Friday, December 08, 2006

Can Los Angeles Get Slow?

We had a wonderful time in L.A. staying with our friends in Sherman Oaks and giving talks at Vroman's Bookstore, the Bodhi Tree Bookstore and the Los Angeles Ecovillage. Now L.A. is not the first place you're going to think "eco," but the Ecovillage there is for real and may represent one of a kind. You're not going to find too many intentional communities in the heart of a teeming, speeding, freeway-jammed megalopolis like L.A. Nevertheless it's strikingly impressive what the LAEV has been able to accomplish in reclaiming land, water and public space.

Vroman's had a great lively audience with lots of comments and questions. I've given several talks there over the years and always come away with a wonderful feeling. It deserves its reputation as one of L.A.'s leading bookstores. If you're in Pasadena be sure to stop by. As up to date and "well-groomed" as Vroman's is, it still retains the bookish, library atmosphere of old-school bookstores we grew up with.

I had never been to the Bodhi Tree in West Hollywood before, but it apparently has an avid following. The place was bustling with all kinds of readers, from UCLA students to old New Age types (if that's not a contradiction). My reading was introduced by Carol Holst of the Simple Living America project, which sponsored the Leavenworth WA conference in November that I blogged about earlier. A good group, with much discussion after my talk.

My visit to the LA Ecovillage was a real revelation. I've always said that the Phinney Ecovillage I founded a few years ago in my north Seattle neighborhood was an "ecovillage lite," in the sense that it was an unintentional community based on the happenstance of location rather than a philosophical matrix.

Well, the LA Ecovillage is walking the talk. The village itself has about 35 residents, about half of whom are actively "intentional." In a 2-hour tour, leader Lois Arkin (Alan Arkin's sister) showed us a stormwater-filtering Eco Park, a rabbit run, dozens of tree plantings, a garden, a composting-soil project, a stormwater catch-basin (natural ground built up around 3 feet to absorb runoff) and on and on. Lois and the rest of the Evillagers can be congratulated on how much they've accomplished, even if Lois sometimes sounded as though they've barely made a dent with all the plans and projects still to be done.

The most memorable point of the tour may have been its starting point, in the middle of the street in front of the village. Under a City Repair project, the street is decorated with a colorful circle and various other designs. As Lois began to tell us about the Ecovillage, cars approached and we instinctively began to edge to the side of the street.

"Oh no," Lois said firmly. "We don't move for traffic here." She went on to explain that blocking cars is part of "retraining" traffic to slow down and go around. People use the street as a shortcut, and during rush hour "there's a lot of retraining to be done," Lois said. Some of the drivers, gesticulating angrily for us to move, also indicated an unwillingness to be retrained. But a surprising number just glided around us.

I'd never heard of traffic retraining before, but it sounds like an integral part of any slow lifestyle philosophy. Maybe we could learn from the yellow magnetic-sticker movement by cyclists who've been passed too closely by motorists. We could just make a sticker saying "Slow Is Beautiful" and slap it on cars as they drive by!

We left L.A. once again reminded of SoCal's central contradiction. As fast-paced, smoggy and hellish L.A. can be, some of the world's most interesting people live there. We even had the treat of arriving right after a storm and seeing the place through clear air. It's impressively green and beautiful when visible!

1 comment:

crsp said...

Hi Cecile,
This was a delightful article I just came across. Thank you so much for writing it.

I loved how you described our car retraining activities.

Only one minor correction: I'm not Alan Arkin's sister. I'd be honored to be, but alas! it just ain't so!

Best wishes for a happy holiday.

Lois Arkin
Los Angeles Eco-Village