Pushing Planning Boundries in Santa Monica with James Rojas


(editor’s note: This story is written by James Rojas, who’s sustainable transportation models have been featured here at least three times in the past.  His most recent model, one of a Santa Monica geared towards cyclists and pedestrians, can be viewed at the 18th Street Art Gallery in Santa Monica until March 27 as part of the Shangri L.A. exhibit.)

Shangri L.A.: Architecture As a
State of Flux
is about utopia and the future
of the city.  I was asked by the curator to create a model for the
exhibit.  I call it "Santa Monica Off the Grid:  An
 Interactive Urban Planning Project. "  

This model illustrates a sustainable urban form that
reduces energy consumption by promoting walking and biking.
This mobility system is achieved by changing
the street pattern and architecture of the city. Blade Runner’s 2019 image of L.A. is a place that consumes massive
amounts of energy, while my vision of the future is precisely the opposite. My
utopia is a place where energy is efficiently used and humans get back to what
we where designed for, walking and supporting public transportation.

I have created a new urban structure for the city that
supports human powered mobility.
streets are rearranged in curves and circles to encourage this type of mobility
and discourage others. Santa Monica is in the shape of semi circle with
Wilshire Blvd. dividing it in half.       

With the coming of the Subway to the Sea and Phase II of the
Expo-Line, Santa Monica will serve as anchor for these projects.  Santa
Monica is the region’s beach playground and will have to accommodate up to a
million visitors a day by rail.  How do we get a millions visitors to the
beach by foot quickly and safely?

Walking creates a sustainable city by reducing auto use,
lowering health-care costs related to a sedentary lifestyle and creates
socially sustainable public spaces within the city where people can enjoy
people each others company. 

“Off the Grid,” is a new urban plan for Santa Monica and is
a composite of many places from around the world that I have experienced,
including city plans that vary as much as Washington D.C. and Tokyo. I have
taken some of most pedestrian friendly urban design features and incorporated
them into this interactive model.

Streets for Human Powered Mobility

L’Enfant’s plan for Washington D.C.’s creates a pedestrian
circulation though the use of roundabouts, diagonal streets, and vistas. 
Mannheim Germany’s renaissance plan set a standard for small block sizes and
other features such as the Wassatrum .
Spanish Steps provide a  public space that successfully tackles grade
issues.   The Ring Streets of Budapest and Vienna offer optional ways
for people to move around the city that defies the grid.

Places for Social Interaction

Paris’s wide sidewalks provide a great place for “people
watching” and dining.  Barcelona’s Cerda Plan creates eight square plazas
at each corner.  Seville’s buildings with courtyard centers offer a quite
semi public space where people can gather for intimate conversations.  New
York’s Central Park and Santa Monica’s beach front prove to be great natural
landscapes for large and small crowds.   

Pedestrian Friendly Architecture

Tokyo thin “pencil buildings” create a nice rhythm for
pedestrians.  The drippy Hasbourg building of Central Europe provide
architectural eye candy for pedestrians.  The great public buildings of
the early 2oth century such as department stores, train stations and markets
can all be proto-types for how to design spaces for lots of pedestrian activity.

Process of City Building

Cities are in a constant state of flux.  The changing
nature of cities reflects the aspirations or the limitations of their
inhabitants.  Urbanites interact with the built environment daily, through
living, working, playing, and even building it.  Their interactions with
the place and each other create a collective understanding of the city. 
The city becomes a collection and reflection of individual

Santa Monica is no different. The 3-dimensional model I
created returns participants back to the proverbial sand box where they can
play and think with out constraints or preconceptions about urban
planning.   The sand box approach creates something of a democratic
planning forum for participants, by creating a safe space where there are no
wrong or right answers when it comes to planning.   Adults play like
children and children play like adults. 

The installation attempts to capture the fascination we have
with the urban landscape by engaging the viewer into a miniature world of
Technicolor shapes and forms.  Over 2,000 plus recycled knickknacks such
Jenga pieces, Scrabble tiles, bottle caps, peppershakers, a translucent Boeing
corporate paperweight and the like will become homes, skyscrapers, public
buildings, and monuments, and all incorporated into the model.

These objects will help participants  engage with the
model by envisioning and exploring their ideas through reshaping this model
city during the course of the exhibition.

By engaging participant’s motor skills, this process
promotes/inspires  learning and creative thinking.  
Participants will be allowed to create 3-dimensional forms that are real or
conceptual.  Their individual forms and choices become public
discourse.  This reshaping process allows participants to discuss their
ideas with each other thus making the installation a place of

This installation is a process of city building rather than
a product, which mimics the state of being of cities.  Through this art
installation, transportation and land-use are pushed to their limits.


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