David Yoon's Fantasy to Turn L.A. Into Paris by Making Streets Narrower

Abbott Kinney in Venice, narrowed
Abbott Kinney in Venice, narrowed
Courtesy of David Yoon

Los Angeles is a wide, sprawling city in which five-lane roads are considered small. But what if it were suddenly made narrower?

People dream of the charming streets of Paris, which barely allow two cars to pass each other yet seem a lot more peaceful -- precisely because they are walkable. Los Angeles designer and writer David Yoon has spent much time contemplating this on his blog, Narrow Streets: Los Angeles, on which he posts a photography project dedicated to narrowing L.A.'s intersections and thoroughfares.

Following our recent posts on the intersection of art and car culture, and the strange built environment of downtown L.A., we thought we'd chat with Yoon to get his take on the city.

Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park, narrowed
Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park, narrowed
Courtesy of David Yoon

How did you think up your project?

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It was a Fourth of July weekend, and that's a great week to be in L.A. cause no one's around. I used to live around Montana in Santa Monica, and I used to think of it as a small street. There were no cars coming, and suddenly I realized how absurdly big it is. I just had an idea that I could stand on one side of the street, then stand on the other side, and smoosh it together.

What's your technique?

I usually go really early in the morning on the weekend. You walk into the street, about a half-lane in, do it on the other side of the street, stand in the middle and take a shot for reference, and blend it together on Photoshop. It looks like a strange, alternate-reality version of L.A. It can take a half-hour to an hour. At one point, I narrowed an entire intersection -- I had to take all four corners and smoosh them together. I always laugh when I see the result.

What do you think of L.A.'s urban grid?

I think that an ideal city plan is impossible. But a lot of the planning that happens in Los Angeles was done in an office somewhere, and people were thinking about car traffic and parking. They weren't on the ground, looking at the trees. You can tell that a lot of streets in L.A. were designed at a computer, with traffic flow in mind.

Since we have a car-centric culture, a lot of our architecture is designed to be viewed from a car and it's ugly. When you put it on a human scale, you suddenly realize that it looks strange.

Santa Monica and Sepulveda in Westwood, narrowed
Santa Monica and Sepulveda in Westwood, narrowed
Courtesy of David Yoon

How do you feel about the developments in downtown?

I love downtown. I think it has a lot of potential. But unfortunately, there's no sort of connective tissue that connects the art district to Little Tokyo. A mother would not want to walk her child there. And the streets are a little too wide for me.

I always have this crazy idea that some streets are so wide, that you could make a Rambla like in Barcelona -- say on Olympic. Build businesses, cafes, get tax revenue for the city, get real estates out of nothing.

How have people reacted to your project?

A lot of people loved it, but a lot of people hated it. They were like, Where are you going to park? Traffic would be horrible! They didn't treat it as an intellectual exercise. But what emerges is that people don't consider their own environments.

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