That’s right: Our 2014 Giving Report is now out! (We promise you, it was worth the wait.)
In it, you’ll find: • Stories from our 2014 ioby Heroes, awesome ioby Leaders who worked to improve their neighborhoods from Denver to Livonia, GA; • A look at 2014 by the numbers (Wondering how many new projects were launched? How many BBQ restaurants our staff tried in Memphis?); • Why we’re excited to look beyond the grassroots to the “Deep Roots”; • A one-stop shop for ioby resources, with how-to guides covering everything from Green Infrastructure to Throwing Killer Galas! …And much more!
It’s a sad fact that L.A. is designed for cars, yes, and that for a long time it’s been dominated by car culture. But the idea that it’s impossible to walk anywhere in L.A. is not one Angelinos have to subscribe to, and the folks over at pedestrian advocacy group Los Angeles Walks have plenty to say on the matter.
“So it’s actually an urban legend that people don’t walk here.”
“There’s actually a very large public transit-dependent population here,” says LA Walks staffer Colleen Corcoran. “So it’s actually an urban legend that people don’t walk here.” The problem is that even transit-dependent neighborhoods aren’t pedestrian-friendly. There’s a serious, city-wide lack of crosswalks, for starters, so that pedestrians are forced to walk far out of their way or dart across unsafe roads. There’s also a big “first mile/last mile” problem keeping people in their cars; there may be a transit hub a mile or two away, but people simply don’t feel safe walking it, or don’t realize how manageable that distance really is.
But maybe some of the biggest barriers between Angelinos and their nearest transit station are just psychological. Maybe if people were invited to experiment with walking, and provided wayfinding signage that stated exactly how many minutes away their destinations were, we’d see more feet hitting the pavement, more riders on the trains and busses. After all, signs work. Ever been confronted by a sign nudging you to “take the stairs, not the elevator: burn calories, not electricity” and found yourself actually heading for the staircase? In theory, signs may seem bossy, but in practice, they’re usually helpful – even comforting. Someone wants to help you choose, help you stay safe, help you find your way.
Corcoran and her team leading their ioby campaign plan to discover if very good signage can get Angelinos walking. Over the next year, they’ll work with two local artists to design10-20 signs in a hand-painted aesthetic, and install them around L.A.’s Leimert Park. The exact signage locations will be informed by a community mapping exercise. Their goal is to get people oriented through a pedestrian’s eyes, and to show them how easy it is to walk from transit stations to various points of interest in the Leimert area.
“The important thing with this type of signage,” says Corcoran, “is to show how many minutes it takes to walk somewhere, because a lot of people just don’t understand how long it takes to walk certain distances. So they’re like ‘oh my god, I’d have to walk a mile.’ But it’s only 15 minutes. Especially here, where the weather’s nice pretty much every day. People just don’t connect the dots. Their perception of the distance is more than it actually is.”
“Their perception of the distance is more than it actually is.”
Angelinos also may not realize how much time they spend trying to park their cars in congested areas, and that to walk a mile, two miles might often take much less time. But a shift may be happening; more and more young people are moving into transit-accessible downtown, and into areas near the newer rail lines, such as the arts district. “I think it is slowly changing,” says Corcoran, of LA’s well-documented history of horrendous traffic and overbearing car culture. “I think younger people here are less likely to drive. People are really burned out on the fact that they have to sit in traffic. They’re choosing to live in places that are more transit accessible or easier to bike to and from.”
Last year, something big happened for public transit in America. In 2013, a whopping 10.7 billion rides were taken on US transit. An impressive record high, the number reveals that the trend we’ve all seen in action – Americans, especially millennials, setting their sights on walkable, bikeable, train- and bus-able towns and cities – is a very real one, and could completely change the face of American transportation.
The news couldn’t be better. With climate change breathing down our necks, and study after study reporting that access to good public transit makes people both happier and healthier, America needs to get with the program. Sure, New Yorkers might have a million great – if loud, slow, crowded and smelly – transit options, but they enjoy nearly 50% of all US public transit rides, while much of the rest of the country gets the short straw. We all need the option to ditch our cars, and to become a country that walks, bikes, hops on the train.
“Overall for the transit industry,” says Transit Center research and development director Shin-Pei Tsay, “for all the transit agencies, all the operators, all the people who provide services and infrastructure and construction, I think overall they’re just really excited, because on the wholesale level, there’s finally public demand for transit services.”
But despite all the buzz about the increasing demand for public transit, says Tsay, “little has changed in the industry.” That’s because most of the big changes we need to see are bound to come very, very slowly. Projects like laying down new track, redesigning streets and intersections, and adding trains and busses to existing lines will be hugely expensive, and they’ll be forever in the making. Plus, some will also be disruptive for locals. Case in point: New York’s always-and-forever pending 2nd Ave subway line, with all the incredible noise and mess it’s brought to NYC’s east side.
Here’s the game-changer, though. We don’t have to wait. There are so many other ways – vastly cheaper, quicker, easier, and more creative ways – for us all to start making American public transit as safe and comfortable as it should be. Turning a single decrepit Memphis bus shelter into a celebration of Soulsville musical heritage, for example, can help to enliven an entire neighborhood. Introducing a public art installation at a neglected intersection can help people envision the space as full of possibility. Simply putting up a colorful, hand-painted sign at a metro stop, to let riders know it’s only a fifteen-minute walk to the park, can reinvigorate daily routines. These are projects that transit authorities would see as being outside of their wheelhouse, and would never tackle. And they’re exactly the types of projects we the riders, we the walkers and cyclists, can get started on right now.
This fall, ioby has sponsored ten such projects as part of its Trick Out My Trip transit campaign. The ten ioby team Leaders are community organizers, cycling advocates, transit authority staffers and volunteers, software programmers, artists and involved citizens, and they come from all over the country – Los Angeles, Seattle, Memphis, Louisville, Atlanta, Denver, Lithonia, and Brooklyn. Each of them has an innovative idea about how to quickly improve transit in his or her city, and – with funds raised through ioby, then matched by Transit Center – they’ll each complete a test run between now and Thanksgiving.
As researchers pay closer and closer attention to the psychology of public transit, studies have shown that the sorts of projects these ten ioby Leaders will be completing can have a very concrete impact on riders’ satisfaction. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have found, for example, that basic amenities at bus stops – shelters, benches, clear and accurate schedules – make people’s wait times feel significantly shorter. And that may be far more important than we’ve previously assumed. As Transit Center’s 2014 Who’s On Board study reported, “Transit is personal. Unlike the sewer systems, the power grid, and telecommunications infrastructure, transit can evoke pride, frustration, and even fear. It can shape our most personal decisions about where we live and work.”
“It’s super exciting,” says Tsay of partnering with ioby on Trick Out My Trip. “I love seeing ideas from people who are everyday transit riders. Change can’t happen without them. Seeing that there’s interest in the communities means that there’s a growing contingency who might really think about transit in a different way and put pressure on their transit agencies and on their elected officially to think about transit differently, and I think all of that really makes a big difference in the long run.”
Stay Tuned! This blog is the first in a series this week!
We are so happy to see the Next American CityForefront piece by Nate Berg this morning on the Los Angeles River. Since 2008, George Wolfe has been at the helm of a massive coalition of organizations working to ensure that the L.A. River keeps its federal designation as a protected waterway by proving that the river, now channelized in concrete, is, in fact, navigable. Wolfe raised more than $2,000 for this effort on ioby. Read more about the project, check out ioby’s Awesome Project feature on it, or go to Next American City for the Berg story.
ioby is proud to announce a new partnership with the National Parks Conservation Association to crowdfund projects in our country’s beloved national parks. It sounds like a cutting-edge idea, and it is—though another cause beat us to the punch by more than a hundred years.
In the late 19th century, French writer and political figure Edouard de Laboulaye came up with the idea for France to give to the United States a symbol of liberty, 100 years after Bastille Day and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The Statue of Liberty was built in two parts. French cities, towns, and individuals contributed two million francs, securing all the necessary funding for the statue’s steel and copper by 1880. But, years later, the United States, still embroiled in a rivalry of which city–Philadelphia, Boston, or New York City–would be the statue’s home state, was unable to come up with the money to build the pedestal upon which Lady Liberty would stand.
Newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer had recently purchased the New York City daily, The World. He decided to take up the cause for New York City and inadvertently launched the first American crowdfunding campaign. On March 16, 1885, The World ran this plea:
We must raise the money! The World is the people’s paper, and now it appeals to the people to come forward and raise the money. The $250,000 that the making of the Statue cost was paid in by the masses of the French people—by the working men, the tradesmen, the shop girls, the artisans—by all, irrespective of class or condition. Let us respond in like manner. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.
By August 11, 1885, the campaign brought in 125,000 donations totaling $100,000, many people donating less than a dollar each to create the foundation for this great symbol of liberty, now managed by the National Park Service.
Today, NPCA and ioby join together continue this great legacy of utilizing citizen philanthropy to support more of our nation’s urban national treasures.
ioby was created for all people who say, “Yes, I want positive change in my community!” On ioby, anyone with a great idea to make her neighborhood stronger and more sustainable can raise tax-deductible donations, recruit local volunteers, and share ideas in a like-minded community.
ioby began as a pilot program in New York City and has a special interest in supporting projects in dense urban centers, which is why we are so excited to be working on this partnership with NPCA and their community partners, National Aquarium (Baltimore, MD), Tropical Audubon Society (Miami, FL), and Roots and Wings (Los Angeles, LA), who are dedicated to connecting city dwellers to the great outdoors.
We launch the pilot today with three great campaigns. In Baltimore, the National Aquarium and National Park Service will recruit volunteers to clear and maintain trails at the wetland adjacent to Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. Tropical Audubon Society will lead kayaking trips in Biscayne Bay in Miami. In Los Angeles, the Roots and Wings Program will bring high school students on outdoor adventures into five different western national parks.
These crowdfunding campaigns are not so different from the campaign to fund the Statue of Liberty. Sure, we have some advantages. Web tools make collecting donations easier and social channels like Facebook and Twitter help us amplify these stories and visions.
But the premise is not unlike what Mr. Pulitzer posed in 1885. Combined with thousands of other small donations, a single dollar gains power. With others, the voice of a lone micro-donor grows louder, and says, “Yes, I want healthy wetlands in Baltimore!” and, “Yes, I support kayaking trips in Biscayne Bay!” and “Yes, I want Los Angeles youth to visit more national parks!”
Learn more about easy ways you can contribute a dollar (or more) to the parks and say “yes!” to other important causes at ioby.org/NPCA.
Picture this: You are kayaking down a river, passing in and out of the shade of sycamore trees, drifting by the occasional snowy egret. Every once and a while, you identify a ripple in the water as the movement of a carp flitting past your boat. Occasionally, you hear an 18-wheeler screech to a halt overhead.
The above is not a fantasy, but rather what you might experience if you were kayaking along the Los Angeles River, a 51-mile long waterway that snakes through the city and into Queensway Bay. The river has famously been portrayed as an oversized concrete ditch in movies Grease and Chinatown, and for good reason: its riverbed was almost completely channelized in concrete by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the “Corps”) after a series of floods in the early 20th century. Today, the river is part wild, part man made. Converting the river was largely successful in curbing damage, but it also restricted how Angelenos get to interact with water.
“There’s a schizophrenic mindset concerning how people think about water in Los Angeles,” joked river activist George Wolfe, 48. “Some groups in town are trying to bring people to the water, while other groups are seemingly set on keeping people away from the water.”
Wolfe would know. In response to a 2008 EPA ruling that the LA River was not “traditionally navigable” and therefore not a river, Wolfe and a group of advocates kayaked the entire length of the waterway to prove that it was (against the wishes of the Corps and the County).
In 2010, the EPA revised a previous ruling and the river was deemed ‘navigable,’ and, therefore, a waterway protected by federal law. However, it is still not 100% publicly accessible. Safety concerns persist, and until advocates can prove that less-skilled boaters would be able to ride the river responsibly, it will remain a permit-only waterway with limited seasonal use.
Luckily, steps are being taken to transform the river from movie set to public recreation space. Last year, LA River Expeditions—led by Wolfe in partnership with the Corps, the City, and many other groups—created a pilot program to offer boat trips to the public. The 300 tickets sold out in ten minutes—at 7am on a Tuesday.
Safety was a major component. “It was one of the safest programs in the country: one staff boater for every two or three participants, rangers with defibrillators, helmets,” Wolfe described.
This summer, LA River Expeditions hopes to open the ioby project to 40 Los Angeles children, providing a safe and educational experience for boaters of all ages and experience levels. Schools and youth organizations from around the area have been clamoring for the opportunity to take part in recreational boating opportunities.
LA River Expeditions–though expert in navigating concrete channels– has teamed up with American Rivers (AR), a national waterway advocacy group, to navigate the legal channels. “This is an opportunity to expand access and enjoyment of rivers,” said Steve Rothert, 47, American Rivers’ California Regional Director.
About 15 million people live in the LA area, but only a small fraction of those people have had a chance to enjoy the river, much less kayak it. “In some places, you have to scale a ten-foot chain-link fence with barbed wire on top to get to the river,” explained Rothert. “At other points you can access it freely. That’s where we want to focus our efforts.”
Accessibility is a critical piece of the LA River’s allure. Unlike most other waterways throughout the Los Angeles Basin, the LA River is accessible by public transportation and borders 31 different neighborhoods throughout the city. Expanding access to the river would allow millions the opportunity to interact with nature without leaving city limits.
The river sits at the center of an ongoing plan to revitalize the city’s public space. “The city and county of Los Angeles have both been planning for the past ten to 15 years to revitalize the whole river corridor,” Rothert said. “We think the more people that see the river, the more support there will be to open it up for wider use.” The plan has been a long time coming, but could take decades to be realized.
“I just don’t have that kind of patience,” Wolfe explained, which is why LA River expeditions and AR are raising money for Adventures for Kids on the LA River. Besides giving kids the opportunity to kayak, it will serve as a lesson and a testament to the ability of a group of people to enact change in their communities.