In search of an authentic urban experience

March 2, 2010 at 10:40 am 2 comments

Picture this: The streets are teeming with a diverse cross section of society. An intimate and lively streetscape is filled with shops and restaurants overflowing with al fresco diners. A vintage trolley chugs by in the place of cars. Is this pedestrian wonderland a scene from San Francisco or Oslo? No, actually, this is Los Angeles!

Unfortunately, it is not a real neighborhood or district of the city but a “lifestyle center,” a privatized simulacrum of Los Angeles called the Grove at the Farmers Market. Walk outside this shopping center, past the massive parking garages looming overhead, and this idyllic scene dissolves into the congested multi-lined arterials, surface parking lots, and narrow trash-strewn sidewalks of the real Los Angeles.

The Grove is one of the most popular destinations in Southern California, attracting thousands of tourists and locals every weekend. It has proven so popular that the concept has been replicated across the metropolis as if the Santa Anas lifted up its gilded statues and planted them in Glendale, Calabasas, and Arcadia. The appetite amongst consumers for faux urban streetscape shopping experiences has proven to be insatiable. But why do we settle for tiny Potemkin outposts of these consumer Xanadus and allow our actual streets to resemble post-apocalyptic cannonball runs? Why can’t the whole city be like the Grove?

We are not advocating for filling Sepulveda or Silver Lake with American Girl stores. The feature that should be borrowed from the private realm of the Grove and taken to the public realm of our streets is its car-free, pedestrian-oriented nature. Why should a family be forced to drive across the city to the Grove or Americana at Brand when they could conceivably have a similar experience on their local main street?

Angelinos will be able to fleetingly experience what this could be like this summer when cicLAvia closes select Los Angeles streets to cars and opens them to cyclists and pedestrians. By shutting down the road to cars, citizens will be able to interact with their neighborhoods in a brand new way. Not at 30 miles per hour, but at the speed of a leisurely bike ride or stroll. Hopefully, this experience will make people realize that a vibrant, pedestrian zoned streetscape does not have to be made of decorated stucco edifices, but the actual stucco buildings that define our everyday urban environments. With simple steps like calming traffic, widening and landscaping sidewalks, our traffic clogged streets, can easily be transformed into the vibrant corridors of The Grove. These streets will not be replicas, but authentic places imbued with the true diversity of Los Angeles.

In addition to providing you with all the latest updates on planning cicLAvia, we will use this blog to present perspectives and ideas on public space, urban streets, walking, bicycling and other ciclovia-related themes –culled from Los Angeles and beyond in hopes of building excitement and support for our city’s first cicLAvia event.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Joe Linton  |  March 2, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    It’s an interesting balancing act you’re making here – it sounds like you don’t like the Grove, yet you want Los Angeles to be more like it.

    In some sense the Grove is a great example of something that works really well. It feel less “faux” than the 1960s-70’s era malls I grew up with. I appreciate too, that it’s grafted onto the Farmer’s Market, which it could have obliterated. I want to like it more than I do…

    Definitely I want to see the kind of life I see at the Grove fill L.A.’s streets, and it likely to be impossible for that to happen when we cede as much territory as we do to the almighty car.

    Reply
  • 2. Dave  |  March 24, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Two area in LA area that are in the right direction, South Pasadena @ Mission St. and Goldline and Upland @ Euclid St. and Upland Metrolink. Both are great mix of mixed use, walkable, bikeable and public transport.

    Reply

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