Greening Our Cities
Nothing throws us out of our comfort zone like a vacation, a walkabout, a trip from the everyday routine and an adventure of discovery. My recent trip to Chicago over the 4th of July holiday was just that, a journey that started with challenging myself “What do I absolutely need to pack?” to the Urban Campout to leave no footprints behind as I brave the wilds of downtown Chicago. It was, as always, a stimulating and inspiring experience!
At home, routine and habit are important elements of my sustainability commitment and simple things, such as a recycling bin for electronics and batteries, containers for purchasing bulk foods, bags for shopping, and reusable containers and utensils are just part of my “space” and I take them for granted.
On the road, I found myself limited to using only what I could carry in my shoulder bag, leaving little room for mug, utensils, napkins, bags, battery charger, recycling bin, compost bin, bread machine and pickling supplies. My new surroundings were full of obstacles to my sustainability commitment.
Fortunately, the obstacles were small in comparison to the inspiration and discovery I experienced, leaving me with full of ideas and new challenges such as ‘how do I smuggle a pocket park home to LA’ and ‘what can I do to export some of the great Chicago sustainable commitment to LA?’
Our hotel was Downtown, close to Michigan Avenue’s Millenium Mile, allowing us to walk everywhere and to take the El for longer trips. Of course, simply starting the day off with my much needed cup of tea involved the packaging dilemma and I had to resolve myself to relax and give in to the experience.
Since I was on vacation, I had to reset my head to “tourist” mode and allow the wonder of the journey to carry me away, to open up my senses to new ideas, innovations, and inspirations, and Chicago exceeded my expectations and overwhelmed me. Over and over, I found myself asking “What will it take to do this in LA?”
I was inspired by the way people behaved, by the way they occupied public space, by the way all modes of travel shared the road and pedestrians were as aggressive as motorists with the streets, all negotiating and communicating and all getting along, with cyclists and pedicabs winding their way through the streets as if there is nothing strange about people getting along. In Chicago, the streets are definitely for people!
I was inspired by the trash cans and how there were so many opportunities for people to engage in good behavior. Recycling bins were everywhere, and I rarely saw litter in the gutter. Newspaper racks were uniform and tidy, signage was plentiful but tasteful, even for cyclists. There was a sense of order and people seemed to respect it.
I was inspired by the commitment to street furniture, from the bike racks that were on every corner to the benches and shade that provided regular opportunities for people to “Be!” and to enjoy the beautiful city that communicated over and over that people come first. Landscaping was creative, plentiful, varied, beautiful, and accessible. It was apparent that the streets were designed to be used and to be enjoyed.
I was inspired by the amount of green space in Chicago. There were little parks, there were medium-sized parks, there were huge parks. There were parks for standing, for eating, for getting married, for walking dogs, for playing soccer, for running, for reading, for socializing and for gardening. There were parks that memorialized historical events and there were parks that catered to current events and festivals. There were parks on the lake, there were parks in courtyards, there were parks on rooftops. Chicago does parks!
I was inspired by the way things worked. There was a water fountain that had three spigots and three bowls, one for horses, one for humans and one for puppies. It was evident that this water fountain was meant to be used. There were also public restrooms, another simple acknowledgment of the basic needs of people. Every day, I saw new things that were an invitation for people to enjoy the community.
I found myself thinking, “How can I bring this commitment to Green Space, Open Space, and Public Space back to Los Angeles?”
Maybe you can help me.
LA is big and we have lots of open space, but places where one can sit and socialize are difficult to find. We have the perfect weather here, much better than Chicago, so let’s make the most of it and commit to great street furniture and great opportunities to create community.
LA has so many wonderful neighborhoods, but they don’t have the amenities, such as restrooms and shade and water fountains that would welcome visitors. Let’s treat people with respect and accommodate their basic needs.
LA has such a spirit of commitment to the sustainable lifestyle, but the simplest things like trash cans are based on minimum standard, not on what’s best for giving people opportunities for great behavior. Let’s design and plan everything for responsible behavior and make recycling easy for people in the public space.
LA is such a great city for walking, for riding a bike, for taking the train, for riding the bus, and even for driving. We have many choices, but for them to work, we need to respect others and their choices, giving way to pedestrians, respecting cyclists, communicating, negotiating, and cooperating with others on the road. If nothing else, LA should be the capital of getting along and I want you to join me, now!
- Claim your right to public space. Park[ing] Day LA (http://parkingdayla.com) is on September 17th, so participate and exercise your right to our streets. Streets belong to the people.
- Put out a trash can on your street. When we put the trash can out to a blighted corner right across to where we live, the trash disappear from the gutter and the trash can filled up quickly. We were emptying it twice a week.
- Ask shops that you visit what their public transit directions are even if you don’t take public transit. This will train business owners to encourage bus and bike trips, instead of warning patrons of parking tickets.
- Turn off your engines and roll down your window when waiting in your car for someone or when going to the beach or the park. This will save our resources and it will improve our air quality.
- Demand from your elected officials that business districts have public restrooms. There are countless times when I had to sneak into a restaurant or purchase something just so I could relieve myself. Every great city has public restrooms and LA should have them, as well.
- Vote for politicians who work for the people. Do your research and don’t vote for those who say what they will do, but vote for those who do what they say and say what they do, not what they say they WILL do.
I learned a lot from my short trip to beautiful Chicago. I learned a lot about me and a lot about a great city’s infrastructure. It was inspiring and hopeful. I want LA to be a sustainable city since it is my home and I hope you will help me along the way.
Enci is the publisher of the theatre site Bitter Lemons, the Co-Founder of the Bike Writers Collective, she’s on the board of Bikeside, on the Cyclists/LAPD Task Force, on the SAG Conservatory Committee, and she works with government entities to make Los Angeles more bike-friendly and bike-conscious.
Contact Enci with article suggestions or find her on Twitter, Facebook and other networking sites to connect. When contacting her, please introduce yourself and tell her you read her column in the Networker.