Tag Archives: LA Great Streets

FIG JAM: The past, present, and future of a historic L.A. ’hood

“We want to celebrate the first Great Street in L.A.,” says Misty Iwatsu, Executive Director of the North Figueroa Association and principal organizer of FIG JAM. “It’s about our historic past, our present rejuvenation, and the promise of our future.”

FIG JAM will manifest as a free, all‑ages, educational, and cultural event on North Figueroa Street between Avenue 50 and Avenue 60. Its activities will encourage longtime and new residents alike to mingle with each other and explore the local businesses, sidewalks, and public spaces of their own Great Street, while imagining what improvements would help them enjoy their neighborhood even more.

“The primary goal of FIG JAM,” Misty says, “is to repurpose North Figueroa as a more viable local and regional community space.

“But actually, let me start 30 years ago. In the 80s and 90, this area was overrun with gangs, prostitution, drug dealing… Now, the Highland Park BID [business improvement district] has really helped to make it safe. Families are everywhere: going to the market, visiting the theater, using gyms and dance studios. Anyone can walk down the street now and find something they like. And it’s all mom and pop shops; no big box stores.

“We have some of the most historic buildings of anywhere in all L.A.: the Highland Theatre, the Security Pacific Bank building, the Women’s Highland Park Ebell Club—so many! A lot of them are being bought up and restored. It’s great to see them shine next to new restaurants, cafes, our bowling alley—and Chicken Boy.”

“With FIG JAM, we’re very hands-on,” she says. “We’re asking people, ‘What’s your vision?’ ”

“And we want the event to appeal to everyone. We’ll have walking tours divided into four areas: ‘Healthy Streets’ to showcase the gyms, movement studios, and medical offices; ‘Civic Engagement’ to introduce people to the local police, fire department, and water and power locations; ‘Arts and Culture’ to highlight the area’s theater, art, and music spaces; and ‘Food and Business’ to show off our past and current enterprises and explore how local eating establishments can continue to be the heart of North Figueroa.

“All our signage and other visual elements will be made ‘low-fab,’ using elements like spray chalk and lightweight structures that can be utilized by volunteers young and old.

“And through in-person surveys, attendance tracking, and the sales records of local businesses, we’ll continue to build our understanding of what North Figueroa wants and needs.”

Misty says that throughout Los Angeles, residents are reevaluating and repurposing their streets as public space.

“From parklets in converted parking spaces to open street events, Angelenos are creating community, commerce, and healthy, multi‑modal mobility,” she says. “By encouraging discussions, tours, and performances that traverse the different eras of the street, FIG JAM will bring awareness to the many possibilities of public space on North Figueroa.

“Long term, we’ll help inform more permanent improvements that the city and community can pursue together.”

Sounds fun—let’s jam!


The FIG JAM team would like to give a shout-out to their partners: Gensler, Occidental College, and Councilman Gil Cedillo.

YES (Youth Envisioned Streets): Youth driving a community’s health

“In South L.A., youth are out in the community on a daily basis more than any other segment of the population, making them prime catalysts for community change. In our highly-monolingual population with adults who work multiple jobs, kids are the voice of the neighborhood.”

This idea is the basis for the National Health Foundation’s project YES (Youth Envisioned Streets) for a Healthier South L.A., a one-day pop-up event that will take place on Central Avenue between Adams and Vernon. Organizers Mia Arias and Alba Peña want the neighborhood’s young people to be the event’s community ambassadors and activists—the ones who’ll demonstrate and help implement new interventions along the corridor that will promote healthy lifestyles and a “complete streets” philosophy.

Youth Envisioned Streets

“A lot of projects try to get youth involved, but it’ll be for one small part,” says Mia. “We’re doing it on all levels: they’ll be planning, engaging with our community partners, marketing, fundraising… They’ll get in on all the aspects so they know everything it takes to make something like this happen. We’re not going to just say, ‘Here, Tweet this.’ ”

The main activities the young volunteers will take on include:

1) working closely with Los Angeles Walks and the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition to design and create temporary street design treatments that will illustrate how a safer streetscape could be achieved in the corridor;

2) partnering with safe haven A Place Called Home to design an organic vegetable garden and plan cooking demonstrations for the day of the event;

3) imagining and building Creative Expression Outlets: activities and entertainment including health-themed art contests, music and dance performances, and live mural demonstrations by local artists, all targeted to attendees of all ages.

“All of these activities will demonstrate how public space can be reimagined to be safe, vibrant, and active for all members of our community,” says Mia.

“When people think of healthy lifestyles, they usually think of eating vegetables and going to the gym,” says Alba, “not necessarily about the built environment. But we know that if there’s a nice wide sidewalk, you’re more likely to walk. If there’s a bike lane, you might think of riding to work. It’s all connected.

“For many years, our public health approach has been ‘downstream’—for example, counseling people with diabetes. Now, we know we need to create environments that foster health instead of raising barriers. These are ‘upstream’ solutions, focused on prevention. Public health has begun adopting planning issues as their own, which is very exciting. And this is where reimagining the built environment comes in: it’s the synergy between public health and planning.”

“Southeast L.A. is a food desert with a lack of open space and a lot of health problems,” says Mia. “When we can rethink and re-create public spaces that can help people become more active and healthier, we improve the health of the whole community, the whole city, the whole state, the whole nation. That helps our workforce, it helps our schools. No matter the size of the setting, any community will expend less resources when they have less unhealthy people to support.”

Alba hopes their work will inspire others. “We’d love to see these trends spread across the city,” she says. “We want to bring attention to our government about what our needs are, and get communities talking about what they want to see.”

“Making our neighbors, especially our young neighbors, aware that things can change—for the better—is a huge part of this,” says Mia. “The idea that you do have the power to make change, and you can be involved. So we’re doing a lot of asking in our process: Do you like this? What else would be beneficial to you? We’re collecting testimonials and data of all kinds to inform whatever will happen next.”

“In order to make lasting change,” she says, “you really have to collaborate.”

Pacoima Street Values: Keeping DIY placemaking in L.A.’s future

“The informal placemaking that’s happened in this corridor has resulted in a rich sense of place and a real vibrancy,” says Max Podemski about Van Nuys Boulevard between Laurel Canyon and Bradley Avenue. “With our project—Pacoima Street Values: Supporting Vending, Arts and Public Space through Informal Use—we want to legitimize, formalize, and propagate it.”

Pacoima Street Values

According to Max, Planning Director at the local environmental justice organization Pacoima Beautiful, “existing businesses are already activating public space here. Owners have responded to our neighborhood’s increasing bicycle and pedestrian traffic: restaurateurs are knocking out walls to take their diners outside; neighbors are trying out different kinds of street furniture; vendors are selling their merch on sidewalks… We propose creating a ‘kit of parts’—essentially a list of useful tools and best practices—that pays homage to these DIY placemaking efforts while serving as a foundation for increased future enhancements.”

The corridor is slated for some major infrastructure changes. The Los Angeles Metro’s East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor project, as well as initiatives brought by Councilmember Felipe Fuentes, are poised to dramatically restructure Van Nuys, a major thoroughfare that was originally designed primarily for car traffic.

“When you hear people talk about the neighborhood who have only driven through it, you would think it’s an underutilized place,” says Max. “But if you walk along it, you see all that’s really going on. When we drive—and people in L.A. drive fast!—we miss the richness along the street. All the little buildings have a store or restaurant in them; there are informal seating areas where people are hanging out. Our kit will formalize these local reinventions, and help to carry the neighborhood’s current vibe over when these big changes happen.”

“There will be two basic parts to it,” he explains. “One that will show tools and tactics for better pedestrian infrastructure: wider crosswalks, sidewalk extensions. The other will integrate the interventions businesses are already doing and formalize them into a unified design, and in some cases, actually help to make them legal! For example, a local restaurant could learn about more cost-effective urban furniture for their al fresco area, or about how far they can legally extend into the street.”

Pacoima Beautiful has been on Van Nuys since 1996. “We’ve always used a lot of community input,” says Max. “L.A., like a lot of places around the country, is struggling with issues of gentrification. Walkability and bikes have come to be known as instruments of gentrification, yet the vast majority of people in L.A. who use transit, bike, and walk are our low-income and immigrant populations. This project comes out of working with the existing community on these issues, instead of enacting a top-down plan where you’re dropping streetscape interventions from on high.

“We want to have this come up from what’s already on the street.”

“I love L.A.,” Max says. “It’s one of the most interesting and dynamic places in the country because we have this rich tapestry of cultures and people. As a planner, it’s also exciting to be here because it’s reinventing itself right now. We’re building five transit lines; reorienting the city around walking and revitalization. And a lot of this change is coming from the grassroots. We’ve seen change through the actions of elected officials who are really responding to our efforts.”

“It’s great to look at other cities and see what we can learn,” Max says, “but it’s also really satisfying to take what we’ve made as a community already and build it to the next level.”

“We want to do this in an L.A. way.”


Pacoima Beautiful would like to acknowledge the hard work and camaraderie of their partners at LA-Más.

Connect the Dots: Optimizing L.A.’s streets for water capture and culture

“When I was in architecture school, I studied for a while at Hadrian’s Villa in Rome and two fabulous things happened,” says Hadley Arnold, founding co-director, with her husband Peter, of the Arid Lands Institute. “One, I was inspired by all this gorgeous water infrastructure that not only fed public space, but also added so much beauty and mystery to the complex. It was wonderful to see design, utility, and meaning working so closely side by side. And two, I met my husband. Ever since then, we’ve both been enchanted with water systems.”

Connect the Dots

In the spirit of bringing practical and beautiful water infrastructure to the fore in public placemaking, the Arid Lands Institute’s Connect the Dots | Van Nuys project will gather together citizens, cyclists, and designers to envision Van Nuys Boulevard between Victory and Oxnard as a culturally and environmentally resilient Great Street. The project will aim to promote multimodal transit, engender vibrant public space, and optimize the hydrologic functions that are vital to Los Angeles’s future—including stormwater capture as well as more permeable streets, more cooling vegetation, and more shade.

“We think design should serve as a bridge between science and the public imagination,” says Hadley. “We know from scientific study that long-term drought is in the cards for California; now we want to take that information—and what we can do about it—to the community, in an appealing, accessible, visual way.”

Aja Bulla‐Richards, Creative Director for Connect the Dots, is leading that charge.

“Our streets already host a lot of shared codes,” she explains. “Stoplights, crosswalks, street signs, etc. With this project, we’re trying out some new shared codes about things critical to our future, like stormwater use. For example, a series of five-inch diameter blue dots painted on a street could indicate a place where rainwater should be captured for storage. A series of red dots could indicate an area where we wouldn’t want to collect water, like near a gas station. After a while, you see a kind of mural start to emerge. A data-derived mural, but still a mural!”

“People really respond to these kinds of playful visualizations,” says Aja. “They’re instantly understandable. They appeal to our curiosity. They make us think, ‘What is this space? What could it be?’ Then we can add other layers, like visualizations of where bike lanes or sidewalks could go. And then we can readily see how the locations of those different amenities would interact.”

Connect the Dots will hold three focus groups this fall (in English and Spanish) followed by three public workshops next year. The first workshop will allow participants to identify and mark features like underground streams, storage reservoirs, contamination sites, and storm drains on the street; the second will cull public opinion about how water capture systems, bike lanes, transit, walking paths, and other street amenities could better work together to support community life, and test out some temporary streetscapes; the third will implement and test the chosen streetscapes at full scale (using temporary materials). Then a culminating event—to include a barbecue, outdoor movies, dancing, trick riding, and more—will encourage neighbors to enjoy their new space. Participants will evaluate: How is this working? What would we change?, and the organizers will document the responses and perspectives.

“Our hope is that this is a demo project that will be one dot on an increasingly larger map,” says Hadley. “There’s no such thing as a Great Street in dry land unless it’s integrating stormwater capture and green transportation options. We want to scale and transport this to as many other streets in L.A. as possible.”
“This city’s architects, landscapers, and designers have given so much to it, and the city has given so much back to them. It’s such an incredible reciprocal arrangement that places have with people. I feel honored to be a part of this one.”

AWESOME PROJECT: Pedestrians and cyclists to storm West Colfax Avenue, Denver, on August 16th!

Jack Kerouac, who spent time on Colfax Avenue in the course of his travels, called it the “longest, wickedest road in America.” It may not be the wickedest, anymore, but many do say that it’s the longest commercial street in the world. Lined with historic hotels still sporting their fantastic midcentury modern neon signs, Colfax has welcomed lots of new businesses in recent years. Bus lines and a new light rail station (finished in 2013) on Colfax have made the Avenue more accessible than ever.

“Colfax Avenue is this major east-west connector in Denver,” says Jill Locantore of pedestrian advocacy organization WalkDenver. “It’s pretty storied in Denver’s history; before the interstate system was built, it was the major travel corridor through Denver. So there were tons of people who came across the country and were doing road trips and went along Colfax Avenue. But it’s really continued to evolve over time.”

Despite all the development and redevelopment happening on Colfax right now, though, it’s still not a street you’d really want to walk or bike. Not yet. It’s too massive and car-dominated. Even crossing the street on foot can be dangerous. That’s why WalkDenver – along with partners like Place/Matters, and an army of planning students from the University of Colorado – started collecting data last year on pedestrian-Colfax interactions. They created an app called WALKscope (which invites users to enter location-specific data on sidewalk quality, pedestrian counts, etc), to help them identify specific interventions that might make Colfax more bike and ped friendly.


The findings led to meetings with public transit agencies, which in turn led to the creation of a HUGE AWESOME REIMAGINE WEST COLFAX EVENT coming up right around the corner, on August 16th. Picture one solid block of Colfax Ave transformed into pedestrian/cyclist/donut lovers heaven for the day, and that’s about what you’re gonna get:

1. Tito Malaga will be playing live gypsy flamenco.
2. The Klez Dispensers (best band name in the history of band names) will be playing, yep, Klezmer.
3. Pop-up parklets on the sides of Colfax – sort of like the ones in NYC’s Union Square.
4. Three City Councilmembers will be in attendance to celebrate and make some remarks.
5. Expect food trucks, pop up shops, Little Man ice cream, Great Divide beer (donated by the local brewery), AND
6. IF you complete the Tour De Donut pop-up protected bike lane loop – which will demonstrate three different kinds of protected bike lanes – you’ll get to nosh on free Voodoo Donuts. By the way, cyclists – City Councilman Paul Lopez has promised to bike the Tour De Donuts, so if you’ve ever wanted to enjoy a Captain my Captain with a local official, now’s your chance.

Not gonna lie – we’re kind of jealous.

What feature are the folks of WalkDenver most excited about? “It may not sound that exciting,” says Locantore, “but we’re really excited about an enhanced pedestrian crossway that we’re putting in for the day. It’ll simulate a pedestrian activated traffic signal, so pedestrians push a button, a light flashes, and cars stop. We’re going to actually have rainbow colored crosswalks, to really highlight this as a pedestrian crossing area.”

How’s that for pedestrian visibility? There will also be a planted median refuge area in the middle of the street, so that you don’t have to make it all the way across in one go, as well as “bulbouts” at the ends of sidewalks, to further shorten the distance a pedestrian has to cross to get to the other side. It’s all about shrinking carspace and growing peoplespace.

And what about cars, you ask, if pedestrians are going to be crowned king for the day? “Cars are welcome as guests, but they need to slow down and respect the people on foot,” says Locantore. Awesome. That pretty much describes our dream city, here at ioby. If you see any crazy community organizers charging the streets of Brooklyn with signs telling cars that they’re “welcome as guests,” that’ll probably be us.

The best news of all is that this stuff is not pie-in-the-sky. The changes that WalkDenver and their partners are implementing on Aug 16 are totally, completely, 100% feasible as long-term, permanent solutions.

“We didn’t want to demonstrate things that were just a fantasy and could never actually happen,” says Locantore, “so we very deliberately did a design workshop where we invited representatives from Denver Public Works, from the Regional Transportation District (the local transit agency), and from C-DOT (the state transportation agency). And we put them to work. We gave them an aerial photo of the block of Colfax that we we’re focusing on, and we told them to draw what they thought we could do to Colfax that would make it more pedestrian friendly that would actually be realistic and could be implemented down the road. So a lot of the ideas we’re testing out are ones that came directly out of that conversation with the agencies that would be responsible for permanent implementation.”

So come enjoy the day, meet some neighbors, eat some donuts, drink some beer, and then share your feedback via the video booth and story board that’ll be set up for you. YOUR VOICE MATTERS, and the organizers can’t wait to see you.

If WalkDenver’s work inspires you to take action in YOUR neighborhood, or if you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Some great streets in LA are upping their games, too, and we’re helping them raise money to do it.