Urban Acupuncture

WaterLA brings together experts, residents, and public agencies in an urban acupuncture approach to water sustainability
 in Los Angeles.

  • Acupuncture relieves stress in the body. Urban acupuncture relieves stress in the environment. It produces small-scale but socially catalytic interventions into the urban fabric.

    Ariane Lourie Harrison - Architectural Theories of the Environment: Posthuman Territory

Urban acupuncture uses lots of small-scale, localized, and less costly projects as a more efficient and effective way for cities to regenerate and become climate resilient. It focuses on local resources rather than capital-intensive municipal programs and encourages the practice of citizens installing and caring for these interventions. It provides opportunities for everyone to take action, and contribute to a more climate resilient future for Los Angeles.

Even in the driest of years, billions of gallons of water are wasted in Los Angeles: flushed into the ocean with pollution and trash through our streets, storm drains and channelized waterways. Water LA is a collaboration between non-profit, public, and private groups to provide accessible urban acupuncture strategies to capture, conserve, and reuse our local water resources.

Los Angeles’ three big climate challenges are drought, flood, and fire.  An integrated approach to land use – down to the parcel scale – is key to all these. Agencies will need to reorganize their priorities and move water, land use, and climate to the top. Green infrastructure has to become the norm, not the occasional pilot project. Local government can be moved to support and encourage individual action and participation. Urban acupuncture  – the bottom-up, community-driven micro-scale approach to environmental regeneration is as critical to climate resilience as municipal action.

With over 60% of the urban area occupied by residential property, engaging and empowering residents to play an active role in creating thousands of small-scale changes can unite communities and catalyze rapid positive transformation. Urban acupuncture focuses on small, bottom-up interventions that harness and direct community energy in positive ways to mend urban dysfunction and achieve climate resilience.

Urban acupuncture combines urban planning and design with the traditional Chinese medical theory of acupuncture. Medical acupuncture relieves stress in the body; urban acupuncture relieves stress in the environment. The strategy views cities as living organisms, and pinpoints areas in need of repair. Sustainable projects serve as needles that revitalize the whole by addressing the parts. The process uses small-scale but socially catalytic interventions to transform the larger urban fabric.

It is an alternative to large, top-down, mega-interventions that typically require heavy investments of municipal funds (which many cities simply don’t have) and navigating miles of bureaucratic red tape. Urban acupuncture’s micro-scale interventions allow residents and cash-strapped communities to be nimble and effective in creating positive change.

Sites are selected through an aggregate analysis of ecological, social, and economic factors, and realized through an active dialogue between practitioners and the community. GIS data, satellite technology, and networks of collective expertise are used to help communities intervene in areas that have the biggest potential to facilitate regeneration. This approach embraces a more localized, community-driven method that, in an era of constrained budgets and limited resources, can democratically and cost-effectively offer urban dwellers avenues to participate in achieving community renewal and climate resilience.

Read more about Water LA’s 6 key strategies below.

Water LA Urban Acupuncture Strategies

  • Rain Tanks

    Rain Tanks

    Rain tanks and cisterns can collect rainwater for later use. Stored water may be used for watering the yard and for anything else that does not require treated water. Tanks come in many shapes and sizes appropriate for just about any situation. Choose a size that can best maximize your rain harvesting potential.

  • Rain Grading & Rain Gardens

    Rain Grading & Rain Gardens

    Flat landscapes are missed opportunities to catch water. Rainwater can be captured and put to use through simple grading that creates high areas (berms), and low areas (basins and swales). Planted with native and climate-appropriate plants that can thrive with little to no potable water use, this strategy can significantly reduce water bills, and eliminate chemical use and irrigation runoff. “Rain garden” is another way to describe these areas.

  • Parkway Retrofits

    Parkway Retrofits

    Parkway retrofits with curb cuts can catch water from the street and surrounding areas. These basins collect water runoff to infiltrate into the ground, reduce flooding, and mitigate pollution. This water can irrigate climate-appropriate plants and trees that beautify and shade the street, and provide habitat without relying on potable water inputs

  • Greywater Systems

    Greywater Systems

    Gently-used water from showers, sinks, and laundry accounts for 50% to 80% of a typical family’s wastewater, adding up to tens of thousands of gallons per year. Rather than throw water away, we can use this to irrigate plants and trees in the yard—even in times of drought. Greywater is an excellent source of water for fruit trees or thirsty plants you’re reluctant to part with.

  • Infiltration Trenches

    Infiltration Trenches

    Infiltration trenches are designed to catch runoff and puddling water. These can make open spaces in impermeable paving and tight areas to help sink water into the ground. Simple trenches can be dug and filled with permeable material such as gravel, or with pre-fab crates that create extra detention space. They can even be covered with decorative grates (as seen above).

  • Permeable Paving

    Permeable Paving

    Most water runoff comes from roofs, driveways, walkways, and other impervious surfaces that do not allow water to soak into the ground. Reducing the amount of area covered by impervious surfaces allows water to slow down and nourish your landscape or infiltrate to groundwater, instead of flowing into the street and out to the ocean.