ARCH 447 Ecological Factors in Design

The majority of humans now live in cities and that proportion is growing.  As a result, the experience of the world and its ecological systems has changed significantly for most people, and the influence of human settlements on the natural environment has increased dramatically.  Both of these consequences — the changed human experience of the world and our influence on it — depend on the design of cities at every scale. Design choices that are made at regional, municipal, local, and site scales affect the everyday experience for all species.  The purpose of this course is to explore the ways in which the natural world interacts with cities, regions, and sites, and in turn how designs at these scales can incorporate the natural world into the urban environment in a way that maximizes environmental protection and enhances the human experience.

The course concentrates on both the history and theory of urban ecological design and on the computing tools currently available to undertake quantitative (and usually spatial) analysis of the effects of alternative urban designs.  In this sense, the course is situated both within landscape ecology and urban ecology and also in the applied disciplines of planning and architecture, and therefore is part of the newly identified domain of “geodesign.”

ARCH 531 The Natural Landscape

The course of study in Landscape Architecture is rightly focused on design.  Students explore how, through design interventions, places can be made that “work,” often from an experiential, aesthetic, or social perspective.  As landscape architects become leaders in sustainability and in the field of ecological restoration, there is recognition that designed places must also work as a component of the natural landscape and projects are called upon to perform ecosystem functions.  The purpose of this course is to provide the necessary scientific background on the patterns, processes, and performance of the natural landscape — defined as the surface of the Earth with minimal human intervention — to inform design options ranging from plant choice to patch size to corridor configuration.

ARCH 547 Urban Nature

Nature is frequently thought to be found only “out there” beyond the city.  However, “in here” conservation of many species requires protection of their habitats in urban areas, as does maintenance of the quality of life in cities. This course explores the many issues that arise from the recognition that cities too have natural values that can be protected, restored, or even created.  The course is divided into three parts.  First is an introduction to the ecology of cities and our knowledge about the factors that affect the distribution and persistence of plants and animals in urban landscapes and the role they play in human experience. Second is an exploration of the major threats to urban biodiversity and their interaction with human attitudes and practices.  Third is the review of controversies and successes of urban nature education, restoration, and conservation projects in the Los Angeles basin, with a concentration on design at local to regional scales.

SSCI 135 Maps and the Digital World

This course explores all the ways in which maps are being used to compile, build, and share knowledge of the world around us. The first maps appeared long ago and today maps are used extensively across the physical, life, and social sciences as well as the humanities. Numbers and quantitative data feature prominently in the preparation of most maps. The overarching intent of this course is to examine some of the ways in which formal reasoning, abstract representation, and empirical analysis are used to construct the maps that you see and use in a given field of study and in everyday life. The topics covered in this course will range from geodetic principles (the way location is measured on the Earth’s surface) to the various ways in which information is captured and represented on maps, the role of scale and map projections, and the ways in which various hierarchies and classifications can be combined and used with empirical analysis to add meaning to maps.

SSCI 412 Practicum in GeoDesign

Application of design concepts, planning protocols and spatial analysis skills to a complex planning or design problem sponsored by a local public, private or not-for-profit client in a studio setting.

The 2018 practicum in GeoDesign included two topics to explore in in-depth planning exercises. The first topic was the conversion of two commercial mall locations that are nearing the end of its financial viability to a multiple use development that is responsive to the needs of a commercial property owner, to the surrounding community, and to the environment. Construction of large shopping malls in the 1970s and 1980s was seen as the epitome of sprawling, environmentally damaging development and their redevelopment offers the opportunity to remedy some of those errors, both as places that sustain communities and within the context of a functioning ecological environment.  The second topic was the development of a plan to balance subsistence agriculture, a growing ecotourism industry, and the protection of the imperiled black-necked crane (a bird species) in a newly established national park in the Yunnan region of China.  Geodesign is emerging as a versatile tool in rural contexts in the developing world and this project will address pervasive issues facing rural communities around the world where governments seek to achieve both natural resource protection and sustainable human livelihoods.


I advise students in a number of different programs: 1) as a thesis advisor or committee member for students pursuing an M.S. in Geographic Information Science and Technology, 2) in studio and on independent research project for students in the Master of Landscape Architecture program, 3) as an instructor for the capstone practicum in the B.S. in GeoDesign program, 4) as an independent research advisor for USC undergraduates, particular in the academic programs of the Spatial Sciences Institute, and 5) as a co-advisor in the interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Population, Health, and Place.

M.S. Geographic Information Science and Technology

Sarah Godfrey (2018) – Spatial distribution of the endangered Pacific Pocket Mouse (Perognathus longimembrus ssp. pacificus) within coastal sage scrub habitat at Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area

Ricardo Montijo (2017) – Predicting electrocution risk from overhead powerlines for three California bird species: Golden Eagle, Common Raven, and Turkey Vulture

Giles Kingsley (2015) – Distribution and Correlates of Feral Cat Trapping Permits in Los Angeles, California

Caitlan Dowling (2015) – Using Maxent Modeling to Predict Habitat of Mountain Pine Beetle in Response to Climate Change

William Winters (2015)- Identifying Areas of High Risk for Avian Mortality by Performing a Least Accumulative Cost Analysis

James Pollock (2015) – A Maxent-based model for identifying local-scale tree species richness patch boundaries in the Lake Tohoe Basin of California and Nevada

Samuel Price (2015) – Distribution of Sonoran pronghorn (Antilocapra americana sonoriensis) on an active Air Force tactical range

Mine Metitiri (2014) – Use of GIS for Analysis of Community Health Worker Patient Registries from Chongwe District, a Rural Low-resource Setting, in Lusaka Province, Zambia

Christopher Beattie (2014) – 3D Visualization Models as a Tool for Reconstructing the Historical Landscape of the Ballona Creek Watershed (now senior imagery production technician at Google)

David Mullis (2014) – Using Landsat and a Bayesian Hard Classifier to Study Forest Change in the Salmon Creek Watershed Area from 1972-2013

Benito Lo (2014) – Effect of spatial patterns on sampling design performance in a vegetation map accuracy assessment

Austin V. Davis (2013) – Testing LANDIS-II to stochastically model spatially abstract vegetation trends in the contiguous United States (now pursuing Ph.D. at University of Illinois)

Matthew Bissell (2013) – Using volunteered geographic information to model blue whale foraging habitat, southern California Bight  (now Coast Gaurd officer)

Joshua Benton (2013) – An analysis of the North Rainier Elk Herd Area, Washington: change detection and habitat modeling with remote sensing and GIS

Caroline Jablonicky (2013) – Spatial distribution of the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) in the Mariarano River system, Northwestern Madagascar

Russell Abbott (2012) – Investigation and analysis of land use/tree cover in Riverside, California

Brian Kearns
(2012) – Is the likelihood of waterfowl presence greater on conserved lands?

Master of Landscape Architecture

Zhaoheng Chen (2015) – Knot in confluence [directed design research]

Bowen Qi (2014) – Regeneration of Los Angeles Harbor – New Access to the Waterfront [directed design research]

Gongzou Zhao (2014) – Ecological Landscape Design in the Process of Chinese Urban Development [directed design research]

Rachel Klein (2014) – The San Pedro wild [directed design research]

Catherine Rilla (2013) – School garden design as catalyst for environmental education and community engagement: Los Angeles Unified School District case studies [thesis]

James Lively (2012) – Valuable Places of Wildness in Los Angeles: The Crown Coach Brownfield [directed design research]

Christopher Arntz (2012) – Eco-feedback: addressing Santa Monica’s coastal water quality through hybrid design interventions [directed design research]