Posts by millerjbrett

Photo by Steve Boland(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

While distances may vary, the average walk most people will comfortably travel to public transit falls somewhere around one-quarter mile. My own comfort zone falls a little further, somewhere between a half and a three-quarter mile, or a 10-15-minute walk. But the quarter mile rule of thumb exists for a reason, a distance promoted by TOD, or Transit-oriented development, stipulating urban development focuses upon land uses around a transit station or transit corridor “within one-quarter mile, or a five to seven minute walk”.

However, not everyone lives or works near a public transit service within a quarter mile, or even a full mile. This is probably part of the reason why nearly 80% of Angelenos commute to work by car (not including out-of-county commuters).

Assuming participation in public transit would increase if there was a method of closing the gap between the first and final mile between commute destinations, what would be the best and most feasible solution to increase public transportation use?

Here’s one idea: Bird.

Following the models of ride-sharing services and bike sharing rentals now readily available across the city, users can now tap their smartphone to call up the service of a Bird – an electric scooter that does not require a dock, keys, rental booth, or even a drop-off location. You simply find your scooter after making a reservation by app, hop on, and go! Their website provides some basic rules:

  • Do: Wear a helmet, as required by law. Keep both feet on the footboard while riding. Ride in bike lanes when available. Park adjacent to
    bike racks when available. End your ride by locking the Bird with the app.
  • Do Not: Ride on sidewalks. Block public pathways or driveways. That’s about it.

Good morning little Italy! #lovebird #enjoytheride

A post shared by Bird (@bird) on

As soon as the scooter is unlocked, the vehicle becomes the responsibility of its user. But considering how prevalent GPS is today, the scooters are tracked in real time, no matter how far they wander, almost guaranteeing they can be found before, during, and after use.

Every evening the fleet of scooters are picked up and taken back to the mothership to recharge. And like clockwork, between 5 am and 6 am the next morning, the electric scooters begin to reappear throughout the city, ready for a new day of use. Initially I harbored some of the same concerns as when ride-sharing apps began proliferating. “Are there really going to be enough supply to meet a demand?” I wondered. Fortunately, anyone can log into the Bird app to check on the availability of scooters throughout the day.

As population of cities grow, density increases, and dependency upon personal automobiles decline, the availability of public transportation will increasingly become a topic of public discussion. But considering it’s much easier to bring riders to an existing station than it is to build a new rail station to riders, the proposition of adding an element of fun to public transportation by way of electric scooters seems a strategy I can support.

One of my first goals after moving to Downtown Los Angeles was to memorize the lattice of streets traveling west to east (alongside several cross streets stretching north to south). Figueroa. Flower. Hope. Grand. Olive. Hill. Broadway. Spring. Main. Los Angeles. These ten streets downtown are its most prominent, in sum making up the majority of the city’s historic core.

Photo: Brett Miller

With perpendicular streets numbered, wayfinding across Downtown is fairly simple, with each street reflecting its own particular and unique vibe. But of those numerous streets connecting Downtown Los Angeles, it’s the theater-lined Broadway I remember best.

Photo: Brett Miller

During the roaring 1920’s, vaudeville venues were being constructed almost annually along Broadway. And when I say “theater”, I don’t mean a movie theater, or a simple unimaginative entertainment center. Think exorbitant, ornate exteriors with equally grandiose interiors: Parisian tier fixtures, artisan stone/plaster work, vaulted decorated ceilings, and thick red curtain theaters to greet patrons for the evening. Bestowed majestic names like The Palace, The Orpheum, The Rialto, The Tower, and my favorite, the Los Angeles Theater (not to mention the numerous theaters demolished over the years), these gilded auditoriums hosted a roaring entertainment landscape, their illuminated signs glowing across Downtown Los Angeles for decades.

The Rialto Theater along Broadway back in 2008, before its conversion into a gentrified retail space in 2013. Creative Commons photo credit.

While some theaters dropped off the map sooner than others, many of these masterpieces of architecture began to close their doors to the public during the 80s and 90s. The momentum of development across Los Angeles had moved westward away from Downtown, and thus the lights across Broadway eventually dimmed, their audiences long gone, their grandeur somehow forgotten. Being new to Los Angeles, I previously did not recognize a connection between Los Angeles and Broadway at all. The association was a connection typically reserved for New York, or perhaps Chicago.

Photos: Brett Miller

But Downtown has gone through a vigorous rebirth over the past 10 years. Some credit belongs to Councilmember Jose Huizar, whose initiative, Bringing Back Broadway has helped bring economic and cultural revitalization to the diminished landscape of Broadway. This past January, Downtown LA’s theaters reemerged to host artists, musicians, food, drink, and even roller derby and dodge ball as pop-up installations, bringing tens of thousands of people down to the evening event. What began in 2014 with just 3,000 visitors, the 2018 event now known as Night on Broadway reportedly brought over 80,000 visitors downtown.

In September I investigated the impact temporary installations can have upon a landscape, alongside how these installations could be used in response to community needs, problems, or simply the public’s desire for communal space. Night on Broadway meets all of these goals. By creatively reusing our city’s existing resources, Los Angeles was able to fill one of its most historic corridors with color, music, and energy, breathing new life into an evolving and storied community. The event was temporary, its effects more permanent.

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All photos: Brett Miller

The AHBE staff is playing a mentorship role again, collaborating with the senior Cal Poly Pomona studio to work together on a Long Beach remediation project exploring various solutions for an industrial site off the Los Cerritos Channel and the San Gabriel Channel. Our mutual goal: investigate long term site conditions spanning the next 100+ years.

The project began this month with a meeting and charette, with each student presenting their case study focusing upon interventions for our site. And this weekend, as part of the inventory/analysis phase of the project, the AHBE staff and students from Cal Poly took to the water together to kayak a stretch of the site.

Our visit gave our project partners a firsthand look at the site from the waterways/channels. While there are some main roads and paths skirting around the site, getting into the water and sharing space with the wildlife (both fauna and flora) offers a much more palpable and accurate experience versus simply scanning maps or even driving by/around the site.

Crossing under the Pacific Coast Highway bridge, the scenery dramatically changes to a barren industrial site (still featuring several functioning oil pump jacks). But even here amongst a landscape of industry can be found a thriving wetland in its center, an ecosystem only accessible by water. Our kayak tour concluded greeted by refineries, an industrial presence dominating the channel landscape.

Our Los Cerritos Channel excursion will play a valuable role in shaping our observations and work back within the studio, providing context for the students as they begin determining future interventions for the Los Cerritos Channel, San Gabriel River, and the surrounding environments.

As 2017 year comes to a close, the AHBE LAB contributors are taking time to look back at our year’s worth of posts. We are each identifying the most memorable post and sharing what we found interesting, informative, and inspiring. Enjoy the flashback, and let us know which post you thought was most memorable.

I believe the skill of an artist derives from the combination of their passions with a devotion to practice. It’s not something that’s visible every day (maybe following a writer who blogs daily), and it’s usually done behind the scenes, often gone unnoticed and even unappreciated.

Jenni’s interview with Chuan – complete with her “sketch calendars” shown behind her monitor – captured the development of her tremendous sketching/designing skill that is evident to the entire office. Her skill has been a constant inspiration to me in the development of my writing, sketching, and designing abilities – a practice I believe should be a daily practice within our profession: to create something every day.

The original post here: AHBE Lab Interviews: Chuan Ding – Sketching: Praxis & Pleasure

The small flag banners designed by ATLAS Lab in promotion of “Prototype to Permanent: Short Term Projects for Long Term Change”. Photo: ATLAS Lab Facebook page

The ASLA National Conference and Expo came to Los Angeles this year. It was my second year attending – last year’s event was an incredible opportunity, especially the educational sessions where attendees were invited to sit at the feet of masters of the profession to hear about their processes, muses, successes, as well as their struggles in every aspect of our field.

One particularly inspiring session was “Prototype to Permanent” – a discussion about temporary installations that made an impact on the community, and how they became – or were in the process of becoming – a permanent installation.

“Tactical Urbanism” has been coined to describe the global movement of small scale, short lived installations designed to improve the surrounding community or environment. In some instances these installations point out how a simply constructed solution can bring about a significant change.  Park(ing) Day is an example of such a transformation, altering a small space into a small park, and in doing so, leaving an impact upon the urban environment.

Another example cited happened in South Boston: After years of back and forth between the city and the community – with funds being available, then unavailable – the anticipation of the development of a new community space was palpable. A solution to offer the community a temporary public space at a lower cost than the master planned space was devised by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority in partnership with a design firm. This temporary space was intended as a short term solution while funds were accruing for the long term project. However, after the Lawn on D was installed, the space took off as one of the most powerful public places in the South Boston area.

The authors of the book Tactical Urbanism presented countless examples of temporary projects that served as advocacy pilot projects – each eliminating meetings, cutting the red tape, and side-stepping bureaucracy to set up a quick inexpensive solution to draw attention, meet approval, and gather funding. An example cited was Manhattan’s Lower East Side community’s desire to develop the safety of roadways for cyclists and to create a comfortable public space through a median. A project began with paint and planters, then later developed into a pilot that evolved into a permanent plaza space.

Tactical Urbanist’s Guide to Materials is available as a free PDF download here.

One of the most powerful responses to these type of temporary sites occurs only after the project has expired and is removed.  When an temporary intervention that meets the needs of a community is created and accepted, a tremendous reaction happens when the installation is removed. The panel during this ASLA National Conference and Expo session noted this reaction is one of the most compelling reasons that cities and communities sought solutions to make these prototypes permanent.

The final thought we were left with at the conclusion of the panel was intended as encouragement for anyone feeling a compulsion to create a tactical urbanism project themselves…advice I believe applicable to most of our work as designers: not to focus on the installation or the project itself while creating, but to focus on the objective. And also to recognize the change a project can produce, no matter its simplicity or complexity. By observing the impact a project can produces upon the street, community, or environment, then comes an appreciation of the “short term action for long-term change” that defines tactical urbanism as a powerful tool to improve the landscape and community, one small section at a time.

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