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!»