Model Imagines a Sustainable Downtown

Fantasy v Reality

Last weekend James Rojas and a team of volunteers created a model of the Downtown Los Angeles of their dreams.  The team’s vision is slightly different than the Downtown we know today, the automobile is basically banned from city streets.  Replacing traffic and gridlock are a series of greenways and trolley lines that would connect to light and heavy rail stations to move people to and from their offices and other destinations.  It’s a pretty fascinating vision and represents pretty much the complete opposite of the transportation policy that we see from the Mayor’s office.

Realistically, Downtown Los Angeles isn’t going to resemble Rojas’
vision anytime soon, but it is interesting to see what transportation
reformers would Imagine for a sustainable Los Angeles.  For example,
between the recent press and the Street Smart conference last month trolley cars
were popular enough with the group that lines ran down a half-dozen
streets including Broadway.

Beyond reclaiming the Downtown’s streets from the grips of Car Culture for people; Rojas’ group also set aside a lot of space for parks.  That’s not an unfinished part of the model in the upper left corner, it’s a giant park bordered by Olive, Figueroa, Temple and 4th Streets.  Smaller parks appear dotted throughout the Imagined Downtown.

Also appearing at the 7th and Fig Art Space is Gary Leonard’s photography exhibit entitled The Changing Skyline: The Photography of Downtown L.A.  The photographs are exactly what you think they are: various construction projects, demolitions and skyline views from the last 10 years.

Curating the exhibits is Linda Pollack who is also administering a survey to all interested visitors to gather information on people’s lives, from their commutes to what they eat.  The goal of the Habeas Index is to “aggregate a composite that will reveal us.”

The model and the other exhibits will be available for public viewing for “the next couple of
weeks” at the 7th and Fig Art Space, located at the outdoor mall at the
corner of 7th and Figueroa Streets.  The Art Space isn’t on the mall’s
directory yet but don’t be dismayed, it can be found on the level
directly below street level.  The gallery is open weekdays from noon
until 4 P.M.

Photos of Models: Damien Newton
Photos of Actual Skyline: One Crucial Guy/Flickr

  • i’m only interested in projects that are built to scale.

  • I wonder how much political planning goes into these dreamscapes? From my experience with planning junkies and architects, they usually put these things together without considering the politics of assembling land in their dream formation.

    Maybe that would take the fun out of the exercise. I think it would make the exercise into something more useful to policy makers and non-geeks.

  • David Berneman

    Like your comment Dave…

  • clusterfukker

    “only interested in projects that are built to scale”?? like the actually city of LA? so lovingly and carefully crafted to scale. haha.

  • As an urban planner pushing paper all day and crafting policy, it is fun to create art project that stimilates the general public on urban planning issuse. Having worked in the planning field for the past 17 years in different capacities from NGO’s, government agencies, and academia, the major problem facing our profession is the lack of tools and techniques for community engagement and information gathering. Many urban planning outreach meeting are boring, contentious, and fail to discuss design issues. Cities are 3 demsional and using maps and pictures is not enough. The profession does not provid the right tools to get the right information we need to understand and plan for the needs of people. Many times people who do not speak English fail to engage in these meeting discussions.

    For the past year I have been successfully experimenting with three-dimensional model building as a teaching and community outreach tool for urban planning. The technique of model-building helps individuals and communities develop both an intimate and holistic understanding of how the planning process works in their own city. Model building breaks down all the speaking and cultural barriers because there is no right or wrong answer and every one has a fair stake in the process.

    I have performed these workshops as community icebreakers as a way for diverse people to get to know each other in a non-aggressive way. I have hosted these workshops with local non-profit organizations, and through the urban planning programs.

    Participants provide so much information through their model building from selection of materials, placement, mapping, and explaining their environments. They create real and fantasy worlds which are real parts of peoples lives.

    James Rojas

  • Wad

    Hey, James, good to see you are still as active as ever with urban and transportation planning.

    How do you feel about the “Sim City” games as an urban planning teaching tool?

    I know, “Sim City” as urban planning is a cliche. There is a testament to the power of the game, since Maxis made urban planning so fun that the series is among the top 10 selling games of all time and opened the floodgates for popularizing non-war simulation games.

    There’s a contentious debate among planners about the “Sim City” effect on urban planning. There’s of course the school that thinks the games have had a positive effect on the profession, and the other camp thinks the games have had a bastardizing effect on the profession.

    I only speak as someone who loves the games (and no, I have no financial interest whatsoever in Electronic Arts), and can’t argue for the pedagogical merits of the games. Remember, “Sim City” was able to make a dry profession something millions of people worldwide would buy and enjoy.

    The biggest weakness of “Sim City” I find is that experienced players quickly find the logic of the game and are able to grow their cities without problems. Even the objective-based scenarios are no fun once after they’ve been solved.

    If you decide in favor of the game approach, I recommend you use “Sim City 2000” or “Sim City 4”. The second installment, already about 15 years old, added much more complexity over the fun but primitive original, which can now be played online for free.

    Skip part 3 (3000), as that is just 2000 with better graphics. The original is much more fun, and somewhat cheaper.

    “Sim City 4” came out about five years ago, and was the capstone of the series. There’s a “Sim City Societies,” but it’s really a spinoff and took the series into a direction that the lifetime fans hated.

    “Sim City 4” is the most complex, and arguably has the most realistic urban simulations out of all the games. Moreover, EA compensated for ending the series by open-sourcing the game to allow players to make their own modifications. Before, players could just share buildings and maps. This time, players could now download data that could radically change the underlying mechanics of the game. There are mods to make the game’s logic super easy to ultra-realistic (very hard). Also, there’s a terrain generator that allows gamers to use U.S. Geological Survey maps of actual American cities, complete with topography.

    The big downside is that “Sim City 4” is an incredible resource hog, even on computers built later than 2003.

    Yet this is the most realistic simulation, and it allows for multiuser interfacing, especially more fun since cities are no longer self-contained but are interconnected in a region metafile.


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