Los Angeles has been tagged with some less than appealing descriptions in its past, as a leader in traffic, congestion, and sprawl. But when Georgia Sheridan and Amber Hawkes start to talk about the city, it emerges as a place of endless possibilities, where denizens of thinkers, artists, activists and visionaries are actively at work to create vibrant communities where real human connectivity happens.
The two urban planning alumnae, who work at the urban design firm Torti Gallas in downtown L.A. (and also run their own research, writing and lecture partnership, Sheridan/Hawkes) recently put together a highly successful meeting of the minds called “LA 2.0”— a cross between a high-level planning session and a community brainstorm for what this city could ultimately be. Inspired by a quote from President Obama for the public to share innovative ideas with the White House, the two answered the call, with collaborators from GOOD Magazine and The Public Studio, and pulled together a gathering that included James Rojas, transportation planner for L.A. Metro; Simon Pastucha and Emily Gabel-Luddy of the City of L.A. urban design studio; John Chase, urban designer for the City of West Hollywood; and Neal Payton, architect and principal of Torti Gallas.
“We wanted to bring together urban planners and thinkers to come up with ideas, using their expertise and interdisciplinary collaboration—with economic practitioners, development people, planners, architects,” says Hawkes. “We thought that if you had these interdisciplinary teams, which is a trend that we’re seeing a lot in our business in general, that you can make something really interesting happen.”
“If Los Angeles right now is in its 1.0 version,” adds Sheridan, “what would the next version look like? Everyone throws out the term ‘twenty-first century,’ but what does that mean?”
The event initially began with the seed of a concept between the two planners as they were preparing for speaking at a professional meeting in 2009.
“We ended up doing a lot of research into rethinking street space,” says Sheridan, “and looking at land as really important in urban situations in every space—sidewalks, parks, residual space. We looked at New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and then one thing led to the next.”
Teaming up with GOOD and The Public Studio, the event announcement drew well over 150 applicants for the 30 available slots, from people across professions and interests—avid bicyclists, real estate developers, and bloggers—hitting a nerve among young Angelenos eager to shape the city’s future.
“One funny thing we started to see was that L.A. has a bad reputation, and needs a marketing plan,” says Sheridan, “the applications were all filled with love for L.A., even though a lot of people do complain about it. They were just really positive about what it could be.”
“We were hopeful that what we would create was solutions, but what we saw were really themes—the need for flexibility as cities change and grow, the need for social cohesion and places for people to gather and communicate,” Sheridan adds, “like the idea of having a ‘taco truck culture,’ where the environment allows for spontaneous moments of gathering and community.”
After a full day of workshops and a panel discussions, the team pulled together enough ideas and inspiration to launch a sequel: the City 2.0 Project. Intended to inspire other cities to host similar events, the idea is to get people to focus on community-based urban solutions, build stronger local networks of engaged professionals, and share their good ideas with cities across the country.
The ideas submitted through the GOOD/Public Studio (www.good.is/post/project-city-2-0) will be collected and submitted to The White House for consideration.
Adapted from newsforum magazine, published by the UCLA School of Public Affairs.