The late urban planning legend Jane Jacobs was skeptical of Los Angeles because it violated one of her central tenets: that a city be made of vibrant neighborhoods linked by public transportation. Our lovely sprawl is stocked with colorful neighborhoods, such as the glamorous Strip and bustling Koreatown, but public transportation is another story. Don't hold your breath waiting for the Subway to the Sea.
That is, until more innovative solutions are found for making it happen. Which is the point of the L.A. 2.0 conference this weekend. Urban planners Amber Hawkes and Georgia Sheridan kept noticing the theme of transportation woes while combing through more than 150 applications to their inaugural conference. A collaboration between the global citizen's initiative known simply as GOOD, the Public Studio and Sheridan/Hawkes, the afternoon think tank on Saturday will call for urban practitioners to outline strategies to improve the physical environment of L.A.
It's one way to shake up the sometimes-stilted dialogue between the parties with a stake in L.A.'s future. "There's an idea that planners are stuffy bureaucrats," Sheridan said, "and that designers have all these ideas but don't know how to implement them."
"The idea," Hawkes added, "is to bring everyone together from a variety of disciplines for an open brainstorm that ends with some concrete plans . . . the future is not silo thinking but collaborative in nature. "
The idea first came to Hawkes and Sheridan, two recent graduates of UCLA's urban planning graduate program who collaborate on articles and lectures, after attending GOOD December, a roster of community-building happenings that included readings and discussions on sustainability. Their idea gained further momentum after they read Obama's speech at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in June, where he asked for regional leaders to think of new approaches to inner-city problems.
Looping in Kyla Fullenwider of the Public Studio and GOOD co-founder and community director Max Schorr, the group was determined to not let L.A. 2.0 lapse into an aimless discussion with no attempts at hard results.
They also limited it to 30 practitioners, all under age 40.
"It wasn't about who had the biggest, deepest résumé," Fullenwider said, "but more about emerging thinkers, fresh ideas and solutions that were unique."
The participants were drawn from a cross-section of professions, including architects, real estate developers, writers and artists. L.A. 2.0 will also feature an accomplished panel, including James Rojas, transportation planner for L.A.'s Metro system; John Chase, urban designer for the City of West Hollywood, and renowned landscape architect Mia Lehrer.
After the participants brainstorm ideas in small teams, the organizers hope to have identified five top urban strategies. From there, they will send a detailed report to Obama's Office of Urban Affairs and the City of Los Angeles.
If the afternoon is a hit, the team will either have regular meetings in L.A. or help the idea catch fire in other cities. They'd do it themselves in New York or Seattle, but it takes an intimate knowledge of place to attack the problems. Though the organizers note that L.A. could prepare them for anywhere: "In some ways," Fullenwider said, "it's the ultimate challenge."