Sunday, April 15, 2012

LA State of Mind

I am at the 2012 national conference for the American Planning Association. The conference, this year, is in Los Angeles. It is my first trip to LA. So far, I can see the appeals of the City, but also understand the draw backs.

For someone coming from New Hampshire, it is nice to see mountains and different environments around me. I had expected more of a homogenous environment, and while there is a dull brown color to everything, there are a lot of different climates here and environments.

What is off putting though is the amount of time you need to spend in a car to get to those different environments. It is not a shock really. We always hear about of Californian's, not just Angelenos, love their cars. This is to a whole different level. Not only are the roads clogged (it took 40 minutes to go 20 miles on Saturday - on the highway), people don't seem to walk anywhere. They get in their cars to go 2 blocks.

I have heard numerous times from people that certain roads need pedestrian safety islands, because crossing the streets is too dangerous, on certain streets in Dover. Here it feels like every crosswalk crosses 6 lanes of traffic. One thing that is very odd, for an East coaster, is that people don't jaywalk. If the pedestrian light isn't green, they don't go. It doesn't seem to matter if their are cars coming or not, people wait their turn. This just doesn't feel right to me.

What I can say about LA is that while there isn't an overall beauty or sense of place, like their is in Boston or New York, there are pockets of extreme beauty and scenery. The Santa Monica Pier is stunning, the Hollywood sign is cool, Malibu Canyon, breathtaking. Get off those paths though and it is any city USA. I am staying in Downtown LA. There are buildings here that are your typical tall glass steel skyscrapers. They don't have a feel or look to them. On the other hand I spent part of today on a tour of  architecture along the famous Wilshire Boulevard. There are some stunning examples of Art Deco buildings here and they should be tops on peoples lists of things to check out.

One real eye opener: the prevalence of unhealthy food. I had this myth of Californians eating healthy and vegetarian, and being fit and trim. Well if Angelenos are fit and trim it is thanks to exercise. In New England cities, there is a Dunkin Donuts on every corner. Here there is a Winchells Donuts on every corner, and then a local mom and pop place mid block. If you want something a bit more substantial, there are hamburger places and hot dog stands evenly spread between the donut shops. I get that there is a car culture and that burgers epitomize that, but wow. For my waist line, it is a good thing I can't eat donuts. I'd come home 10 pounds heavier.

So those are my first impressions of the City.

Those and the fact that for a place that sees over 350 days of sunlight, the first day I was here, Friday, it poured, which was odd. That and the fact that I packed only shorts, and it hasn't been much warmer than 60s, has thrown me off. I was expecting heat and more heat. This is the Southwest, right?

This blog entry is a bit short, but I'll write more over the next few days with other thoughts and impressions.

1 comment:

  1. Chris, great to see you making it out to the conference! While we are on the topic of walking, I wondered if you have caught the 4 part series on walking with Tom Vanderbilt.

    Very good stuff and I think you might be interested.

    On a related note, one of my urban planning teachers at SUNY did her graduate work in LA totally car free. She biked and used transit. LA actually has a very good transit system and its bike network is growing (+bikeshare soon which was just announced).

    Did you perhaps go to the Cyclivia event on Sunday? That is something that we could do in Dover, start small maybe one event like Apple Harvest. With good planning and involvement of the right partners it could be really good for Dover which unfortunately is still very much auto oriented new development is not changing that one bit. Dover could use some opportunity to give the streets back to people. As the transportation advocates cry goes "Who's streets? Our Streets!"

    Look forward to reading more about your trip and if you managed to catch the presentation from Charles Marohn of Strong Towns.

    -John Pelletier
    Outreach Coordinator
    Environment & Transportation
    City of Cambridge, MA