Review of “Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles”

Sidewalking

This past April, author and former Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin penned a New York Times op-ed shining a national spotlight on the potential future of an inter-modal Los Angeles. Ulin noted recent developments such as the Mobility Plan 2035 and the then-upcoming completion of the Expo line extension to suggest Los Angeles may evolve as a city widely accommodating to drivers, walkers, transit-riders, and cyclists alike.

In the meantime, however, Angeleno pedestrians must make do with the current Los Angeles as Ulin does in his recent book: Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles.

For the transportation and urban planning enthusiasts or readers of Streetsblog fascinated with urban theory, I wholeheartedly recommend Sidewalking for a quick and entertaining read. Sidewalking follows Ulin as he experiences Los Angeles from the sidewalk within a blend of personal experiences and pop-cultural, literary, historical, and urban theory ruminations to investigate and interrogate Los Angeles’s urban structure and psyche.

Sidewalking, however, is just 133 pages long and by no means intended as a comprehensive or exhaustive overview of Los Angeles pedestrianism. Each of Ulin’s chapters are self-contained and separate, darting from explorations of how mappers and photographers represent Los Angeles to charting the origins, history, and interactions of the Mid-Wilshire Park Mile.

In this sense, Ulin avoids the common trap of seeking uniformity or definitions for a space as complex and diverse as Los Angeles, rather seeing the city as an amorphous, ever-changing entity shaped by its architecture and engaged use, intertwined within his own personal experiences.

It’s more useful, or legitimate to think of L.A. in terms of its smaller narratives…the city as a collage, as mash-up, in which our personal experience becomes a way to adapt, to normalize, to make the streets accessible to us.

In a way, the scattered structure of the book is reminiscent of Ulin’s Los Angeles: a collection of small, interspersed with personal memories rather then a centralized concrete narrative.

While Ulin’s speculative posits can be slightly overwhelming for those unacquainted to Los Angeles, and perhaps too engrossed, (he devotes a whole chapter to inquiry into the Grove Entertainment Complex’s intended purpose, actual occupied uses, and place in Los Angeles urban formation) they in turn demonstrate an admirable and persistent curiosity for exploring the intricate truths and realities of a multi-faceted Los Angeles.

Ulin’s complex and detailed personal insights into Los Angeles’s nature and “urban psyche” are smoothly articulated in Sidewalking, and I suspect fascinating to people who walk Los Angeles. Like Ulin, L.A.’s pedestrians constantly seek to understand a Los Angeles from a more intimate perspective. One we just don’t get looking through a windshield.

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