Last week’s LA Street Summit was both inspiring and frustrating.

It was great to see over 500 people in attendance at this free one-day workshop and networking session – nearly double the number from last year. It was wonderful to observe several corporate leaders and sponsors making their presence known, and it was great to see so many people committed to the idea of livable urban centers, in a community that has long enslaved itself to the automotive culture. The workshops I attended were informative and energetic, and I look forward to this event expanding its reach, if only to “keep the dream alive”.

My frustration stems from an observation that our communities are long on energy and “foot soldier commitment”, but short on policy-making leadership. The difference -at least with respect to the issue of implementing complete streets and sustainability initiatives – between Southern California and New York (from whence guest speaker Janette Sadik-Khan hails) is largely in how government and businesses function, relative to their populace.

Mayor Bloomberg runs the City of New York, and – but for the possibility of bureaucratic opposition from his own lieutenants (and the inevitability of fiscal cuts), he is largely able to manifest his vision of a more sustainable urban metropolis. This is in no small part due to the intelligence, passion, charm, and drive of his Transportation Commissioner, Ms. Sadik-Khan. What she has accomplished, over the course of the past 3 years, is a success story likely to propel her into President Obama’s cabinet, or at least in to the history books, as an example of policy-making leadership, urban vision, and community spirit.  It is also due to the fact that businesses in Manhattan welcome the idea (albeit sometimes begrudgingly) of making more navigable and accessible the 60% of the city’s real estate that comprises the streets and open spaces. If people can get around more easily, they’ll hang around for longer, they’ll wander around more agreeably and, as statistics are already showing, retail sales will go up, rentals will rise, and home sales will skyrocket. No need to even mention the more obvious social, environmental, and medical benefits.

Meanwhile, back in SoCal, or LA County to be specific (since the OC has made quite a good start, I must admit), policy-making leadership and visionary municipal governance are apparently as welcome in the council chambers of Burbank, Beverly Hills, and Los Angeles (among others) as Universal Health Care Legislation is at a Tea Party Rally. The various municipal councils seem utterly incapable of committing to any endeavor that does not have granular buy-in from 95% of their constituency. They (council members) argue that their role is to represent the people, but I offer the counter-argument that sometimes we, the people, are not in the best position to make and manifest policy. Democracy gives us the right to elect those whose beliefs most closely resemble our own, and to neglect those who do not aspire, or have failed, to deliver on promises which we hold dear. Great change rarely is manifest by a committee, and meanwhile, our streets become gridlocked, our air thickens with smog, our children grow obese, and we increasingly sequester ourselves in our hermetically sealed homes, with our 3 cars sitting in the driveway, and the light from 5 TVs permeating each household.

Yet, we are still far enough from the point of despair suggested by some of my above comments that we – business leaders, political activists, residents, taxpayers, et al – have a great chance to do our part, if we are not doing it already.

If you own a business, have you ensured that it welcomes and supports your employee and customer/client efforts to walk/bike/bus/metro to and from your location? We should focus a little less on building massive parking lots above and beneath our offices, and behind our stores and restaurants. If city ordinances demand it, we must campaign for alternatives. Instead of 3 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet, why not 2 spaces and 12 bicycle stands? Better yet, why not measure and manage community parking spaces from a truly communal perspective. Perhaps metrics should be managed on a neighborhood basis, and not “per-business”…

If you work with, in, on, or within spitting distance of municipal government (especially if you are an engineer), rediscover the joy of innovation! Stop MANAGING the problem of urban sprawl, gridlock, and parking, and start SOLVING it. Putting a lid on a boiling pot of water, does not cool the water, it merely delays, and eventually renders explosive, the challenge.

If you live, work, or play in an urban locale, make 2010 the year when you will (a) ask your employer about alternative transportation options, or offer your employees incentives to explore said alternatives; (b) explore your city’s rail, bus, and pedestrian networks (make it a family adventure!); and (c) challenge your municipal leadership to demonstrate the type of vision and commitment that was so warmly shown at last weekend’s Street Summit.

It needn’t happen overnight. Baby steps. One step at a time. One cycle at a time…but let’s keep moving:

(Links courtesy of lastreetsummit.org):

VIDEO:

AUDIO:

  • Go Play in the Street: New York’s Transportation Commissioner Wants to Re-work Los Angeles (KPCC)
  • Streetscast: Full Audio of Janette Sadik-Kahn’s Speech Last Night (L.A. Streetsblog)
  • Streetscast: StreetSummit Speakers Inspire, Educate and Rally Livable Streets Advocates (L.A. Streetsblog)

 

ARTICLES:

  • A New Route to a Better L.A. (Huffington Post)
  • Sadik-Khan Packs the House, Then Brings It Down (L.A. Streetsblog)
  • NYC Commissioner Says L.A. Should Quickly Move on Transportation Pilot Programs (LAist)
  • Streeeeeet-Summiiiiiiiiiit(Urban Adonia)
  • Carless Streets and Creative Thinking: What LA Can Learn from NYC (Curbed LA)
  • Why StreetSummit was just the 2nd most inspiring thing I saw this weekend (BikingInLA)
  • L.A. Street Summit, The Time Is Now, Let’s Kick Some Ass (Gary Rides Bikes)
  • Janette Sadik-Khan on Changing the Transportation Game (Urbanophile)