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Out of the Blue: Let's experiment, starting with Forest Avenue

February 27, 2014|By Billy Fried

Last week I wrote on how to rid Laguna of traffic and make downtown more livable. Most of it will take years to realize. But some of it — the most transformational ideas — can be done now. And cheaply.

Since I arrived in Laguna 15 years ago, I've been dumbstruck by our dearth of public space — particularly downtown, on lower Forest Avenue. It fairly begs for it, with its narrow opening and closing at each end, framed by mature magnolias and stately eucalyptus. It's like four tent poles needing enclosure.

As it stands now, Forest is a multipurpose road to nowhere. It fails on all fronts because it isn't wide enough for its three designated functions: driving, parking and walking.

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There is no place to pull aside when awaiting parking, so every car behind the waiting one gets stuck —and eventually backs onto South Coast Highway. That's what's commonly known as a parking lot, not a street.

This creates a completely inefficient thoroughfare, also known as a mess. And the dense, angled parking on each side obliterates the sidewalks on what is supposed to be our downtown walking jewel.

Sit at the indoor patios of Alessa and 230 Forest and enjoy the fresh coastal breeze — but don't look out or you may be blinded by headlights or engulfed in a sea of grills. It's as sterile as an Anaheim strip mall. We might as well have pawnshops, liquor stores and laundromats.

But imagine if there were tables and chairs where those cars are parked. Planters. Four charming restaurants with outdoor seating in our lovely clime. Perhaps a playground adjacent, while the parents feed. Benches and seating to watch the worldly procession. Chess and backgammon games. Debates and detente with neighbors or visitors from another country.

Perhaps some educational, edible gardens with raised beds. Maybe a speakers' corner like Hyde Park. And low-decibel troubadours. At night, delicious, old-fashioned amber lighting, a la Paris, making the plaza glow invitingly.

This wouldn't have any of the unnecessary adornment of the chamber's noble attempt several years back. Too much orchestration, with Klieg lights, amplified bands and enabled boozing. It wouldn't be a party but instead would serve the greater good of a public commons that binds us as a community because of the impromptu and serendipitous collisions.

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