Islands of LA is an evolving study and engagement with the history, desire and potential for meaningful connection in urban public space. This ideal is pursued by exploring the seemingly absurd use of traffic islands as terrains for peaceable assembly and speech among friends and strangers that is both creative and critically minded. This use is not unprecedented: a rigorous site analysis reveals a global history of the use of traffic islands for gathering and expression, in spite of the difficulties of the space. Extending this tradition through events, interactive maps, and an archive of stories, Islands of LA invites us to explore the desire, the fear, and the possibility for connection and voice in the urban landscape. The current focus is on the notion of peaceable or public assembly.

Islands of LA was conceived of as a project to investigate the use and availability of the marginalized yet highly visible public spaces of traffic islands. Islands of LA views the traffic islands as everyday spaces and venues with a complex history and environment. The project explores the dynamics of these spaces through various ways including experimenting with the use of them. The exploration and usage of these spaces examines questions about public land use, law, urbanism, art and other topics specific to traffic islands. The project began on 9/16/07 and was conceived of by Ari Kletzky. 

As Islands of LA expands beyond Los Angeles, “LA” will take on other meanings such as: Local Association and Legal absurdity. Los Angeles becomes Lawful Assembly...for Public Safety. In this case, the public is viewed as protected by the use and availability of islands of publicly owned, public space for peaceable assembly, which has a history of functioning as a collective activity that served as a check and balance on representative democracy and functioned to create a rich public and street life in cities in the United States prior to the end of the 19th century.

At that time, ordinances on the regulation by time and place and the requirements of permits where overtuned by State Supreme Courts. Instead, revised civil law or criminal law governed public assembly. Thus, you could assemble but at the moment you were no longer "peaceable" you could be arrested. Pockets of public space that provide for assembly in the built environment offer structurally important nodes in the social-urban networ and ensure our urban environments are democratic cities rather than urbs or agglomerations of homes and their requisite infrastructure. Suprisingly, spaces already exist where you can gather at any time without a fee or permit as long as you adhere to certain guidelines such as not blocking the pedestrian right of way. These pockets includes our sidewalks, which are difficult to gather on without blocking pedestrian right of way, and pedestrian accessible traffic islands.

Focusing on the U.S., these islands are specks of city in a sea of urbanization, the last frontier where we the people can interpret federal law and create the city through archiving, mapping, and peaceabley using these spaces. Layered atop this political history and contemporary context, is the idea that community gathering for things like a picnic, which could be viewed as a political expression given the context of the first amendment, the public forum doctrine and peaceable assembly.

Additional information about Islands of LA:

Fort Hauser, a recurring sculptural spectacle

Islands of LA congratulates Fort Hauser on its use of traffic islands for public space and wishes success for 2012 as it embarks on new projects. Its great to see Faith Purvey‘s project evolve. Faith first contacted Islands of LA in early 2008 wanting to do an event on a traffic island. Through correspondence, phone [...]


What is Peaceable Assembly or the Right of Assembly?

The right to peaceable assembly is of central importance to our understanding of what is a city and who creates it. The history behind this right, which goes back to the 13th century, has evolved greatly. In the U.S. it used to be a central part of citizenship and street life but this changed in the end of the 19th century.


Islands of LA Core Values

Islands of LA has a few core values of principles that guide the project and its use of traffic islands as a vehicle for an  ongoing examination and engagement with the city landscape, taking into account a variety of perspectives such as urbanism, law and cultural theory. These values include: 1. View traffic islands as [...]


Traffic Islands: A History of Gathering

If you visit a traffic island in the United States, where public space for assembly is a rare commodity, you are celebrating and participating in a history of gathering. We often imagine the great town square and dream of people laughing, discussing politics, trading, meeting strangers, sharing stories. Many bemoan the loss of these spaces [...]


What is an Island?

What is an island? In geography, there is no clear definition that distinguishes an island from a continent other than saying it is smaller than a continent.  Both terms, continent and island, are ambiguous and reveal the metaphorical quality of language. An island is a land mass surrounded by water.   A continent is a continuous [...]


Most Likely (an open question of the law)

In the United States, traffic islands with pedestrian access are most likely protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Bill of Rights for peaceable assembly and free speech.  What does “most likely” mean for Island Law? The law in the U.S. is created by a complicated interplay among the Supreme Court, the U.S. Constitution [...]


Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy…

Consider the following quote when visiting an island as public space for assembly: “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy.  The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe.  Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”  – Ayn Rand


The First Amendment to the U.S. Bill of Rights

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


MiWon Kwon and Steven Wright

ILA is an experiment. One of the ideas it experiments with is the place of “cultural theory” in the practical sphere. Along these lines, some posts on this blog will highlight questions, thinkers, challenges, artists, projects, theories that relate to the way ILA is approaching this. Here are two: MIWON KWON (from One Place After [...]


Cultural Interchanges

An interchange is a place or thing where there can be an ongoing alternating or sharing (a constant back and forth, collaboration, participation). An exchange is a one-time trade, which can happen within the context of an interchange (like people exchanging trains at a cross-platform interchange). Islands of LA uses traffic islands as a vehicle [...]