Are You Embracing New Urbanism Yet? What Are You Waiting For?

DEEGAN ON LA-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 traffic and hassles with parking. 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 living in a “bubble” like this the “new urbanism”, and it’s becoming contagious: people are discovering it to be a solution to gridlock, the cousin of overdevelopment. 

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

Do you really need to live in the valley and work in the basin, and fight that over-the-hill canyon traffic every rush hour? Or, work in the Studio City end of the valley and live in Woodland Hills? Or love being in the hills at night but working at the beach during the day? Those kinds of combinations, once very attractive when everything in LA was “20 minutes away,” are no longer feasible. 

Millennials that are moving out from home and starting their first significant career positions can adapt easily to the new urbanism paradigm, while others that are more established and settled, may feel stuck where they are in both their living and working locations. But survival and a sustainable lifestyle are not only for the fittest, they’re for everyone. 

Dislocation and disruption may be survival tactics worth considering. Our traffic will never improve: the added lanes on the 405 prove that all the expansion did was increase the volume and capacity of the 405 going through the Sepulveda Pass. Smart cars will not ease traffic: they will just bring more cars onto the roads, albeit without drivers and a need for parking spaces. 

Thinking has to change, and the most atomic level at which this can happen is the individual, making informed and smart decisions about where to live, work, shop and play. 

If “new urbanism” is new to you, what better way get on the fast-track to expand your knowledge of it than by attending the Fourth Annual New Urbanism Film Festival, (NUFF) opening October 6 and running through the weekend, an event that has become very popular and well-attended over the past few years. It’s fun and educational to watch the many short films that define new urbanism, listen to panel discussions, take neighborhood walks with designers and planners, and to meet and chat with seasoned new urbanists and newcomers who want to join the growing movement by finding common sense solutions to living in the huge urban mass of Los Angeles. 

What, exactly, is New Urbanism? The Congress for New Urbanism explains the essence of the movement in its charter statement: “We stand for the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy.” 

Urbanists tell us that “A significant number of Baby Boomers and Millennials are moving back into America’s downtowns looking for a new American Dream. What they seek is walkable urbanism – a vibrant urban place where they can walk to the important destinations of life. This new life is downsized and sustainable, but not without its challenges as cities struggle with twenty-first century problems.” The festival's screening of Downtown” helps amplify this point. 

What can you expect at the New Urbanism Film Festival? Plenty. Every night, from Thursday, October 6 through Sunday, October 9, there are films and lots of special events. 

For example, on Opening Night, Thursday, October 7, a panel of LA designers and planners who are bringing life to urban spaces through art and temporary installations will host a panel discussion on “Tactical Urbanism” following a screening of the film, The Art of Recovery.” 

Another panel discussion, this one about historic preservation in Los Angeles, will follow Saturday afternoon’s (October 8) screening of Through the Place,” a feature-length documentary about the historic preservation movement in the United States over the past 50 years. 

A highly-anticipated panel about the Los Angeles River will be held on Saturday, October 8, following the noon screening of Accidental Parkland.” 

Festival programming this year is expanding to include a Culver City “hub” on Sunday, October 9, that will be the starting point for excursions to Ballona Creek and Playa Vista that include a train trip on the brand-new new Expo Line from downtown Culver City to Downtown Santa Monica to learn what design principles have been applied there, as well as a bike ride around Culver City to witness bike-related projects. 

Festival Director Josh Paget was enthusiastic about this year’s programming, saying, "I am excited about this year's festival because it has more emphasis on community engagement. We have a lineup of feature films that really explore the history of urban issues in different cities, and then we've curated a panels of expert from Los Angeles, who will help apply the lessons of the movie to the local issues in Los Angeles." 

Films, expert panels, activities, networking, education, and brain expansion: the new urbanism -- all in four highly participatory days that will help you learn how you can begin identifying as a “new urbanist.” What are you waiting for?

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.