Blue Sky Thinking in Irvine
The progress made over the past few years in improving the city even more is remarkable, with much more coming soon. The Orange County Great Park alone has evolved so much that at times we have to take a breath and look at how far it’s come toward fulfilling its long-delayed progress toward becoming a truly great public place.
But simply because so much has been done doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvement.
There are different theories about whether individuals and institutions should focus on improving what they’re already good at, or focus more on developing new skills and areas of expertise.
Perhaps Irvine’s leaders should take the time to look at the things we’re already good at, and make sure we haven’t been resting on our laurels, even a little bit.
We’ve always been fans of the “blue sky” process of thinking that the folks at Disney believe in, especially the Imagineers.
The Imagineers explain the concept thusly: “It’s called Blue Sky because the sky’s the limit! You’re free to explore any ideas and the possibilities are endless. Eventually, you have to come back down to Earth and make sure your ideas are achievable. But it’s important to start big … as big as the sky.”
One of the keys to the process as we understand it is that no idea is immediately critiqued or eliminated until all are on the table. No nay saying allowed!
Here’s an example: Irvine takes pride in its bike paths and trails, both on the street and off. We have some “301 miles of on-street and 61.8 miles of off-street bikeways provided in the city today,” according to the official count.
But could we do better? How often do you bike to the store or to work? How easy is it to walk to the city’s amenities, and between them? Could we make changes to significantly reduce our dependence on cars to get around?
The city is currently looking at those and other issues via the Irvine Shares the Way project. “Irvine Shares the Way is a broad-based campaign, including educational materials, safety workshops, and other activities across the city of Irvine,” the city’s website says. cityofirvine.org/transportation/irvine-shares-way
“As part of the Irvine Shares the Way campaign, the Strategic Active Transportation Plan, with your input, will help guide the development of pedestrian and bicycle facilities and implement upgrades to existing facilities.”
We’d love to see this effort make real improvements, because frankly they’re needed. Buried within the data of many of the accolades the city receives are some lesser-known truths: Irvine was designed and built to favor travel by car. That’s fine, most of us drive a lot and we want it to be easier, not harder.
But because of that car-centric vision, there are blind spots when it comes to connectivity within our community. Here’s a big one: it’s very uncomfortable to walk or bike across the 5 and 405 freeways, unless one is using one of the relatively few car-free bridges in the city.
The sidewalks on the overpasses are too narrow, the railings too low, and crossing over the on and off ramps, many uncontrolled by any sort of signal or safety lights, is a challenge.
The solution? We’re not sure, but we’d love to have experts “blue sky” the problem. A pedestrian/bike bridge every mile on both freeways might be expensive, but it would add to connectivity exponentially.
Here’s a less-grand example: try walking or biking to the Orange County Great Park from south of the 5 Freeway. The Marine Ave. entrance has no sidewalk, bike lane or walkway. If one lives in or near the Great Park Neighborhoods, there are many ways to walk and bike to the park. What about the rest of us?
Those are just a few examples. Walk or bike into many of our parks, playgrounds and retail centers and there are other head-scratching instances, where one asks, “Why isn’t there a sidewalk here.”
Making our community more accessible and easier to get around without cars helps us all by improving safety, reducing congestion and just improving the overall quality of life. Not to mention improving our own “blue skies.”