Broadway's makeover — which arrives just as some of its discount stores are being replaced in a wave of gentrification by upscale boutiques — happens to take many of its design cues from street life in Latin American cities.This gets interesting, as emergence can be messy, and messy can look like the third world, which is no doubt causing some anguish among urban planners and zoning boards (my area of expertise) and public health officials (suggested search string: Los Angeles food truck).
The redesign suggests just how many politicians and policymakers in Southern California are finding inspiration in Latino Urbanism, a term that describes the range of ad hoc ways in which immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America have remade pockets of American cities to feel at least a little like the places they left behind.
Planners are adding parks and bike lanes to major streets but also pushing to loosen outdated restrictions, so that murals can be painted in the arts district and street vendors selling tortas or sliced fruit can operate legally.
Latinos have carved out space for entrepreneurial and community-minded activities in a city organized around the freeway and the private house. Largely renters without the connections or capital to remake the architecture of the city, immigrants have found ways to modify an established, largely suburban metropolis around the edges to make it more hospitable and sociable."Earlier generations of residents?" Or was it earlier cohorts of Wise Experts?
In the process they've blurred the line between public and private space that earlier generations of L.A. residents tried to draw as indelibly as possible.
In a neighborhood remade by Latino immigrants, signs are mostly hand-painted, whether they announce an accountant's office or a nail salon. The walls of grocery stores are covered with pictogram-like drawings of milk jugs and boxes of detergent.
Fences are less barriers than thresholds (or impromptu storefronts). Parks are crowded on the weekends, but so are front yards, as birthday parties and other celebrations spill toward the street.
"In Mexico, every town has the local plaza, the town square," said [alderman Jose] Huizar, who has a master's degree in public affairs and urban planning from Princeton. "And then you come to a place like L.A., it's all about the car and how fast you can drive through different neighborhoods."The status quo will remain profitable, until it won't. Emergence is like that. As is disruption, but that's some scribblings on a pad of paper for the next time I feel like doing some serious economics. As far as the guidelines, well, I bet those 1946 guidelines have a lot of the Futurama about them. What comes next, though, isn't so clear cut.
[Mayor Eric] Garcetti's predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, was the first Latino mayor in Los Angeles in more than a century. His commitment to redesigning the city in the image of Latino Urbanism — making it more walkable and improving the design of public space — was inconsistent.
Even as he worked to dramatically extend public transit, he backed a plan to turn Olympic and Pico boulevards into one-way streets. The change would have pushed car traffic right up to the sidewalk and undermined the appeal of those streets for pedestrians and shoppers.
Now planning ideas drawn from Latino Urbanism — along with a small handful of other sources, such as the writings of Jane Jacobs — are being woven for the first time into the basic frameworks that guide urban planning, architecture and development across Los Angeles.
The city is simultaneously updating three of its key policy rule books: its zoning code, which hasn't been rewritten since 1946; its mobility plan, which governs transportation; and its guidelines for health and wellness, which include recommendations for park space and pedestrian activity.
Draft versions of each suggest a coordinated effort to retrofit the suburban, post-war landscape of Los Angeles for a less privatized era. The mobility guidelines indicate that L.A. streets will increasingly be thought of as complex public spaces rather than just corridors to move cars. The health and wellness plan argues that Angelenos need more neighborhood parks and better and safer places to walk.
The gap between how Latino Urbanism seeks to remake Los Angeles and the way it's been planned from City Hall for decades, largely giving priority to the private realm, is far from closed. Architects and real-estate developers continue to find ways to maintain the profitable status quo. Even Huizar recently drew fire from public-space advocates for siding with a developer seeking approval for a private bridge linking two apartment buildings.
The Broadway remake is another indication of the challenges that will come with these efforts."Co-opting or expanding" happen to be precisely how the Wise Experts codify what they understand those best practices to be. It's a codification of the Futurama vision of streets that has made the existing boulevards unsafe places to walk, let alone to cross on foot.
Choosing to lavish so much design attention, however well thought out, on a street that is already pedestrian-friendly and increasingly upscale leaves City Hall open to the charge that it is co-opting rather than expanding the basic ideals of Latino Urbanism. There are plenty of streets across the city where immigrants who can't afford cars struggle to find safe places to walk.
In Highland Park, East L.A. and elsewhere, immigrants are already feeling financial pressure to leave neighborhoods that are being actively remade in their image — or marketed precisely for the appeal that Latino Urbanism has lent their sidewalks and streets.
This spring, real estate agent Bana Haffar, 27, posted fliers downtown urging renters to consider buying houses or condos across the L.A. River in Boyle Heights. The flier described Boyle Heights as a "charming, historic, walkable and bikeable neighborhood" and invited prospective buyers on a "free 60 minute bike tour of the neighborhood followed by a 30-minute discussion. Artisanal treats and refreshments provided."
She was blasted with angry responses on Twitter and her Facebook page, accusing her of promoting the sort of gentrification in Boyle Heights that might wipe out the very charm she'd identified there. Haffar — an immigrant from Saudi Arabia — canceled the tour.