Divining LA: Resilient City Design for the Next Hundred Years

submission by aridlands
Divining LA: Resilient City Design for the Next Hundred Years

About Your Organization

Organization name(s):

Arid Lands Institute

Organization website:


Organization Twitter handle:


Organization Facebook page:


Organization Instagram:


Describe your organization (check only one):

Nonprofit organization

For-profit organization



Please describe yourself (check only one):

Solo actor (just us on this project!)

Proposed collaboration (we want to work with partners!)

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe what your organization does.


We educate, research and inspire design innovation at the nexus of water, energy, and climate change.

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.


Divining LA is a collaborative initiative designed to seek, reveal, and champion a water-smart Los Angeles

Does your project impact Los Angeles County? Check only one.

Yes (benefits all of LA County)

Yes (benefits a region of LA County)

Yes (benefits a population of LA County)


Please write a sample tweet to describe your submission.


Help @aridlandsinst make LA the best and healthiest dry city in the world #LA2050

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit? Check all that apply.

Central LA

East LA

South LA

San Gabriel Valley

San Fernando Valley

South Bay



What is your idea/project in more detail?


Divining LA is a collaborative, multi-year initiative designed to seek, reveal, and champion a water-smart future for Los Angeles, and to position LA as a leader in the design of drylands resilience globally. Divining LA brings together teams of architects, urban designers, citizens, scientists, and policy advisors to envision an abundant future in drylands.

One hundred years after Los Angeles pioneered the long-distance delivery of remote snowpack as water source, Divining LA will give voice and vision to the next century of water resilience and localized self-sufficiency.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?


Divining LA will convert cutting-edge research on stormwater resources, groundwater augmentation, water recycling, and water conservation into planning and design strategies for neighborhoods across Los Angeles. Divining LA will pair economically and culturally diverse community-based organizations with teams of university and professional designers. Each team will be challenged and supported to invent a water-smart future for specific neighborhoods. Teams will generate design visions and policy recommendations for their own small-scale, distributed approaches to a localized water future, appropriate to the scale, tempo, and flavor of their neighborhood, and the greater hydrologic function of the LA basin.

Divining LA provides an opportunity not only to residents and business owners to visualize climate adaptation and mitigation strategies; it also provides a much-needed, real-time opportunity for Los Angeles’ rich design culture to advance water-smart planning policy and building systems for a resilient future.

Divining LA will bring together faculty, graduate and undergraduate researchers from Woodbury, asmall, private Hispanic-serving university, and collaborator design programs from around the region. Teams will have the support and involvement of engineers from public water agencies and leading global firms; NGOs with long track records of service to the communities of Los Angeles; and multidisciplinary research and design teams from universities and the design professions. In year one, Divining LA partners will build on existing relationships throughout its collaborator network to identify specific neighborhoods and community-based organizations for partnerships. Divining LA will partner with a range of communities facing specific hydrologic, economic, and cultural challenges that would most benefit from being paired with Divining LA planning and design teams. The goal is to generate a set of visionary water-management strategies for each of the disparate communities engaged, and to propose and advocate for new policies suggested by the design challenge. From these, a small number of projects will be selected as possible demonstration projects. Divining LA will widely publicize, encourage debate, document and disseminate the results of all projects.

How will your idea/project help make LA the healthiest place to live today? In 2050?


LA benefits today in engaging citizens to design their own destiny. LA benefits tomorrow with water, energy, and carbon savings. Los Angeles River Watershed area, at 864 square miles and 65% impermeability, generates 350,000 acre feet of storm water runoff per year, enough for 2,100,000 people per year at current usage rates or with conservation measures in place, enough for 2,625,000 people. That translates to a gross energy savings of 700 gigawatt hours or the equivalent of taking 130,000 passenger vehicles off the road.

Whom will your project benefit? Please be specific.


Divining LA outreach has the potential to bring advanced geospatial research to public benefit rapidly. It has the potential to optimize the hydrologic function of the arid built environment; uncouple the water-energy nexus; produce hydrologic planning, zoning, building code reforms; encourage small scale distributed water infrastructures as design opportunities that respect the cultural and biophysical attributes of communities and watersheds; promote building-integrated water systems innovation for the global marketplace; retool science and design curricula to creatively engage the challenges of climate adaptation; and increase participation of underrepresented communities. Divining LA outputs are scaleable and transferable to water-stressed environments affecting 30 million people in the US West, and 1.2 billion people worldwide.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.


Partners who have confirmed their participation and support include TreePeople, ARUP
City of LA Bureau of Engineering, City of LA Bureau of Sanitation/Watershed Protection Program, County of LA Flood Control/Watershed Management program, LADWP Stormwater Management, UCLA Water Resources Group, American Institute of Architects | Los Angeles, Perkins + Will Architects, AC Martin Architects, and Mia Lehrer + Associates. ALI has secured the preliminary interest of design leaders at USC, UCLA, CalPoly Pomona, Art Center College of Design, SCI-Arc, and of course Woodbury School of Architecture.

How will your project impact the LA2050 "LIVE" metrics?

Access to healthy food

Healthcare access

Exposure to air toxins

Number of households below the self-sufficiency standard

Percent of imported water

Obesity rates

Rates of homelessness

Walk/bike/transit score

Acres and miles of polluted waterways

Rates of mental illnesses

Prevalence of adverse childhood experience (Dream Metric)

Percentage of LA communities that are resilient (Dream Metric)

Percentage of residents receiving coordinated healthcare services (Dream Metric)

Percentage of tree canopy cover (Dream Metric)


Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.:

Water is essential to each and every one of these

Please select which other LA2050 Goals are relevant to your project or organization (check all that apply):

LA is the best place to CREATE

LA is the best place to PLAY

LA is the best place to CONNECT

LA is the best place to LEARN

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.


Public participation in educational programs, policy changes, additional partner organizations committing to Divining LA

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?


ALI’s Drylands Design Conference of 2012, which brought together 175 designers, scientists, and policy makers, taught us that there is great hunger for design vision as a catalyst for making change possible, real, and appealing. Our work since then has taught us that much good water conservation and reclamation work is going on around Los Angeles, but without a strong habit of coordination and collaboration across sectors. Divining LA builds on design as a bridge between science, policy, and the public imagination, and brings together multiple conversations across the region.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.


In the next 12 months, Divining LA will achieve major milestones: developing the design brief and support materials for design teams; inviting university and professional collaborators to join the challenge; identifying community-based organizations to represent their neighborhoods in the challenge; and launching the first phase of design by Fall 2015. By the end of 2015, Divining LA will be in the process of generating lively design and policy visions, which will be documented, debated, curated, and disseminated via digital and physical media in the second phase.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?


Efforts to build climate resilience through localization of water supply in urban centers within arid regions are frequently hampered by lack of integration between water supply and water quality policy objectives; lack of integration of water, energy, and carbon objectives; conflicting watershed data, assessment, and management practices across political boundaries; lack of high-resolution data, including projected climate impacts on hydrologic processes; insufficient costs/benefit analysis that includes valuation of ecosystem services; overreliance on single-purpose, single-scale infrastructure design; static, empirical models offering limited options for scenario-based testing and stakeholder involvement.

The Divining LA network collaborates across sectors to support an adaptive, dynamic environmental modeling tool that: integrates water supply, quality, energy, carbon, and economic metrics; incorporates high-resolution data, including high-resolution projected climate impacts; measures interactions and feedbacks between human and natural systems; simulates and compares policy and development scenarios; tests multiscalar and multipurpose approaches, patterns and processes; evaluates impacts and implications of development scenarios on human and natural systems; incorporates design visioning as a mechanism for providing socially and culturally responsive choices that are plausible and acceptable to stakeholders.

What resources does your project need? (check all that apply)

Money (financial capital)

Volunteers/staff (human capital)

Publicity/awareness (social capital)

Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)


Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)

Community outreach

Network/relationship support

Quality improvement research

17 Pink talk bubble tail c96b4a07ef1417e25d0bcf5c4cba4766b8bbf0382f07677990a9d5577885d4d7

Glad to see this. I wrote the book "Los Angeles: A History of the Future" in 1982, which proposed rebuilding the metropolis systematically toward balance with nature-- with water as pivotal component. http://www.issuu.com/metroeco/docs/lahof

by metroeco
8 months ago

Request for urgent implementation.

by jcotaarchitect
over 1 year ago

We desperately need this people! Water will be (if it isn't already) the new "Black Gold" for the entire planet. Even though the planet is seemingly covered in water, the potable and usable portion is significantly diminishing. With the increase in population and the horrific attempts at conservation, we MUST address our life-source on this planet! We here in California need to set the example and standard for the rest of the globe in quality, effective water conservation!

by Smackey
over 1 year ago

A thorough investigation of water, Los Angeles, California, and the entire arid West. I think your response to the desalination suggestion was spot-on. Using more non-renewable energy to purify water isn't the answer for Los Angeles. Starting at the sources is -- with the rain, snow melt, run-off, etc.

Good luck. Great work.

by damasiana.wren
over 1 year ago


by marvingainer
over 1 year ago

This effort would benefit from more ubiquitous communications and drought status updates with all water users. Telecommuting is also much more water and power efficient than car or even train commuting! We should work together on this.

by jaredhardy
over 1 year ago

Personally, I think that only by building desalination plants and using them for all of our needs, can we correct the problems created by the droughts and global warming.

by JenniferTS01
over 1 year ago

Academic projects like these are inspiring as they exemplify true commitment to applied research to resolve important environmental challenges we are facing around water.

by HectorMP
over 1 year ago

I'm excited about this project and the future of LA because of it.

by la.t.kelly
over 1 year ago

Elegant, thoughtful, thorough and meaningful work. YES!

by katherine.rinne
over 1 year ago

yes, yes, yes!

by shlechto
over 1 year ago

Divining LA sounds like a desperately needed initiative and a potentially valuable tool for those responsible to design our cities & infrastructure, but more importantly a valuable source of data for those creating legislation that ultimately impacts not only the management of our water resources, but how we live and inhabit our arid environments. Let's share this initiative with others to create a greater awareness of today's water issues; after all, the crisis we face today is created by humans and what is created by humans can be changed by humans.

by josephnunez
over 1 year ago

Angeleno, this is a must. Lets work together - through Divining LA - to design a sustainable future in our arid environment.

by Sebastian
over 1 year ago

What a great project, and so needed in our most severe drought.

by stephanielandregan
over 1 year ago

Beyond the tactics of water 'conservation', Diving LA is a strategic imperative, exploring LA's latent potential for water 'resiliency' through multidisciplinary design. The project predates our present drought - I very much hope that Diving LA launches to direct both the design community and the general public toward more creative and substantive strategic thinking on the future of our water intensive city.

by goodjohn
over 1 year ago

Thanks for your thoughts on desalination.

Two thoughts in response: one is that the solutions ahead will have to come from many sources; no one source is going to be big enough, fast enough, or affordable enough to save the day. Water conservation is cheap, fast, and easy; water recycling technologies already exist but are underused; and storm water harvesting is a supply that is routinely wasted. From changing personal habits (eating greens requires much less water than eating meat) to policy shifts (measuring and evaluating our groundwater withdrawals, for example), the ability to live within a tight water budget will require every tool we've got.

The other thought: While desalination technology is improving, with greater efficiencies, it still takes a huge amount of energy to separate a water molecule from a salt molecule. That energy is still---believe it or not---mostly derived from burning coal and gas. The more energy we burn to make one form of water supply available, the more impact we have in permanently altering, through CO2 emissions and the warming of the atmosphere, the hydrologic cycle even more than we already have.

So for us, the public investment is best spent on a diversified portfolio; in our view, conservation, recycling, and storm water are our best bets.

Thanks for your interest in this complicated and essential topic.
Hadley Arnold
Arid Lands Institute

by aridlands
over 1 year ago

agreed, double YES!

by lauriemakela
over 1 year ago

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Submission Began
Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Submission Ended
Thursday, July 31, 2014
at 07:00 PM UTC

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Voting Began
Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Voting Ended
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
at 07:00 PM UTC

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Winner Announced
Tuesday, September 30, 2014