(West Orange County, CA, 10/31/2013) Frankly, I think our “Highlands Guy” hit it out of the park this week. He presents a vision that could improve any of our West OC towns from Cypress to Seal Beach. And something very relevent to Los Alamitos’ soon to be adopted General Plan.
I’ve got more to say, but I’ll save it for a comment in a day or two. Read on, consider, and forward!
by Highlands’ Guy:
The real perspective: From ancient Rome, to Medieval or Renaissance painters, the City has been represented from the eye level perspective of those passing by.
This same walkers’ perspective is incorporated when a modern city is depicted or broken down into its major socioeconomic and political elements. Successful contemporary Cityscapes are those that lure the residents out of their private cubicles for commerce and social interaction.
The planners’ perspective: However, within the confines of city hall this same Cityscape is viewed and decisions are made at the 10,000 ft. level based on financial, political, and legal priorities.
I’ll bet you have memories of a childhood, or a long ago vacation where you experienced a city in terms of interaction not only with a restaurant or an art museum, or even a grocery store, but also the local populace. You saw the kids riding their bikes to the ice cream store. You saw folks gathered in the “downtown” to chat or just hang out.
I started thinking about this over the last few years, especially as the subject was taken up at the many General Plan meetings and then again recently with the Orange County rep talking about bike lanes at this month’s City Council meeting.
Maybe I just don’t hang out at the right places, but I just don’t see folks walking around or gathering for a few minutes to chat, other than for special events or after a soccer game.
Add to this milieu my trepidation about letting my daughter walk down Los Al Blvd, by herself, after dark. And that’s a shame. Seems to me that if there were more people walking down the street it might make the bad guys less likely to breech the peace because of all the eyes on them. I’d like to think that anyway.
Benefits of walkability:
Some of the benefits that accrue from a city being walkable include: economic, health, and environmental factors.
- Health: As much as we might imagine most kids are active, the reality is that we now have a generation of kids, who, for the first time, are not expected to outlive their parents. We drive the kids to school and to soccer and to the movies, we pick them up, that equals more cars/hour, which equals more air pollution, which has been associated with a higher incidence of asthma.
- Economic: Millennials are changing the demographics in the city. They are choosing to be close to work, entertainment, public transit, and other amenities. This brings them back into the core of the city. Further support can be seen in the increasing number of teens opting out of getting their driver’s licenses as soon as they hit sixteen. Portlanders now walk more and drive 20% less than they did in 1996. This translates to more dollars staying local.
- Environment: It may be a reach, but I would put forth that staying in the city produces lower amounts of greenhouse gasses per person than in suburban or rural areas due to greater energy efficiencies. The mode of transportation could have quite an impact on this and other issues with which a city must contend related to space and congestion.
Thus, less driving and more walking is good for our city.
If one accepts this premise, and thinks there is merit to it, the next step [no pun intended] would be to ascertain how this can be accomplished.
We need to create a reason to walk. The most logical would be to create areas with more balanced or mixed uses including retail, restaurants, offices, and residential. We have this to some degree already, but need to focus on improving the walking and bike-riding experience.
- A couple of things that must also be addressed would be to make sure the walk is safe (perceived and actual) and comfortable.
- Add more effective and nicer looking lighting (like the ones being wasted lining the alley from Farquhar to Katella, ½ block east of Los Alamitos Blvd).
- Store frontages need to up their quality in addition to more and a wider selection of sidewalk trees. A few benches here and there could also add to the ambiance.
- We need to create a sense of shared environment, where folks could convene in established public places.
Throw in a few pieces of public art and you have created not only a destination, but pride in the community.
- A downtown area should be a priority. It takes time to create the momentum for downtown investment, but it is really the one neighborhood that belongs to the entire city.
- The city’s reputation hinges on its ability to attract people and businesses to the downtown area.
- Identify and focus efforts on improvements to the key paths between the community anchors.
- And finally, we need to avoid falling into the circular negative logic associated with approach/avoidance thinking: We don’t walk or let our kids ride their bikes because it is too dangerous. But we do nothing to change the environment in which they walk or bike.
Studies have shown that traffic danger is a significant deterrent (Alliance for Biking & Walking, 2010). The numbers show impressive gains in pedestrian safety in Germany and the Netherlands over the U.S in the past decade. Several studies demonstrate the principle of “safety in numbers” (Elvik, 2009).
As the number of pedestrians and cyclists grow they become more visible, a crucial component of the safety factor.
Motorists become more aware of the sometimes unpredictable moves of cyclists, and as a higher percentage of the motorists are also walking and biking, they are more likely to be more sensitive to their needs and rights. These kinds of results have been seen in a number of European cities.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher, cultural critic. Wrote extensively on religion, morality and science.
…And that’s just the way I see it.
As always, your perspective, diplomatically expressed, is welcome.
If you want to think about it first, you might try stepping outside for a little walk!