LA’s Growing New Lifestyle: ‘New Urbanism’

DEEGAN ON LA-Fighting the traffic, searching for parking, feeling the frustration of commuting to a job that is miles away from your home can be stressful. 

Think for a minute about how much time you spend each day in your car, moving about from home to work, to shop, to play, and then overlay that with how much frustration you feel with the hassles connected to driving. Once calculated, look at the other side of the coin: What if you could exist just fine in a ten-square block area that you call “home,” or your “bubble,” where you can live, work, shop and play? 

Designers and planners call this lifestyle “New Urbanism,” and it’s becoming contagious. People, especially renters (approximately half the residents of the city), who are not tied to a home mortgage and have mobility in where they can live, are discovering this lifestyle to be a solution to traffic gridlock, a cousin to over-development. 

In a city with hundreds of contained neighborhoods that have these attributes, it's not hard to find one that matches your needs -- if you are not already settled into one, already experiencing your own bliss. 

CityWatch spoke to “New Urbanist” Rebecca Sosa (photo above) who shared what she finds so appealing about this lifestyle. 

CWHow long have you lived in Los Angeles without having car? 

RS:  I moved from New York three years ago. I had no car there and relied on public transportation to get around. So far, I don't have a car here, and I don't plan on getting one anytime soon. 

CWWhy no car? 

RS:  It’s a little of both; I don’t want a car. Coming from New York City, I'd grown to appreciate walking and public transportation. Not having a commute, since I frequently work from home now, allows me not to need a car. And financially, it’s easier than having car costs. I don’t really have a desire for a car. Luckily, we have so many resources in this town with alternative options. New York and Los Angeles are two cities where you can use many mobility alternatives. 

CWWhat's your effective range with no car, before you need ride service or public transit, i.e., do you have a "bubble" you exist in that meets many of your needs? 

RS:  Most of my resources are here in West Hollywood. It’s walkable; there are several groceries, places to work out, a great shuttle bus (DASH), a public library, etc. A bubble” exists here with or without a car, due to traffic. It’s about living in a neighborhood and community with enough resources of value to you and having the freedom to choose your lifestyle -- whether that looks like working from home, not having a car, etc., choice [in] how you want to identify your mobility. I chose to be car-less. 

CWWhat other "new urbanism" mobility do you use...bike, skateboard, scooter, ridesharing, etc.? 

RSIf where I’m going is within three miles, I’ll walk and try to get my ten-thousand steps in. There are so many added benefits to not having a car. Biking would be next, but I wonder about the safety.  I have done scooters, but they are not safe, in my opinion. I often use Uber and Lyft, especially the pooling feature that shares the ride with other strangers. It's another added benefit: connecting with neighbors and meeting new people in my community! And of course, I also use public transit and walking. 

CWDo you have friends who also don’t have cars? Any patterns to their behavior that fit with yours? 

RSMy partner lives in the Miracle Mile and doesn't have a car, for many of the same reasons, and he's lived in LA for 13 years. 

Someone else I know from New York City actually leased a car for three years and gave the car back, now that he works from home. He now primarily uses rideshare services like Lyft and Uber and walks all the time in WeHo. 

CWWhat are some of the social advantages of the transportation element of new urbanism? 

RS:  When I use Lyft Line (sharing feature), I am meeting others that often, like me, do not have cars. I have met so many new and interesting people that way. Naturally with the pooling feature, I also meet people who live or work near me. 

CWDo you see new urbanism as a political, social, environmental or other type of movement or lifestyle?

RSPart is environmental. For me, culturally, I put less value on owning things, and more on creating a lifestyle that works for me. That includes not having a car. I don’t see it as political. 

CWDo you advocate for New Urbanism? If so, what aspects of it? 

RSBefore this interview I had never heard the term new urbanism” to define my lifestyle. I simply see it as an opportunity to connect with more humans. I'm out in my neighborhood more, often on foot, meeting new neighbors at the farmers market, in shops, or wherever I’m spending my time. I see a real need for more people, especially in LA, to connect in person rather than through a device or online. Face-to-face time is a necessary antidote to keep us out of our own echo chambers. It forces you to talk to your neighbor, share a ride with a stranger, hear local info. I learn so much in these moments, and that can be very beautiful. 

Think about it. 

Do you really need to live in the Valley and work in the basin, fighting that over-the-hill canyon traffic every rush hour? Or, need to work in the Studio City end of the Valley and live in Woodland Hills? Or love being in the hills at night but want to work near the beach during the day? Those kinds of combinations, once very attractive when everything in LA was “20 minutes away,” are much less feasible. 

Today, what’s more feasible is New Urbanism.


(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.