While Advocates Meet to Plan for North Figueroa 2050, Local Politics Are Muddy on #Fig4All 2014

Scarlet demonstrates her favorite childhood memory. Photo: Damien Newton
Scarlet demonstrates her favorite childhood memory. Photo: Damien Newton

It’s hard to say what North Figueroa Street will actually look like in 2050, but participants in James Rojas’ latest interactive model workshop shared their ideas on what the future might hold. Unlike so many events that focus on future-planning, many of the participants in this event were children. One of the two tables final visions was dictated by Scarlet, an eight-year-old who lives in the area.

It’s nice to have a visioning process led by the people who would actually be alive when the vision could come to reality.

Held last Saturday at Greayer’s Oak Park in North East Los Angeles, across the street from the Bike Oven, Rojas lead folks on “a journey of self discovery” to envision a #fig4all.  The workshop was sponsored by Streetsblog L.A. as part of the Goldhirsh Foundation’s #LA2050 Listens series that took place around the city through out April.

The simplicity and accessibility of Rojas’ “Place it!” workshops help him tap into an individual’s creativity, but to also get them to rethink our interaction with the space around us. One of the methods he uses is asking participants to recreate a favorite or memorable childhood memory, which he then follows up with a group build. Take my chosen memory for example; I decided to focus on the memories of all of the animals I’ve had growing up. It ended looking like a bunch of plastic animals in a circle, but I took those memories and decided to add a dog park to the group build.

Of course there were other memories shared at the workshop.  Andy Moreno  remembered how she would take the bottom of pizza boxes and used them as a checkerboard.  Josef Bray-Ali, Flying Pigeon shop owner, shared his memory of wiping out while surfing and almost “breaking his neck.”

After everyone shared their childhood memory, Rojas split us into two smaller groups and let us have a go at re-imagining imagining Figueroa. For the most part, people’s ideas focused on ways to use the space now given over to cars for more people-oriented uses. They included the addition of more greenery, public parks, windmills or even a bio-swale that would run into the Arroyo Seco.

But while the people present on Saturday were envisioning a less car-dependent Figueroa, the local politics are a bit muddier. On one hand, there is Mayor Eric Garcetti’s great streets initiative. Figueroa is one of the 15 streets that will see more greenery, repaved roads, increased street access for pedestrians and maybe even the planned bike lanes from the 2010 Bicycle Master Plan that have yet to be installed.

But on the other hand, the local City Councilmember seems hesitant to embrace the bike lanes for Figueroa Street that were approved in the Bike Plan.  Councilmember Gil Cedillo is hosting a May 8th meeting to discuss what he deems an “alternate proposal” to place Sharrows on a bunch of adjacent streets instead of bike lanes on Figueroa Street. While Garcetti is discussing turning L.A.’s iconic streets into multi-modal boulevards, Cedillo’s plan would encourage bicycles to get out of the way of the cars that use Figueroa to zip through the neighborhood.

Bike Lane Community Meeting 5.8.14 Flyer English Final

One of the participants at the workshop was David Somers with the Department of City Planning, who Rojas put on the spot during the conversation after the build. As someone who understands the intricacies and bureaucracy of the planning process first hand, he agreed with Rojas on the value alternative workshops can have in gathering information and assessing a communities needs.

Getting away from power point presentations, charts and, leveling the playing field, so to speak, is something Rojas would love city-planning departments to adopt. By tapping into individual’s imaginations and having them build something with their hands, the urban planning process can be accessible to anyone.


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