This year, the convergence of CicLAvia with Occupy Los Angeles could not have been more auspicious. Occupying public space is at the core of what the bike event stands for and in a way, the event paves the way for the revolution to come.
Upon arriving at City Hall, I was immediately in the midst of a very active town square- more so than I had ever seen downtown in my life. Occupy LA has settled the southwest lawn of City Hall and has remained since their protest began over a week ago. Today, in addition to the occupation, event tents blended in with the protest and mobile food trucks lined the street. People were talking, milling about, biking, waving, people were reading, enjoying the sunshine on the lawn… I had a moment where I was compelled to rub my eyes- is this really Los Angeles? The fear-laden place that Mike Davis had so threatened us with in the 1990’s was nowhere to be seen.
LA has changed a lot since I was a kid. I spent significant time downtown as a high-schooler (c. 2000) serving homeless people food on San Julian St., hanging out by MacArthur Park, going to shows at the Smell. And oh, how times have changed. I want to give some insight into this change, I think we can begin to see where it has emerged and how Downtown has managed to move beyond the simple trend of gentrification.
One of my main areas of work and thought are about how to bridge the experience of space and place to the disassociated sprawl of Los Angeles. Case in point, how do you inspire people to come and spend time in a downtown that is normally relegated to the homeless? In looking at the general revitalization of Downtown LA, you can see a very clear correlation between artists taking the risks to live there (before there were lofts and coffee shops), and follow the trend of ensuing gentrification, once the artist had given the place character enough to be palpable to developers.
That said, when I saw CicLAvia, I knew this was a different trend. It had nothing to do with developers and everything to do with people, especially People Who Care. As part of my work I am involved with various community engagement projects that take people a little closer to a place they would normally experience and create a poetic narrative about it. This loose community of care-makers consists of artists, public artists, activists, landscape architects, urban planners, dancers, academics, and it has emerged in the past 10 years to inhabit our urban creative and community space.
The LA Urban Rangers have done a number of projects re-engaging the public into the urban landscape, recently hosting a series of events at MoCA, specifically one where people were invited to camp overnight in the MoCA courtyard. Another side project of Ranger Sara Daleiden is Being Pedestrian, where people are encouraged to own their place on the street- I’m not sure if our CicLAvia walking tour was directly related to Being Pedestrian, but it is the same community that is engaging this public discourse and awareness. This community is growing, and as someone has said in regards to the Occupy movement: We have found each other.
In creating a safe space, endorsed by the art world, the LA Urban Rangers have created the space for Occupy LA to camp peacefully on the lawn of City Hall. By providing a place for CicLAvia and all the programming that surrounds it, like Katie Bachler and Maryam Hosseinzadeh’s Back in time Drops, community members and the city have opened a space for people to re-inhabit and make new histories of the streets of downtown- a space that has been deserted for so long.
So much of what this event is about is creating the safe space that community building provides and reconnecting the narrative of our great city. Giving people a place to bump into each other, feel emotionally engaged, to get into conversations, to educate about the past and actually begin a dialog where they can expand their world to include a larger community- this is that moment, it is happening right now.