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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Cars, not people

With a title like that, you might think that this is yet another diatribe against LA car culture and traffic. In a way it is, but living here in Van Nuys, steps from Van Nuys Auto Row, I have another perspective.

Forget about all the cars on the street. I am more concerned about all the cars on the lot. Drive Van Nuys Boulevard from the 101 to Oxnard and you will find auto dealer after auto dealer. Some are small Mom and Pop used dealers, but there are also the SoCal big boys including the Miller and Keyes dynasties. Block after block of cars and little else.

I understand the business reasons for collecting car dealerships into small areas, but the effect on the neighborhood is striking. We used to have a restaurant a block away, but years ago its lot was swallowed up by yet another Keyes dealership. Thankfully, it didn't close, but moved a couple of blocks away. In order to reach basic services like a supermarket, coffee shop, etc. you have to walk miles of useless car lot desert.

In a city with few walkable areas to begin with, miles and miles are car dealerships take what could be a vibrant collection of storefronts, restaurants and services, Instead of destinations, you end up with shadeless expanses of concrete and steel offering neither sustenance nor edification. These lots are something to be borne, rather than appreciated. Where there could be a neighborhood, there is wasteland.

Yes, yes, I know tax base, blah blah, industry, blah, blah, business, blah, blah blah. These are cold comfort to the residents who have to get in the car to get milk and bread. Some of us live in the city to be part of the city, but these dead zones along major city thoroughfares are like giant sinkholes that swallow up entire neighborhoods.

There are ways to turning this around, though. Why can't small storefronts, coffee bars, newsstands and restaurants mix with the dealerships? Why can't we provide neighborhood businesses, along with their foot traffic, along with the dealers to serve those who are actually looking for a new car? Man does not live on bread alone, but we can't live on gasoline, steel and rubber, either. Just as newly borne freeways once divided neighborhoods and destroyed communities, endless stretches of dealerships threaten to do the same thing.


At 8:41 AM, Blogger Todd said...

I worked for a civil engineer in a previous life.

We estimated that 80% of land use is directly or indirectly related to cars.

Whole corners for gas stations
Blocks for parking
Home Garages, driveways.

Factor in ... you don't need sidewalks if streets were not required.

Quickly adds up.

Building condos? 2.1 parking spaces per unit, but you can get a variance if you put a foosball table in the laundry room.



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