How We Trust in Each Other

Charlie with a scrap artist's version of Bumblebee 




Charlie Jensen blogs about how Angelenos promote trust by gathering in public spaces.





I stayed in town over Memorial Day weekend, hoping there’d be a little less traffic so I’d be able to explore more of the city.  Although this is a city of 3.4 million people, I’ve noticed so far that LA never really feels crowded—of course, this might be because I’m fortunate enough to almost never travel by freeway.  In terms of actual bodies, actual people, LA affords a lot more private space and privacy than somewhere like DC, where I felt I could never escape the company of too many other people. 

Of course, LA is full of great reasons to gather, too, and this weekend I was able to take in both a small neighborhood festival and a visit to one of the largest public parks in the nation.  Only in LA can you enjoy the micro and the macro in a single 24-hour period.

The community festival was great.  Live music, great food, lots of small artisan booths selling everything from vinyl LPs to silkscreened t-shirts to visual art and jewelry.  My friend Chris and I enjoyed an afternoon strolling up and down the closed-off street with other people from my neighborhood.  There was a really great vibe in the air—everyone was happy to be there, treating each other with kindness and good humor, laughing, stuffing their faces…I felt a stark contrast between this event and other (perhaps larger) occasions where crowds make people cranky, impatient, and impudent.  Snarling guitar riffs and warbled lyrics punctuated the afternoon from either edge of the festival, while in the middle, a small literary stage tucked beneath some beach umbrellas offered a chance to rest, relax, and be moved by another art.  Even though the festival’s space was limited and somewhat closed in, it never felt crowded, uncomfortable, or mismanaged—everyone had enough space.

My view from the top of Griffith ParkThe next day I met some friends to go hiking.  As confined as the festival was, Griffith Park is the complete and total opposite.  I was promised an unparalleled view of Los Angeles and the surrounding cities when we reached the top of the trail.  It was another occasion where, although we were all somewhat confined to small public space (the trail's path), people were still friendly and kind to each other.  Perhaps this isn’t something that shouldn’t surprise me about LA as it is, generally speaking, my overall experience so far.  However, because park space very clearly belongs to everyone, people sometimes feel encouraged to treat it territorially rather than with the spirit of sharing—or, worse, without any respect at all (littering, etc).  Of course, the near-vertical walk up the trail might have had something to do with it—we were all so focused on a) reaching the top and b) not falling off the side that our better natures inevitably won out.

Also, I’m afraid of heights and I was not informed there were no railings on the trail.  It was a bit of a personal victory that I made it to the top without whining, although I admit to bragging about it on Facebook via Instagram.

The park is a wonderful meditative space.  There’s a lovely irony in being able to surround yourself with others while remaining embedded in your own thoughts, and of course this means the park also fosters a great deal of trust among those who visit.  It is only within that trust we can enjoy that stunning vista of the city stretching out in all directions as far as the eye can see.  It is only with that trust we can feel connected not only to the place, but also to each other.

I believe the festival, through its offerings of art, entertainment, and culture, builds the same sense of trust.  There’s an important “social contract” at work at events like this—although there is always visible security, there is something else, some additional layer, that helps us feel we’re all safe together. We arrive there with a common goal—to share in culture, to share in space.

It was true that once I left both spaces, I felt more connected to Los Angeles, my own neighborhood, and the new friends with whom I experienced both places.