Small Ideas Can Make Great Streets
Nathan (Nate) Cherry, FAIA AICP LEED BD + C
On August 23rd, APA Los Angeles celebrates LADOT’s People St Program, which won a 2016 National Planning Achievement Award. People St is intended to transform city streets into active, public spaces. It facilitates partnerships between the community and the City of Los Angeles, acting on grassroots initiatives and empowering community partners to build neighborhood support high quality public spaces.
A Change of Focus
The way planning is done at LADOT has changed in fundamental ways and the People St initiative is a reflection of that change. People St is not a panacea to the challenges we face in mobility with LA’s streets, but it’s a great preliminary tool that does make bigger changes possible. It rewards communities that care enough to make their local streets better.
The key elements of its approach:
- It addresses a community based need
- It is a small and flexible program
- It encourages community participation in design
- It rewards collaboration
- It combines a mix of public and private funding sources
- It can be applied anywhere in the City
According to Valerie Watson, part of LADOT’s Active Transportation Division, “What we are celebrating is the fact that LADOT has approached planning of streets in a novel way. Yes, its been done in lots of other cities; but its turned our local process on its head. Instead of the City pointing at where improvements should be happening, this allows communities to collaborate with the City and transform streets over time. In South Park, the BID was already well down the road in activating the sidewalks and making them people places. They had already started the conversation. We were happy to align the quality of the streets with what they already had going.”
Take a look at the People St toolkit.
A direct reflection of the leadership that the Mayor’s office has brought, People St is a reflection of changing emphasis and as a result changing outcomes. Although one can see that the intervention at Hope Street is humble in scale (a parklet, curb extensions, crosswalks, wayfinding, and a bike share facility), People St is evidence of a change from streets as movement corridors to streets as places. In terms of community engagement, LADOT is becoming more collaborative and nimble. Funding the projects is progressive and collaborative; LADOT pays for street improvements, the local community group pays for parklets or plaza improvements, maintenance and upkeep. Streets become functional community hubs — places where people want to be.
I can count over a dozen businesses between 11th and 12th along Hope Street in South Park that have opened in the last few years as a result of improvements that create a place that development can support. Although the interventions are small, their impact on the quality of life for downtown residents and workers is great.