Moving beyond cars, especially in L.A., means moving beyond the traditional way of doing things. And that doesn’t just apply to how we choose to get around.
At last nights Moving Beyond Cars event – a car-free party sponsored by a number of local alternative transportation and environmental groups – urban planner James Rojas asked guests to imagine their ideal alternative transportation system, not with words or drawings, but with knick-knacks like pipe cleaner, hair rollers and poker chips. The result? A completely fresh way to engage people in transportation planning.
Regular readers of The Source will no doubt be familiar with the sight of Rojas’ city models – we’ve featured his colorful representations of L.A. in the past. But pictures don’t do his concept justice. To fully appreciate the concept of using found objects as a planning tool one needs to actually try it out.
I had the opportunity last night and the experience was profound. Despite an appreciation for the models, when presented with a blank slate and a pile of junk my skepticism took over. I wasn’t alone. Those around me looked at their blank slates hesitantly.
Our mission was to use the pieces of rubbish laid out in front of us – what looked like a hoarders dream come true – to visualize our ideal transportation system in twenty minutes. Scanning the junk, the first thing I grabbed was a flashing cat toy with a geometric shape, but it didn’t take long for my brain to transform the object from a cat toy into a modern transportation hub. Plopped on the center of my canvas it became my futuristic Union Station, and with that the pile in front of me suddenly became an urban planners tool set. In pipe cleaners I saw rail lines, in hair curlers I visualized high rises and blue poker chips became the Pacific Ocean.
Despite my apprehension, my ideal Los Angeles came together quite easily. My concept? A Los Angeles with a rail system (represented by red pipe cleaners), not much bigger than what’s currently planned, but with super dense mixed use development (represented by vertically positioned hair curlers) concentrated around these lines. I could have easily strewn red pipe cleaners all over my canvas, but my plan was to bring Los Angeles to the rail lines, not vice versa.
I wasn’t alone in successfully realizing my vision, everyone, even those who had been vocally skeptical at the start had completed a vision – and all of them were actually well thought out and worthy of discussion.
It dawned on me, and James later vocalized this, that the reason using found objects is so surprisingly effective at invoking very creative urban planning ideas from regular folk is that the objects, since they don’t inherently represent anything (like a house, a car, a train or a skyscraper), they can be anything. It’s up to the individual to tap into their creativity and give the objects context – and by sparking their creativity they’re more likely to come up with innovative solutions.
Given a set of houses, cars and trains we would likely have all come up with similar solutions – and solutions that don’t necessarily challenge the status quo.
In addition to my super dense city, we got a decked city with transport below and gardens above, a city connected by aerial bike paths and transitways with green space below, a city with multiple high density areas connected by transit and a city where every transit station was adjacent to a green space.
I asked James how this interactive modeling concept can be used in a real planning environment – because it’s something he thinks more professional planner should be doing. His answer: take the results, photograph, analyze, look for patterns and then implement. And patterns do form, even in this short workshop there was a recurring theme of the need for green space to be part of our transportation system.
Check out more pictures from the event, after the jump.