Transforming formerly car-dominated public spaces into pedestrian- and bike-friendly parks and plazas is all the rage in urban design. These projects are typically instigated by folks within City Hall, like former New York transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, who spearheaded efforts to turn busy tourist destinations like Times Square into pedestrian havens. The sheer bureaucracy involved in city planning makes it a heady task for a lowly community group to put up a pedestrian plaza.
In Los Angeles, a city rarely heralded as a pedestrian-friendly place, the process is going to get a whole lot easier. The department of transportation just launched People St, an initiative that offers what are essentially DIY urban design kits to create pedestrian plazas, mini parks, and bike parking to re-appropriate any of the 7,500 miles of street within the city.
Through the People St Program, most of the heavy bureaucratic lifting has been removed, putting the ability to redesign a community into the hands of the people who know it best. The downloadable kits offer pre-approved design configurations (tested in six pilot projects) for each type of space, and streamline the process for getting a permit. The community need only apply, pay for materials and installation, and agree to maintain the project, rather than shuffle through red tape from multiple municipal departments.
In an ideal world, this sort of thing wouldn't be necessary. The city would organize, pay for, and maintain public spaces that enhance the quality of life on its streets, and residents would not need to raise thousands of dollars to build their own plaza. But in places where that reality seems impossible, programs like this could help give community groups some say over what gets built in their neighborhood.
Revamping public spaces around pedestrian traffic has proven to be good for people--in New York's Times Square, the new pedestrian plaza reduced air pollution by 40%--and good for business, too, as these initiatives attract plenty of customers and give them a reason to linger. It's worth any city's while to make them as easy as possible to get off the ground (or into the street).