Frances Bula header image 2

Los Angeles: A city of neighbourhoods or of cars?

April 16th, 2012 · 22 Comments

Those following on Twitter know that I’m in Los Angeles at the moment, a city that I love in spite of all of its problems.

This is my fourth trip here in recent years and I discover new things all the time. This time around: Echo Park, the neighbourhood where we’re staying. Yet another of the great neighbourhoods that LA has, filled with local small businesses, parks, strong community organizations and a sense of place, bike lanes and more.

And for my purposes, ideal. Two miles from downtown, so I can get to culture stuff there — and there is a lot. Four miles from the heart of East LA, so a quick dash for antojitos, poblano stew and more. Five miles to the heart of Los Feliz and Thaitown near East Hollywood, giving me access to Skylight Books, Cafe Figaro and Jitlada.

The mayor said at the American Planning Association conference here that Los Angeles has a weak centre but many strong neighbourhoods, which I’d note makes it more like a European city that many others in North America. While we tend to think of sprawl as defining LA, that’s true more of the outlying suburbs than the city proper, which is filled with low-rise apartment buildings and small bungalows on tiny lots in many parts.

As various LA lovers have noted, too, the density here is actually higher than places like Portland, so beloved of planners, and it has fewer freeway miles per resident than many other North American cities.

What I like about it is the sense of a city of small working-class neighbourhoods that are dominant here, behind all the glitz of Beverly Hills. Every one has interesting history and buildings, often along with ethnic enclaves and mixes that make Vancouver look positively whitebread.

That was all on display Sunday, as me and a couple hundred thousand of my new friends rode our bikes through 10 miles of streets shut down for a huge ciclovia ride.

Everyone was there: an elderly Japanese woman riding her bike holding an umbrella with one hand, whole Mexican families with kids on tandem bikes, young Mexican and black teens with boom boxes playing pop-y Latino or other music in their packs as they zipped through the crowd, the professional guys with their $5,000 bikes and cycling-jester outfits, and more.

Funny how LA can organize something like this, when Vancouver — the alleged king of bikes and green — hasn’t yet.

Categories: Uncategorized