One of the fascinating Angelenos featured in L.A. Weekly's People 2014 issue. Check out our entire People 2014 issue.
For Angelenos who see local government as a plodding, bureaucratic monolith, the idea of asking for help to make modest improvements to their neighborhoods can seem futile. And then there's the attitude of architect, advocate and guerrilla urbanist Daveed Kapoor.
In 2009 Kapoor noticed there were no bus stops downtown along a stretch of Sixth Street between Main Street and Soto Street in Boyle Heights. Instead, the Metro buses merely bypassed the increasingly dense Arts District.
Kapoor saw a need for another stop on Metro's 720 rapid bus route, so he made a simple request that officials add a bus stop at Sixth Street and Central Avenue.
He sent a map and his request to the mayor, his councilman, L.A.'s planning director and the head of the now-disbanded Community Redevelopment Agency. Then he showed up at the April meeting of Metro's board – a big group of regional elected officials who represent many cities – and pleaded his case publicly. By May, the stop was added to the route.
That quick victory “changed everything for me,” Kapoor, 34, says, “because it actually worked.” Inspired by the idea of improving Los Angeles block by block, he formed an alliance with city officials and went on to design two “parklets,” which opened last year in downtown, and worked on a third one in Northeast L.A.
Inspired by that success, Kapoor has created a pioneering DIY kit of modular designs, which members of the public can use to set up their own parklets, street plazas and “bicycle corrals” (bike parking) on underutilized bits of urban land.
Under the People St program run by the L.A. Department of Transportation, community groups and business improvement districts can move ahead on these projects quickly without worrying about onerous permitting – thanks to Kapoor's budget-friendly designs, which already adhere to the city's safety requirements.
Kapoor's can-do optimism has endeared him to local officials. “Daveed doesn't just say, 'The city should do this' and leave it at that,” says Valerie Watson, L.A.'s assistant pedestrian coordinator and a force behind People St. “He's already thinking three steps ahead to what we can do to solve an unfortunate situation.”
Kapoor believes in transforming existing assets to make L.A. friendlier to pedestrians and bikers, his primary form of transportation.
His ideas can be grand, such as covering a freeway with a “cap” upon which a public promenade could be built. Or simple, such as outfitting police with lighter bikes and uniforms. Kapoor's own apparel is more man-of-the-people. Eschewing stereotypical architect's attire, he favors the more blue-collar garb of Dickies.
His own architectural practice embraces the same tenets of agility and minimal intervention found in his civic projects. Working with Frogtown-based design/build firm RAC, as well as with his own clients, Kapoor focuses mainly on adaptive reuse – converting older buildings into new homes, restaurants and creative work space. “I look for buildings where we don't have to change the land use – we can build to existing conditions,” he explains.
Yet it's the more public projects that excite Kapoor, even if they're less financially rewarding. “That's not how I make money,” he laughs. “It's how I lose money.”