Taking a critical look at public space in Los Angeles

The Automobile, the City, and You: A Look at Public Space Aesthetics


This was downtown Houston some time ago. What do you think?


Hello there. So this is the first of what I hope will be a few posts about why effective public space is so important in a city. You might have never asked that question, but it is definitely a good one to think over. Public space is something that we might take for granted and never realize what impact it has on our daily lives or in determining how and why we interact with our cities.

Today, we’ll look at how the automobile impacts our public spaces in Los Angeles. Specifically, we’ll analyze our sidewalks’ function and symbolism. There is an obvious conflict between the privatized space of your car and the public space shared by all. They are usually at odds with each other and the car’s needs will usually win over. Unfortunately most Angelenos don’t care much or don’t realize. We’ll define public space as any space that is not privately owned, has public access, and is shared by the public for reasons of transportation, recreation, leisure, and gatherings. Examples include parks, sidewalks, squares, train stations, etc.

Public spaces are environmental spaces physically and mentally shared by many people. It should foster a sense of community, it should offer a place for relaxation, entertainment, recreation and above all – it is a where human beings are brought together to create, shape, and maintain this common space.

This last point is particularly important in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is still largely dominated by a car culture. Think about this, Angelenos – when was the last time you used walking as a functional form of transportation? Examples are: walking to work, to the store, to a coffee shop, etc. Chances are that many of you don’t actually get out and experience the city much.

This is reflected in our city’s architecture. We move from our home bubble to our car bubble to our work bubble and repeat. We are completely unaware of what conditions our sidewalks are in. We’re unaware that when we never get out and walk the city – our priorities are based on our need and desire for the city to accommodate the car. We continue to build our city on a car scale – not a human scale. What does this mean?

Let’s look at some examples:

Parking lots

Here are two city blocks in the San Fernando Valley. Let’s focus on the land usage. You can easily see that over 50% of land is used for parking. This creates these enormous blocks that aren’t walkable, they aren’t approachable by the pedestrian. So how does this effect the aesthetics of the city?

No one cares about the sidewalk or how a building interacts with the street because  our only concern is how we enter the building from our car.

The above picture is what the stores look like from the other side. Not very attractive. The building actually turns its back to the public and opens itself up only through that large parking lot.

Ok, people that’s all. Just wanted to make a quick post that will hopefully help you analyze the city as you navigate through it. Compare it to other cities that have a strong urban and walking culture.

For my next topic, I’m currently working on a historical/architectural post about the various beautiful churches found in Los Angeles. I’m taking pictures and gathering some data now. I’m pretty excited. We’ll talk about architecture as a public form of art that we should all enjoy. See you soon.



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