Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

4/05/2012

Power to the people: placemaking in Silver Lake

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Silver Lake today is a great neighborhood (not so a few decades ago, says my brother-in-law, who grew up fearing gangs). Whenever I stop by and visit, I can never resist taking along my camera to shoot all the little discoveries I run into.

I've often wondered why I don't feel the same around my home in the San Fernando Valley area. We arguably have more trees, more space, but somehow I feel like something's missing. What is it about this area (and a few more that I can think of) that makes it so appealing?

One can argue demographics. Silver Lake simply is home to younger, more vibrant people. But I wonder, is it also a matter of environment? On a recent walk around the Sunset Junction, I brought along a camera and documented all the things that caught my eye.

I found myself drawn to the large murals visible from the street, but also to the little markings that pop up by surprise on the walls and the floors.

LA Freewalls commissioned mural by Septerhed.
Despite the speed of cars whizzing past the area, many people were out and about. Stores even set out two-seaters on the street, as if to say, "Welcome, let's watch the world go by together."

A little nook outside Casbah Cafe.
Chairs on the street.
More chairs.
Others would leave encouraging messages by their doors or windows.

ReForm Gallery blackboard.
One message before you leave.
While taking a photo, a fellow pedestrian across the street waved at me and made a small talk while waiting for the light to turn. (How friendly is that?) He caught me taking a photo of Septerhed's latest mural on the corner of Sunset and Sanborn.

I realized that for all the planning and designing that I cover, all the things that made me stop wasn't just planned, they were taken over by the community. Someone thought to paint on the wall. Somebody said there should be more chairs on the street, and actually put it there. Someone took out a pen and wrote a little note.

"Most of the problems we have in our cities are social or cultural problems.  These problems need to be addressed at the cultural level and can’t be solved simply through design.  We have a design-centric view of the world where we assume that every problem can be solved by changing the design of physical space. Our cities have moved from citizenship to entitlement. I’m passionate about design, but design is not what is going to fix the problems. We have to move back to the mind frame where citizens take responsibilities for fixing their own problems," says David Engwich, a who advocates for grassroots solutions as opposed to designed solutions, in an interview.

After my walk, I tend to agree. Designers lay the groundwork, but they shouldn't forget that it is up to the people to take their handiwork and make it their own afterward. A plan isn't supposed to perfect or pristine, it should instead build a foundation where people are encouraged to make full use of it, change it, and own it. I don't like dirt or squalor, but a little squiggle here and there let's me know someone's been here. And that's nice to know.

Written on the plywood divider. Great reminder.

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