Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris: In Athens, Greece, the Traffic is Worse!


KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"

Today, we hear from associate dean of academic affairs and urban planning professor at the UCLA School of Public Affairs, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris:

"My story very much explains my current interests - things like walkability and vibrancy in cities.

"I'm originally from Athens, Greece. I studied architecture and then came to Los Angeles as a graduate student and studied architecture and planning. I became fascinated with this city from the time I arrived.

"I got my doctorate at USC and then I got a position at UCLA. I decided to stay in the US primarily because I loved my job. The universities here are fantastic - I mean, they encourage you to do research and nobody tells you what type of research do.

"When I first came to Los Angeles, I was not particularly surprised about the kind of life being lived here - you watch movies and TV shows from Hollywood everywhere in Europe and in Greece, so you are quite familiar with L.A.'s urban form.

"My culture shock, however, was that I could not find people on the sidewalks; the sidewalks were empty! Being raised in Athens, I was surrounded all the time by people walking on the streets. I mean, even nine, ten, eleven, twelve o'clock at night, people are walking in the streets of Athens. This vibrant sidewalk life is very much part of the culture of southern Europe.

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"So I came here and I could not find people on the streets. I remember waiting at the bus stop to go to City Hall to get some maps for a class that I was taking. The lady standing next to me said, 'Oh, hold your purse very closely because this is kind of an alien environment and you might get mugged.' Why? There was a feeling of desolation at that bus stop. Very few people were around and you had the feeling that if something was to happen, no one would see it.

"Another big shock in the first year was that cars seemed to be moving efficiently on the freeway. You could travel great distances, while in Athens you would be stuck in traffic all the time.

"But at the same time, here you could not do a lot by walking. In Athens I could walk from my house to the university and I would arrive faster, frankly, than people traveling by car. That's because there are a lot of cars on the streets, the streets are narrow, there is no place to park and every parking spot is taken.

"I don't mean to romanticize Athens. There are other problems that have to do with air pollution and clean living. But Athens is a very walkable city and a very vibrant city in terms of how many people are out on the streets.

"It's also a very mixed-use type of city where maybe 90% of the residents live in multi-family housing. You take the elevator - these are six- or seven-story apartment buildings. You go down and you purchase a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk and you do that every day. You don't need to go to big box once a week or once a month. It's a very different type of urban form and urban environment.

"I have been living in Los Angeles since the mid 1980s, so I've now lived here most of my life. And I have completely adjusted, I act like everyone else. I'm going to the big box, and I'm filling up my refrigerator once a week. This is a different life style.

"I thought in the first ten years that I would return to Greece. I had the chance to return - we went for a sabbatical year, and I was offered a job there and my husband was offered a position in the university.

"But I realized I did miss my life here, and the work, my students, the city. So we stayed! I do go back every summer, so I try to make a presence in both Greece and here as much as possible.

"I still find Los Angeles fascinating. We love to hate Los Angeles many times - and I'm probably the first one to do so. But there are a lot of great things about the city, too."

-- Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)

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