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A New "Cultural Tourist Agency" Teaches Angelenos How to Walk in the City

A new group encourages L.A. residents to walk and enjoy walking.

Walking in L.A. isn't as much a pastime as it is a punchline for many residents of our fair city. But walking does seem to be experiencing something of a renaissance, with the proliferation of urban hikers making mega-treks through the city, and a move towards redesigning streets that better accommodate walkers.

On the heels of these movements is the new cultural group Being Pedestrian, which encourages Los Angeles residents not only to walk, but to pay attention to the various factors, physical and invisible, that contribute to a positive pedestrian experience.

Being Pedestrian is headed by two Saras, Sara Daleiden and Sara Wookey, who were tapped by the Community Redevelopment Agency to create a public art project for the South Park neighborhood of L.A.'s downtown. Their idea to create a series of walking tours fit with the CRA's mandate (to make neighborhoods more livable through promoting pedestrian activity), but as they researched the routes, Daleiden and Wookey found there was more underfoot. "After many hours walking South Park and learning about the neighborhood, we discovered delightful nuances—in the pedestrian experience, changes in the sidewalks, in the crosswalk spaces, in the tile treatments," says Daledien. "We wanted to help Angelenos in the neighborhood and beyond enrich their sense of wonder for the city through walking."

Unlike so many transportation-related initiatives, Being Pedestrian isn't an advocacy group. Instead, the two Saras call it a cultural tourist agency. "According to the tourism bureau LA Inc. tourism is LA's number one industry," says Daleiden. "We are interested in a form of tourism based in walking a neighborhood to enjoy the transitions in the urban landscape, as opposed to focusing on spectacular landmark destinations." Being Pedestrian believes that "culture" can be found just as easily in the contours of a sidewalk as it can in the grand glinted gestures of Disney Concert Hall—all Angelenos have to do is pay attention.

On the Being Pedestrian site, anyone can learn how to walk with this heightened awareness. Prompts that ask pedestrians to consider what makes a sidewalk comfortable sidewalk and how crosswalks make you feel help walkers understand what designers have done to make their stroll more pleasant (or in some cases, neglected to do). These physical prompts are combined with more unusual requests like pausing to examine the scale of expansive buildings, which teaches walkers to stop and look up periodically. They've even mapped a section of downtown's South Park to help walkers recognize the different urban design elements that inform their walking decisions.

Of course, the jabs are inevitable: "Only in L.A. do people need instructions on how to walk," quipped a commenter on a recent Facebook post. But Daleiden thinks any city would be able to benefit from a similar program, since most have also been designed for the automobile. "They've also been shaped by many of the same urban conditions which shaped L.A., even if our city is a reference for an extreme hotbed for urban design that is diverse and distanced." she says. "We do think L.A.'s vast urban landscape is walkable if you have an open mind."

You can join Being Pedestrian at A South Park Picnic on Saturday, March 12 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. at Grand Hope Park in downtown Los Angeles. Being Pedestrian and Habeas Lounge will be offering walking tours, conversations with planning experts, reflective mapping exercises and, they promise, a few surprises. Tours will happen throughout the afternoon so people can arrive at any time, as long as you're ready to walk.

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