Los Angeles


Mixier Use

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December 10, 2009
A recent event organized by Good Magazine, Sheridan/Hawkes Collaborative and The Public Studio brought together about 30 civic-minded designers, planners and architects to come up with some ways to improve the urban environment of Los Angeles. It was a big question to tackle in one afternoon, with a huge array of possible solutions. The crowd was split up into five separate groups and surprisingly, each came up with a similar answer: taco trucks. OK, not taco trucks specifically, but the essence of taco trucks and what they bring to the city.

They're informal, they're impermanent-yet-reliable, they're small local business, and they activate the street. Overall they represent a unique blend of private business and public space that puts dollars in the local economy and eyes on the streets.

That's how taco trucks came to be a central element of the ideas in each of the plans devised by these five groups of civic-minded people to improve the city of Los Angeles.

'Don't Tell My Landlord'

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October 9, 2008
That's what some guy said to me late last night as I waited for my tacos at a typically busy taco truck. He was talking about our Los Angeles neighborhood, Echo Park, which was recently named by the American Planning Association as one of the "10 Great Neighborhoods of 2008". It's a nice honor for the 'hood -- and I think they're right -- but I'm with that random taco dude: don't tell my landlord.

I've lived in Echo Park for just over a year, and while I'm relatively new there, I've gotten pretty familiar with its pros and cons. Walkability, access to good and services, proximity to open spaces, access to transit, and a diverse population are some of the best aspects of this neighborhood, and many of these are cited in APA's commendation. One of the bad parts is rent.

Creating Neighborhood Capital from Strip Malls

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October 1, 2010
Strip malls are in virtually every American city, but they're rarely an important part of those cities. Ava Bromberg says they can be. Her idea is to turn strip malls into community-owned hubs that generate capital within their neighborhood and keep it there.

Strip malls probably don’t fit into the definition of progressive urbanism for most people, but maybe they should. Well, maybe after a little organizational tweaking.

Urine the Money With L.A. Sidewalk Ads

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September 30, 2009
Now they're steam-cleaning corporate logos into the thick sidewalk filth.

The round, black scar of years-old chewing gum. Uneven cracks from an earthquake or a tree root. Fresh urine, likely human.

This is what you can’t avoid seeing if you walk the sidewalks of downtown Los Angeles. But now there’s a new addition getting etched into the city’s built-up filth: about 4 feet by 3 feet, with slick typography and marketing-room appeal, a patch of sidewalk on Figueroa Street now boasts a message brought to you by your friends at Audi.

The Social Life of Traffic

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September 18, 2009
Traffic is essentially "an engineering issue," says author Tom Vanderbilt. "But there's also a layer of culture." That layer of culture determines, to a large extent, how traffic can become a problem. This idea is explored in Vanderbilt's 2008 book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), a Planetizen Top Book of the year. He recently expanded on that idea for a discussion about traffic put on by Zocalo Public Square in (where better?) Los Angeles.

People in L.A. love these sorts of discussions. We've got a mess of a traffic problem in this city -- from intense congestion to freeway domination to a late-blooming public transit system. Something about events focused on transportation and traffic just seems to pull people together here, almost like a support group. "Hi, I'm Nate, and I have a problem with traffic congestion."

The human impact of traffic is easy to see, but less apparent is the human cause -- a point made crystal clear by Vanderbilt's work.

To Cite or To Site: Competing Ideologies for Addressing Homelessness

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August 17, 2009
To fight homelessness, some cities provide services, some build housing, and some arrest people. Often it's a combination of the three, but now many critics are calling on officials to de-emphasize the law enforcement element. Los Angeles is Ground Zero.

On any given night in America, there are about 664,000 people sleeping on the street. On that same night in Los Angeles, there are more than 40,000 -- the highest concentration of homeless people in any American city. Many of these homeless people can be found in downtown L.A.'s infamous 'Skid Row' neighborhood. This 50-square block area has been called ground zero for homelessness in the U.S. and one of the most-policed areas in the world, but the thousands bundled in sleeping bags and tents on its sidewalks every night call it home.

Hollenbeck Police Station

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August 13, 2009
AC Martin's new police station in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles strives to create a strong sense of community.

When the city of Los Angeles announced it wanted to redesign 13 of the city’s aging police stations, architect David Martin set his sights on a station in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in town: Boyle Heights. “It’s a rough, tough area,” says Martin, principal at local architecture and planning firm AC Martin. “So we thought, of all the sites, we might really be able to make a difference on this one.”

Comparing Celebrations in Championship Cities

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June 15, 2009
Here in Los Angeles, the local professional basketball team just won its league's national championship. When I was in Barcelona a few weeks back, the local soccer team won a major international championship. These were two days for the cities to celebrate their home teams' triumphs, but the differences in how they celebrated says a lot about these cities and their civic cultures.

I had just arrived in Barcelona as the European Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United was getting underway. I made it from the airport to my cousin's apartment in Barcelona by half-time, and the local team was already up 1-0. The streets were pretty much deserted, as all eyes were on the game. Excited yelling could be heard from the windows when a good play was made or when a shot nearly missed. The game was everywhere. And when Barcelona scored a second goal, it was unavoidable. Fireworks were shot off from rooftops and intersections.

Breaking Silos in the City

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May 4, 2009
City government is made up of many individual parts. Though they need to work together, they aren't typically very good at it -- especially in big cities. Recently, an interdepartmental group of city officials in Los Angeles came together to try to improve the way they work together and the way they better their city.

"Department-divided" is how Lillian Burkenheim describes the city of Los Angeles. She's a project manager with the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, and has been frustrated with the compartmentalization of city functions and departments that often keeps them separated. This is a problem not just in L.A., but in other big cities where the sheer size of the place institutionally segregates city officials who regularly need to -- or at least should -- be working together.

Improving On The Ambiguity of Privately Owned Public Spaces

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February 12, 2009
Cities are filled with spaces intended for the public -- but many of them are clearly owned and operated by the private sector. Though cities bend rules to get these spaces built, the public benefit is often outweighed by the cost. The challenge now is to make them better.

The difference between what is public and what is private is usually pretty clear. A city park is available to everyone. Your neighbor's living room is not. But the line dividing public and private can blur, and when it does, spaces get ambiguous, and questions arise. Who can use them? What are they for? Who's in charge of them?