Well, folks, it’s that time of year again. Actually, it’s a little past that time of year, but since my vacation fell during the time when I’m usually filing my year-in-review post, I gave myself a small grace period. Besides, let’s be honest, you’ve only just today fully recovered from your New Year’s hangover, right?
By now you know the drill: Each year I round up my favorite stories I wrote over the past year. Here’s my favorites of 2011 and 2010. But this year, in the spirit of being different, I’m adding a twist. I’m also going to list the five stories I want to write in 2013—in the hopes that by putting them out there to you, I’m also holding myself publicly accountable for making them happen. So if you see me this year, feel free to be like, “Hey Alissa, how are those FIVE STORIES GOING?” And if I don’t run away howling in shame, hopefully I’ll have something to report. Here goes!
My absolute favorite story I did this year
“Nobody Walks in LA,” Studio 360
Here’s an example of a story that’s been stirring around my brain for the last few years—Why does a 30-year-old song insist on elbowing its way into EVERY conversation I have about walking in Los Angeles?—I just didn’t know exactly how to tell it. Then a few converging factors came together. First, I met Studio 360 producer Michele Siegel during my USC Annenberg/Getty fellowship last year and we did a project together about transportation. I was invited by J. Ryan Stradal and Summer Block to read at Hot Dish and I used the opportunity to write a rant that got my ideas down on paper. And then I was introduced to the car-free punk music of Eddie Solis by my friends in Fireball Ministry and I realized I needed to tell this story through sound. Suddenly I was headed to Oxnard to ask Missing Persons songwriter Terry Bozzio why he wrote this anti-walking anthem, and the journey had begun. It was an incredible experience, working with wonderful people, and hearing the finished piece was one of the most fulfilling moments I can remember in my career. But the best part was that I realized I’m still learning things as a writer.
Most fun to research
“Rolling on the LA River,” Gelatobaby
One morning in July, I hovered over my keyboard, refreshing my browser in a rhythmic frenzy like I once dialed and redialed my local radio station to win tickets to a New Kids on the Block concert. I was hoping to paddle the Los Angeles River, a new pilot program that allowed a limited number of people to kayak a portion of the naturalized river in the Valley. In August of last year, I was one of the lucky ones who got to make the trip. This three-hour journey changed my relationship to the river as well as my thoughts on how it should serve the city. Every Angeleno should experience it.
“LA’s original subway,” Gelatobaby
By far the most popular story I wrote this year—60 comments and counting!—is this photo-essay account of a de LaB tour we hosted that visited the still-quite-intact tunnels and platforms of the subway that used to run beneath downtown LA’s streets.
Best neighborhood discoveries
“Self Preservation” and “American Pastoral,” Dwell
The most awesome stories to write are the ones which teach you something you never knew about where you live. These stories I wrote for Dwell about two LA homes both took me inside places I had admired from afar, immersing me in the history and geography of my neighborhood, and introducing me to lovely new residents of my city.
Favorite new place to write
All my LA Weekly stories, LA Weekly
At the beginning of 2012, the LA Weekly’s arts section relaunched as Public Spectacle, and I started reviewing projects that emerged in LA’s public space, from new parks to reclaimed alleys to bus benches. Not only do I have a great editor, Zachary Pincus-Roth, but the LA Weekly has helped me to bring sometimes wonky urban design issues to mainstream media, broadening the conversation about what kind of city we want to live in. Plus, now I get the absolute best hate mail, which makes me know I’m doing something right.
What it’s like to interview your hero
“Recipe for Reinvention,” UCLA Anderson Assets
I really loved writing this profile on KCRW’s food goddess Evan Kleiman for UCLA Anderson’s new digital magazine. Even more fun was being reunited with my former Dwell editor Sarah Rich, who whipped the piece into shape.
Best reporting on foot
“A Complete Shopper’s Guide to Downtown LA,” Details
When my editor Jesse Ashlock tapped me to write a definitive guide to men’s shopping for downtown LA, I jumped out from under my desk and hopped the next 2 bus. And that’s really the only way to report a story like this: I love writing anything that requires me to map out a plan of attack, stroll the streets, visit each shop, talk to the owners, and then make recommendations in a specific geographic area. I can’t wait to do it again.
Frequent flyer award
GOOD Ideas for Cities, GOOD
Thanks to a grant from ArtPlace, we were able to take the GOOD Ideas for Cities program to six American cities in 2012, meaning I got to travel to Portland, St Louis, Richmond, Cincinnati, Dallas and New Orleans this year, hosting inspiring events featuring each city’s awesomest creatives. Plus, I got to go all the way to Venice, Italy when GOOD Ideas for Cities was selected for inclusion in the U.S. Pavilion at the 13th International Architecture Biennale.
Best new tool
Of course most of the news about Instagram this year was somewhat negative—they were bought by Facebook, they issued jerky terms of service—but I started using the photo-sharing service this year. I love everything about snapping and sharing shots, but I especially love the community. If you’re not following me there already, what are you waiting for?
Best old tool
And let’s not forget that I have never stopped being loyal to Flickr, dutifully uploading and organizing all my photos there for the past five years. Their new app is great, and I can’t wait to see what features and improvements they add this year. If you’re not following me there already, what are you waiting for?
My favorite stories you probably can’t see
All my stories for the Los Angeles Times, LA Times
I wish I could show you a few of my favorite design stories I wrote this year—on Handsome Coffee Roasters, on the dynamo designer Tanya Aguiñiga, on a fantastic show at the Arboretum that turned wind-felled trees into art—but they’re locked behind a (semi-permeable) paywall fortress.
My favorite talking (about walking)
The Future of the City: Walking, Wired 2012
As I’ve been doing a lot more walking, I’ve been doing a lot more talking, and I was thrilled as could be when I was invited to London to talk about walking at the Wired 2012 conference as part of a panel curated by the great Maria Popova. It was inspiring to not only talk about walking in a city that’s so kind to its walkers, but to also be approached afterwards by dozens of walkers from all over the world who related to my message. Walking is truly the universal language.
Best story that won’t be published until 2025
MTA Station Opens; Westwood Becomes Hollywood’s Ending, Village View
In 2011 I was tapped by Dana Cuff to participate in a workshop organized by cityLAB, the urban think tank she runs at UCLA. The idea was to make specific urban design recommendations for Westwood Village, the neighborhood that anchors UCLA, using the far-off date of 2025, when the subway station is scheduled to open. Architects Roger Sherman and Edwin Chan not only came up with an incredible plan for the neighborhood, they wrote and designed a newspaper that would help tell the story of how their plan would be executed, and they commissioned me to write a story for the 2025 publication that would. This was my first stab at architectural criticism futurism, and I absolutely loved writing it, from envisioning the restaurant landscape of Westwood in 13 years to pondering the film career of Suri Cruise.
Okay, here goes…
Five Stories I Want to Write in 2013
1) I will produce more radio stories: Since my favorite story I did in 2012 was a radio story, you’ll probably guess that I’m hooked on the medium. I’m looking forward to not only pitching more radio pieces, but learning more about how to produce them myself.
2) I will write more profiles: I love writing about interesting people. It’s probably my favorite thing. But I don’t do nearly enough of it. Why is that???
3) I will treat my blog like a column: I’ve ignored this blog a little in 2012 for a variety of reasons, all of which I believe to be good ones. (I’m sorry, little Gelatobaby!) But this year I’m looking forward to some BIG CHANGES here, one of which will be a renewed focus on my writing here. Stay tuned.
4) I will do more talking (and get paid well for it): Nothing I do is more fulfilling than speaking engagements—I love traveling, meeting people, and putting together a brand-new presentation for each talk I give (guaranteed!). Now I’m ready to market myself as both a writer and speaker.
5) I will finish my book: You heard it here first.