Ecological Anger Management

Elysian Park is a beautiful, neglected, loved, ecologically-mostly-dead-public park situated not far from Downtown Los Angeles.

Over the past hundred-plus years, humans tinkered with the park a lot and, as humans do, we basically monolithically destroyed its ecological functioning. These days it exists as a dismal dead eucalyptus zombie forest with invasive grasses dominating the ground plane. 

I am a landscape architect and the studio director of Terremoto. As users, neighbours and supporters of Elysian Park we’re bummed. The park’s present incarnation is a woefully succinct object example of so much of what’s wrong about our world: centuries of historical myopic misuse now brought into a gross, incompetent present that feels impossible to change because of bureaucratic ineptitude and lack of civic investment. It’s easy to throw your hands in the air and complain ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ and let the thing languish in perpetuity, but Terremoto decides to do something about it, because we’re pissed off about the state of the world, and we can channel this anger and turn it into human energy for good, as hackneyed as that sounds. And we think a lot of people feel the same way too. We reject the nihilism of not addressing issues head on, of the laziness of saying it’s someone else’s problem. So we’re doing something about it. We call it Test Plot.

Image: David Godshall
Image: David Godshall

We team up with our friends at Saturate and Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park and begin by basically bothering and talking to everyone and amassing as much information as we can. Horticulturalists, neighbours, politicians, architects, planners, dog walkers, experts on ecological restoration etc. We work our way up to the Department of Parks and Recreation and get nervous, lukewarm, but (important!) official permission to do the project, as long as we call it ‘temporary’. We will use whatever words we are told to as long as we can do it, it’s fine. We are encouraged by experts on ecological restoration to explicitly not refer to this as a restoration project (because therein lie infinitely complex semantic/scientific snags that we could get stuck on, and we just need to push it forward), also interesting, also fine.

The form of our Test Plots is a circle about ten metres in diameter because that is the radial spray you get when you attach one of those little metal spray things to a hose. The form is dictated by the dumb tool, this is cool. We fence off these plots with inexpensive dune fencing and begin watering them to get the weeds to start growing. We let the weeds grow, before they flower/seed, we have a weeding party and remove the plant material. We do this twice more in an attempt to weaken/eliminate the existing seed bank in the soil. The plots, though identical in size and shape, are different in condition (sun/shade), exposure (NSEW), flat vs. hillside. These variables are intentional. We plant them with a wide range of species native to Southern California and, more specifically, pre-colonial Elysian Park.

We plant, we water, we amass a legion of wonderful, hard-working volunteers who want to help and sweat with us. We are a season and a half into the project. There have been successes and failure (leave us alone gophers). We plan to annually add more and more plots to the project. Our end goal is information. Our end goal is to continue and expand. Because what if, in a decade, there are hundreds of Test Plots? What if the edges of the circles started to bump against each other and these fences disappeared? What if Elysian Park was just one massive Test Plot?

In a moment that does not feel so hopeful, Test Plot is hope. 

Image: Samer Momani