Los Angeles

School's Naming Rights Sold, At What Cost?

December 24, 2010
Students in the Los Angeles Unified School District may soon be attending football games and band concerts in buildings with the name of corporate sponsors plastered on them. The school board has agreed to sell the naming rights to its buildings in hopes of raising much-needed revenue, but the plan has its detractors.


In Los Angeles, the school district's cafeterias and sports fields will soon be brought to you by some of the world's biggest companies. The district is turning to corporate sponsors to help fill major budget holes, which makes parents and some school officials uncomfortable.

Nate Berg reports.

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That Old Double-Flipperitis

December 9, 2010
Dan Cerny was winning by millions of points when his shiny metal ball slipped past his flippers and into the hole for the second time. He still had a third and final ball, but so did each of his three competitors in this bracket of the city's newest organized sport, the Los Angeles Pinball League.

Cerny was dominating a pinball machine titled Rollergames, which is based — as much as a pinball game can be — on another completely disparate but comparably fringe organized sport known as Roller Derby. Cerny's score had reached more than 4 million at this two-thirds mark in the game, while his competitors at this Echo Park pinball arcade had been left behind in the mere hundreds of thousands.

The New New Urbanists

November 17, 2010
Los Angeles’s high school of urban planning welcomes its freshman class.

Kids can be planners too. That’s the philosophy of a group of Los Angeles teachers who just started their own pilot school organized around the unlikely theme of urban planning. The East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy of Urban Planning and Design held its first classes in September on the crisp new campus of Esteban Torres High School, in the heavily Latino East L.A. It’s a neighborhood where, the teachers think, students can particularly benefit from the skills and values of the planning profession.

LACMA as Musical Instrument

September 22, 2010
Buildings, of course, have acoustic properties. But what about acoustic potential?

Musician and recent high school graduate Ben Meyers has carved himself a niche by using buildings and their various surfaces and surroundings as musical elements. His most recent performance: a song performed with his mallets and drumsticks on Renzo Piano’s new Resnick Pavilion at LACMA, which opens to the public early next month. A video of the piece, called Playing LACMA, was commissioned by the museum. “No one takes a second during the day and thinks of all the sounds that can be coming from their surroundings.

Los Angeles's Food Truck Revolution

March 3, 2010
A new hub for food trucks expands the offerings beyond tacos.

Food trucks are typically pretty hard to pin down. While some may argue that’s the point, a growing number of gourmet food trucks in Los Angeles is getting keen on the idea of permanence—or at least temporary permanence. In the process, they're bringing new life—and a more varied cuisine—to the streets of Los Angeles, transforming otherwise empty spaces into lively, popular, and profitable hubs.

Mixier Use

December 10, 2009
A recent event organized by Good Magazine, Sheridan/Hawkes Collaborative and The Public Studio brought together about 30 civic-minded designers, planners and architects to come up with some ways to improve the urban environment of Los Angeles. It was a big question to tackle in one afternoon, with a huge array of possible solutions. The crowd was split up into five separate groups and surprisingly, each came up with a similar answer: taco trucks. OK, not taco trucks specifically, but the essence of taco trucks and what they bring to the city.

They're informal, they're impermanent-yet-reliable, they're small local business, and they activate the street. Overall they represent a unique blend of private business and public space that puts dollars in the local economy and eyes on the streets.

That's how taco trucks came to be a central element of the ideas in each of the plans devised by these five groups of civic-minded people to improve the city of Los Angeles.

'Don't Tell My Landlord'

October 9, 2008
That's what some guy said to me late last night as I waited for my tacos at a typically busy taco truck. He was talking about our Los Angeles neighborhood, Echo Park, which was recently named by the American Planning Association as one of the "10 Great Neighborhoods of 2008". It's a nice honor for the 'hood -- and I think they're right -- but I'm with that random taco dude: don't tell my landlord.

I've lived in Echo Park for just over a year, and while I'm relatively new there, I've gotten pretty familiar with its pros and cons. Walkability, access to good and services, proximity to open spaces, access to transit, and a diverse population are some of the best aspects of this neighborhood, and many of these are cited in APA's commendation. One of the bad parts is rent.

Creating Neighborhood Capital from Strip Malls

October 1, 2010
Strip malls are in virtually every American city, but they're rarely an important part of those cities. Ava Bromberg says they can be. Her idea is to turn strip malls into community-owned hubs that generate capital within their neighborhood and keep it there.

Strip malls probably don’t fit into the definition of progressive urbanism for most people, but maybe they should. Well, maybe after a little organizational tweaking.

Urine the Money With L.A. Sidewalk Ads

September 30, 2009
Now they're steam-cleaning corporate logos into the thick sidewalk filth.

The round, black scar of years-old chewing gum. Uneven cracks from an earthquake or a tree root. Fresh urine, likely human.

This is what you can’t avoid seeing if you walk the sidewalks of downtown Los Angeles. But now there’s a new addition getting etched into the city’s built-up filth: about 4 feet by 3 feet, with slick typography and marketing-room appeal, a patch of sidewalk on Figueroa Street now boasts a message brought to you by your friends at Audi.

The Social Life of Traffic

September 18, 2009
Traffic is essentially "an engineering issue," says author Tom Vanderbilt. "But there's also a layer of culture." That layer of culture determines, to a large extent, how traffic can become a problem. This idea is explored in Vanderbilt's 2008 book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), a Planetizen Top Book of the year. He recently expanded on that idea for a discussion about traffic put on by Zocalo Public Square in (where better?) Los Angeles.

People in L.A. love these sorts of discussions. We've got a mess of a traffic problem in this city -- from intense congestion to freeway domination to a late-blooming public transit system. Something about events focused on transportation and traffic just seems to pull people together here, almost like a support group. "Hi, I'm Nate, and I have a problem with traffic congestion."

The human impact of traffic is easy to see, but less apparent is the human cause -- a point made crystal clear by Vanderbilt's work.