Letter: Forest Pedestrian Plaza

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One silver lining of the pandemic – besides slowing our busy lives down for a reflective respite and a renewed focus on loved ones – is City Council’s decision to close Forest Ave to cars this summer. While the catalyst was to help the four restaurants on that block reopen, we will all be the better for it. Including the adjacent merchants. The death of traditional retail has been a long, slow march, with so many malls and department stores going out of business. But Laguna has something to offer that no mall or online retailer can match: an outdoor, seaside, tree-lined street with an ocean view corridor that can bring people together to hang out and discover our mix of food and merchandise.

Until now that precious asset has been the exclusive purview of cars. But after many years of advocacy from what I believe is the majority of our citizens, this public space will finally be allocated to humans. And not only will we be able to dine, we can stroll in silence and clean air; our kids can wander and play; we can have music, art, movies, plays, fairs, and perhaps a midweek evening Farmer’s Market. And it will be beautiful, shining with human activity like never before. A place that can unite us, instead of divide us, because we’ll experience those random collisions with people that produce that alchemy known as community.

But it all comes down to execution. Will the city provide adequate shade, and plenty of planters? Will there be a performance stage for our wonderful artists, a kids’ area with chalk to color the asphalt, or a wish board for scribing positive vibes? Most importantly, will there be public seating, so people who don’t want to eat a full meal can still hang out? Or perhaps bring food from another source? A public square should have seating for all, not just for patrons of the restaurants.

As for the parking inconvenience of losing 40 spaces, ask yourselves how you get to other pedestrian plazas in other parts of the world? You might walk, bike, take transit, Uber, or just park somewhere else. The days of subordinating the human experience to the convenience of cars are dissipating all over the world. We need human connection now more than ever. Laguna has the perfect corridor. I hope you will check it out with an open mind, an empty stomach, and a full wallet to help our valued merchants. And then vote to make it permanent.

Billy Fried, Laguna Beach

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