Cal Poly Pomona landscape architecture students are getting an opportunity to apply what they are learning in class to real-world situations, thanks to a research agreement with the U.S. Forest Service.
Professor Lee-Anne Milburn, in collaboration with the federal agency, has worked to develop strategies for graduate students to get field experience and learn how the Forest Service and cooperating organizations team up to help tackle socioecological issues.
Milburn, chair of the landscape architecture department, says the forest service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station was looking for universities with an interest and expertise in open-space design. It’s an honor for Cal Poly Pomona to be chosen to participate, she says.
“To us, it’s a big deal,” she says. “It’s nice to have our expertise valued.”
One of the projects the university is involved in focuses on recreational use of the watershed at a popular site in the Angeles National Forest. The second looks at whether climate change affects ethnic groups differently, based on neighborhood characteristics, park location and use, and levels of physical activity.
Graduate students Carlos Flores, Flor Mota, Jeremy Munns and Adam Kehoss are working on the research projects.
Cattle Canyon Observation
For the first project, the students participated in observation work in July and August at Cattle Canyon, a recreation area in the Angeles National Forest.
Mota, a third-year graduate student, says the observations showed her the need for more amenities, including trash cans, picnic tables and signage, to accommodate visitors in Cattle Canyon.
The students and Milburn noted their specific concerns about littering in the area and how trash in the watershed could negatively affect the ecosystem and wildlife.
“What I was drawn to about the project is the unstructured recreation,” she says. “There was no path to the river so the people made their own. What I saw was the possibility to contribute to the solution through design.”
Patricia Winter, a forest service research social scientist and team leader at the Pacific Southwest Research Station, says that an outreach and education program was designed to improve communication with Cattle Canyon visitors, increase awareness of the agency, and help educate users about how they might help protect the ecosystem while enjoying the recreation area.
“We wanted to see if visitor behavior changes, with a special focus on activities that cause negative environmental impacts,” she says.
This is not the first time the Forest Service has teamed up with Cal Poly Pomona, she says.
Several years ago, the research group had an agreement with the university to collaborate on field work, she adds.
Tackling Climate Change
The climate change portion of the research that the Cal Poly Pomona students are working on involves the evaluation of eight parks and the communities that surround them for landscape and environmental characteristics.
Milburn says the research will look at four parks in wealthy areas and four in disadvantaged communities, and include information about amenities from sidewalks to trees to street crossings. The students will study park-user behavior and also wear monitors to measure ozone.
“It’s tying physical activity, open space, air and water quality, and neighborhood characteristics all together,” Milburn says. “To deal with climate change, you can’t come at it from one perspective.”
Milburn says park use often differs among members of ethnic groups, and some facilities provided for a certain group of people may not serve the disadvantaged population well.
“Whites tend to use parks more for sports or to move through,” she says. “Latinos use them for gatherings and to have family time.”
These are the kinds of factors that must be examined when doing this type of research on urban communities and climate change, something that Cal Poly Pomona’s landscape architecture program is designed for, she says.
University’s Landscape Architecture Program Stands Apart
The university’s program is different from those in other states, and being located in a heavily populated urban environment enables students to tackle real-world issues.
“We have a convergence of challenges that means we are able to explore climate change and social justice,” she says.
Kehoss, a second-year graduate student, says working to solve problems such as social issues and environmental concerns is what appeals to him about the university’s program.
“The program here encourages an approach that addresses problems on a broader scale,” he says. “As a student here, I have an opportunity to explore the full spectrum of what this program is capable of. We are beyond design here at Cal Poly Pomona.”
Flores, a graduate student, says he was thrilled to do research on the forest, especially with President Barack Obama recently designating a portion of it as a national monument.
“I thought it was very exciting because the Angeles National Forest is in the news right now,” he says. “It’s a big deal right now. A lot of attention has been going to the L.A. River. The San Gabriel River hasn’t gotten as much attention until now.”