Your humble editor.
still more press
"Oceans of Asphalt No More! LA's Streets Shrink" (29 Dec 2009)
"Improving L.A.'s Streets - With Photoshop" (30 Dec 2009)
"Photos: Our City Streets--Narrowed" (06 Jan 2010)
"Tweekend Reading" (08 Jan 2010)
"Transportation Headlines" (30 Dec 2010)
Here in Van Nuys
Narrows Van Nuys Blvd." (12 Jan 2010)
The Eastsider LA
"News & Notes" (29 Dec 2009)
Narrow Streets: Los Angeles began one especially quiet holiday weekend as I walked along a completely empty Montana Avenue. I'd just gotten back from a vacation wandering the tiny streets of Paris and now found myself idly counting lanes: one, two, three, four...five? Five lanes — almost half the width of the 405! The difference was enough to make me wonder: could the entire mood of a neighborhood depend on something as simple as street width?
I decided to test it out. I took a series of carefully framed photos, fired up the computer at home, and voliá: a bizarre illusion appeared before me, simultaneously mundane + outrageous in its simple depiction of a fantastical, parallel-universe Los Angeles that no longer catered exclusively to cars. I narrowed street after street, each time giggling with excitement; the effect, far from diminishing with exposure, seemed only to grow — among my friends, my co-workers, and online, where readers began requesting that I narrow down their neighborhoods. "I'd love to see some narrowing in Eagle Rock," wrote one. Another commented, "Somehow you've tapped into this primordial aesthetic." "Please do something about Van Nuys Boulevard," wrote another reader. "I have fantasized for years about its narrowing."
Me + the wife on an early morning, scooter-powered narrowing run.
As a writer, street-narrowing to me represents an act of fictionalization, with fiction itself being an attempt to make sense of the randomness life flings our way. The grander absurdities of Los Angeles have already been well documented — its optimistically-named enclaves, phantom star maps — but its smaller, more micro-level oddities go mostly unnoticed: sunning at an outdoor cafe just steps from the edge of a six-lane, 50mph road; eyeing the 30-second countdown when crossing an intersection; bidding farewell to friends after dinner in dreary parking lots.
There's a yearning for a more human scale out there, and a growing realization that hey, this world wasn't created by some petulant, eight-armed Deus Urbanus but by people — ordinary people, struggling to make the best design decisions they could. Los Angeles, located at Manifest Destiny's terminus and born from a mad Levittown landgrab amid giddy postwar prosperity, was not designed badly per se; it was never really designed
to begin with, at least not in a coherent fashion.
I'm not saying that Narrow Streets
is meant to be taken literally. I think of it as concept art, and like all concept art it's meant to provoke discussion about the city not as a foregone conclusion but as a series of design choices. Sure, it's a do-over fantasy. But hopefully it sparks the imagination to also wonder: are the rules of the city really set in concrete? We're accustomed to our age of extreme makeovers when it comes to faces, bodies, and homes, but not our own urban environments. Time to ask: how can re-invent what we have now?
about the author
I'm a writer, designer, photographer, and self-confessed urban planning geek living in Los Angeles, where I work as an art director at an ad agency by day and otherwise spend my time writing fiction and (what else?) screenplays, the latest of which is a near-future, post-suburban corporate satire that people seem to enjoy, judging from recent contest results. I grew up in Orange County and have lived in Berkeley, Yokohama, and Boston before winding up back here in Southern California.
I shoot almost exclusively with a Sigma DP1. Post-production is done in Lightroom and Photoshop on a MacBook Pro with a Wacom Bamboo "Fun" tablet. Prints are handled entirely through the very professional RedBubble.
I used to scoot around on a Yamaha Vino 125 but have since upgraded to a Piaggio MP3 400, which allows me to cover more ground.
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