Taking a critical look at public space in Los Angeles

Today’s Thought is Tomorrow’s History: How to improve Ciclavia

Now now, before you get angry, I loved my experience in the last (6/23/2013) CicLAvia down Wilshire. I thought it was a great experience top down for most. People of all ages and from all areas interacted with Los Angeles in a way they never had before. They navigated and interpreted what they were seeing and (hopefully) now have a better/different understanding of Los Angeles as Urban Space…or not.

Unquestionably, this is great event to bring to the city of Los Angeles. You can read more about the history of CicLAvia and keep yourself updated with future CicLAvia events by follow this link:


But of course I couldn’t help but think of ways to improve CicLAvia – ways that would have had a greater impact on experience and help deliver a message. So, here are my 5 things to make even CicLAvia better!

First though, let me preface the list with explaining what perspective I used when coming up with these ideas. So, as I rode my bike in this “artificial” environment – all though there was a frenzy of activity and movement, I couldn’t help but also notice the complete quietness and sense of stillness on Wilshire, an environment not too different from that found in a museum setting. A museum artificially captures moments in time and displays them for a person to view it outside of its natural environment. Wilshire Blvd last Sunday was just this. This grand Boulevard was meant to be navigated by car – it was historically designed around the notion that the automobile is the preferred and necessary mode of travel. As thousands of people rode bikes and walked down the sidewalk, they were able to view the streetscape detached from the car driven philosophy of Wilshire Blvd. As I realized the irony of this unnatural scene, I started this think of how to provide a setting that would hopefully create awe, inspiration, questions, and wonderment just like a good museum aims to do. On to the list.

1. Where’s the arborist?

What? yeah. Are you sure you meant an arborist? Yes of course. One thing you’ll never notice as you whizz by in your automobile is that Wilshire Blvd. is lined with some very matured trees. From palm trees to the beautiful jacarandas.

The lovely Jacaranda

The lovely Jacaranda


Here is something interesting to think about. Los Angeles was largely artificialized with palm trees – this of course was part of the propaganda to sell to outsiders. Los Angeles was sold as a verdant paradise. Looking at the picture below, I approximated the view from Google Maps. We see that this part of Wilshire Blvd was lined with young palm trees in about the 1930s. Today (as depicted in the google map), are we looking at the same palm trees? It would have been neat to have the chance to learn about the history of these palm trees and the role they played in romanticizing the City.


Wilshire Blvd (looking at Lafayette Recreation Center in the foreground and Wilshire Bullocks in the background) circa 1930s Credit:

2. Colloborate with an organization like the LA Conservancy to give mini tours

What exactly were you looking at on Wilshire Blvd. that day? While Ciclavia did a great job in providing some literature to highlight some of the architecture in the form of booklets and by providing some audio recordings with stories of the architecture and history of Wilshire Blvd in the form of downloadable mp3s, I felt a guided interactive experience would have had a greater impact. Just like a museum, scheduled tours give people a chance to be guided in a different level of interpretation and engage the built environment with a narrative. For example – I would have loved to hear some history behind McArthur/Westlake Park. From it’s heyday in the early 20th century:

Westlake Park (as it was known back then) in the 1909. Courtesy of L.A. as Subject

Westlake Park (as it was known back then) in 1909. Courtesy of L.A. as Subject

To one of the most idiotic mistakes of cutting the park in half with Wilshire Blvd:

la0625viewoverlayofwils la1114wmacarthurfacinge

To the emergence of the park as an important public space largely used by Latinos now:

macarthur scenic

MacArthur Park is now an integral piece of the Westlake area community, largely used by Latinos. Picture courtesy of the 99 cents chef blog

3. Activism! Where the hell are the bikelanes?

Ironic how so many people biked up and down Wilshire Blvd. perhaps not realizing that Wilshire Blvd. was, as mentioned earlier, historically designed to cater to the automobile. In other words, it is not very bike friendly at all. The title of this post comes from some time I spent people watching last Sunday. It was great to see families with young children riding their bikes. These children and their experience is extremely important in shaping how future Angelenos think of the city. These young children will hopefully grow up with a different image of Los Angeles – not one of a smog, suburbia, and the car bubble. They will hopefully understand that a city is best experienced on foot, efficient public transit and of course on a bike. Some awareness of the absolute lack of proper bikes lanes down Wilshire would have had a great impact. Future CivLAvia’s should invite city planners and students to show off conceptual renderings of how to implement bike lanes, reduce car lanes, and make the streets much more pedestrian friendly.

4. Everyone loves Merch….

So this might be asking a bit much since the CicLAvia people do an awesome job of this all ready. Last CicLAvia Sunday I woke up early just so I wouldn’t miss out on snagging a cool CicLAvia themed Tap card.


I was sooooo geeked out only to think how much better it would have been if it had been personalized to that specific CicLAvia. People love this kind of stuff, they love to collect and showcase (look at how popular those city Starbucks mugs are). The cards could have depicted various buildings on the route. Shirts could have been printed with specific information regarding the Wilshire CicLAvia, sort of like tour shirts musicians sell.

5. Spillage is sometimes good; giving streets feeding into and parallel to Wishire some shine

Adding some events or just making it easier for people to explore outside of Wilshire would have been great. Of course, this would have had to rely on the proprietors of businesses on the outskirts, but it would have been to their benefit. I think we should not only focus on the actual route, but also use as the route as a way to enable people to explore outside, to go out of their comforts zones and the artificial boundaries and perhaps discover something new.

Well that’s it. Next post I hope to discuss Grand Park; how and why to people use this park.



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