Friday, January 29, 2010

friday favorites: norwich, united kingdom

Thanks to Mike Zimney for the photo submission.

"I don’t truly know if cars are allowed on that street," writes Mike, "but we did see a couple making their way through (I doubt the car was even at idle speed), and they clearly knew that it was the pedestrians domain. Everyone kept walking as usual and no one cleared a path for the cars." That's probably because everyone was too busy having a nice time.

Every Friday I'll post a favorite narrow street snapshot from somewhere around the world. Got a Friday favorite of your own? Send me your photos!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

lincoln boulevard + washington boulevard

Ah, Lincoln, known by all as Stinkin' Lincoln, how we love to hate you. Your miles of urban blight leave no room for greenery. Your buildings have either retreated behind vast carpark buffers or turned their backs on you entirely, their faux front doors hung with "Parking in Rear" signs. In short, you act like a freeway but think you're a small local road, making you one of the city's most schizophrenic places to be. I hate to be harsh, but other streets at least put forth an effort to be better, streets that are bigger than you —and you're eight lanes wide! Sure, you didn't choose to be overbuilt like you are; sure, you didn't ask to be the only practical conduit connecting all beach points between Santa Monica + LAX. But is this any way to live, Stinkin'? You could plant trees, build medians, allow for buildings over two stories (what is this, 1930?) — even better, you could even infill with a streetcar running down your middle. You've got the room. Like it or not, you've become the Westside's "missing" freeway, a major corridor to thousands each day. Time to start acting like one! See it narrowed!
Diptych prints available

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

reader request: hyperion ave + tracy street

Thanks to Ramon Martinez for the location request.

It's easy to blow by this neat little strip of shops while zipping along this throughway to the 5 freeway in west Silverlake. Indeed, getting this shot was a little hair-raising with all the fast-moving cars, themselves another reminder of the priority LA places on moving as many cars as quickly for as far as possible — an almighty creed of speed that deters exploration. If you drive slowly to browse a new area, for instance, you'll probably draw some road rage; if you decide to stop and have a look around on foot, you'll find yourself doing the destination dance: find parking, pay fees, mark the time, secure belongings, prepare a return schedule, &c. &c. "Discovering" new places in Los Angeles is a research job fraught with risk: what if you spend 30 minutes driving and another fifteen parking only to find out the place sucks, and there are no alternatives within walking distance? (Better check Yelp and Google traffic first.) Fascinating that a simple infrastructure design choice (wide streets) can have such profound effects on spontaneity. A narrower Hyperion would not just encourage more casual visitors but also help increase a sense of ownership savvy for all — after all, it's always more fun to unearth local gems on your own rather than read about them first online. See it narrowed!
Diptych prints available

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

essay: the clustering instinct

Photo by Ryan Ozawa of Lost fansite The Transmission.

I like to run through a little thought experiment sometimes, one that starts with a deserted island like the one on that infernal but addictive show Lost. People appear on this hypothetical island against their will via boat wreck, Dharma Initiative-sponsored teleportation, or whatever, and find themselves scattered, equally + evenly isolated from one another.

Question is, what would these poor people do next? Answers could polarize along two camps: the misanthropes, who would have our survivors live happily alone in their little kingdoms; and the utopians, who would have them build a perfect hippie commune of harmony, at least until the black smoke got to them.

Monday, January 25, 2010

the grove

The Grove shopping mall is narrow enough, I guess, and is attractive in an artificial, Vegas-y simulacrum sort of way. Those advertisement + shop kiosks, for example, look like they're supposed to evoke Paris, so what the hey — let's see how they look on a Paris-sized street! Curiously, the pedestrian-only Grove is built as if it were expecting car traffic: travel lanes heading in opposite directions are separated by a textured "median" for the goofy streetcar that crawls along the mall's quarter mile length. The choice of asphalt as a walking surface (as opposed to paving stones) is odd as well, but then again this is a reproduction of a nostalgic memory of a simulation we're talking about here, so such oddities are to be expected. It'd be great if The Grove's large city block of buildings were permeated more evenly by a squiggly, fine-grained grid of walkways like the more charming Farmer's Market next door, with its bazaar-like cluster of tiny shops. It instead opts for the contemporary approach of extreme centralization: a single pathway funnels all traffic along a main drag of large retail chains. See it narrowed!
Diptych prints available

Friday, January 22, 2010

friday favorites: los angeles, california

Thanks again to the dedicated Ramon Martinez for the suggestion. Photo by me.

Look — an actual narrow street, right here in Los Angeles at 7th + Witmer! It's even got its own traffic signal and everything. It's unfortunately pretty much a dead zone, with an auto body shop as its sole source of activity, but it's nice to know not all all streets in our city are dedicated to parking and speed. It's barely wide enough to accomodate two passing cars!

Every Friday I'll post a favorite narrow street snapshot from somewhere around the world. Got a Friday favorite of your own? Send me your photos!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

eagle rock boulevard + colorado boulevard (II)

Here's another view of last week's Eagle Rock reader request. What strikes me about the "before" picture is the amount of effort + regulation such large intersections require — just look at all those dotted turn guides painted on the asphalt! Makes sense, though: the bigger the intersection, the less drivers are able to clue in on their surroundings, and the more guidance they'll need. It's all so formal + rigid, isn't it? A smaller Eagle Rock Blvd. would be far more spontaenous. Infill it with shops + commerce — there's plenty of room — and you'd have even more diversions to explore. See it narrowed!
Diptych prints available

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

essay: cul-de-sacs remind me of appendicitis

Via Fast Company via @urbandata). Cul-de-sacs are a dying phenomenon.

Years ago, I had to cut short a trip to Hawaii for an emergency appendectomy. Yeeouch. As I lay wincing in pain post-surgery, I asked my doctor what causes appendicitis. "Fecal matter," he said, sheepishly. "The appendix is a sac with a narrow opening at only one end, and any blockage can cause things to fester inside." Yes. I am opening with a bowel metaphor.

reader request: 6th street + park view street

Thanks to the insightful Herbie Huff of Meek Adjustments (lots of very nice writing there) for the location request.

This corner of Macarthur Park embodies that classic Los Angeles paradox: you've got these gorgeous historical buildings that have all but turned their backs to streets below, whose pedestrians have been driven away by the nonstop exhaust + dirt of traffic. Despite their civic expressiveness, they have no real function beyond providing weekday office space. What's left is a prop cityscape that looks like a hotspot of commerce but is in reality a series of long dead zones, an illusion that reminds me of that Twilight Zone episode where a couple discovers they're trapped in the empty dummy-world dollhouse. It's a shame, because there is real grandeur here, and real community, too — the two just haven't been integrated properly into what could be a kind of Rockerfeller Square for LA. See it narrowed!
Diptych prints available

Sunday, January 17, 2010

burbank boulevard + van nuys boulevard

Thanks again to Andy Hurvitz for the location request.

Here's another shot from the incredibly wide Van Nuys Blvd. (see last week's photo, too). The weirdest thing about this mammoth street has to be the white chevron median strip: its sole function seems to be as a left turn conduit, except that it's three lanes wide. Mysteries of the Valley like these still elude me, which probably means I need to take a trip either to Wikipedia, the library, or both. In any case, Van Nuys Blvd. seems to be the perfect candidate for narrowing-by-infill — it's so supersized that you could drop a whole row of buildings in the middle and still have multi-lane roads on either side. See it narrowed!
Diptych prints available

crenshaw boulevard + martin luther king, jr. boulevard (II)

Travel south of the 10 freeway along Crenshaw Blvd., and you'll find yourself in the heart of one of the largest African-American neighborhoods in the country. Head further to Martin Luther King Blvd. and you'll reach a community gateway of sorts: a large shopping mall straddling MLK; nifty restaurants + local hangouts; a huge nearby park boasting facilities for tennis, baseball, and all kinds of other weekend activities. But standing at this massive crossroads, it's hard to get a sense of any of this activity when faced by the overwhelming, continuous roar of eight lanes of traffic travelling east-west and nine lanes streaming north-south. There's plenty of commerce here, along with churches and schools, but still no substantial street life to glue it all together. Why not spare some of that car-space for the actual people that make up the community itself? See it narrowed!
Diptych prints available

Friday, January 15, 2010

friday favorites: portofino, italy

From Steve Mouzon, a luminous night photo taken in Portofino, Italy. Check out his zenfolio site for even more lovely pictures.

Every Friday I'll post a favorite narrow street snapshot from somewhere around the world. Got a Friday favorite of your own? Send me your photos!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

silver lake boulevard + effie street, silver lake (II)

Another view of yesterday's Reader Request. See it narrowed!
Diptych prints available

essay: looking vs. seeing when visualizing urban reform

Above: Re-imagining Lancaster, from the outstanding Urban Advantage.

Art classes typically talk about the difference between looking + seeing. When you "look" at a chair, you match its shape to the architectural model in your mind; you don't stop to notice all the details — you just recognize it as "chair" and mentally move on. When you "see" a chair, however, you study its every nuance: texture, silhouette, color, cultural caché. "Looking" is a metaphorical activity, whereas "seeing" is literal.

I think we tend to "look" at our surroundings more than we realize, boiling neighborhoods down to a list of bullet points: a place can be convenient to the freeway, located in a good school district, have ample parking, be close to the mall, and so on. It all looks good on paper, but what's it like in real life? What realities emerge when you stop "looking" and start "seeing?" Sure, that vast sidewalk stretches for miles — but is anyone walking? Or that park: it looks nice on a map, but is it quiet? Or the walk to school — is it something you'd let your child try out on their own? On foot? On a bicycle?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

reader request: silver lake boulevard + effie street, silver lake (I)

Thanks to the indefatigable Ramon Martinez for the location request.

I've always had a hard time comprehending Silverlake. Aside from the obvious hipsterism of Sunset Junction, the neighborhood seems to hide its bars, clubs, and galleries out of sight, as if it were too busy shoegazing to notice its own importance as a musical + artistic mecca. Spaceland (above) is a perfect example: rock geeks seeking pilgrimage to this sacred temple might be disappointed to find themselves in a nondescript residential throughway with no other bars or clubs in sight. Maybe that's part of Silverlake's understated indie charm — but I still find it strange that a city as big as LA has almost no major rock 'n' roll drags besides the Sunset Strip. This stretch of Silver Lake Boulevard (with its eponymous reservoir rec space just up the street) begs for proper socialization. Narrowing it down would allow partygoers to crisscross the road safely + spontaneously, creating the perfect conditions for a thriving ecosystem of nightlife as well as the basis for becoming LA's next great hotspot. See it narrowed!
Diptych prints available

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

reader request: van nuys boulevard + oxnard street, van nuys

Thanks to the very eloquent + impassioned Andy Hurvitz for the location request.

Stand at this colossal intersection of Van Nuys + Oxnard, and observe: not counting the sky, how much of the landscape before you involves car travel? Van Nuys Boulevard is improbably, insanely huge, nine lanes wide at points, wide enough to make me wonder what in Cthulu's name could've been the lunatic contingency these city planners were designing for: Space Shuttle ground delivery? Emergency Cylon landing? Big-rig drag racing?

Monday, January 11, 2010

reader request: eagle rock boulevard + colorado boulevard, eagle rock (I)

Thanks to Rebecca Niederlander for the location request.

Eagle Rock feels relaxing + nerve-wracking at the same time — a small, sleepy village built around streets wide enough to use as airplane runways. Crossing the street, I noticed, seemed more like a defiant act of local pride than a hop, skip, or jump. One resident stared down cars (each itching to make their left turn) as he crossed, as if to declare: I have the right to stroll along without sprinting like a soldier fleeing gunfire, and stroll along I shall, dammit! Big city features like crosswalk countdowns + controlled left turn lanes seem out of place in this otherwise sweetly cozy hipster enclave, which is why Eagle Rock makes a bit more sense when narrowed down. Our two early birds sitting at the cafe in the photo, for example, feel less absurd when facing one lane as opposed to the six in reality. See it narrowed!
Diptych prints available

Friday, January 8, 2010

friday favorites: Boston, USA

Downtown Crossing, Boston, Massachusetts, right here in the good ole US of A, where you can wander to your heart's content without having to worry about cars lurking behind you. (Photo credit: shyto)

Every Friday I'll post a favorite narrow street snapshot from somewhere around the world. Got a Friday favorite of your own? Send me your photos!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

wilshire boulevard + orange grove avenue, museum row

Ever notice how most museums around the world are buffered by gathering spaces? Think of the hordes of tourists snapping establishing shots around the square at Paris' Louvre, students pontificating on the steps of the Met in New York, or cafe patrons recovering from the shock of La Guernica in the small square outside Madrid's Reina Sofia. By contrast, LA's museums feel to me like (wait for it) destination affairs, each a simple car ride away — itself a surreal psuedo-indoor affair separated from the outside world — and featuring ample parking. Without a lively transitional gathering space to properly introduce it, the museum is relegated to the trappings of the routine, a trip there being no different logistically from a trip to the mall or movie theater. In other words, as transcendent as the art may be inside, events immediately outside have been standardized to conform to mundane auto ritual.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

figueroa street + 12th street, downtown

With the recent advent of LA Live, the Staples Center is finally slowly becoming the leisure mecca it always wanted to be on paper. But you can still witness massive herds of pedestrians streaming away from the stadium after games as they make a beeline for their cars in the cheaper parking lots to the east. What a huge missed opportunity! If Figueroa's asphalt were stripped down, bringing its east side within easy striding reach, there'd suddenly be the perfect excuse for impromptu pubs + sausage vendors to welcome all that foot traffic. Because there's nothing better than having a post-game beer and hot dog to keep you company while watching your fellow fans wander by. See it narrowed!
Diptych prints available

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

documentary: hot cities

75% of the world's population lives with vehicle standards pioneered by California, whose residents consume 40% less energy than the rest of the US and make up the 8th largest economy in world. But the world also increasingly wants to emulate our sprawling infrastructure of ultrawide streets--because whatever Los Angeles does, the world sees. See more of this engrossing series produced for BBC at Rockhopper TV.

Monday, January 4, 2010

westwood boulevard + pico boulevard, west los angeles

I snapped this photo from the footbridge connecting the two halves of the Westside Pavilion mall, partly for the nifty view but also to illustrate how the monolithic shopping center stands aloof from its own environment. Aside from a few pedestrians heading east or west to the small handful of restaurants on seven-lane-wide Pico, the only real life at street level consists of teenagers waiting for the bus. Westwood Boulevard feels equally stark, with seven lanes flanked by shops that are all work and no play: office spaces, home goods, day care--not exactly conducive to browsing or loitering. How lovely would things be if everything just…slowed down a tad? Westwood Boulevard, now mostly a throughway, could finally transform into West LA's Main Street for both residents and nearby UCLA students. See it narrowed!
Diptych prints available

Friday, January 1, 2010

friday favorites: paris, france

Happy new year, everybody! Here's your humble editor enjoying a glass of red + a cheese tart in Paris, France. This fond memory was made possible by a one-lane street that barely allowed parking + was closed to auto traffic that day to boot.

Every Friday I'll post a favorite narrow street snapshot from somewhere around the world. Got a Friday favorite of your own? Send me your photos!

About the Photographer

Los Angeles, CA, United States
Writer, designer, and urban planning geek.

Got a location idea or photo submission? Send it to I'll post it to the blog or even run out to shoot it myself.


Other sites by David Yoon
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Kindred Spirits
Tom Baker, LA Without Cars
James Howard Kunstler

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SIFT Angeles


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