Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has hatched a plan to turn 15 major thoroughfares into walking neighborhoods. The Los Angeles Times used San Pedro’s Gaffey Street as one example.
Gaffey is one of those wider-than-wide Los Angeles boulevards that handles six lanes of traffic and is now used primarily to exit and enter a main Los Angeles freeway. As you would expect, Gaffey is blighted with chain stores — fast food restaurants, Rite-Aids, 7-Elevens, etc. Garcetti hopes that by adding plazas, bike racks, more trees and garbage cans, wider sidewalks, and decent crosswalks, he can make Gaffey a place where people walk around, shop, eat.
This is going to surprise some of you, but I love this idea. This is exactly what local governments should be doing: coming up with innovations to improve the quality of life of all its citizens.
San Pedro residents are rightly concerned that Garcetti’s planning might worsen traffic for local commuters who just want to get on and off the freeway during the daily commute. Obviously, ensuring that doesn’t become a problem should be priority number one.
If Garcetti can guarantee traffic won’t get worse, here’s what I like:
In recent years, however, long-quiet sidewalk-oriented districts have taken on new life. In Highland Park, once sleepy York Boulevard has become a magnet for an array of middle and upper-middle class needs: coffee, comic books, vegan ice cream, and $5 donuts. Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, once favored mainly by locals, is now a regional tourist destination with prices to rival Rodeo Drive.
In two words: “small” and “business.”
Sure, you can laugh at the “vegan” ice cream and the $5 donut, but it’s preferable to the alternative, which is the same 25 fast food and box stores you see all over America.
Not just in California, but almost everywhere in America, whether you are on a major freeway or using local roads, this country is losing its character to the same 25 chain restaurants and big box stores. Every place looks like every place else. I’m not arguing against these nationwide chains that do deliver value at a price, but if the free market can sustain a local vegan ice cream store, what’s wrong with that?
Remember when you could walk to the corner store for a gallon of milk instead of jumping in your car, driving to where everyone else is driving, and navigating a superstore?
Where people shopped wasn’t always in a single area you dread having to drive through. Stores, restaurants, bars, clinics, bakeries, pharmacies, florists, and the like used to be found everywhere, not just packed in plazas, office parks, and godforsaken strip malls.
And many of those businesses were locally owned – small businesses, not multi-national corporations that bring DMV values to every experience outside your house.
I live in a smallish college town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. It’s perfect here. We have a main thoroughfare packed with all the chain and big box stores you could ask for, but there are other areas where you can walk around, eat an ice cream cone, and window shop businesses owned by your neighbors.
I lived in Los Angeles for nine years. The car culture, freeways, strip malls, concrete, and six lane boulevards are oppressive.
People who live in L.A. don’t realize this, but they are already living in a Corporate-Controlled Dystopia.
Watch “Blade Runner” again. Except for the flying cars and rain, it looks like it was shot on-location.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC