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Site LA Hosts Workshop on Future of Transportation

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An Urban Planner of the Future Explains the Virtue of Density

Last night Site LA  hosted a workshop where invitees were invited to plan for the ideal city of the future.  Attendees were encouraged not to think in terms of what is practicable but to assume that they had a magic wand and could just make whatever they wanted to happen happen. 

When Metro asked the public to imagine the future, there were set guidelines, basically we were asked to think about transit alleviating highway traffic.  Last night, the only guideline was that we had to be able to render our vision in a 3-d model.  Given small boards and some items found around the house, the "urban planners of the future" got to work creating miniature, futuristic versions of James Rojas' downtown model currently on display at the 7th and Fig Art Center.

While the mini-models were a far cry artistically from Rojas, the themes were the same.  The participants imagined a future with an amazing transit system, walkable and bikeable streets, dense development and lots of public space.  Only one participant of 40 mentioned cars at all, the rest focused on moving people not cars.  At one point a person explaining their project pointed at all of the "transit lines" and admitted they weren't sure how they fit together yet.  A person shouted out, "oh, your city is LA!"  Laughter ensued.

Some of the ideas should be studied today, such as a ferry system connecting beach areas and ocean adjacent cities.  Others, such as a kite system to fly people from building to building, probably need some more work before they can be applied to the world as we know it.

Once the nearly 40 participants had presented their views we were sent back to our tables to try and unify our vision with those sitting nearest us.  There was some more hodge-podge planning and people discovered that by and large our visions worked together pretty well in creating a unified plan that was completely different than where we're heading. 

Ok, so people don't like the future of urban living that we're being presented with, a city choking on its own traffic.  That's hardly news.  The next question is what we do about the problems we're facing today to create the sustainable transportation that we all imagined last evening.

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The event was moderated by Site LA's resident genius Dorothy Le and urban planner James Rojas.  Many of you may also know Le as the planner for the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition.  Joining them was Gordon Feller, CEO of the Urban Age Institute and the Master of Ceremonies at the annual Meeting of the Minds conference coming to urban areas nationwide. 

Feller set the tone for the evening with a presentation that put into perspective the challenges facing urban planners.  Already more people live in cities than not worldwide and by 2030 over 60% of all humans will live in urban areas.  Unfortunately, when it comes to transit and planning, the western world hasn't set the best example on how to grow and as we struggle to grow in a smart way, cities in developing countries are repeating our mistakes.  However, last night wasn't about wallowing in our mistakes but dreaming of our future.  As Feller said towards the end of his presentation, "The alternative to a breakthrough is a breakdown...tonight is about imagining the what not the how."

Following Feller's introduction, the groups were randomly formed and people got to work creating their mini-models.  After each person presented their vision we reformed as groups and worked together on a larger model.  Some groups literally stacked their models on top of each other, and others tried connecting their mini-cities to create a larger urban vision.  There was no right or wrong way to think about it, after all, we were only constrained by our imagination.

For example, while my group encompassed the aforementioned kite system, three of us had similar ideas about separating local transportation from long distance commuter transportation.  Thus people would utilize bikes and sneakers to get to major transit hubs that would connect to other major transit hubs.  Buildings would have amenities for bikes and pedestrians and because of frequent service people would be able to move from point A to point B quickly and safely.  Or, they could use kites to swoop from building to building.  Their call really.

While none of the 5 major plans presented are going to win awards for their artistic merit, each "city" presented a unique vision of the transportation future, none of which focused on the automobile.

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Perhaps odder than some of the models, the event was sponsored by Toyota as part of their "From Here to There: A Heya Project."  While it was certainly odd to have an event on the future of transportation, a future that if the participants had their way wouldn't include cars, paid for by a car company.  However according to Geri Yoza, Toyota's National Marketing Manager and a participant, "There is no one solution to our transportation problems, only by understanding how young people think and what they want will we, as a company, be prepared for the future whatever it may hold."

To see more pictures from last night, go to out Flickr page here.

Photos: Damien Newton 

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