Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


LA Living: Christine Outram

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Like anyone over 20, I am still grappling with the effect of technology in my life. Not to date myself, but I still remember rotary phones being used in my house and licking postage stamps because the USPS hadn't yet thought of putting adhesives on them.

Now that I'm constantly surrounded by the products of human creativity and the blossoming of the digital age, I admire people who confidently grapple this onslaught of change like Christine Outram, Director of City Innovation Group.

Christine got her Architecture degree in Sydney, Australia. Not content with just knowing how to build cities, she figured out a way to intersect her interest in technology with cities by getting her SMArchS Architecture and Urbanism degree at MIT. She came out with an appreciation of how good design can change the we live in the city, not to mention a few wow-worthy projects under her belt, including the Copenhagen Wheel, a new type of electric bike with regenerative braking and real time sensing.

Lucky for us Angelenos, she's also made LA home. Here's more of Christine.

Hi, Christine. So, what's City Innovation Group about? 
In part, City Innovation Group is a business that helps cities, businesses and communities integrate new technologies to make urban life more sustainable, enjoyable and viable.

It's also a platform that gathers together a select number of talented people from different backgrounds to push forward and showcase research, projects and concepts that involve cities and new technologies.

What inspired you to put up City Innovation Group?
During my four and a half years in the US, I have met so many amazing talented and passionate people who I wanted to keep a conversation going with, which inspired me to set up the company as a group. I believe that multi-disciplinary interactions lead to richer thinking and greater innovation.

As individuals, we have common interests, but different skills. Meanwhile, as a group, we can turn to each other to get advice on projects, suggest each other for work, or offer our services as an elite group of thinkers who can provide cross-collaborative benefit to our clients.

I'm always amazed at the types of projects you're working on. Could you share those that are most exciting to you at the moment?
I am consulting on quite a few projects, but here are a couple that I find particularly exciting.

The first is with the U.N's Global Pulse team. They're developing an understanding of how data can be used to assess the impacts of crises on different sectors of the population.

For example, if there's a food shortage, you'd usually have surveys done that could give you information about how people are being affected. But by the time you get the survey out there, it's already too late.

The hypothesis here is that  if we have a tighter feedback loop of information, that is driven through real- time data streams, such as information on the web, or partnerships with data providers, then we can generate a more detailed understanding of where impact is happening and create policy decisions that can help alleviate that sooner.

This is not to say that we get rid of traditional surveys, just that we now have an opportunity to get a macro picture, from which we can better target response and follow-up with greater agility.

I am really excited about the movement we are creating in LA through our City Works Campaign. Often, when people think of 'smart cities' they think of IBM's smarter planet campaign, or perhaps GE, or CISCO. While these companies are doing a great job of understanding how technology can be used from the top down to create more efficient city infrastructures, it is equally important is to mobilize communities from the bottom up and help them understand how they can use technology to improve livability for themselves, their friends and their communities.

That is why, through our LA Here and Now events, we are connecting some of Los Angeles's brightest thinkers, tinkers, designers and software developers with government, business and community groups. Our tag line is "new tools for better cities."

You also mentioned that putting up a company is super tough and confusing. :) What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
Yes, it's true. Particularly coming from another country, I had no idea about all the legal and government bodies in the US, or, for instance, the differences between an LLC structure in Australia, and an LLC structure in the US (Here it is a fairly new legal structure, so not everybody is comfortable with it).

So I did quite a lot of research before I set up the company, but only now am I realizing that being a sole-member LLC is not the best way to go, and to get the full benefits and legal protection that an LLC provides, it is better to be in a partnership.

You live and learn!

Some people move to LA and hate it, some are okay with it, some are totally in love with it. How do you feel about Los Angeles? 
What I love about LA is that its density, and its 'city of villages' feel, allows multiple different lives and stories to take place in one city.

For instance, LA is definitely known as a fickle image-conscious, reality-TV hub, but in my life here, I never have to interact with this world. And even though it is not an instantly enticing, or geographically interesting city, the more you spend time with it, the more you dig and connect, the more it reveals to you its depth, its communities and its possibilities.

LA makes you work for it, but it is incredibly supportive, and I am beginning to realize (and maybe this reflects the stage of life I am in) that it is infinitely more rewarding than other cities I have lived in.

Speaking of discoveries, what are your favorites? 

The hidden Nazi Commune Hike in LA
My husband and I discovered this trail when we were hiking in Will Rogers, and after climbing down a mountain, decided that we would attempt to 'follow the river out' rather than climb back up the hill. What we found, and later read about, were abandoned buildings that once formed the basis for a Nazi commune of 40 families. Both the story of this commune, and the adventure we had while jumping over the river and trying to make it out, are a favorite memory in LA.

Sayers Club
It's hidden behind a Papaya King Hotdog stand and with no sign to let you know it exists.

Thursday nights at the Sayers Club in Hollywood are my favorite night of the week. It is a laid-back lounge vibe and each week they bring up amazing guest singers who perform with the house band. The singer, L.P. gives me shivers every time, but there are plenty of other great artists too.

Licensed CC by diglounge
Food + Drink
There are too many hidden food gems in LA to count! I love Attari, the persian sandwich shop in Westwood, and the equally good Persian ice cream shop across the street. Pistachio and saffron ice cream, yum.

Then, for relaxed summer afternoons, you have to head to Malibu Wines. Alternatively, if you are downtown in the arts district, there's Villian's Tavern.

And finally, although it is not so secret, I am in love with the meaty decadence of Animal on Fairfax.

That is a great list! LA also has its share of great people and characters. Who are three awesome people we should look up?
My list could be very long, but you asked for three, so here goes:

Everyone who works on the GOOD LA local edition are to be applauded. It's great to see a side of LA, that isn't the entertainment industry, get exposure.

I also respect and admire my LA business partner Kyla Fullenwider, who runs the Public Studio.

The folks at Mindshare and Project Fresh, in particular Doug Campbell, are doing great things.

GOOD Los Angeles poster. Licensed CC by madaroni.
Thanks, Christine! Glad you're in my neighborhood. 

Hear Christine talk about new tools for better cities  at LA Here and Now, a meeting that brings people together to make the City of Los Angeles a better place to live, work and play in. Check it out September 20, 7 pm! Click here for details.


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