Long-time champion of public space reflects on impact of coronavirus on city life

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Aaron Paley at the fourth cicLAvia, in San Fernando Valley in 2015, with Emily Munroe (left) and Alyssa Bird (right). Photo credit: Mary Hunter

LA was once a destination for people who wanted to get away from crowded East Coast cities. The ideal was a single home with a yard and a car in the driveway. 

But over the last few decades, planners, designers and activists like Aaron Paley (co-founder of cicLAvia) have worked tirelessly to transform the Southland into a more social place, where people use mass transit and gather in streets and parks.  

Now Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Safer at Home” order has sent people back into isolation. Could being solitary become the new norm for Angelenos? 

Paley reflects on trying to change LA, and what might come next. 

He acknowledges that a newfound fear of germs might make it harder to persuade people to use mass transit. But the longtime confinement will, in his view, produce a renewed and powerful desire to re-connect.

He tells DnA, “I think what we are going to come out of this with is, ‘Wow, being with people is really important.’ Sure, we have all these tools that you didn't have before, and we can do online and we can do virtual. But there's no substitute for being together.” 

There could be an upside for other problems. The air in Los Angeles feels noticeably cleaner, and data is coming in to confirm it. Could we capitalize on this silver lining of the pandemic?

Yes, says Paley. The global effort to contain the pandemic shows us we are capable of coalescing around other big problems, like climate change.

“One of the lessons that we can learn from this is that we are capable of doing great things together. We are capable of making huge changes together. We are capable of actually shifting the society if we need to.”



  • Aaron Paley - President and co-founder of Community Arts Resources (CARS), and co-founder of CicLAvia.


Frances Anderton