Tuesday March 19, 2019

Tending the Dense Vegetation: Urban Gardeners Feed Body and Soul in Los Angeles

Let's take a peek into the lives of the "Guerrilla Gardeners" of LA

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Guerrilla gardener
Ron Finley has gained famed as a guerrilla or "gangsta" gardener for his efforts to beautify unused strips of public land. Local officials now support the effort, VOA
  • Los Angeles city officials approved community gardens on public parkways, the narrow strips of land between the street and sidewalk two years ago
  • From figs and Swiss chard to edible nasturtiums, a range of fruits and vegetables that are rare in the inner city are grown
  • Los Angeles is now dotted with dozens of gardens and small strips of vegetation outside the homes of residents

Los Angeles, June 24, 2017:  edgier description of a man who once defied local authorities to bring nature to the inner city.

Finley’s efforts to plant edible gardens on public property have earned him court citations, but they also brought a victory two years ago when Los Angeles city officials approved community gardens on public parkways, the narrow strips of land between the street and sidewalk.

Many mornings, Finley can be seen tending the dense vegetation in the sliver of a garden outside his house.

“This is a food forest,” he said, pointing to lemon trees, sunflower plants and tomato vines. “There’s fruit trees, there’s also weeds that are edible in here. And I want to educate people to the fact that there’s food all around you.”

From figs and Swiss chard to edible nasturtiums, Finley grows fruits and vegetables that are rare in the inner city, where he says residents have better access to fast food and liquor stores than to healthful produce.

He spends much of his time doing public speaking and urging people to start community gardens. But many in Los Angeles were already on board with the concept before he became involved.

A few miles from Finley’s garden in South Los Angeles, Tamiko Nakamoto walks through plots of edible plants tended by 22 gardeners.

This community garden is not far from the epicenter of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and Nakamoto said the community activist who set it up shortly afterward wanted “a place of peace and an oasis in this city that’s surrounded by turmoil.”

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There are “collard greens, sugar cane, bananas, tomato trees (vines), cabbage,” said one gardener, a towering immigrant from the Virgin Islands who uses his Rastafarian name, Makado. He is here most days weeding and watering.

Los Angeles is now dotted with dozens of gardens and small strips of vegetation outside the homes of residents.

Others are being planted. Los Angeles officials are in the process of approving tax breaks for owners of vacant lots if the land is used for community gardens. The City Council gave preliminary approval to the measure this month.

“I want them to do more,” Finley said of city officials. “I want them to advocate for this. I want them to put bulletin boards up. I want them to have workshops showing people how to do this.”

Slowly, patches of greenery and color are appearing amid the concrete, and Finley said these gardens make residents feel “healthy all over, not just your body, your mind-set, everything because looking at this, smelling this affects every sense in your body.”

Just as importantly, he said, these gardens are putting fresh fruits and vegetables on the tables of local families. (VOA)

Next Story

Los Angeles Showcases Earthquake Warning Application ‘ShakeAlertLA’

The long-delayed system, called ShakeAlertLA, is the first of its kind in the United States.

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The long-delayed system, called ShakeAlertLA, is the first of its kind in the United States. VOA

California is earthquake country, and residents of Los Angeles can now get some critical warning, when conditions are right, after a quake has started and seismic waves are heading their way.

The long-delayed system, called ShakeAlertLA, is the first of its kind in the United States.

Earthquake alert systems like this save lives, said Jeff Gorell, deputy Los Angeles mayor for public safety, as he demonstrated the application on his smartphone.

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A mobile phone customer looks at an earthquake warning application on their phone in Los Angeles, Jan. 3, 2019. The app, called ShakeAlertLA, is available for download on Android and Apple phones. VOA

“When an earthquake starts, the first waves that go out are called P-waves,” he said. They serve as a warning and “are not the damaging, destructive waves” that will follow.

The alert system, which relies on data from seismic sensors throughout the region, could offer up to 90 seconds of warning for quakes of magnitude 5 or larger.

Even a few seconds can make a difference, said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, as he rolled out the ShakeAlertLA smartphone app in January. Alerts let people know to drop, cover and hold on, as they are instructed to do in earthquakes.

Mexico City system

An alert system is in place in Mexico City that let residents brace for a mild shaker in early February after an earthquake struck Chiapas to the south. The quake was barely felt in the capital, but residents were ready.

The system doesn’t always help, however, and it did not with the magnitude 7.1 earthquake on Sept. 19, 2017, that killed hundreds in and around the Mexican capital. The quake’s epicenter was too close to offer warning.

Distance to epicenter crucial

Alert systems work when there’s enough distance between the earthquake’s epicenter and a center of population, said Thomas Heaton, professor of engineering seismology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

“So, if you can recognize that an earthquake has started … you can give some area that’s about to be shaken strongly a heads up that says, ‘There’s an ongoing earthquake, and oh, by the way, it’s headed in your direction.’”

California is riddled with geological fault lines that periodically rupture. The largest, the San Andreas Fault, can give rise to massive temblors, including the San Francisco quake in 1906, which may have killed 3,000, according to later estimates.

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FILE – California State University, Northridge students walk past a parking structure at the Los Angeles campus that collapsed 25 years ago in the Jan. 17, 1994, earthquake. VOA

A section of the same fault shifted in 1989, causing a magnitude 6.9 earthquake that killed more than 60 in Oakland and nearby communities. Smaller fault lines can also cause large temblors, including a previously unknown fault beneath the Northridge section of Los Angeles, where a magnitude 6.7 quake killed more than 60 people in 1994.

The ShakeAlertLA app offers users critical information after a temblor has started, said Deputy Mayor Gorell, “just enough so that they can digest it and then react to it, without overwhelming them with information or frightening them,” he said.

Advanced alert systems are also in place in Japan, and while the systems have limitations, authorities there say they have saved lives.

Los Angeles officials say preparing for earthquakes requires work on many fronts, including encouraging residents to prepare disaster plans and stock emergency supplies.

Preparations also require upgrades to old buildings. Los Angeles now has nearly 13,000 so-called soft-story buildings, with wide windows or doors on lower floors that need bracing. These buildings are vulnerable to damage or collapse if struck by seismic waves of a certain type or intensity.

Nearly 1,700 buildings have been upgraded to modern earthquake standards, and another 3,500 have been issued permits for retrofitting. It’s a race against time, officials say, because massive shakers rock the region periodically. The last big quake in Southern California, in 1857, reached magnitude 7.9, and could have killed thousands in a modern city.

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A mobile phone customer looks at an earthquake warning application on their phone in Los Angeles, Jan. 3, 2019. Los Angeles has released the app that could give county residents precious seconds to drop, cover and hold on in the event of a quake. VOA

The alert app can help, said Heaton, who noted that when the ground “starts to shake, you have no idea whether it’s going to get bigger, or whether it will stay small. Usually it stays small,” he said, “but you don’t know.”

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Heaton said the system will give you an indication of what to expect, and also let emergency workers know where to send help after a quake has struck.

ShakeAlertLA is being rolled out in phases in the U.S. West coast states of California, Oregon and Washington, which are all vulnerable to earthquakes. (VOA)