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myfig.jpgThere's a shift happening in Los Angeles. What's historically been known as a sprawling car-centric city is being transformed into a web of transit connected, bike-friendly and walkable communities. This is no small feat. There's a host of alternative transportation, urban planning, and design organizations working hard to make this happen.

Between downtown LA and South LA there is a notable lack of a safe, pedestrian friendly pathway connecting the two busy city sub-communities. In a unique partnership between architects, engineers, urban planners and community organizations, the MyFigueroa project hopes to change that. 

MyFigueroa’s goal is to transform downtown LA’s Figueroa’s Corridor into a “complete street”: a multimodal hub, providing bus lanes, bike lanes, and sidewalks for pedestrians. Tomorrow, MyFigueroa will be hosting a community meeting at Andrew Norman Hall Orthopaedic Hospital in downtown LA. Find out more about the event here.

Last week, I sat down with two urban planners involved in the project, Deborah Murphy of Deborah Murphy Urban Design and Planning and Melani Smith of landscape architecture and design firm, Meléndrez, to learn more about My Figueroa’s ambitious project, how they are using NationBuilder, and tomorrow's event:

Tell me about the event on April 9th and who will be attending.

Deborah Murphy: On Tuesday, April 9 we'll be hosting a Community Meeting where we'll be presenting the latest streetscape designs to the public. We hope the meeting will be well attended by stakeholders like local residents, business owners, USC students and faculty, as well as anyone in L.A. who's interested in redesigning our streets for people. We'll have Charlie Gandy, a famous livability advocate and policymaker, up from Long Beach to talk about how similar changes to their streets have resulted in economic and environmental benefits for the whole city.

Why will MyFigueroa be a valuable asset to the LA Community?

Melani Smith: We've been talking about this a lot. This project is truly transformative for the city in many ways. It will be the first "complete street" project to be implemented in the city, meaning that we will be redesigning the street to be safer and more accessible to walkers, bikers and transit-riders, while still accommodating cars. It will also be home to the first cycle tracks in the city, exclusive bike facilities that are fully separated from vehicles but are still located in the roadway, away from pedestrians. Our project area also intersects with the LA Streetcar proposal which will make 11th Street, and a portion of Figueroa Street north of 11th, one of the most exciting multimodal places to be when it comes to transportation in L.A.

DM: MyFig also happens to weave through some of the most diverse, vibrant neighborhoods in the city, from South Park to Expo Park and plenty of communities in between, including USC, which is home to the largest group of cyclists in the city—it's estimated that they have 16,000 people on bikes. These are neighborhoods filled with people who already walk, bike and take transit and we'll be able to provide a better way for these people to fulfill their daily needs as well as connect these neighborhoods with Downtown.

How long has MyFigueroa been in the making?

DM: MyFigueroa was funded in 2010 by a Proposition 1C grant, which allocated for street improvements focused on walking, biking and transit to be completed near affordable housing developments in urban neighborhoods. We began the grant process in 2008, and were thrilled to be awarded $20 million for the project. The only catch is that all the monies must be spent by the end of 2014. So we are extremely eager to get this project moving as quickly as we can to make sure it can be implemented 

How did you get involved with MyFigueroa?

MS: Our firm, Melendrez, put a team together to pursue the request for proposal put out by the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles (CRA/LA), and fortunately we won the job! We were immediately captivated by the goals articulated for the project:  implement a complete streets design, connect South Los Angeles to Downtown, connect people to transit, bring more people onto the street, and improve safety.

DM: I was brought on by the CRA/LA in 2008 to prepare the extensive $30 million Prop 1C Infill Infrastructure grant application to fund this project and some other streetscape and park projects under the name Connecting South Los Angeles to Downtown: Figueroa Corridor. After the award of the grant, I continued my role with the CRA/LA as Project Manager and Grant Administrator for the project which is funding infrastructure projects in Downtown and South Los Angeles.

How did you discover NationBuilder?

DM: One of our community outreach consultants, Alissa Walker, recommended it to us. She passed along a great article that had been written about NationBuilder in the LA Weekly.

How did you decide it was the right platform for you? And what, in general, were you looking for in a community organizing platform? 

DM: We needed a fast and flexible way to build a website and get our message out. Once we saw how other urban design projects had used it we were able to see how effective it would be for our needs. We liked how the mailing list, Facebook and Twitter were integrated into the website to keep all the social media tied together.

Is this the first time you’ve used web/social for a cause? How does this compare to your previous methods?

MS: Previously we used a combination of a website and an email marketing program. It's nice to have everything together in one place.

What measures/metrics do you use to define the success of your implementation of NationBuilder? How do you monitor your progress?

DM: I think the most important short term goal is that we have plenty of engaged, invested people show up for our April 9 meeting and give thoughtful feedback to the designs. After that, we plan to use NationBuilder to deliver timely updates on construction and answer questions about the project until it is complete.

And finally, what is “community organizing” to you?

MS: Community organizing, for me, in planning and urban design, is providing a process and forums in which disparate parties can be convened, voices can be heard, and we can listen to the wise advice of stakeholders, in an honest dialogue, which reaches implementable conclusions.

DM: Thoughtfully engaging all interested individuals, groups and organizations in identifying the challenges and opportunities they face in their communities and collectively developing comprehensive solutions that address those challenges and opportunities.

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