Nobody Drives in LA — A Parking Lot Pothole Garden in Echo Park

Nobody Drives in LA

The private automobile is the scourge of cities. In Los Angeles, on an average day, such cars injure or kill 39 Angelenos. They pollute air, land, and water — except for the electric ones, which rely on child slave labor to mine the precious materials required for their batteries. Electric or smog-box alike, they all contribute to obesity and heart disease (the biggest killer of Angelenos); and clog the streets — getting in the way of trains, buses, bicycles, scooters, pedestrians, &c. And since the 1960s, they haven’t even looked cool. 

Cars also demand a tremendous amount of space for their storage. A whopping 14% of Los Angeles’s area is wasted on providing empty cars with places to park. There are 18.6 million parking spaces or, something like 3.3 spaces for every car. NIMPS (Not In My Parking Spots) have protested their conversion the housing… housing for human beings, that is. They’re all for housing cars — as long as they’re empty. A human sleeping in a car is a criminal.

In Highland Park, NIMPS wept and gnashed their teeth over converting a parking lot into housing because new development of any sort would threaten the all-important aesthetic integrity of the neighborhood’s Historic Preservation Overlay Zone. You’d be forgiven for assuming that the parking lot must itself be Craftsman, built of river rocks carried there from the Arroyo Seco by Charles Fletcher Lummis himself but no — it’s just a run-of-the-mill asphalt slab where empty automobiles are valued more than human beings.

In 2018, Los Angeles still somehow has parking minimums rather than greencover mininums. I can look out of my window and see a neighbor’s rusting and peeling Cadillac Eldorado with four flat tires that hasn’t moved in at least nineteen years. I’d love to tell my landlord that they can have my parking spot in exchange for lowered rent… or perhaps we could rip up the whole lot and install a garden. I often look at the automobiles that clutter the city and imagine a future where they’re gone. Street parking spots might be replaced with parklets, bioswales, or light rail lines. Surface parking lots might be converted into residences, workplaces, and parks. 


A couple of weeks ago I spied a modest sort of parking lot improvement — a pothole garden. It didn’t appear to be an entirely natural occurrence. Rather, it looked as if someone or someones had pulled up some of the wall-to-wall asphalt of their apartment building and then filled the void with drought-tolerant plants.


Upon first glance, the pothole garden appeared to be planted only with iceplant — Mesembryanthemum cordifolium, also commonly known as heartleaf iceplant and baby sun rose. Iceplant was introduced from southern Africa to California in the early 1900s to stabilize erosion along railroad tracks. Later it was used by Caltrans for the same purpose along roadsides. In more recent decades, it’s fallen out of favor, recognized as an invasive that overtakes natives — including rare, threatened, and endangered ones.


Upon closer inspection, I noticed some other plants. There was Commelina cyanea, commonly known as scurvy weed, Asiatic dayflower, (native) wandering Jew, forget-me-not, and creeping Christian. It’s a native of the moist forests of eastern Australia, Lord Howe Island, and Norfolk Island. Perhaps it moved into the pothole garden from a nearby potted plant.

There was also a variety, I believe, of Crassula ovata, commonly known as jade plant, lucky plant, money plant or money tree — another succulent native to southern Africa but unlike iceplant, popular as a houseplant around the world in large part on account of the ease of its care, attractiveness, and ease of propagation. 


I’m not sure what the orange flowered plant was. If you want to play plant detective, the leaves are toothed and the yellow-orange blossoms clustered and sort of trumpet-shaped.

Now, as an advocate of native plants, I always encourage gardeners to plant them over non-natives. After all, they’ve evolved over the ages to thrive in exactly this climate — and they interact with native fauna and fungi in ways that even drought-tolerant non-natives can’t. However — the pollinating bees didn’t seem to mind that this pothole garden were non-native and it’s hard to imagine anything not being an improvement over asphalt. 

As Joni said,  “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.” So unpave paradise, then. «Sous les pavés, le chaparral!»

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California. Art prints of Brightwell’s maps are available from 1650 Gallery
He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.
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2 thoughts on “Nobody Drives in LA — A Parking Lot Pothole Garden in Echo Park

  1. Your attitude of owner-operated automobiles as a “scourge” is rather uncommon among southern Californians. I do read some of the “Streetsblog” pages, which are some of the few places where parking is called “car storage”. And while it is true that most personal cars spent most of their time just sitting, the important thing to many people is that they are AVAILABLE at a moment’s notice, day or night, weekdays or weekends, whenever the need or desire arises. Many years ago, I saw a personalized license plate that read “H8 2 W8” (Hate to wait) which embodies the thought processes of many, if not most Americans. We don’t want to wait for a train or bus, and looking down the street for a Lyft, Uber or taxi can seem interminable. Driving is aggravating, inefficient, hazardous to health and in the long run unsustainable, but it appeals to the all-too-human characteristics of impatience, selfishness and laziness to be disappearing any time soon.


    1. I hear you, dnry122. I am as impatient as anyone — probably more so. When I have to wait in line, wait for an elevator, &c, I usually pull out some reading material or fire up Duolingo. I, too, “H8 2 W8.” I love to drive, too, and have driven across most of the West on road trips — but it seems to me that driving in cities involves much more waiting that any other form of transportation. Behind a wheel one is constantly waiting… waiting for pedestrians to cross, waiting for lights to change, waiting for a parking spot to open up, &c… and unlike waiting for the bus or a train, you really have no option except to stare at the break lights in front of you.

      I get that car manufacturers have sold the idea of automobiles as being tools of freedom. In ad after ad, we see top-down views of a lone car driving by a smiling motorist down a winding country road. There’s a reason they never show a car sitting in gridlock… which is the reality for urbanites.

      In my opinion, it’s therefore important to shake people’s perceptions and give them a dose of reality. Advertisers also made generations of folks think that smoking cigarettes was sexy and cool; and when I grew up it was still normal to smoke in restaurants and on plains. Now I look back with something like shock that we ever excepted that as normal. Hopefully, someday soon (i.e. before the planet becomes uninhabitable) we can break our addiction to cars and embrace the freedom of walking, cycling, or scootering through a city full of parks, businesses and residences instead of parking lots.


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