Through the Eyes of an Urban Planner: Integration of Vegetation

When stuck in traffic on the freeway headed through the heart of the city, it is easy to utter words of frustration under our breath. We often think to ourselves, “The speed limit is 65 mph, so why am I barely moving?” We blame the people who in our opinion do not know how to drive, we blame all of the rush hour commuters, and sometimes we are so livid that we blame the city planner. We like to put the blame on someone other than ourselves, but it is rarely the fault of the city planner. His/her goal is to make sure the city is navigable, building towards the future, and on the path that leads to sustainability.


Rooftop garden at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Photo by Gabriel Guerra.

With the interest of the public in mind, a city planner takes on a job that requires them to establish plans for infrastructure, such as bridges, roads, and buildings, as well as manage resources in regards to waste, energy, and water. They are tasked with trying to make life easier for locals and visitors alike. However, after all is said and done, the work of an urban planner is often taken for granted. With an emphasis on the integration of vegetation among a city’s buildings, roads, and resources, an urban planner is the mastermind behind the success of a sustainable community.

To make good use of land, urban planners are trying to encourage multi-purpose buildings, such as eco-villages, buildings with green walls, and buildings that incorporate rooftop gardens. Eco-villages often encourage the   integration of vegetation through community gardens and other urban agriculture efforts. Living walls are used on buildings in order to reduce the internal/external temperatures, provide the city with flora and fauna, and create a healthier environment. Meanwhile, rooftop gardens aim to reduce the urban heat island effect, aide in water conservation, and promote landscaping efforts. Urban planners focus on buildings that make plants essential to the design, because they know that a healthy city is of utmost importance.


Future highway cap park. Image via Park101.org.

Not only are urban planners encouraging designs that focus on the integration of vegetation in buildings, but also designs that bring life to bleak streets. City-goers encounter endless expanses of concrete, asphalt, and steel on the daily. By incorporating plants into humdrum commutes, natural noise barriers and windbreaks are created, pollution is combated, and travel tension is eased. Not only are plants beneficial in improving the quality of life for drivers, but cities like Los Angeles are taking on projects that repair areas of the city that have been segregated because of highways. Highway caps attempt to create parks above freeways that run through the core of the city by connecting isolated pockets to one another. The addition of vegetation is important in achieving the goals of the urban planner by easing the impacts that well-traveled thoroughfares place upon cities.

The realization that water conservation is the top priority in resource management has given urban planners success in promoting projects that implement vegetation. They are looking for designs that provoke sustainable lifestyles mainly through the use of native and drought tolerant plants. Programs that give rebates to customers who replace their lawns with water efficient designs are popping up in cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. Americans have an odd fascination with green lawns, but they are only used for show nowadays.


A front yard of native plants. Photo by Linda Gulker.

Through the integration of vegetation in resource management, urban planners have been able to successfully find alternatives in promoting water conservation. Urban planners strive to make our lives easier with every bridge, every road, and every building that they bring to the city. While not everybody has the ability to see all that the future has to offer, city planners make good use of building from what has yet to be created.

“Creativity should be as common as breathing. We breathe, therefore we create.”- Erwin McManus, Author




Feature Image: Los Angeles through the branches. Photo by Gabriel Guerra.

About The Author

As a recent transplant in the city of Los Angeles, I have a way of looking at the city that natives themselves have not been able to. My focus in school is urban planning, environmental science, sustainable design, and rooftop gardens. Follow me on my adventures throughout L.A. to see all that this sustainable city has to offer.