So you're sipping your coffee and reading the news on your web-enabled phone as you glide along the Expo Line, idly shutting it off as you descend into the downtown connector en route to Union Station. Your bullet train to Sacramento leaves at 9 a.m., but you're not feeling too pressed for time, because as it turns out, that train isn't departing for several years.
If you can't quite see yourself in that picture yet, a coalition of urban planners and architects has an exhibit for you. Through the month of August, railLA is hosting LA Beyond Cars, "a multimedia experience showcasing concepts, ideas, and musings from around the world on the future of Los Angeles."
Formed by members of the Los Angeles chapters of the American Planning Association and the American Institute of Architects, railLA aims to build awareness of and enthusiasm for the benefits of high-speed rail in California. LA Beyond Cars represents the organization's first foray into helping car- and plane-dependent Angelenos wrap our minds around what a transit-oriented city and state could look like.
Among the installations featured are James Rojas' famous interactive models of Los Angeles, the recently released Piggy Backyard plan to turn an outdated Union Pacific rail yard into an LA River wetlands and park, as well as numerous transit station design concepts sent in from as far away as Italy and the Netherlands.
At the gallery opening on July 29th, railLA Chair Gunnar Hand and Vice Chair Gerhard Mayer focused on the importance of integrating high-speed rail into a multi-modal transit system in Los Angeles that emphasizes rail, buses, and bicycles (i.e people over cars). An urban planner and architect respectively, the two also discussed how transit hubs can serve not only as centers of mobility, but also as venues for rich civic and social interactions.
In a poignant conclusion, Mayer expressed the hope that railLA could facilitate the process of "stitching together the wounds of infrastructure dedicated to the automobile" in Los Angeles.
To this author, the individuals behind railLA came across as genuine in their ambitions to improve mobility, sustainability, and quality of life in Los Angeles through careful planning and human-oriented designs. That said, a quick scan of their sponsors (AECOM, Siemens) alludes to the powerful interests that attend any "capital D" developments in Los Angeles.
Indeed, railLA finds itself at the crux of a common planning and development challenge: to work on behalf of the public interest, while harnessing the power and resources of profit-driven developers. Like trying to water a garden with a fire hose, the trick is to hold on tight (to one's principles) and aim high.
LA Beyond Cars: A Global Perspective on Rail and Public Space
Opening on July 29, the exhibit will run through the month of August in the Jewel Box at City National Plaza (525 S. Flower Street).