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The Painted Laborers of Beverly Hills

A painted laborer along Sunset Blvd in Beverly Hills by Romiro Gomez. Photo by Jorge Rivas via Colorlines

A painted laborer along Sunset Blvd in Beverly Hills by Romiro Gomez. Photo by Jorge Rivas via Colorlines

Artist Ramiro Gomez wants to draw attention to what he and other advocates consider an invisible population – the labor force that takes care of our families and homes.

A recent UCLA study found that a vast majority of home health care workers, child care workers and housekeepers in Los Angeles County were working overtime for no compensation and that 35% of maids and housekeepers and 75% of child care workers were being paid below the minimum wage.

Gomez says he wants to create a conversation and engage people who pass by wondering if the cutout is real or not and “hopefully bring more recognition where recognition is definitely deserved”.

Los Angeles’ Street Pianos

Future pianist plays at a street piano near the Egyptian Theater. Photo by Adam Winter via streetpianos.com

Future pianist plays at a street piano near the Egyptian Theater. Photo by Adam Winter via streetpianos.com

Between April 12th and May 3rd, 30 pianos were scattered around Los Angeles for anyone to play and enjoy. The project called “Play Me, I’m Yours” was the brainchild of Luke Jerram who has installed more than 600 pianos in 26 cities across the country in the last four years. In Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra teamed up with local artists and community groups to decorate pianos and work with Mr. Jerram to bring the project to life and the Street Pianos website became a repository for images and videos of professionals and those not-so-professional to share their experiences with the pianos.

Musicians having fun at a street piano in Los Angeles. Photo by Elson Trinidad via streetpianos.com

Musicians having fun at a street piano in Los Angeles. Photo by Elson Trinidad via streetpianos.com

Mr. Jerram says that the “idea for Play Me, I’m Yours came from visiting my local launderette. I saw the same people there each weekend and yet no one talked to one another. I suddenly realised that within a city, there must be hundreds of these invisible communities, regularly spending time with one another in silence. Placing a piano into the space was my solution to this problem, acting as a catalyst for conversation and changing the dynamics of a space.”

These pianos were a true delight in our city. Helping to create livelier indoor and outdoor spaces and bring passersby together to stop and enjoy beautiful executions of music as they unfolded.

People gather to watch a budding musician at Union Station in Los Angeles. Photo by The MetroDuo Blog

People gather to watch a musician at Union Station in Los Angeles. Photo by The MetroDuo Blog

Ovarian-Psycos Bicycle Brigade

Xela de la X shows the Ova’s signature sign. Photo by Rafael Cardenas via EastsiderWriter.com

While studying urban planning in graduate school I became fascinated with the sociology of public space. Why were some paces used more than others and why were some spaces perceived to be inclusive or exclusive by certain populations. During an internship in the New York City Department of Transportations innovative Office of Public Spaces, I began to understand that our streets were actually our largest public spaces and through public plazas for example, they had the ability to be transformed in to spaces that prioritized pedestrians instead of cars.

For my master’s thesis, I merged my interest in public space analysis, transportation planning and women’s studies by looking at what deters women to ride bicycles in New York City. Not unsurprisingly, motorist aggression and fear of personal safety were the greatest deterring factors for women but what surprised me were the limited opportunities encouraging those unfamiliar with riding a bicycle and the lack of attention to the needs of a wide variety of users in the design of our cycling infrastructure and facilities.

In spite of the ground that women have gained in the fight for equal rights, studies have show that women are more likely to run household errands and transport children and elderly family members. For some women, this can make their travel behavior and willingness to take risks different from that of a single rider traveling from Point A to Point B. Often, I look for examples of thoughtful cycling infrastructure  and the encouragement of bicycling to a wide variety of users (specifically women) so today I was ecstatic to read about the Ovarian-Pyscos, an East Los Angeles bicycle collective, in Los Angeles Streetsblog.

The Ovarian-Psycos Bicycle Brigade, an all-women bicycle collective from East Los Angeles, is not only supporting one another in cycling through the city and raising awareness about cyclists, they have become a powerful collective supporting women’s rights, social justice and each other.

The Ova’s gather before their Take Back the Night Ride. Photo by GLoTography via Streetsblog

From Los Angeles Streetsblog:

“Two months ago, when 22-year-old Bree’Anna Guzman was murdered in Lincoln Heights, the all-women bike group Ovarian-Pscyos Bicycle Brigade scrapped their previously planned ride to ride instead through the neighborhood to protest the killing.

‘Whose Streets,’ one woman called out.

‘Our Streets’ the more than 30 women riding answered.”

“Many of the women say they feel they are not taken seriously in the biking community because their rides aren’t as long as traditional rides, there are usually many first-time riders, and the ride will stop and wait for one person. But, these limitations, Ova member Natalie Fraire said, can be a positive.

‘We are encouraging a lot more riders and that’s more important, said Fraire.”

The Ova’s excel at inclusion. If you have any interest in learning how to ride, they will be there to support without judgement. This collective is strong, supportive, and has changed the lives of the women involved. Most importantly, it has given the Ova’s a sense of empowerment which all women richly deserve, cycling on the streets and beyond.

Sunset Triangle Plaza

Cities like New York and San Francisco have lead the way in the transformation of our largest public space, our city streets. They have successfully created comfortable, vibrant and welcoming public plazas constructed efficiently and  inexpensively by using paint and temporary materials. These plazas can help calm traffic (decreasing incidents of pedestrian and cyclist injury and fatality), encourage walking and cycling (contributing to personal and public health through exercise and the decrease of carbon emissions from cars), and can benefit local businesses (because when you create an attractive space, people are more likely to linger and patronize nearby shops and restaurants.

The hallmarks of these public spaces are their location (converting redundant or wide streets in areas that already have high levels of commercial, pedestrian or cyclist activity), their customizable nature (moveable seating and chairs are always preferable because you can feel comfortable to sit alone or in large groups), and their accessibility (no stairs, adjacent to crosswalks and sidewalks, lots of seating options, shade and visibility).

Madison Square Plaza, NYC. Photo by Anna Peccianti

Los Angeles, with it’s warm weather, wide boulevards and high levels of pedestrian activity in certain neighborhoods could be a perfect playground for these types of public spaces. Last year the Los Angeles Department of Public Health received a grant to decrease obesity rates in Los Angeles and together with the Department of City Planning, they decided to put that money towards Los Angeles’ first street-to-plaza conversion project.

Spearheaded by Streets for People, Frank Clementi of Rios Clementi Hale Studios, and the Los Angeles Departments of Transportation, Planning, Public Works and Public Health; along with the local council office and local community and non-profit groups, Sunset Triangle Plaza was officially opened on March 4th.

Sunset Triangle Plaza. Photo by Anna Peccianti

This particular location was chosen because a) the community had been asking for a pedestrian plaza in this area for over 10 years, b) there was already a twice-weekly farmer’s market in this location so the street already had consistent pedestrian activity; and c) as previously mentioned, the street is redundant and sandwiched between a small triangular park and popular businesses whose patrons were usually crowding the tiny sidewalks with bicycles and belongings.

Sunset Triangle Plaza Draft Plan by Rios Clementi Hale Studios

Sunset Triangle Plaza is a one-year pilot project. Early next year community members, city agencies and elected officials will determine whether or not the plaza will become something more permanent or be converted back in to a street.

Street-to-plaza conversion projects can be hard to visualize if you’ve never seen or experienced one before. The wonderful thing about creating temporary demonstration projects is that they allow a city to inexpensively transform public space so residents can see for themselves just how transformative these types of spaces can be.

Sunset Triangle Plaza from Streets for People on Vimeo.

Sunset Triangle Plaza design by Frank Clementi of Rios Clementi Hale Studios. Sunset Triangle Plaza opening day video by Joel Schroeder