On Thursday, people from all over Los Angeles biked, walked or took the Metro to the Architecture and Design Museum on Miracle Mile. Surprisingly, many still managed to arrive wearing fashionable shoes. They were greeted with bike valets, a photographer and an invitation to document their journey on “alternative transportation.”
The occasion was a car-free party for the opening of “Rethink LA: Perspectives on a Future City,” an exhibit that is on display until September 4 and dreams up utopian answers to what the future of Los Angeles might look like. Co-directed by Jonathan Louie and Kellie Konapelsky of Rethink LA, a creative collective focused on promoting sustainable lifestyles in L.A., the exhibition was hopping not just with hipsters on fixies, but people from all over town interested in urban design (as well as in scoring some complimentary “I heart Metro” tattoos).
The show's imaginative centerpiece is a series of photographs and collages, each reimagining a specific location central to the L.A. experience. Louie explains, “We picked out sites that make L.A. real to us, asked photographers to submit photos of certain views, then gave those photos to the collagists.” The front of each piece shows a picture of the city as it is — Wilshire Boulevard, for example. The back features a collage that completely redesigns the cityscape into a utopian playland without cars. As “Rethink LA” shows, this can yield surprisingly beautiful results, like an octopus-like green zone that continues to spread outward (Wilshire) or a restored wetland surf spot (the Hyperion Treatment Plant).
The back of the gallery held something more whimsical: a giant colorful lego-like model of the city, perfect for playing around with and redesigning. It was made by artist/urban planner James Rojas, who spent about two days making little building blocks, adding glitter, gold and other bling to them and building a mini K-town roof robot. In his work, Rojas is trying to turn his audience into conscious city planners. “If we use open-source planning systems, we can create better planned cities,” he says. Too often, people don't know what they want in a certain city area — only the developers do. In that case, it's no surprise who usually gets what they want. Rojas instead wants to turn everybody into a city planner, and given the amount of coolly bespectacled people playing with his piece last night, it looked like he was succeeding.
With videos and manifestos about car culture (mainly involving ditching it), the A+D was overflowing with alternative visions of L.A. But the whole exhibition wasn't just an exercise in whimsical utopian thought; Louie says that making models for a more sustainable Los Angeles addresses real social issues. According to him, the city has seen shifts in its urban fabric roughly every fifty years, with the creation of the Pacific Electric Railway in 1914 and the building of Route 56 in the 1960s. Now, car culture has won out, but with it come economic and demographic issues. Louie and Rethink LA are hoping that they can help catalyze some larger changes in the future.
In the meantime, are we stuck fantasizing about farmer's markets planted on the 110, and a giant forest growing around the L.A. river? Maybe, but if you take a note from last week's crowd and arm yourself with a cool Swedish backpack, some impractical platform sandals and the urge to bike, it's not unrealistic to contribute to this project. Just lobby for bike valet on your next night out.
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