Live from the Left Coast: An Interview with Heather Smith and Norman Garrick

Heather Smith and Norman Garrick in LA

A bevy of CNU-aligned minds gathered together in Los Angeles this week to develop a "master blueprint" for the streets of Los Angeles County. The meeting was led by CNU member Ryan Snyder, who gathered together 50 or so experts from around the country to help complete a Model Streets Manual. Among the attendees, CNU associates were plentiful, with member Art Cueto, former CNU staffer Ellen Greenberg, current CNU Board member Norman Garrick and our in-house Planning Director Heather Smith all adding their voices. We caught up with Smith and Garrick as they were taking a ride down one of LA's funicular cars:

CNU's Ben Schulman: LA is a dichotomous place. In some ways, it represents many of the best AND worst examples of how urban growth has transpired over the past 60 years. Does the charrette you're participating in herald certain LA neighborhoods, like Melrose for instance, as examples for other, more sprawling neighborhoods to follow?

Heather Smith: It's about trying to get the principles that will help to improve conditions in terms of health outcomes. Ryan brought us in as national experts, but the focus is definitely LA. He hopes other places around the country will take advantage of the work.

Schulman: Speaking of neighborhoods, the Model Streets Manual you're discussing is being described as a "Master Blueprint for Los Angeles County." Are individual neighborhoods and municipalities being addressed directly, or is the manual identifying best practices for certain types of streets common throughout the county and then encouraging their use at the behest of the individual communities?

Norman Garrick: We are writing the manual for various municipalities within LA County. We are asked to write the document in a voice that says: "The City of ___________" but we are promoting best practices.

Schulman: The environment in LA is of utmost importance due to its sensitivity. Can formatting LA's streets in a better fashion help the environment as well?

Smith: Absolutely. Encouraging people to use more active and sustainable modes of transportation means people will get more exercise. This also improves traffic safety. From an environmental point of view, it is more about improving the human environment and reclaiming acres of asphalt for human use because the streets are really really wide here in LA.

Schulman: Does the plan you're discussing fit into Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's 30/10 plan for expanding LA's transit network?

Smith: Nope, that one is mostly focused on transit and we are working on streets.

Schulman: Can you gather the feeling of the general public towards making LA a more sustainable and easily navigable place?

Garrick: The mood of the general public is definitely all about creating great public realms, and there is a great enthusiasm for that. With $4 gas prices and the mayor pushing for more transit, as well as SB375, there is statewide recognition that we have to do things differently. It will still be a battle to get things entirely right, but there are signs of important changes. Wilshire Boulevard is booming due to the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) and downtown is slowly coming to life with more people living here and starting to use the streets 24/7. We've also heard a lot about a diversity of users on the subway system. There's also a lot of buzz about Long Beach and their new bike efforts.

Schulman: Ok, we'll let you go now. But one last thing. Is it possible to bring back your fellow CNU-staffers back in Chicago some Nate 'n' Al's corned beef sandwiches? Pink's Hot Dogs? PLEASE?

Smith: Sorry! Not enough time!


I wish I were there!

I wish I were there!


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