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Downtown Model Turns Planning Into Play

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Saturday, June 28, 2008, at 05:40PM
_IGP8354.JPG Ed Fuentes

Traveling down Broadway on James Rojas' model of Downtown. Red lines indicate streetcar routes.

James Rojas is a transportation planner who loves toys. In 2005 and 2007 he created large-scale models of the LA River, inviting the public to use legos, blocks, and other scraps to craft their collaborative vision of revitalization.

Now he's is doing the same for Downtown, with a model available for viewing and play in the second floor art space at the 7+Fig shopping center. On Thursday, he gave a talk about the project to a room of planners and office workers, inviting them to craft Downtown with their own ideas.

Rojas, a transportation planner for Metro with a masters in city planning from MIT, sees the city as a local Latino. Raised in Boyle Heights and now living Downtown, he has a vision for the city. In his model of Downtown, one can see how the city core could be regarded as one large plaza for Los Angeles, with green space following street car lines, Wilshire Blvd cutting through the city, and elephants loitering in Pershing Square.

On his models, random objects become city buildings. Urban planning becomes a playpen that engages, a process that has been in development since Rojas was a child. As he said during the lunchtime workshop, his grandmother gave him wood blocks and trinkets to pass the time and make a city.

“The eye candy of architectural details make it a walkable city,” he said to the small lunch time crowd gathered at 7+Fig Art Space gallery.

In February and March of 2007, Rojas led the same experiment at Gallery 727, exploring ideas for the L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan. He's also helped other cities to take a playful look at themselves.

Whimsical? Maybe. Despite it being a complete conceptual idea of what direction the city can go in, there was one unintentional prediction. At the south end of Bunker Hill, empty of skyscrapers, are small green and blue orbs. The idea is one Downtown's seen recently.

The 7+Fig Art Space (735 S. Figueroa) is open 12 - 6pm, Monday through Friday.

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