Last weekend I joined other Angelenos at March Forth!, a fundraiser and block party sponsored by LA Walks in advocacy of safer walking for all across the city. This year’s block party was hosted in Historic Filipinotown, and included games, face painting, lessons for healthy cooking, bicycle riding, skateboarding, and environmental workshops for all ages.
The event truly prioritized pedestrians and non-vehicular modes of transit (unfortunately a rare occurrence in Los Angeles), going as far as to offer free valet bike parking for bicyclists such as myself, compliments of The Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition. It was exciting to see everyone occupy the block cordoned off from traffic, engaged by ideas to improve pedestrian life in our city.
I have to commend the energy of the volunteer organizations in attendance, as they each made the event a success. Although the focus was clearly on community health and promoting safe streets, everyone was there in unity to have some fun. Particularly memorable was a bicycle course developed to teach kids how to safely ride their bikes. I didn’t begin riding a bike in an urban environment until my early twenties, and I remember it required some adjustment, including gaining the confidence and learning the techniques to communicate with drivers sharing the streets. Ideally, one day the social agreement to share the road will be ingrained in our culture across pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers alike.
Another organization in attendance, Ours Did, displayed evocative signs that read, “Drive Like Your _ Died Here”, offering people who’ve lost a loved one an opportunity to personalize signs in hopes of creating a deeper and personal connection with street safety.
During the event I also learned about the Vision Zero campaign, founded to eliminate all traffic-related deaths and severe injuries by 2025. Los Angeles hosts the regional Vision Zero Alliance, a citywide coalition of community based and advocacy organizations brought together to promote pedestrian advocacy across the city. It was encouraging to see the momentum already in place.
As a professional in landscape architecture, it became obvious our discipline could become more involved with policy making, community engagement, and advocacy of a safer place to walk, run, ride, and also drive. One way design professionals can participate is by increasing meaningful civic engagement through visual tools. Urban policy and planning issues may affect our communities, but they’re often portrayed in unnecessarily intimidating ways. Many policies do not encourage community participation, and in turn meaningful change never materializes in the form of construction in their environments serving the people who live there.
Design professionals can and should aid in addressing complex spatial issues associated with cultural, racial, and ethnic inequality. Organizations at March Forth! showed how to effectively use visual tools like community polls to engage the public into providing feedback about how fast vehicular traffic should be set within their community, and interactive boards inviting individuals to create their own dream street revealed what the community wants from its community. Ultimately, the more people are given the tools to promote pedestrian safety and a voice to engage in meaningful exchanges, the larger and more informed the constituency becomes…and the safer the streets of Los Angeles become for all.