In 2013, Mayor Eric Garcetti launched the Great Streets Initiative with the concept that L.A.’s streets are livable, accessible public spaces that engage the city’s neighborhoods and communities. The Forum spoke to program director Naomi Iwasaki ahead of the Great Streets’ Third Thursday on Pico event about what it means to take it to the streets.
Why should we care about the street?
Los Angeles tends to have the reputation of our streets solely being for cars. But they encompass 7,500 miles of what is essentially public space for people. We have found through innovation ways of repurposing street space, such as creating a car-free plaza in front of of local eating establishments out of small streets, we can create place and public space that can make our communities safer, more vibrant, and more interactive.
The Great Streets Initiative helps reimagine neighborhood centers from a bottom-up approach. How does this method help redefine public spaces?
Our commitment to following a community’s lead in redefining what their streets should look and feel like has led to projects and improvements that better reflect the needs of the local neighborhood and changes that are owned and championed by community partners. Our work on Reseda Boulevard in Northridge, which includes the city’s first protected bike lane and coordinated sidewalk furniture, was a result of a multi-year, community-led visioning process with various groups such as urban design non-profit LA Mas. We strive to create the right opportunities for community stakeholders to work with the city so that resources and services provided by the City are a right match for the “end user”.
How would you say the idea of public space is different in Los Angeles as opposed to other cities?
In Los Angeles a lot of public spaces are not necessarily designed to facilitate organic interaction between diverse types of people (think Pershing Square). This may be because so much of our space was designed during the late seventies/ early eighties, where the idea of exclusion was applied to urban design. But when public spaces are not welcoming to everyone, they can turn into spaces that are aggressively unwelcoming to many people. This seems to be changing, but we are still getting used to a culture shift in Los Angeles where people spontaneously interact with strangers rather than intentionally plan or cultivate a majority of their social interactions.