The small things matter: an appreciation of walking

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Photos by Jack Moreau. Wet Budapest

The beauty of walking and biking is found in the details you see on the street. The curves in the fences, beams supporting roofing, fruiting trees, lettering on signs, and murals on the wall. Each detail offers people moments to stop and appreciate the marvels of life. The art and architecture we choose for our streetscape strongly impacts the way that we experience our city by foot. There are things out there that cannot be seen at 40 miles per hour that expose an intimate and joyous moment for us to share. As the L.A. area builds out its pedestrian infrastructure, let’s make sure we make something beautiful to look at.

Highland Park's secret alleys

Highland Park’s secret alleys

To remove oneself from their personal vehicle is to embrace your autonomy and ability to see the small. Each leaf, stone, scribbled graffiti, curved iron detail, sound and smell can only be noticed and appreciated at walking speed. True design of any space should always aim to stop anyone in their tracks, even on a rainy day, to sit on a bench, smell flowers, study a cornice or kiss their companion.

When we look at walkable areas in Los Angeles and abroad, we can easily see that beauty carries a unique importance. When we have beautiful architecture, then suddenly walking changes from a chore into an adventure where we may stop and admire the human touch on the city. Due to a long history of car-minded design there are lapses throughout the region completely void of an interesting detail (unless you find concrete super interesting!).

Lincoln Heights Sustainable Landscaping

Lincoln Heights Sustainable Landscaping

Our city identity should be something that each member is proud to support and admire.  California weather is already ideal for walking, but the built environment largely lacks the human touch that carries the history of the space. As we build new train stations, sidewalks, parks, and plazas the built environment should not just be sufficient, it should be miraculous. At every moment we should be so inspired by the world around us that we feel required to make our own personal contribution to the electricity on the street.

15-1969_otd_ATP_WALK_Instead_9ft11x22ft2_OLAbout 2.9 percent of workers in Los Angeles County currently commute by walking, a mode of transportation I think we too often dismiss. Yes, distance tends to mean walking isn’t an option for many commuters but, I think, we tend to overlook walking as a great option for those who live close to work. Or those who live or work close to transit. Thus, the Metro PSA at right.

We can build all the transit, bike lanes and such — and focus on quantity. But I think there’s quality issue too easily overlooked — really making the routes something that are safe and can be relished. That’s why we must put all our care and personality into everything that we create. Then as we walk and bike we can get stopped in our tracks by the garden someone planted, the home they built, and the weathered stone on the stairs.

Detail in Paris

Detail in Paris

5 replies

  1. “First mile and last mile” is a phrase used to describe getting to and from transit. That means, it is a quantity and well as a quality measurement. People either walk or bike to get to the bus or train. Therefore, more buses and trains! PS. Love that photo of Lincoln Heights… I have to go see that. Thank you!

  2. You are right on target: beautifying the urban landscape, and importantly, providing and encouraging the opportunity to enjoy it close-up, improves our quality of life. It can also serve to build community pride and increase safety, improve health of the people who are able to actively enjoy it and educate our neighbors young and old about nature and our sustainable city. Thank you for sharing your point of view.

  3. The biggest use of short trips by cars in LA is to buy groceries at the supermarket. Walking to Ralphs, Vons, or Albertsons isn’t an option for many when they have loads of groceries to purchase which is easier to do with a car. And, thw existing Metro fares isn’t quite grocery shopping friendly either when one is forced to pay $1.75 each way for a short trip to the neighborhood grocery store.

    • And most poor people who are dependent on public transit are forced to pay $3.50 roundtrip ($1.75 each way) just to go to the grocery store less than 3 miles away for a milk run or daily necessities. The way the existing fare structure is, they’re basically taxing the poor $3.50 for a trip to the grocery store and they are subsidizing the trips of some more well off person who can afford a car, take advantage of free parking, and able to make the same $3.50 roundtrip for longer trips like Culver City to Pasadena or from Harbor Gateway to DTLA. And you all know fare hikes are coming regardless so that $3.50 that the poor pays for that roundtrip to the grocery store few miles away just to buy milk is going to go up to $4.00 roundtrip, maybe even $5.00 which isn’t worth it to go Metro for short trips, but still will be a cheap bargain for those who can take advantage of free parking and make long trips.

      And Metro’s answer to that? Don’t use Metro if it’s too expensive for you and walk shorter distances instead! Ha!