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Biodiversity + Sustainability: Uncovering Nature in the Urban Core, 1.5 CEUs APLD, 1.5 CEUs LA CES, 1.5 CEUs LEED

Presented by: Michelle Sullivan, Mia Lehrer + Associates, Milan Mitrovich, SoCal Ecology and Lila Higgins, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Friday, March 30th - 12:00 - 1:30 PM

Course Description:

This seminar focuses on creating biodiversity habitats in highly designed spaces within the urban core. These environments become a place of respite and reflection, a mixture of landscapes that set the stage for nature exploration and discovery. Two projects: a park and a museum have taken the initiative in designing environments that support a greater ecological functioning. These projects will be presented as examples of how landscape architecture can intervene in adding ecological value to communities.

One of the first objectives is to understand the local area and its connection to the broader region. In Irvine, the Orange County Great Park located in the center of the county, is where planned diversity of plants and animals will restore much of the county's natural heritage. In Los Angeles urban sprawl has radiated out to the far reaching boundaries of the region. The "front yard" of the North Campus at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles is anticipated to be an inviting natural habitat where birds and insects are expected to live and thrive. Both of these environments are already starting to teem with butterflies, birds, bugs, and plants.

Another objective is making nature visible to the visitor. Visitors have a transformative experience that heightens their sensory perception of nature in a city. The "front yard" of the Natural History Museum focuses on local fauna and flora of the Los Angeles region creating an enriching experience from indoor exhibition halls to a live in-situ experience outdoors. One more important aspect is identifying the necessary landscape architectural components of creating an urban ecological destination. The museum campus is broken into distinctive themed zones, layered with key landscape features such as a creek and boardwalk amongst others. At the Great Park, special ecological features that are aquatic, topographic or surficial will be critical to the rapid development of biodiversity in restored natural areas.

Sustainability is intertwined in the site through structures, systems and technologies to create a healthy balance between meeting human needs and promoting environmental health. At the Orange County Great Park, sustainability is made tangible by addressing critical issues of our time such as water and energy, revealing the site history and providing meaningful social spaces within and beyond the park. The landscape character of the museum campus explores sustainability within the site in its walls, paving, planting, bridges, water features and site furnishings.

Through the fragmentation of greenscapes in Southern California the landscape becomes the place where biodiversity forms the relationship of the climate, soil, birds, insects, and other fauna create a natural environment which is ripe for exploration. Each project has similar yet distinctive outcomes for an educational and immersive experience supporting an ecological framework.


Michelle Sullivan, (pictured above) Principal at Mia Lehrer + Associates has over 25 years experience in landscape architecture. She was involved in managing the design and engineering teams as well as the Landscape Architecture team into comprehensive design deliverables for the Orange County Great Park, a 1,347 acre park in Irvine, California. She also has been instrumental in developing and building the award winning 27 acre Orange County Great Park Preview Park. Ms. Sullivan is currently managing the landscape architecture design/development of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum - North Campus, a new exciting urban destination with over 3.5 acres of outdoor exhibits that will foster nature within the city.

Prior to Mia Lehrer + Associates she worked for Walt Disney Imagineering, the resort and theme park design and engineering group for the Walt Disney Company for over 15 years. She has worked on a range of projects from resort wide master plans, to theme park planning and development, to more focused theme park land, attraction, retail and entertainment venues. While employed at Disney she was mentored by the preeminent world horticulturist - Morgan Bill Evans, who broadened her passion for plants further. Michelle has an extensive understanding of both indigenous and ornamental plants that grow within the southern California region and beyond. While working at Disney she developed her ability to create stories with the landscape - through experiential immersive environments, utilizing innovation and imagination. She worked closely with the park's operations and maintenance teams to find the right balance between programming, creativity and maintainability. Ms. Sullivan holds a B.A. in Botany from the University of California, Santa Barbara, is a licensed Landscape Architect in the state of California, a certified arborist and LEED Accredited professional.

Michelle Sullivan, RLA, ASLA, LEED AP, Principal, Mia Lehrer + Associates

Milan Mitrovich, PhD


Dr. Mitrovich's background is in conservation biology, with an emphasis in landscape and wildlife ecology and urban design. In the last 10 plus years Dr. Mitrovich has served in research and advisory roles for several public and private sector organizations, including Solution Strategies, Inc., an environmental consulting and strategic advisory firm based out of Los Angeles, California; the Biological Resource Discipline of the U.S. Geological Survey; the national award-winning Orange County Great Park Design Studio; and the Nature Reserve of Orange County, the conservation organization charged with implementation and management of one of the first multi-species habitat conservation plans created in the United States. Dr. Mitrovich holds a B.S. in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution from the University of California, San Diego, and a Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of California, Davis, and San Diego State University.

Milan Mitrovich, PhD, Principal, SoCal Ecology

Lila Higgins


Lila Higgins is a museum educator with 10 years of experience in environmental education, exhibit development, and citizen science programming. In late 2008 she joined the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (NHM) working in the Education & Exhibits department. She oversees the Museum's Community Science and Live Animal programs, and is also the lead educator on the Museum's newest indoor/outdoor exhibit, focused on public participation in urban biodiversity research. Prior to working at the NHM, Lila worked on both coasts in many non-profit and governmental organizations. She has a broad background with expertise in areas other than museum education, including volunteer management and biological control research. Lila holds a bachelor's degree in entomology from University of California, Riverside and a master's degree in environmental education from California State University, San Bernardino.

Lila Higgins, Manager, Citizen Science and Live Animals, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Schedule subject to change

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