Living a stone’s throw from the 127-acre Silver Lake Reservoirs, a popular recreation spot in downtown Los Angeles, I decided to take a more active role as a neighbor and joined the Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy (SLRC). The all-volunteer, non-profit was created in 1988 by concerned community members as a reaction to the proposal by Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power to drain the open-air Silver Lake Reservoirs Complex and build an industrial-style filtration plant in the middle of the residential neighborhood.

After challenging and eventually succeeding in halting the proposed development, the SLRC has shifted its mission over the years to include improvements of Silver Lake’s open waters and surrounding open space. As a member of the SLRC for over two years, one of the most rewarding experiences for me so far has been to spearhead the Armstrong Plan, a landscaping and native planting project on a stretch of linear open space situated along the path circling the property. In addition to all of the resources necessary for the planning, design, and execution of the Armstrong Plan, numerous volunteer hours were required for the project’s successful completion.

Beyond the issue of finding volunteers who are not only willing to sacrifice their little free time, but also willing to weed and plant shrubs, the question of funding also creates obstacles for a non-profit simply seeking to carry out its purpose and directly impact its surroundings. To help fund the plants, tools, and equipment necessary to apply the Armstrong Plan, the SLRC devised a unique fundraising program called Water Works. We approached two local restaurants, Alimento and L&E Oyster Bar, to propose charging a minimal fee to diners for purified water. The restaurants would donate a portion of those proceeds to the SLRC to fund projects such as the Armstrong Plan. As it turned out, both restaurants were enthusiastic about the idea, and have now been implementing Water Works for over a year.

Though some diners initially balked at the idea of being charged for purified water, concerns were allayed by a simple card distributed by servers outlining the Water Works program and its benefits to the local community. Eventually people also saw the benefits for themselves after driving or walking around the Reservoir. Water Works has accomplished a variety of functions already, including raising awareness of water scarcity in the State of California; creating new revenue streams for the SLRC and the restaurants implementing the program; providing directly funded and realized improvements for the neighborhood, such as the beautification project on Armstrong Street at Silver Lake Boulevard; and finally, engaging the community and fostering interest in the SLRC and its mission to improve the Silver Lake Reservoirs and surrounding space. With the success of Water Works and the Armstrong Plan, I am excited for the future of the SLRC, and how similar programs could be adopted in other neighborhoods with valuable open spaces.

Gabe Mason is a landscape architect in the Los Angeles studio.


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