Cool idea generates heated response in LA

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When I first read this story, it was a week or two before I travelled to France for a holiday in the middle of a heatwave. I have to admit, I could see why the media might have poked fun at the idea, but, standing at a bus stop in 30-plus degree heat and having just missed the previous bus, I found myself standing so that I was in the shade of the (thankfully large) bus stop flag and timetable case to keep the sun off me.

So, what’s the story? Los Angeles city transport department (LADOT) officials held a press conference in May to unveil an improvement to the passenger experience for users of bused in LA, an invention known as ‘La Sombrita,’ a ‘shade and lighting pilot’ design which seems to have been brought to life as a result of responses to the LADOT’s gender equity action plan to address the needs of women who rely on public transit.

However, the invention, rather than a high-tech, solar-powered, water-mist-cooling, all-singing, all-dancing affair, turns out to be a metal mesh screen, not that different to the flag and timetable holder I was hiding behind. The unveiling quickly made headlines across social media, with plenty of jibes and jokes. Another social media photo posted by the designers, Kounkuey Design Initiative, revealed the turquoise screen also has a solar-powered night light built in.


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According to one review in local print media, “the yawning chasm between the city’s triumphal tone and the minuscule achievement it unveiled was simply too great. L.A. was achieving equity with… this? The outrage grew when it came out that the prototype cost around $10,000.”

The price, a shade over £8,000, does seem high, though no doubt there’s an element of economy of scale to be factored in too. But despite the fairly simple object not living up to the hype – which maybe itself has taken the wrong angle by trying to play on the gender agenda – it’s not actually a bad design on the face of it for little-used bus stops in hot and sunny climates.

Kounkuey’s Naria Kiani explained that the structure couldn’t have a wide canopy because it would protrude into the road, or into the four feet of pavement clearance required for wheelchair users. A perforated design means the wind won’t blow it over, and there’s no bench as that would also cut into the clearance on narrow pavement usually found in the city’s poorer neighbourhoods.

What do you think? A sensible idea for hot climates, or a waste of money?