Views from the Summit: Experiencing L.A. from the Streets

Panel 1: A cyclist speeds down a four-lane arterial street in West Los Angeles.

Panel 2: He stops, noticing something he’s never noticed before

Panel 3: He walks his bike into a small courtyard of a small church

Panel 4: He peeks in the window

Panel 5: A choir is rehearsing

Panel 6: He sits down on a bench and listens

If award winning comic book writer Joshua Dysert were preparing this story for his work, instead of recounting for us an experience that would have been impossible had he been driving as part of the "Experiencing L.A. from the Streets" workshop; that might be what it would look like. As it was, Dysert, Christine Louise Berry, Nigel Raad and Diane Meyer were limited to just verbally recounting their car-free adventures, although Raab and Meyer did "cheat" and use power point.

If Meyer’s name seems familiar, you might remember her Without a Car in the World: 100 Car-less Angelinos Tell Stories of Living in Los Angeles, exhibit that made waves last fall. Good news Meyer fans, it seems a book is in the works…

While Meyer moderated the panel, and shared more of the stories she chronicled in her exhibits; it was Dysert, Raab and Berry who did most of the talking in the panel, encouraging more car-free or car-reduced living from their audience.

Raab and his slideshow might have been the show-stealer for this panel. The Assistant Professor of Russian History at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles walked seventy two miles over the course of many days to experience the communities of Los Angeles from the streets. Some of Raab’s observations earned laughter from the audience, such as that you only saw white males walking in many places if they were accompanying their canines or that the 405 is a more effective barrier to stop travel than the Berlin Wall was.

3_23_10_nigel.jpgNigel Raab shows us his 72 walking route from the ocean to San Bernadino

But most of Raab’s experiences were of a more documentary nature than a biting one. For example, belying the "nobody walks in L.A." perception of the Southland; Raab illustrated beautifully that if you happen to be in South L.A. and it’s 7:30 in the morning; you’ll see parents chasing their kids down the sidewalks towards school. If you’re in East L.A. at lunch time, then you’ll see plenty of adults in the public space grabbing lunch.

Raab’s take home message was that people, even rabid cyclists, should take some time to walk more. "The sidewalks are lonely. They’re begging for company."

While Dysert was the only rabid cyclist of the group, he and Berry
both told us stories of L.A. as a transit town. Berry doesn’t believe
in some of the more drastic advocates that seem to want to force
car-free living on people. Instead, she wants people to want to ride
transit, or walk because it’s a better way of getting around. To do
that, her "Smart Gals" theater troop performs in non-traditional venues
that encourage transit use. For example, they once performed the "12
Days of Christmas" along the Gold Line. If people really wanted to
drive to the performances, they could…but…riding the train was a
lot more fun.

Much of her discussion was also about her own
experiences. "L.A. becomes small" when you are walking the communities.
Basically, if you’re exploring a new area and are tethered to where
ever you parked your car; then you don’t have the freedom you do if you
arrive and will leave by transit. Also, in your own community you get
to know your neighbors and neighborhood on foot in a way that you can’t
zooming through it in your thousand pound metal piece of personal

While all three presenters made the case for a car-free lifestyle in their own ways, the take-home message may have been best exemplified by this encouragement for more people walking from Raab.  "The sidewalks are begging for company.  They’re lonely."  If more people were like the foursome that presented last Saturday, they’d be a lot less so.


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