Aesthetics of Efficiency: Pipes, Plants and Good Citizens in Los Angeles’s Gardens

Authors: Valentin Meilinger*, Utrecht University
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: Los Angeles, infrastructures, gardens, citizens, materiality
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Blue Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In Los Angeles, water infrastructures and urbanization have traditionally formed a contested political nexus, most famously evoking images of aggressive water grabs. But water networks have also given rise to a distinct Angelino way of urban life and its accommodating spaces. Los Angeles’s tropical gardens are a case in point. Rather than the outcome of individual pleasure, these modern gardens and their politico-cultural meaning for the public life in Los Angeles emerge from a complex techno-ecology: water pipes, migrant labor, imported plants and an ideal of suburban life constitute them. California’s most recent drought brings this composite nature of Los Angeles’s gardens to the fore. Having exhausted indoor water conservation, civil engineers from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power turn to the city’s lushly irrigated gardens as their new frontier of water efficiency. This paper explores the politics of emerging aesthetics of efficiency in Los Angeles’s gardens as “California Friendly” landscaping is implemented to conserve water. Deciphering the politics and practices of this landscape change, I illustrate how rationales of efficiency of the technocratic state enter the realm of private gardens. Investing in a drought-tolerant garden and living up to new aesthetic ideals becomes the responsibility of the ‘good’ citizen. Meanwhile, aesthetics of efficiency normalize a culture of continuous growth in those spaces, where the ‘conserved’ water fuels further growth. Unearthing these material and aesthetic politics of Los Angeles’s gardens, I contribute to developing a more profound understanding of the contested material foundations of public life in cities.

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