My name is Alissa Walker and I’m a writer who can often be found in Los Angeles, California.
Here’s the short, third-person story:
Alissa Walker connects people with their cities through writing, speaking, and walking. She is currently the urbanism editor at Curbed and her writing has appeared regularly in Los Angeles Magazine, LA Weekly, Dwell, Fast Company, GOOD, Gizmodo, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as on the KCRW public radio show DnA: Design and Architecture. She has been named a USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Fellow for her writing on design and urbanism, Journalist of the Year by Streetsblog Los Angeles, and in 2015 received the Design Advocate award from the LA chapter of the American Institute of Architects. She is also the co-founder of design east of La Brea, a nonprofit that has received two National Endowment for the Arts grants supporting its LA design events. Alissa lives in a 1912 Craftsman on the art alleys of LA’s Historic Filipinotown where she throws ice cream socials, tends to a drought-tolerant garden, and relishes life in LA without a car. Read more at her blog, A Walker in LA, and follow her at @awalkerinLA on Instagram and Twitter.
You might also like to read my Statement of Purpose, written as part of an application for the USC Annenberg Getty Arts Journalism Fellowship. Here’s a high-resolution headshot, should you require one.
And here’s the long, first-person story:
In 2004, after a failed career in advertising (and a brief, enlightening one in music videos), I embarked on a two-month self-seeking adventure through Europe. Prior to that, I had never left North America, traveled solo, or slept in a hotel room alone—at 26!—plus I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life—also at 26! But I brought along my iBook with the firm intention to write, a proposition that became more painfully daunting the longer I was away from home.
When I got to Italy, I walked directly off the train and into a gelateria, where a single serving of pistachio and stracciatella con brioche changed my life. The more gelato I ate, the more stories poured out of my fingers and into my laptop. Coincidence? I think not. I returned to LA knowing two things I didn’t know before: I really wanted to be a writer and I really loved gelato. Gelatobaby came to represent that warm feeling in your belly when you’re incubating creative ideas or digesting good food, sensations I have a hard time differentiating from one another. Both feel like you’re doing what you love.
I was lucky enough to bring that gelato epiphany home with me to Los Angeles, building a new career where every day includes some combination of walking, writing and consuming gelato. In 2013, I changed the name of my blog to A Walker in LA to focus more specifically on my weird and wonderful adventures exploring Los Angeles on foot. (Don’t worry, I still love ice cream, I just don’t eat quite so much of it!)
In 2010 I was honored to be named as one of seven USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Fellows for my writing on design and urbanism. In 2011 I was awarded a $85,000 grant by ArtPlace for a program I co-created called GOOD Ideas for Cities, pairing creatives with urban leaders who work together to solve real city problems. In 2012 GOOD Ideas for Cities was selected as one of 124 grassroots urbanism projects to represent the U.S. Pavilion at the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy (where I got to retrace my Italian footsteps and eat LOTS of gelato). In 2013 the nonprofit I co-founded called design east of La Brea received a $20,000 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for our new series, Making LA. I was named Journalist of the Year by Streetsblog Los Angeles in 2013, and in 2015 I was honored to receive the Design Advocate award from the LA chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
I am currently the Urbanism Editor at Curbed and from 2013 to 2016 I was the Urbanism Editor at Gizmodo. You can also find my writing at Los Angeles Magazine, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, GOOD, Fast Company, Dwell, Details, O, Sunset, Print, The Architect’s Newspaper, LA Weekly, Metropolis, Wired, Design Observer, Core77, Coudal, Eye, HOW, and even at three magazines that don’t exist anymore, ReadyMade, I.D. and STEP Inside Design. I helped to launch Fast Company’s new design site, Co.Design, and served as a contributing editor at GOOD, where I wrote the column Design Is a Verb. I’ve also written for the Los Angeles Times about Star Wars. From time to time, I’ve been tapped to pinch-hit for the restaurant and nightlife blog Eater LA. And in 2008 I spent two incredible months pounding the pavement in New York while researching and writing the first of a new series of walking guides, City Walks Architecture: New York, which was published by the fine people at Chronicle Books in 2009.
Here are my favorite stories from 2013, my favorite stories from 2012, my favorite stories from 2011, and my favorite stories from 2010. These are my favorite all-time stories I’ve ever written: tracing the origins of the phrase “Nobody Walks in LA”, why I write about design, a fake freeway sign in downtown LA, designers helping people in Alabama, Self-Help Graphics, an art institution in East LA, a poem about the downturn’s effect on LA designers, why women don’t love the name iPad, the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s War is Over campaign, why Scientology is good for Hollywood and my brother, Luke Sky Walker.
For ten years I was a design journalist (“DJ”) for the popular KCRW public radio show DnA: Design and Architecture hosted by the fabulous Frances Anderton. Once a month, I interviewed emerging (and established) designers who are working in LA. I’ve also talked to CalArts graduates about student debt, examined the redesign of LA’s bus system, or and interviewed folks about a mural at the corner of Wilshire and Vermont. In December of 2008, I read a poem “rapping up” the year’s shows. In December 2009, I shared my design book recommendations for the year.
From 2006-2008 I was editor of the design blog UnBeige, where I blogged about design industry news, gossip and events daily. People who I never thought I’d have the chance to meet said incredibly nice things about UnBeige, but I’d have to say the quintessential OMG moment was when Newsweek named us as one of 12 sites that “define cool.”
I love getting people together, especially when free booze is invited. Since late 2007, my dear friends Haily Zaki, Marissa Gluck, Erin Cullerton and I have co-hosted de LaB, or design east of La Brea, a monthly-ish party that takes place in a designer’s “lab” somewhere east of La Brea. In 2013 we were awarded an NEA ArtWorks grant to produce a series of programming called Making LA. If you live in LA, you should sign up for our newsletter. During December 2008, I was a community curator for GOOD December, which included curating and hosting events like City Listening (where I read a poem named The Night Before Layoffs).
I like speaking, and I like it even more when there are people around to listen. I’ve given talks all over the world on a wide variety of topics, from design to writing to sustainability to social media to creativity to pedestrian advocacy to living car-free in LA. I appear regularly on the Pivot TV show Take Part Live as a technology expert. I headed to Mexico City in 2014 to speak about overcoming urban stereotypes at the Ciudad Peaton pedestrian conference. I talked about the joy of walking at the WIRED 2012 conference in London. I lectured about creative solutions to urban challenges at the 2012 International Design Bienniale in Saint-Étienne, France. In December 2010, I was featured as a speaker at LA’s CreativeMornings where I talked about how to do the work you love for your city. I keynoted the MoxieCon conference in 2012 and moderated the 2011 Compostmodern conference in San Francisco. At the Sarasota Design Summit I talked about how designers can create great design content. I moderated the SF event Designing Obama featuring campaign designers Sol Sender and Scott Thomas where I showed a history of campaign graphics from 1960 to the present. I’ve lectured to students about following your creative path (where I often show this video of myself at age 3). I’ve curated and moderated panels at three Dwell on Design conferences as well as the student symposium at four AIGA National Design Conferences. I’ve also given talks, organized workshops, and produced events for groups at Johnson & Johnson, Herman Miller, CEOs for Cities, MyFigueroa, USC, and the Academy of Art University.
I enjoy living without a car in Los Angeles and many people find this fascinating. I am a steering committee member for Los Angeles Walks, a pedestrian advocacy organization that makes LA safe, accessible and fun for walkers. I ride the bus everywhere, sometimes dressed as Princess Leia. I wrote a story about how to get rid of your car for Los Angeles Magazine. I have a presentation on taking public transportation in LA which includes tips and my “survival kit” of products and tools to make the journey more enjoyable. I write regularly about my adventures on public transit, illustrated with photos I take along the way. I collect stories of celebrities who take transit in LA. I wrote about the excellent design of LA’s Metro system in Fast Company and few months later, I was interviewed about smart growth by Warren Olney on the KCRW show Which Way, LA? I was so positive about my public transit experience that it prompted a commenter on Curbed LA to call me “Pollyanna.” I love that movie!
While I won’t judge you, I’d be happy to judge your next competition. In 2014, I served as jury captain for Core77’s writing awards. In 2013 I judged the Sappi Ideas That Matter grants. In 2010 I was honored to serve as a co-curator for the California Design Biennial at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. In 2010 I helped launch Studio 360’s Redesign Valentine’s Day contest by talking to host Kurt Andersen about why cupid’s stupid, then reprised my role to reinvent Uncle Sam for the 4th of July. I served as the 2008 judge for the Far West region of Print’s Regional Design Annual. I sat on the panel for my favorite local blog Curbed LA’s Ugliest Building Contest where I was the only juror who didn’t give top/bottom honors to Hollywood & Highland (seriously, I think there were worse offenders). I also judged Logo Design Love‘s blog logo contest. And while not exactly judging, I provided play-by-play commentary for one of my very favorite activities, Coudal’s Layer Tennis: once, twice, three times. (Thanks, Coudal!)
For seven years I lived in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles with my husband, the graphic artist Keith Scharwath. Our live-work studio was featured on design*sponge, Felt & Wire, and LA, I’m Yours, and our “playlist” of what we listen to during the day was featured on Herman Miller’s Lifework blog. Here are some more shots of where we live and work. You may have seen my previous home in Hollywood on the HGTV show Small Space, Big Style, where I proudly display my collection of suction cups and say noteworthy things like “If something’s all yellow in a pile, it doesn’t look like clutter, it looks like an interesting collection of yellow items.” Somehow the producers from the show were impressed with my supposed knowledge of decorating and invited me to appear as a guest expert on the show. You can catch all the episodes fairly regularly in reruns (303, 401, 402, 404, 405) and on Netflix, apparently. My craft closet was featured in ReadyMade under the best headline ever: Undercover Craft.
I was born in Denver, grew up in St. Louis, and spent 3.5 and 2 years at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Portfolio Center in Atlanta, respectively. I moved to LA on a whim 14 years ago and it continues to surprise and delight me every single day. I usually take a photo when this happens. Miss my old website? Me, too. But don’t worry, you can always visit it right over here. Gelatobaby will be with you, always.