US Interlude

New York City window garden

I recently returned to Tokyo from a trip to the US that included a formal meeting with my fellowship sponsor and visits to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and New York.

In the US, urban ecology initiatives seem particularly strong at the municipal government and individual levels. In the photo above, I spotted an amazing formal garden extending on one side of second floor apartment. Perhaps the plants are kept small to preserve light and views from inside.

In San Francisco’s Castro district, two new initiatives have reclaimed street space for human use. One is a small trial pedestrian park at 17th Street and Market, which turns half a block of street into a place for people to sit and socialize. Perhaps when it goes permanent, they will dig up the concrete and add more plants, but for now the small planters, movable chairs and a few recycled concrete benches provide a minimal setting for public life. At least when the cold winds are not blowing too fast. Nearby, on Noe near Market, another half block is closed weekly for a new neighborhood farmer’s market. It’s great to see produce, food, flowers and plants enlivening under-utilized space for even a few hours.

Sidewalk plants in San Francisco

Rare Pritchardia Minor palm tree in San Francisco

And I finally had a chance to see the wonderful rooftop garden at the Renzo Piano-designed California Academy of Sciences planted with native plants.

rooftop garden at the Renzo Piano-designed California Academy of Sciences

In Washington’s Dupont Circle, I saw a very prominent, seemingly hi-tech bicycle sharing program called SmartBike DC

Washington DC "smart bike" sharing

In New York City, there was excitement about the opening of the first section of the High Line park on an abandoned elevated railway, designed by James Corner Field Operations. The city government also closed a part of Broadway, near Times Square to provide a space for pedestrians amidst the high rises.

Seeing plant connections between distant geographies is always pleasing. In the photo below, what I think is a type of hydrangea stands neatly outside Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ final apartment on Fifth Avenue. The same plant had just finished blooming outside my much humbler Tokyo apartment building.

A plant outside 1040 5th Avenue

And finally, LA provides its usual car-dependent horrors mixed with some unexpected finds. I realize that in a cityscape dominated by cars, signage and commercial architecture becomes more out-sized as they attempt to grab attention from fast-moving people. There’s something appealing and disturbing about this clown-themed liquor store.

Clown-themed liquor store in Los Angeles

And I have to admire this gas station’s borrowing the now familiar and over-used tropes of Frank Gehry’s “starchitecture.”

Frank Gehry imitation gas station in Los Angeles

Yet, as always, my wonderful Los Angeles hosts were able to drive me to some wonderful urban spots, such as this pedestrian alley in Venice Beach.

Pedestrian alley in Venice Beach

This house in Venice Beach covered in plants also reminded me of Tokyo.

Venice Beach house covered in plants

The gardens at the Getty Center are spectacular and display more artistry than the buildings.

Getty Center garden

Getty Center garden

Getty Center garden

And finally, I observed with astonishment the lavish gardens near my hosts’ home in the West Hollywood hills. Most of the houses and gardens seem to expand and update almost yearly, with many novelties and no expense spared.

West Hollywood hills garden

West Hollywood hills garden

My hosts’ garden remains faithful to its 1960s Garrett Eckbo design.

Garrett Eckbo in Los Angeles

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