With the intention of planting a victory garden for a friend who just beat cancer we rode into the City of Montrose 30 minutes outside of Los Angeles to a nursery. I had my favorite nursery mapped out and I asked my friend Di why we would drive outside our city to find one. “Well,” she said, “Montrose is just cute, I do all my errands in one place by parking and walking on great streets.” It’s here where I can’t help but laugh at myself for thinking that nobody really walks in Los Angeles, and if they do, they have to travel out of the city to do it.
I literally had a brain freeze at the quaint scale and extended awnings of the storefronts at Montrose, which were all surprisingly inviting and not overwhelming, unlike the nursery at the Big Box market shopping mall back home. Montrose felt like the downtown of Disneyland to me. It was main street America.
An article in Newsweek called, “I Cant Think” discussed how our memory can roughly only hold seven items at a time and anything more must be processed into long term memory and it then has to struggle to decide what to keep and what to disregard. That is exactly what occurs when I travel the streets in Los Angeles. The congestion in Los Angeles leaves me tense; the unwelcoming sidewalks with obstructions and terrible signage leave me empty. Often my commute is mindless and on auto pilot. I end up at school when I planned on going to the store because I wasn’t able to merge on the crowded freeway.
Streets in Los Angeles are roads for cars. They are not safe for people. Amazingly, the only place we have built which actually resembles what a safe street is supposed to look like – with beautiful water fountains and lush trees – is the mall. We have replaced streets with malls – damaging our own economy in the process by taking away business from small Ma-and-Pa shops and continuing to build up corporations.
In comparison, at Montrose, the malls are empty and people want to enjoy their community.
So what will bring people and business back to the streets? This concept is being reintroduced by people mobilizing projects and programs focused on the taking back of the streets. Complete Streets and Living Streets as well as projects such as Ciclavia and Green Streets are the catalysts for the project Streets for People.
Streets for the People can be defined as streets which offer all kinds of people plenty of different options to move with confidence and safety around their communities, while at the same time providing comfortable places in which people want to spend their time. When more people in the neighborhood choose to walk and bicycle more often, this leads to a better state of health for the whole community. This reflects the tag line for this movement which is: “bringing streets alive, and inviting them to play a dynamic role in the life of our city.” The concept of people enjoying their streets is not foreign; In 1969, architect Rudofsky wrote in his book entitled: “Streets for People: A Primer for America”:
“The street is the matrix: urban chamber, fertile soil, and breeding ground. Its viability depends as much on the right kind of architecture as on the right kind of humanity. The perfect street is harmonious space.”
We have streets that have served us well with efficiency and direction, and now it is high time for us people to serve our streets better.