Instead of exploring a new Superfund site this week, we're going to look at Waste Disposal Incorproated a bit further. While reading up on last week's Superfund site in Santa Fe Springs I came across a group called 58-12.org. When I got in touch with them, they told me the name comes from the Bible, Isaiah 58:12. "Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell." The founders of 58-12 are three UCLA graduates in law, business and architecture, who say they're inspired by this passage "to address the spatial and environmental needs of people and communities."
At the WDI Superfund site in Santa Fe Springs, they imagine scraping all the sludge out of the ground (it's capped now) and putting, essentially, a building there, then surrounding the property with stacked containers for a green, dense, live-work area. It's radical in multiple senses.
I got in touch with Jonathan Crisman, the founder and executive director of the group. What follows is a condensed Q&A about the project.
Did you do the project for competition or for school?
An international competition…Many of the entrants focused on the developing world but since 58-12 is based in Los Angeles, we figured we would do something in our own back yard. One of the competition criterion was about producing a quality environment for habitation, and as us Angelenos are proud of, its easy to access the natural environment. The shocking gravity of the Superfund site in Santa Fe Springs seemed antithetical to this [criterion]. This really drew our interest; it seemed like something ought to be done.
How and why did you get interested in the Superfund site at WDI?
From the street, it just looks like a dirt lot. Underground, however, there is this huge reservoir of toxic sludge! The engineering drawings of this so-called "dial" are pretty interesting too. Finally, from a planning standpoint, the site was ideal because of its access to roads, transit, schools, and existing development, with a pretty large open space footprint.
Tell me about your imagined concept for the space.
The idea of a "groundscraper" is just a play on words. We have done enough scraping of the sky -- and in Santa Fe Springs, it wouldn't make any sense to build a high-density, high-rise "Transit Oriented District" or whatever the latest buzzword is. The soil in the site needed to be cleaned up and, realistically for healthy habitation despite its high cost, basically removed. We imagined that this new geologic formation could actually play into the architecture of a new community, packing a livable, dense community into the ground instead of the other way around.
Containers are pretty popular these days -- and especially in our area because of the LA/Long Beach port where tons of containers are accumulated -- so we thought that this easily acquirable resource could be used as a sort of retaining wall system that could also be inhabited. In the end, you get essentially a huge, terraced development where everyone has easy access to open space, retail, civic infrastructure, jobs, and housing, which are the building blocks for a healthy community, no matter what the architecture is.
The terraced form of the development would be pretty unique and would provide both a dramatic living experience, added value in the way of a unique community identity, as well as allow the inhabitants to live in a healthy area where they aren't greeted by the visual debris of the surrounding factories. It's more than hitting two birds with one stone: we're at like six or seven birds!
What kind of feedback have you gotten, have you talked to anyone in Santa Fe Springs about it?
We forwarded the project on to several people who were interviewed in the course of doing research for the project and have floated it online to various officials though it hasn't gotten much in the way of an "official" response. It's easy to perceive something like this as pie-in-the-sky thinking, especially when developers and investors aren't interested in places like Santa Fe Springs. But we feel that Santa Fe Springs is a super interesting and valuable place. it's precisely these kind of overlooked places where a crazy thing like this would thrive.
We have also received a lot of positive and inquisitive feedback from the community and from our followers and colleagues, which was the intended effect. We would love for the concept to get built (even in places other than Santa Fe Springs who have similar circumstances like the Superfund site) but the realistic goal here is just to get people to imagine what is possible, to suggest alternate realities. Once these kind of ideas take hold, then 20 or 30 years from now, they end up becoming reality.