Not so very long ago – maybe only a century past – the mile-long stretch of Venice Boulevard from Inglewood to Beethoven, in Mar Vista, was framed by lima bean fields. Today, that section of Venice Blvd., a state highway, is surrounded by a residential neighborhood that’s seen property values quadruple in the last 20 years, as well as big new Google, Yahoo, and YouTube offices. People have recently taken to calling the area “silicon beach,” and the stretch of Venice Boulevard reflects the heft of that title. With three lanes going east, three going west, unprotected bike lanes on either side, parking on either side, and a treed median in the middle of it all, it’s simply gargantuan.
“What we have is this incredible opportunity,” explains Sarah Auerswald, Mar Vista resident of 20 years and president of Mar Vista’s newly minted Chamber of Commerce, which went official with the IRS just last year. “It’s very wide, so there’s a lot you could do.”
And a lot is exactly what she and her partners – The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, The Coffee Connection/ West LA Café, Green Communications Initiative, A Kid’s Place preschool, and Grand View Blvd Elementary School – plan to do on November 28 of this year. As one of the eight winners of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative, they’ve won a $10,000 grant to make Venice Boulevard even greater, and plans are heating up for a one-day event and celebration. The goal? To build community spirit and connectivity. To get people out of cars and into the streets, exploring the bars, bowling alleys, and shops that the area has to offer.
Here’s what to expect on November 28:
Mar Vista is a fascinating community. It’s home to many from Oaxaca, as well as a Japanese community, which moved to the area when Japanese internment camps were released after WWII. The land holds some very heavy stories, and some fascinating ones, and the event’s organizers want to draw out and record as many of those stories as they possibly can. To that end, there’ll be a “story booth” on the street that day, and a group of students from Grand View Boulevard Elementary will be teaming up with a local assisted living facility, to get as many stories as possible recorded (via the super-famous and time-tested StoryCorps App.) for posterity. If you have a story to tell about the neighborhood, or about Venice Boulevard, you’ll definitely want to stop by the Living History booth to spill. Stories will be recorded in both Spanish and English.
“We’re going to talk about the neighborhood and the street,” explains Auerswald. “What was Venice Boulevard like 40 years ago? What was it like 20 years ago? What’s happening now? What do you see as the future?” Doesn’t that sound amazing? Don’t you wish every neighborhood in the country would do this?
A temporary protected bike lane
Right now, it’s not the bike lanes that are against the curb on this stretch of Venice Boulevard, but the parking lane. That means that cyclists find themselves out in the open – not protected by a row of parked cars, or by anything. On Nov 28, parking and bike lanes are going to simply be swapped out with each other. Easy peasy.
“I will say that this is something that a lot of people in Los Angeles want to see happen for a lot of streets,” says Auerswald, “but specifically for Venice Boulevard, as part of the Great Streets Initiative, there’s been a lot of outreach from the councilman’s office and from city planners to say ‘what do people want?’ Overwhelmingly, the projected bike lane is something people want to see. So what we want to do with this event is try it out for a day. Let’s see what it actually looks like. What problems do we encounter? What do we know we need to fix when we go permanent?”
Art teachers and students from a local school for disabled children will be creating – from their wheelchairs – sidewalk paintings to direct you to the art exhibit, to the Living History project, to the food, etc.
Local businesses and sweet treats
Lots of local businesses will be participating in the event; a bowling alley, a handmade soap company, Venice Grind coffee, Sweet Lucy’s Ice Cream, Earl’s Gourmet Grub, and The Dog Bakery. “It may sound funny,” says Auerswald, “but it’s a dog world these days.” Start readying yourself and your canine for some goodies and freebies.
What would make Auerswald happier than just about anything else? “A tricycle in the bike lane – that would be amazing!” she says.
And then all the other signs of a community growing more tight-knit. “Just seeing people walking up and down the street, talking to each other,” she explains. “I’m really excited to see the bikes in the protected bike lane. The connections people make. The kind of little interaction where you don’t have to be getting someone’s name, you’re just sharing a moment, and it makes you feel like you live in a place that’s friendly. Driving a car, you don’t make connections. Walking down the street, you just catch someone’s eye and feel like you’re in a neighborhood.”
How to get involved
Since the event will take place on 11.28.15, Auerswald and her fellow organizers are asking you to donate an easy-to-remember amount of $11.28. Check out their campaign page for a fun video about the event, plus lots more info. Over $4,000 more has already streamed in via their ioby fundraising campaign. At just $6,000 more to go, you know your donation of $11.28 will put huge smiles on the organizers’ faces. Spread the Mar Vista love!