Design advocating

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I was surprised and a little shocked when Carlo Caccavale called me a few months ago to let me know that I had won the Design Advocate award from the LA chapter of the American Institute of Architects. I was so honored to receive the award at the annual ceremony last week alongside so many good friends and longtime heroes. But I kept thinking, if only they had seen me when I arrived here in LA 14 years ago—no one in that audience would have recognized me.

In 2001 I was looking for a job in advertising. I drove everywhere. I had a blog named after ice cream. Most of what I knew about LA was gleaned from episodes of 90210. I didn’t know anything about architecture, except that I loved it.

They certainly didn’t have to, but this community of architects embraced me completely. They invited me into their homes and offices, and inspired me with their work, and trusted me with their stories. And I cannot be more grateful to any group of individuals for teaching me everything I knew about this great city.

I didn’t get to say any thank yous on stage but I do want to thank a few people. I have been lucky to work with such great editors but I want to say thanks very specifically to my dear friend and mentor Frances Anderton, who gave me my big break at KCRW after barely meeting me. Frances taught me how to report a story for a wider audience, and that anything can have a design angle, which is totally true. And she also helped give me guidance on balancing writing and family as I converted myself from a workaholic to a working mom.

A big thank you to that family of mine, who have completely changed the way I see LA. And to my cohorts at de LaB, Los Angeles Walks, and Gizmodo who sure do make exploring LA a whole lot of fun. And to all my fellow LA writers and critics who work tirelessly to combat all the stereotypes spewing forth from the New York Times.

It was pretty amazing to take the stage after my fellow honorees, who are all my urbanism heroes—Aaron Paley, Dana Cuff, Steven Ehrlich, Sarah Lorenzen—but I was most excited about this year’s prestigious 25 Year Award, which went to the design for the 1984 Summer Olympics, probably my favorite LA story I’ve ever written. I really wish that Deborah Sussman would have been there to see not only her colorful work celebrated but also her deep love of Los Angeles. Deborah taught me it’s not enough to show your civic pride by designing the Olympics, you must dress like those Olympics every day for the rest of your life. I’ve tried to follow in her footsteps!

And there’s one other person who I wish could have been there (and come to think about it, he dressed a lot like the 1984 Olympics, too). My dear friend John Chase, who I think about every day when I’m walking around the city. It was John who nudged me to take advantage of my “brand” and change my name from Gelatobaby to A Walker in LA. What? You’re still doing the ice cream thing? John also taught me maybe the most important thing in my writing: That living in cities is personal, and that’s why writing about those cities also has to be personal—that’s how we make change.

So thanks to every single one of the designers and architects out there who are making personal work that makes a difference—and making LA the most exciting city to write about on the planet.

And although I have changed a lot since I was “Gelatobaby,” I haven’t changed that much. Of course I still celebrated my award with ice cream.

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