Corridors and plazas are the malls of the future! #streetsforpeople

Bradley Ave Plaza #thefuture

In the realm of active transportation, we are always thinking about the future and the constantly changing trends, cultures, and behavior shifts – these are the heartbeat of the City that we listen to in order to plan and integrate our work into the ever-evolving urban fabric of Los Angeles.  The conversation about active transportation increasingly goes beyond the modes we are talking about (walking, biking, rolling). The beauty of active transportation is that it intertwines with other disciplines, a wide variety of stakeholders, and other physical and social aspects of public space like social life, urban spaces, and cultural programming. Constantly in our practice, we observe these ties, although they differ neighborhood to neighborhood and place by place, as each has its own deep cultural and historical influences. We were lucky enough to spend some time in one of these culturally-rich neighborhoods lately, learning about the lay of the land.

Last week, LADOT Active Transportation Division traveled to Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima to attend a workshop put on by the Urban Land Institute (ULI). Van Nuys Boulevard is no stranger to recognition! It has been designated by two council districts as a Great Street, was selected as one of four Demonstration Corridors in the country for ULI’s Healthy Corridors Grant, and today hosted the ribbon cutting of its People St Plaza, the Bradley Ave Plaza.

This neighborhood within Pacoima is a touch point for the conversation about mobility and transportation due to its confluence of modes: the historically car-dominated transect of the Valley crosses both Metrolink tracks and the San Fernando Road Bike Path, a right of way that has been slated for a proposed future high speed rail line. Additionally, Van Nuys Blvd. is being studied by Metro as part of the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor project. It remains to be seen what the future configuration of the street will look like or what type of transit and active transportation facilities will be built, but keep your ears peeled because improvements to mobility are in the works!

Max Podemski of Pacoima Beautiful leads a walking tour of Van Nuys Blvd, stopping at the intersection of Van Nuys Blvd and San Fernando Rd., where the bike path and Metrolink cruise side by side.

Pacoima is indicative of some of LA’s most significant growth challenges: though it lies in the heart of the sprawling single-family-home-oriented San Fernando Valley, because of ubiquitous under-the-radar garage conversions, the area reflects the density of multi-family housing. When reflecting on our favorite statistic, that 47% of trips in Los Angeles are under 3 miles and can easily be completed by walking or biking, we can’t help but see Van Nuys Blvd. as the ideal attractor for these local trips.

The ULI Healthy Corridors Workshop brought up some interesting points, but one of the things that piqued our attention was the term “economic leakage.” The workshop presented a number of snapshots and studies that have been conducted in the area. One study found that though many families- over 3000 property parcels- live within 1/2 mile of Van Nuys Boulevard, the vast majority leave the area to shop elsewhere.  This is the same story of economic decline of corridors and local economies over the past 40 years that can be told by countless cities and LA neighborhoods.

Just off Van Nuys Blvd., the walking tour revealed people already reclaiming sidewalk space for lounging, and spaces from a parking lot for a grassroots parklet.

Today we’re returning to the idea of streets as places for people. The game plan of how to get there will require a concert of strategies that touch on transportation, culture, economic development, and perhaps most importantly, partnership.

At the ribbon cutting ceremony, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes described the plaza process and its relationship to the corridor as a whole, that “We’re trying to figure out how to activate our public rights of way, how to make spaces more comfortable to our community… We know if we do this some more, it will continue to spread throughout Van Nuys Blvd… Instead of getting into your car and going somewhere else for something, we want to figure out how it is that you get out of your house and walk to Van Nuys Blvd and spend a little time together.”

Ballet folklorico dancers approach Bradley Plaza for their performance, illustrating the connection between the community in San Fernando Gardens and the plaza

The Bradley Ave Plaza, a one-block area located between Van Nuys Blvd. and the San Fernando Gardens public housing complex, represents a reimagining of what is the highest and best use for land. Reclaiming under-utilized street space to create flexible public gathering space is part of the important recipe that will revive our corridors for people instead of cross-county cut-through routes for commuters. By focusing on placemaking, corridor, and people-oriented district development, streets are being reclaimed. Their identity is shifting as a place to be, where people are the centerpiece, rather than their cars.

To illustrate the need for the Plaza, Councilmember Fuentes gave us some background. “The space used to be a dead end outlet, it really didn’t go anywhere. It didn’t have any real utility. What we’ve done is try to make this space a little more safe and accessible for the community. Many of you know that part of what we don’t have is spaces that are easily accessible for the community. In this area we have the highest rates of type 2 diabetes amongst kids… this space, as sparse as it might seem to some right now, is going to be very dynamic… the purpose of it is for us to be able to tailor the need as we have it with the input of the community.”

These kids said they play in the plaza in the afternoon, once its cooled off a bit

Bradley Plaza is sponsored by the local non-profit organization, Pacoima Beautiful. The group sourced funding for the Plaza furniture and exercise equipment (furniture and programming are the responsibility of the Community Partner) with a Kickstarter campaign. They successfully raised $10,355 with 100 backers, demonstrating stakeholder buy-in and support. The partnership promotes a grassroots strategy towards community development, shared responsibility for the project, and a sense of ownership by the community.

We are very excited to see what people come up with in the next round of People St projects this fall in the 2015 application cycle! The synergy of project development, with Van Nuys Blvd. as a key example, is exciting and inspiring. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds reminded us that “the return on investment that we get and the pride that is so evident that this community has in this place is priceless and worth far more than the dollars we invested to put a little paint on the ground.” Looking forward to many more plazas in the future of #streetsforpeople!

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