are tall, some wide, and there are different strains like indica or sativa that range in color—like heirloom tomatoes—from absinthe yellow–green to maroon and deep purple. To cultivate cannabis for its THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and psychoactive properties, only the female plants are grown. The male plants look a bit like wild mustard; the female plants are the ones that produce buds for consumption. “With humans and cannabis, the female is considered more beautiful,” he explains. “I have a bunch of marijuana plants growing, and they all look different, like six different varieties of a dahlia. Each plant is an individual.” He compares homegrown marijuana to homegrown tomatoes. “The person who grows the best marijuana is the person who is growing at home. Everybody loves their own produce.”

It’s a vision of cannabis production that is far different from what the public imagination associates with marijuana: the resource-heavy hydroponic “grow house,” which makes high demands on labor, energy, and water. Or the news reports of thousands of plants seized and destroyed on illegal grow sites on U.S. Forest Service land. Read More …

“Words! How can we ever untangle them?” reads James Rose’s opening salvo in Pencil Points. Appearing in the definitive journal of Modernist design thought, the landscape designer’s 1939 essay rejects preconceived ideas of formal or informal design and makes the case for an organic and materials-based approach—an argument approaching revelation at time when Beaux Arts methodologies held sway.

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At 8 a.m. on a Saturday in Phoenix, coffee brews inside the city’s sprawl of desert-colored homes and apartments and a chorus of AC units starts a morning hum. About a dozen people with sensible shoes and water bottles gather in a parking lot near the banks of the Rio Salado. The nearly horizontal rays of sun hit the Palo Verde trees, making them glow.

In the shade, Angela Ellsworth, the founder and managing director of the Museum of Walking, takes a head count and passes around a clipboard asking folks to sign a liability waiver for a contemplative nature walk through the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area. The activity promises an easy 3-mile loop. The paperwork, albeit bureaucratically par for the course, is part of the process—a commitment to a mostly-silent, two-hour hike led by our “curator of walking” for the day, a local musician and interpretive park ranger named Amber Gore.

Desert finches rustle in the brittlebrush as Gore leads us along the trail. She instructs us to listen to our feet crunching on the path, and as we do, the noise of the highway fades away and we’re surrounded by the sounds and smells of Sonoran wetland.

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At 95, the dancer, choreographer and activist Anna Halprin has no time for nostalgia. Last summer she celebrated her birthday with a performance on the dance deck at her home in Marin County. Bare feet on redwood boards, white hair framed against the pine trees beyond, she was as present and lively as when her late husband and collaborator, the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, first built the deck for her in 1954. Read More …

You’ve likely heard of William Mulholland. There’s a ridgetop road in the Santa Monica Mountains, Mulholland Drive, named after him that offers breathtaking views of the Los Angeles basin and was the namesake of a David Lynch movie. Tall tales and mythologies swirl around Mulholland, the civil engineer who founded the Los Angeles Aqueduct and brought water to the desert. The aqueduct, which opened on November 5, 1913, and recently celebrated its centennial, would eventually become the water half of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and Mulholland’s life would transform into legend. But if the story of L.A. water is well known, what of the power supply, the last letter in LADWP? That’s the question posed by the exhibition LADWP Power, on view at the Los Angeles headquarters of the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) through February 2014. Read More …