Los Angeles ridiculed for 'life-changing' female shade poles

The Sombrita barely provides enough shade for two people - LADOT
The Sombrita barely provides enough shade for two people - LADOT

A Los Angeles bus shelter with no seats has drawn ridicule after claiming its purpose was to provide potentially ‘life-changing’ shade to women and minorities.

The so-called Sombrita, which cost $10,000, is essentially a pole with a lip that provides some shade, or a solar-powered light at night-time.

It has been mooted as potentially the most pointless piece of civic architecture in the world, rivalling anything produced by Britain’s councils.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation said the 6,000 new shelters for stops with narrow pavements were vital to protect women using the transport network and hailed it as “low cost” infrastructure.

“The lack of essential amenities like shade and lighting isn't just a simple inconvenience. For women and gender minorities — half of our population — it can change the trajectory of their lives,” said Chelina Odbert, founding principal of the Kounkuey Design Initiative, which developed the structures with input from female transit riders.

The Sombrita is around 18 inches wide and barely provides enough shade for two people even when the sun is at the right angle.

According to images posted online, the light at night also leaves the pavement below almost pitch-black, illuminating only the upper portion of the pole.

LA female shade poles - twitter.com/Kounkuey
LA female shade poles - twitter.com/Kounkuey

Kounkey said the design was a response to the fact that only one quarter of LA’s bus stops have shelters. They added that a typical bus shelter costs $50,000 and requires the co-ordination of eight separate government departments.

“The first-gen Sombrita was designed to avoid permit and multi-agency co-ordination,” Kounkey said in a statement posted on social media. It was meant to “meet these City standards: be less than 24” wide… be entirely on the pole… and be removable.”

The shade-pole prompted scorn far beyond Los Angeles.

“It's basically a sundial that will occasionally cast shade onto the adjacent bench,” said Twitter user Scott Davis.

“Now obviously, La Sombrita fails to accomplish the goals of a bus shelter: it provides no seating, almost no shade, and no protection from the elements,” wrote Sam Deutsch in the journal, Belter Cities.

“While politicians and planners celebrating this silly structure are obviously deserving of criticism, the story behind this joke of a bus shelter is actually quite revealing of the broader failures of American transportation infrastructure.”

“The wildest part about La Sombrita is that they held a full-on press conference,” said Alec Stapp, co-founder of the Institute for Progress think tank.

“If my bus stop shade/light thing cost $10,000 and provided neither shade during the day nor light at night, I would simply not talk about it.”

Local authorities in Barnsley, Brighton, Nuneaton or Prestwich, may not have the weather of Los Angeles or celebrity voters like Jack Nicholson, Kim Kardashian or Angelina Jolie.

But the next time bus passengers there are huddling under shelter from the latest downpour, they can always console themselves by knowing things could be worse. They could be in Los Angeles.

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