La La Land: Will Los Angeles Ever Embrace Sustainability?

This post is part of a year-end series by MBA students at California College of the Arts’ Design MBA Program. Read more about our annual partnership here.

By Shrutee Dadhaniya, CCA dMBA

As a born and raised Angelino, I can not express how many times I have been shocked and appalled at how uninterested my fellow residents are to environmental conservation efforts. It is almost commonplace to have the water running for no reason, for everyone to drive separately, and for trash to be flying out of car windows on the freeway. The City of Los Angeles is in dire need of improved communication and encouragement for more environmentally friendly and sustainable practices. Los Angeles is full of traffic, smog and asthma.  It has been nicknamed “La la land.” Are Los Angeles residents still in la la land in regards to recognizing consistent recycling and sustainability practices?

We rarely see creative signs of encouragement or or even simple reminders of how important proper sustainability practices are. If there were simply an initiative to have more signs reminding residents of basic practices such as to not litter, recycle, take public transportation, carpool instead of sitting in congested traffic, conserve energy and water, and ultimately respect mother earth, it would benefit the city and its residents substantially. Los Angeles produces 8,000 tons of garbage every day. It needs to be properly maintained and the only way is through its residents conscious, willing efforts.

San Francisco on the other hand, is a great city to look to for inspiration. Regularly flying up and being in San Francisco for my DMBA program has opened my eyes to many great, mindful, sustainability practices.  San Francisco has set an example for a booming, urban city that is also capable of maintaining successful sustainability practices. There are appropriate waste bins for recycling waste at virtually every corner. The city thrives off readily available hybrid car sharing and public transportation systems.

Mayor Villaraigosa’s vision to put Los Angeles at the forefront of the clean tech revolution and to create more green jobs, technology, and the growth of Los Angeles’s economy has been present, but not enough to visibly see change in all parts of the city. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has also made efforts to create environmental programs such as “Green LA” promoting planting of trees, energy efficiency, solar energy, electric vehicles, green power, recycling educational services, but these programs have little presence around the city.

Imagine an almost Utopian-like city similar to the ones recently envisioned by a team of Norwegian Architects who won the “Clean Tech Corridor” competition where Los Angeles was filled with Umbrella-shaped domes being solar evaporators tapping into the city’s sewage, collecting and clarifying the black water originating from the surrounding blocks. These structures would distribute and release the clear water into the streets “through a process of evaporation and condensation triggering a transformation of the conventional streets into a network of lush, cultivated landscapes blooming with activity.” The urban domes would become focal points creating a gradual process of transformation that would affect the way residents would see, use, and experience their city. Although this is the perfect example of exactly what the city needs, it may be more realistic to start by increasing awareness through simple signs and an advertising campaign, as well as limits on utility usage and the placement of recycling bins throughout the city.

While large scaled efforts like the Mayor’s goals, LADWP’s programs, and the “Clean Tech” project may help, smaller scaled, core communication changes, such as a simple but creatively designed awareness campaign, could have a stronger, direct impact on residents. Increased efforts in improving sustainability practices in this “City of Angels” would create definite social impact, environmental impact, fiscal impact, as well as set an ethical example for the residents of Los Angeles. In a city with a potential market of over 10 million people, in a city with the nation’s largest municipal utility, largest port complex, and one of the nation’s busiest international airports, there is so much potential for the innovation of sustainability practices and urban renewal that could improve the overall quality of life in the City of Los Angeles.


Image source: Curbed Los Angeles. “Norwegian Umbrella Will Cleanse Downtown’s Industrial Zone” By Dakota Smith. 8 Oct 2010.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.

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