Happy new

First sunset captured from my desk in 2014. I should stay home more often.

Just getting back to my desk after weeks of eating, drinking, traveling, exploring, walking, riding, talking, and listening. Lots to report, but first and foremost, I’m jumping on the bandwagon and starting a quarterly email newsletter. The first newsletter will be a recap of the previous year (like my usual year in review posts), with regular updates coming to your mailbox every season or so. Sign up here, and I’ll see you in 2014!

Posted in crafting, creating, partying, writing | 1 Comment

City lights

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“It was an nightly adventure that took me to almost every angle of Los Angeles,” filmmaker Colin Rich tells The Creators Project. “It was an exercise in patience. A lesson in light. An understanding of what it is to live amongst each other and to understand the system and order of a city, the seemingly complex organics that make it up and the life form that the city truly is.”

The end result, a beautiful timelapse named City Lights will make you fall in love with LA all over again. And if you find yourself sobbing when it’s over, chin up: there are two more in the series.

Have a lovely and light-filled holiday.

Posted in watching | 1 Comment

Getting L.A. to grow up

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One of the best moments in the new movie Her is watching Joaquin Phoenix ride an elevated train through a Los Angeles of the near-future, dance through a bustling station (actually the Hollywood/Western Red Line station), and emerge at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The scene got a surprised laugh from everyone at the screening I was at last Friday: Director Spike Jonze had just completed the Subway to the Sea!

You can see a part in the trailer:

The movie was wonderful in the way that it presented a dense, future Los Angeles as something beautiful—not some dystopian world to be feared like so many other movies. It was an L.A. that I wanted to live in. But it’s especially frustrating that many Angelenos do not see the value of living in a more vertical city. In a piece I wrote for Gizmodo today, I call for L.A. (and other squat cities) to grow up. It might be awhile until we get there: Today, a judge shot down Hollywood’s new community plan that would allow for taller building heights.

You can read my piece here: Tall Is Good: How a Lack of Building Up Is Keeping Our Cities Down.

Posted in building, designing, Gizmodo, watching | 1 Comment

#25daysofchristmaslights

Streetscape snowflakes. #25daysofchristmaslights

Happy December! I’m snapping a photo of Christmas lights every evening until the big night. I did this last year and it was one of the highlights of the holiday season. But this year I’ve got a #HASHTAG. I thought I was being all clever and original, but funnily enough, it looks like other people are using it, too. So let’s all capture #25daysofchristmaslights together!

The only rule is that you have to find the lights on foot. Of course.

Posted in Street Walker | 2 Comments

Pharrell proves LA is not only walkable… it’s danceable

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I might as well just give the part of my brain in charge of hearing over to Pharrell since he practically dominated it all year with the song of the spring, the song of the summer, and now the song of the fall. But I would say that his latest song—”Happy“—is probably his crowning achievement of 2013 since he’s managed to create one of the best things I’ve ever seen: A self-described “first 24-hour music video” with hundreds of people dancing and singing along on the streets, sidewalks and various other public spaces of LA.

Yes, that’s right—Pharrell, We Are From L.A. and Iconoclast have made a video that’s basically 24 hours of people walking in LA.

If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s an edited version, which you can watch here:

But the far more fun experience is to head over to the website and play with the actual 24-hour long video, where you can skip from vignette to vignette, hour to hour, neighborhood to neighborhood, block to block—you get the idea!—seeing new dancers and new locations every few minutes (including an entire section filmed in Union Station). Sometimes they’ll walk outside of a location and right onto the street that’s actually there with a kind of continuity you never usually see. They must have walked a few dozen miles a day just to get all the takes. I had to tear myself away from it to write this blog post but as soon as I’m done I’m picking right back up where I left off, with that guy jamming at the top at 12:15.

We’re very lucky that so many things are filmed in LA so we have these perfectly preserved little time capsules of how our city changes over the years. Usually it’s just a glimpse of a building or a street we recognize in the background, even through a hyper staged set—a piece of LA slipping through when it was supposed to be Anywhere, USA.

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But there’s something about the angle of the camera, the improvisational nature of the performers, the buses zipping by in the background, all drenched in that beautiful SoCal light, that makes the city the star. This is one of the most accurate representations of LA’s contemporary urban environment I’ve ever seen. If anyone ever asks me what it was like to be a pedestrian in LA in 2013, I can show them this video and say, yup, that’s pretty much it. Smiling people, palm trees, and sun. DONE.

This video is sweet and utter perfection and everything about it makes me, well, HAPPY. However, there are two things I want someone to do with this video:

1) Watch all 24 hours and live tweet/blog it.

2) Map all the locations.

I’d happily do it. In fact, I could do both at once and everyone could come watch—kind of like The Clock. Invite some of the performers to reprise their roles and have a big 24-hour dance party. Get the Dancelavia kids to program the day. I’m totally serious. I’m available.

More ideas from readers: Josh Berta says we should have a Happy walking tour, where we walk the route (dancing, of course), and suggests other cities should make their own Happy videos. And Steven White proposes a game show where we “spin the wheel” and have it land on a time—whoever guesses the location wins a prize.

Also, a great reminder of another LA walking video: OK Go’s video where they walked a route that spelled out OK GO.

Posted in Street Walker | 8 Comments

What to do about those Silver Lake “newcomers”

Fall in Silver Lake

Like many of my neighbors, I was shaken by the news that someone was murdered early Wednesday evening near a place where I walk a few times a week. 78-year-old Joseph Gatto, the father of state Assemblyman Mike Gatto, was likely killed in a violent home invasion, a tragic death that has our community on edge and at the center of a media blitz.

Our little neighborhood is getting a lot of attention lately. Last year, Forbes named us the “hippest hipster neighborhood” in the U.S. Earlier in 2013, we were named one of 10 “best big-city neighborhoods” by Money magazine. Recently there was an LA Weekly feature that discussed our newfound community fame and the growing rift on our neighborhood council.

But a disappointing article in the Los Angeles Times this weekend entitled “Silver Lake renaissance attracts newcomers, worries locals“ outdid them all. The columnist tried to place last week’s horrific incident within some larger context of how Silver Lake is being overrun with outsiders, where apparently the biggest problem is that none of these people—residents or outsiders—have anywhere to park:

A surge of new restaurants, bars and boutiques has helped make Silver Lake a national darling and sent real estate prices in hilltop enclaves soaring.

But the fallout of that popularity lands on apartment-heavy streets nearby, where three-quarters of residents have no place to park because so many of the old buildings lack driveways or garages.

In car-centric Los Angeles, that’s considered a violation of a fundamental right.

The parking flap reflects other issues: a fading sense of comfort and safety, and growing unease over the onslaught of strangers — whether they’re buying $400 shoes from the new clothing boutique or spreading out their sleeping bags in the growing disorder of nearby Triangle Park.

The entire article was offensive—especially because the writer used that lazy LA cliche in her very first paragraph—but this sentiment about outsiders really angered me.

See, I’m one of those strangers. I’m one of those “newcomers” in my neighborhood.

I spent my fifth anniversary of living in Silver Lake taking a bike ride with a group of friends and neighbors. It started in Sunset Triangle Park, a new public space not of “growing disorder,” but of outdoor movies, farmers markets and acoustic concerts that’s internationally recognized. We rode down streets newly paved with bike lanes and better crosswalks that my neighbors helped make a reality. We rode by apartment buildings and urban farms and public parks I’ve written about to discuss how homeowners are working to make the neighborhood a better place. We rode near the public staircases where I host walking tours (as do many others) to teach my fellow Angelenos about Silver Lake’s special role in LA history, from architecture to transportation to gay rights. We rode along the river, a place that I was able to kayak this summer thanks to the tireless advocacy of local residents, which will soon see one of the most important environmental transformations in the entire city.

I didn’t realize it at the time when I was riding through my neighborhood, making mental notes of all the good things within a few miles of my house—almost all those things I just listed have come about in Silver Lake during the last five years.

Yet, according to the LA Times story, Silver Lake is worse off now than it was five years ago. And according to some of the people interviewed in that story, five years is not long enough for me to have a say about what kind of neighborhood I’d like to live in.

Neighborhood politics are a funny thing, and writing about them it’s hard not to lapse into stereotypes. In every article there are the veterans who reminisce about how great everything use to be, the johnnys-come-lately with their new-fangled ideas that challenge the status quo, and some lightning-rod development project that’s got the groups engaged in a nasty spitting match. Add the word “gentrification”—or lately, “hipsters”—and you’ve pretty much nailed the story of every neighborhood undergoing every kind of change in the history of civilization.

I often tell people living in Silver Lake is like living in a small town in the middle of LA, and in very many ways, it is. Not that we don’t have problems—we do. But like a small town, I think we can be too wary of opinions that are different from the ones we’ve always held. From what I’ve seen in my short time here, I think we need to find a way to embrace the energy and ideas of newcomers, because guess what? Newcomers are just going to keep on coming.

So I’ve created a list below of what I’d like to see happen in my neighborhood. These are the unsolicited ideas of a newcomer, a person who has only lived here five years but has never loved living in a place more in her life. I don’t know the historical context for many of these ideas. We’ve probably already tried them. But this is a list of how a newcomer sees Silver Lake today and how a newcomer thinks Silver Lake could be better. I may have only been here five years but I can honestly say I have no desire for my neighborhood to “go back” to anything. I want my neighborhood to move forward. I want very much to be a part of that change, and I know I’m not the only newcomer who feels that way.

Returning to that LA Times article, I want to make one more point. The only correlation between the horrific murder that happened last week and the state of our neighborhood is that these things don’t happen nearly as much as they used to precisely because of the way Silver Lake is changing.

This was the first homicide of the year in Silver Lake. In 2008 we had five homicides, according to the LA Times’ own homicide data. We are 136 out of 205 LA neighborhoods when it come to violent crime. Silver Lake is a safer place than it’s ever been. This is because there are more people hereMore people living here = more people on the streets = more people getting to know their neighbors = people walking around at night = a safer community for all.

If you want to live in a small town in the middle of LA that is certainly not perfect but has all the ingredients to make it a great place (with your help!), then Silver Lake is the place for you.

Welcome, newcomers. You’re going to love my neighborhood.

A Newcomer’s Ideas for Silver Lake

  • I want to take the focus off parking and work on improving Silver Lake for walking, biking and public transit so residents will feel comfortable only having one car per household and visitors to the neighborhood will be more likely not to drive here.
  • I want a Silver Lake Trolley that does a loop along Sunset, Silver Lake Boulevard, Glendale, Rowena, and Hyperion to eliminate those short car trips that cause insane traffic and bad parking situations.
  • I want enhanced, well-marked and shaded pedestrian paths from the Red Line stations to Silver Lake, which will help people understand how close and accessible the subway system is so they’ll use it as an alternative.
  • I want the bus stops throughout the neighborhood to be adopted by artists, like the electrical boxes, to beautify and bring attention to these transportation alternatives and help people feel safer when waiting at them at night.
  • I want a whole series of improvements that will make Silver Lake an even more walkable community: installing pedestrian wayfinding signage, clear marking of staircases so people understand how the neighborhood knits together, fixing sidewalks and crosswalks, and planting more trees.
  • I want healthier, more active residents who are not subject to environmental or institutional diseases.
  • I want Dana Hollister’s Pilgrim Church hotel project to move forward so we can have a vibrant cultural business at the center of our neighborhood and a place for our friends to stay when they come from out of town.
  • I want all the schools in the neighborhood to have their parents involved as much as Ivanhoe Elementary.
  • I want the same quality of community gardens found at Micheltorena and King to be found at every school, church and community center.
  • I want that horrible tunnel that goes under Sunset near Micheltorena Elementary to be sealed off so it will no longer serve as a reminder that at one time the street was so unsafe for children that we forced them to walk down into a dark tunnel.
  • I want every student to feel safe walking to school.
  • I want the Silver Lake Reservoir to take down its fences and naturalize the shore when it’s taken offline. And add some boats and a cafe like Echo Park Lake.
  • I want the Rowena Reservoir to be opened back up to the public as a park.
  • And I want to turn the Ivanhoe Reservoir into a public pool. Like this. (I have a whole plan for this. We can make it happen.)
  • I want the Corralitas Red Car property to become part of a greenway network that stretches from Elysian Park to Griffith Park, providing a way for hikers and walkers to safely travel from one urban park to another, and enhancing the connection to nature for neighborhoods along the way.
  • I want the Hyperion Bridge to become the premier model for a multimodal viaduct in the city of Los Angeles that’s safer for cars, buses, bikes and walkers.
  • I want Hyperion, Fletcher, and Glendale to become streets where I won’t be scared for my life.
  • I want the neighborhood to make it easier for restaurants to provide outdoor dining, especially along the LA River, which will strengthen the local relationship to one of our greatest assets.
  • I want the LA River to become the pride and joy of all of Los Angeles.
  • I want more cafes, more restaurants, more stores, more bars, more live music venues, more opportunities for business to thrive—including helping the ones that have been here forever.
  • I want more affordable, high-density housing to be built near the walkable centers of our neighborhood.
  • I want to preserve the diversity of a community that has always been known for accepting residents from all backgrounds, economic status, and beliefs.
  • I want my neighbors to add anything I forgot in the comments.
Posted in building, riding, walking | 26 Comments

Deborah Sussman loves Los Angeles

Sign from the 84 Olympics installed in our bedroom

When I was on the AIGA Los Angeles board, our meetings were always held at the offices of Sussman/Prejza, the design firm which I idolized due to their work on the 1984 Summer Olympics held in LA. I’d always hang back after our meetings were over, snooping around to look at the current work that was on the walls, and hoping to catch Deborah as she left for the night, if only to see what dazzling patterns she had managed to coordinate in her legendary outfits (she was my hero in more ways than one).

After one meeting, I noticed the parking lot was filled with signage of some sort. I employed my usual nosy line of questioning and Deborah revealed that they were signs from the Olympics, being moved from one storage space to another. I nearly fainted.

When I could breathe again, Deborah took me out to look at them, and I got giddy as I began recognizing the different ones from the photos I’d seen. I asked if I might possibly be able to buy a sign, but Deborah, in her extremely generous manner, looked at me over whatever brightly colored glasses she was wearing that day and said, “I think I should give you one.”

And that’s how we came to have one of the original “Refreshments” signs from the 1984 Olympics hanging over our bed. (Don’t worry, it’s very secure and not going to fall on our heads in the night).

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Sussman/Prejza along with the Jerde Partnership designed one of the most important things to ever happen to Los Angeles. Olympic games are legendary for going over budget and out of control, sometimes leaving cities in worse economic and infrastructural shape than they were before. The brilliance of the 1984 Olympics was that organizers vowed to stay fiscally responsible, electing not to build monumental new stadiums, for example, and use almost all existing structures as venues. The branding elements were made from inexpensive materials—inflatables, scaffolding, cardboard—which carried a huge visual impact with a light touch. A foundation was established with the profits that continues to support local athletic programs. It remains the only financially successful Olympics in history.

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And the colors. OH THE COLORS. With shades drawn from Pacific Rim cultures in the Americas and Asia, the palette was amazingly prescient for its time. Just looking at that hot coral color reminds me of a certain new iPhone

The Olympics are of course not the only project that Deborah and her team worked on—she started her career working under Charles and Ray Eames and has completed projects all over the world—but her legacy is best seen through the work she did right here in LA, in the shops, parks, museums, and many public spaces that built this colorful, contemporary city.

And that’s why I’m so excited that Woodbury University is mounting an exhibition to bring Deborah’s work to life for the next generation of Angelenos.

The organizers are currently running a Kickstarter to finance this worthy exhibition, and they’re about halfway to their goal with 15 days left. This exhibition is a must for design nerds. Or Olympic nerds. Or LA nerds. Whatever kind of nerd you are.

Such an inspirational lunch with a design icon (and my personal style hero), the great Deborah Sussman.

It’s not often that you can trace the visual impact of one person who made a city more beautiful. Los Angeles is a better place because of Deborah Sussman—and we’re so lucky to have her stories and her work in one place to celebrate her awesomeness. And of course I’m really excited to see what gorgeous getup she wears to the opening.

Learn more about the exhibition and how you can support it here.

Update: Read more about Deborah in my story in the New York Times!

Posted in building, creating, designing | 3 Comments

Big changes

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Fall is the best possible time to make a transition, isn’t it? Changing leaves, changing weather, changing… the clocks back? So on this fair November afternoon where the sun is already setting at 4:30, I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve joined the team at Gizmodo as the Urbanism Editor.

I’ve always been a huge admirer of the Gawker Media empire (which last month had more unique visitors than NYTimes.com) and lately I’d found myself especially impressed with what Gizmodo was doing. Gizmodo’s blessed with an incredibly talented staff—meaning they’re smart, funny, and exceptionally good at finding inappropriate gifs—and a fearless new editor-in-chief: Geoff Manaugh, of the inimitable BLDGBLOG. I’ve known Geoff for a very long time (he used to be my editor at Dwell) and I could not be more excited to be writing about citiestransportationwalkingsecret operasasphalt poolshaunted housessubdivision nomenclaturepizza desertsTom Clancyinstant islands1000-year floods and ferris wheel races under his leadership.

Tech journalism is in desperate need of an evolution, and Gizmodo’s one of a handful of sites that’s decided to look at technology as something that’s bigger than a drone and more life-changing than an iPhone. (But don’t worry, I get to write about pretty neon coral iPhones, too.) I’m really looking forward to what we’re going to accomplish, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a blast doing it.

You can check out Gizmodo’s urbanism coverageread all my Gizmodo stories, and follow Gizmodo on Twitter and Facebook.

ALSO: To celebrate this transition (and inspired by my newsletter heroI’m launching a newsletter where I can collect all my favorite stories, events and foot-photos in one place and send them to you on a semi-regular basis. If you want to sign up, you can do so here.

Posted in Gizmodo | 4 Comments

Happy Walktober

Fall, finally

Guess what time of year it is? Well, yes, it’s decorative gourd season motherfuckers, but it’s also Walktober! And that means lots of walking events all over LA (and the country), ending with the year’s best holiday for walking… Halloween!

Here’s what Los Angeles Walks (and me) have planned for these 31 days.

October 1Walking Day of Action (this already happened: check out the photos!)

October 6Walktoberfest: WalkLAvia at CicLAvia, a walk from Boyle Heights to Chinatown with Los Angeles Walks.

October 9Walk to School Day, events all over the city

October 14Walktoberfest: Beverly Hills, a tour of local architecture, public art, and alleyways hosted by Ellen Lutwak

October 19: THREE WALKING EVENTS!

My Silver Lake Stairwalk for The Unique Space, even if you missed the Kickstarter, you can meet at the Silver Lake Library at 10:00 a.m. and bring $55 (all of which goes to support The Unique Space) if you want to attend

Hyperion Avenue Open Studio Tour, a guided tour of five architecture studios that’s a fundraiser for de LaB’s Making LA program (I’ll be floating around and at Hyperion Public for the happy hour at 6:00 p.m.)

Walktoberfest: Zombie Walk in Glendale, exactly what it sounds like (I won’t be making it to this one, unfortunately, but it should be awesome!)

October 26Walktoberfest: Santa Monica, a “walking train” adventure checking out Expo Line construction and the new Tongva Park with Gary Kavanagh

October 31: Halloween, walk around your neighborhood to achieve maximum Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup levels

Hope to see you out there!

Posted in partying, playing, speaking, walking | 2 Comments

The city will never love you back

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I spent last week in New York for TED City 2.0. While at the conference, I was moved to tears by an amazing poem by Felice Belle, which somehow seemed to sum up everything I’ve ever felt about New York, LA, and every other city I’ve lived in. Here’s how it starts.

yours as much as mine
for walt whitman

thank you

for paved veins

the transit system of a living body

the city is man

made now concrete

asphalt fueled by caffeine,

commerce, nicotine, and childlike

dreams of making it

big like times

square lights over broadway,

steel scraping sky high

clouds cumulus say, go

higher, to the man in the crane,

woman with child standing,

third car uptown two train,

teen locked in bed-stuy

bedroom making beats,

will only take headphones off for shower and sleep

what lies beyond free

verse? what frontier is left?

follow the immigrants and the indigenous

even people from here

have come from somewhere else

there have always been legal ways to take land

You can read the entire piece here, but I recommend watching her read it here at 59:19.

Posted in gelatoing | 4 Comments