2014 Grants Challenge

Divining LA: Resilient City Design for the Next Hundred Years

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


Please describe yourself.

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

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

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

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

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 best 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?

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

Number of households below the self-sufficiency standard

Percent of imported water

Acres and miles of polluted waterways

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 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?

Network/relationship support

Money (financial capital)

Volunteers/staff (human capital)

Publicity/awareness (social capital)

Community outreach