Here in Los Angeles, the local professional basketball team just won its league's national championship. When I was in Barcelona a few weeks back, the local soccer team won a major international championship. These were two days for the cities to celebrate their home teams' triumphs, but the differences in how they celebrated says a lot about these cities and their civic cultures.
I had just arrived in Barcelona as the European Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United was getting underway. I made it from the airport to my cousin's apartment in Barcelona by half-time, and the local team was already up 1-0. The streets were pretty much deserted, as all eyes were on the game. Excited yelling could be heard from the windows when a good play was made or when a shot nearly missed. The game was everywhere. And when Barcelona scored a second goal, it was unavoidable. Fireworks were shot off from rooftops and intersections.
City government is made up of many individual parts. Though they need to work together, they aren't typically very good at it -- especially in big cities. Recently, an interdepartmental group of city officials in Los Angeles came together to try to improve the way they work together and the way they better their city.
"Department-divided" is how Lillian Burkenheim describes the city of Los Angeles. She's a project manager with the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, and has been frustrated with the compartmentalization of city functions and departments that often keeps them separated. This is a problem not just in L.A., but in other big cities where the sheer size of the place institutionally segregates city officials who regularly need to -- or at least should -- be working together.
Cities are filled with spaces intended for the public -- but many of them are clearly owned and operated by the private sector. Though cities bend rules to get these spaces built, the public benefit is often outweighed by the cost. The challenge now is to make them better.
The difference between what is public and what is private is usually pretty clear. A city park is available to everyone. Your neighbor's living room is not. But the line dividing public and private can blur, and when it does, spaces get ambiguous, and questions arise. Who can use them? What are they for? Who's in charge of them?
Green alley projects are popping up in cities all over the U.S. and Canada in an effort to make the concrete jungle a little better at absorbing rainwater. A new alley program in Los Angeles goes beyond the runoff to actively integrate these unique spaces into the urban fold.
They're all over the city, but you'd hardly know it.
Across Los Angeles, the city's alleyways account for more than 900 linear miles of pavement. If you put them all together, the city's alleys would make up about 3 square miles – about half the size of L.A.'s Griffith Park, twice the size of New York's Central Park, or the equivalent of about 400 Wal-Marts (not including parking). They're peppered throughout the city, in neighborhoods, commercial zones, downtown, and L.A.'s industrial areas. But for the most part, these alleys are ignored.
Cars dominate cities, especially in America. But as many cities in other countries have found, removing cars can turn busy streets into lively public places. Now the U.S. is starting to catch on.
Public space has a loose definition. It can be sidewalks, government buildings, or even streets, which account for nearly a third of the land area in an average city. But in people's minds, "public space" is a park or a forest or a beach – places associated with recreation, the out-of-doors and that "nature" thing we tend to divorce ourselves from. Making a connection between the idea of public space and the mundane reality of potholes and rush hour can be difficult.
Some 'parkers' faced police harassment, but on the whole Park(ing) Day 2008 was sunny and positive, as Los Angelenos put their own stamp on the celebration. In this video slideshow, we take a tour of some of L.A.'s parking spot parks.
This video slideshow was co-produced by Planetizen Managing Editor Tim Halbur.
Park(ing) Day is a one-day, global event centered in San Francisco where artists, activists, and citizens collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks.
Human behavior and land use affect air quality, and those effects are very distinct at the local level. A new environmental game fusing public participation, air quality sensors and web technology shows how.
Cities are polluted places, and everyone knows it. Beijing is just coming out of a month-long media barrage on the city's poor air quality. Los Angeles, the original City of Smog, has been hearing it for decades. And though the existence of pollution is well known, it's not so well understood.
A look at the impact of recent court decisions on the Los Angeles River, and how it may affect development on the watersheds of rivers and waterways across the country.
For the federal government to protect waterways like rivers and streams, they have to ask one basic question: Is this water navigable? It seems simple enough, but hidden in this straightforward question is a jungle of nuance and intricacy. For waterways, how this question is answered can literally make or break them. But more likely, it will just make things kind of fuzzy, which is exactly what happened when the Army Corps of Engineers set out to determine how to regulate the Los Angeles River. ...
Adaptation is a way of life. But we humans have been building our habitats and cities in pursuit of permanence. This is an unreachable goal. Making our cities and communities and lifestyles adapt to outside influences is typically an afterthought. We do tend to react, and we often react very effectively. But solving problems before they happen has never been a strong suit when it comes to urban development. This is especially true with regard to our impacts on the environment. A recent and bizarre example illustrates this point.
The example revolves around water, and takes place in Los Angeles. The city is geographically a desert where water is naturally in low supply -- but because of the marvels of modern engineering and science it is now plentiful enough to meet the staggering demand of 4 million residents.
Americans are furious about paying $4 a gallon, but the pump price in Britain is more than twice that. In California, lawmakers are considering a bill where drivers in car-happy Los Angeles County pay higher fees to fund public transportation projects.
NATE BERG: At more than four dollars a gallon, gas prices are already too high for many Angelinos. But a new bill moving its way through the state legislature could push that price up another nine cents. All that loose change would add up to create a county public transportation fund worth more than 400 million dollars a year.
Mr. MIKE FEUER (Democrat, California State Assembly): The status quo is not acceptable.
BERG: That's Mike Feuer a Democrat in the California state Assembly. He represents Los Angeles and is the author of the bill.