Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Nobody Walks in L.A.

Los Angeles has 6,500 miles of street--did you know that?

Emily Gabel-Luddy is now head of L.A.'s Urban Design Studio.--not a museum, gallery, or home decor business, but a division of the city's Planning Department tasked with creating more appealing public outdoor spaces. Read a Q&A with Gabel-Luddy in The Planning Report.

Christopher Hawthorne's "Stepping Out" article in West Magazine (L.A. Times) describes her job concisely: "to make Los Angeles work for pedestrians."

In addition to a L.A. Public Works Walkability Questionnaire that walkers are encouraged to complete online, The Times/West also maintains links to a Walkability Checklist and an accompanying explanation. It's long-winded but makes sense: Buildings should be interesting to walkers, with views inside, or landscaping, or murals, rather than plain brick walls. Trees, street lighting, sidewalk-level entrances=good.

Thoroughfares are not about moving traffic any more. We seem to running out of feasible choices and smack into a brick wall there.

Hawthorne wistfully proposes:

"The only way major boulevards are going to work for the L.A. of the future is if the city makes them dramatically less efficient—at least as automotive arteries. Once the cars slow down, the walkers will come."

I wish. Re-engineering the city of Los Angeles, after decades of designing for motorists who simply want a parking structure near their destination so they don't have to walk, is a huge project.

But one element is not highlighted in these articles: Long term commitment.

A pedestrian-friendly Los Angeles has been proposed before--not yesterday, but over the decades. It becomes a trendy thing to talk about for awhile, then is dumped the next time an election flips the city management. All the PR in the world is not going to put plans into action if those plans are discarded by the next mayor/city council/appointee.

There are so many examples of pedestrian areas that work. Beach cities throughout the county are wonderful places to walk. So are many shopping centers with fountains, and large parks. Go to Claremont, Hermosa Beach, Pasadena, even Westwood. These places work now for the same reason they worked 50 years ago: long-term ideas about how the cities should be built and rebuilt.

No comments: