Melani Smith is director of planning and urban design at downtown L.A.-based design firm Meléndrez; she’s currently working on the Figueroa Corridor Streetscape Project, which will link South L.A. and downtown, and will feature the city’s first separated bicycle lanes. Before participating in a panel on downtown’s future, she sat down in the Zócalo green room to talk about her finely honed secret-keeping skills, her procrastination tricks, and what she’s watching on HGTV on Friday night.
What’s on your coffee table?
I have two pieces of midcentury modern art glass. They’re from some California design show. There’s an ashtray and a box that probably held cigarettes or cards.
How do you pass the time while stuck in L.A. traffic?
I listen to NPR a lot. I flip back and forth between KPCC and KCRW. And I try to resist looking at my email.
How do you procrastinate?
I’m easily distracted by things I want to know about. So if I’m going to procrastinate, I’m probably going to do “research,” which means I get on the Internet and go a thousand different directions to try to find out about stuff, and get distracted by going down a bunch of different avenues of knowledge instead of trying to do what I’m supposed to.
Who taught you how to ride a bicycle, and when did you learn?
My dad, in the long driveway of the suburban house when I was in elementary school.
Are you good at keeping secrets?
Yeah. Personally, I’m very good at keeping secrets. Professionally, half of what I do is talking to people who might be in different camps, feel different ways, and trying to share enough information without sharing too much information. It allows people to understand where others are coming from.
What salad dressing best describes you?
Vinaigrette. It’s simple ingredients, but it’s all in how they’re mixed together. I would hope that there’s the subtlety of vinaigrette in me—I’m not the most in-your-face person, I’m more of a subtle person.
What was your worst subject in school?
What inspires you?
Collaboration and teamwork—different people’s ideas and the opportunity to interact with different people. And places in the world—travel, seeing stuff.
Where would we find you at 9:00 on a typical Friday night?
Definitely there would be a glass of wine involved, and it depends on where I am. We spend time up on the Central Coast a lot, so if you found me there you would find me having a great piece of fish and enjoying a glass of wine. If I were here, I live in Long Beach, and you’d find me chilling out, decompressing, not thinking—maybe watching HGTV, that show about buying homes internationally.
What’s your favorite season?
Fall. I love the idea that it’s cooling off, it’s slowing down, but it’s a really fruitful time, a harvest time. The leaves are starting to drop off the trees. There’s something about the quality of light in fall that I love.