Freakish Grounds: An Urban Botanical Collection for a Hotter LA

Perspective image of people exercising

by Karissa Campos (MLA I AP ’20), Hannah Chako (MLA I ’20), and Zoë Holland (MLA I ’20)

“Freakish Grounds” is a botanical collection for a hotter LA. It is not a conventional urban green space or a tabula rasa on which we will superimpose a design object. Its unity is not derived from a master plan, but from a method of preparing the ground. The new SMO park does not adhere to the formulas and funding structures that have dotted Los Angeles’s urban fabric with patches of delusive green. The southern California heat produced leisureland, but the old paradigm must go the way of Santa Monica’s elderly palms. Aridity and urban heat demand a landscape that is as tactical and savvy as the desert ecosystem. SMO park will demonstrate how Santa Monica can live well with less.

SMO park is a place where Los Angeles abandons the bucolic aspirations of the past, embraces the freakish reality of the present, and the prepares for the urban ecology of the future. The cosmopolitan urban landscape is presented as an outcome of technological advancement in dialogue with natural process. Here, Angelinos encounter the hyper-artificial environment stripped bare. In this park, contradictions are not resolved, but emphasized. Cloistered native remnants are invaded. Here, ornamental species facilitate ecological process, native species are displayed as botanical specimens, and volunteer plants of many origins are welcomed as guests. The urban park of the future must offer an alternative to the narrative of loss. It cannot placate the public with a stage set of a lost landscape, or one that never existed. It must embrace the identity of the urban desert, assembled ad hoc.