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A Future without Cars? People, Bikes and Community in the 21st Century

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  • J.H. Crawford
    Hi All, James Rojas recently conducted a workshop in LA. This blog entry may be of interest to list readers:
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 7, 2008
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      Hi All,

      James Rojas recently conducted a workshop in LA.
      This blog entry may be of interest to list readers:




      James Rojas on a Future Without Cars

      by Damien Newton on November 18, 2008

      When Rojas Speaks, People Build Urban Models

      (Editor's Note: On November 7, Antioch University hosted a forum entitled "A Future Without Cars." Professors, urban planners, and bike activists all spoke about how Los Angeles deserves a car-free future. Urban planner, Metro staffer and leader of the Latino Urban Forum led a workshop on pedestrian planning. Below are his notes on the event. To see more images from the event, check out the Streetsblog Flickr page.)

      A Future without Cars? People, Bikes and Community in the 21st Century

      by James Rojas

      On Friday November 7, 2008 I participated in Antioch's University daylong workshop "A Future without Cars? People, Bikes, and Community in the 21st Century held in Culver City. For this workshop I developed an Interactive Pedestrian Exercise. This hour and half exercise taught participants to examine, experience, and create a pedestrian environment. The varied ages and ethnicity of the thirty plus participants offered a diverse perspective on creating the car free city.

      The workshop began with a brief lecture on the Experience of Place: the Difficulties of Creating a Pedestrian Environment. I informed the students of challenges involved with developing pedestrian infrastructure. The task to create a pedestrian landscape sounds simple, but individual perception plays a critical roll in its success. We experience the world through our sense and the street is no different. Factors such as climate, noise, smell, and overall comfort are important to pedestrians. In addition, people walk for different reasons. People walk for utilitarian reasons, for recreation, sightseeing, exercise, and just to think. It's because pedestrians are on the streets for different reasons that makes creating ideal walking environments so complicated. It's easier for us to construct freeways because they are designed for vehicles, which care very little about the environment. And the drivers of these vehicles are more interested in getting to where they have to go than enjoying their driving environment. After all, a comfortable seat, air conditioning, and their favorite tunes are all the artificial environment needed while driving a car.

      The forty-five minute walk audit to the adjacent park and intersection of Motor and Overland Streets allowed participants to experience a comfortable and uncomfortable walking environment.

      The park illustrated a comfortable walking zone. We walked through the park and stopped under a clump of tress. The green foliage of the park cooled us down as well as the shade from the trees. Walking on the grass felt like carpet. The clump of trees buffered the sounds of the cars moving on the street allowing us to have a brief discussion of the environment.

      The intersection of Motor and Overland illustrated an uncomfortable walking zone. The concrete side walk is hard to walk on and was narrow so people had to walk in almost a strait line. The street was lined with palm trees, parking meters and electric poles. There were no shade trees so the black asphalt made the walk very hot. The noise from the moving cars was very loud preventing people from speaking to each other. A gas station, small businesses and multi family structures lined one side of the street while a fence with nice landscaping lined the other side. These land uses did not support walking. By the end of this walk people were exhausted and could not wait to get back to the auditorium. With this brief walk, participants experienced the realities of being a pedestrian.

      The one hour Never-Before-Seen Car Free Workshop allowed the participants to apply what they have experienced with their own personal backgrounds in creating a pedestrian landscape. The task was to develop a pedestrian environment with supporting activities, amenities and structures because I wanted them to understand the critical role land use patterns have on transportation. The participants were arranged around tables of four to five. Each table was provided with trays of materials and a twelve inch foam core square to create their landscape. They were given twenty minutes to create their visions and after this was done they were given a minute to explain there creation.

      Participants provided in-depth, personal information through their 3-d model building from selection of materials, placement, mapping, and the narratives they used to explain their creations. Participants used the materials in varying scales that allowed them to illustrate their points. Some participants walked us through their space to others that had large scale conceptual plans. From the placement of benches, and trees alongside a path, to relocating city hall, homes and stores connectivity was important. Mapping was a critical part of the models for creating a pedestrian landscape. These techniques are reminiscent of Kevin Lynch's mapping exercises in "Image of a City", because we begin to see patterns develop amongst participants.

      The ideas were so varied, yet very similar in capturing the experience of place. They create both real and fantasy worlds. People generally wanted interesting, comfortable pedestrian environments which were illustrated in many ways.

      Senior citizens generally wanted benches, lightings, and creature comforts which help the walk. The analogy to a Rousseau painting one participant used illustrated the need for nature in the pedestrian realm. The natural elements such as trees, plants were supplemented with the introduction of animals. Many people talked about the need for public art to provide a personal experience to pedestrian zones.

      Another segment of the group took the opportunity to redesign the streets. They were two to three references to the crooked and narrow streets of medieval European cities which they felt promoted walking. Still another group took the opportunity to create plazas and centers for social activity. These spaces were designed to facilitate mobility with a sense of civic identity and social interaction by people who used them.

      Another concept from the group was how this exercise allowed them to restructure society. The street was a way of educating at risk youth on how the government system works. The pedestrian street was less about the experiences of place and more about creating a utopian vision.

      Lessons Learned

      The interactive pedestrian exercise was a very effective method for participants to examine and create a pedestrian zone because they experienced and created it. This method allows them to use their senses on urban planning issues and the model building helps increases their design fluency.

      This method allows for the public to "speak" first rather than be spoken to. It makes people feel part of the process. Everyone participates regardless of background, language or age barriers. As a researcher, it helps to understand how different age groups, ethnicities, genders, and professions perceive the same project. While this was a transportation project to some, it becomes a way of restructing life for others. As architects, planners and policy makers, it is important to gather information and understand the interpretation of projects and policies. As a community member it is important to understand the neighbor's personal perspectives on how to view the work.

      Lastly, this engaging exercise makes everyone feel good.

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      J.H. Crawford Carfree Cities
      mailbox@... http://www.carfree.com
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