Shovels, hammers or hard hats were nowhere in sight. Instead, hair curlers, buttons and paper clips were used to construct future train stations for California’s new proposed high-speed rail.

Held in Downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, July 17, the “groundbreaking” was part of an interactive community design forum to engage the public on high-speed rail.

The event was hosted by railLA, an organization comprised of the Los Angeles Chapters of the American Institute of Architects (AIA/LA) and the American Planning Association (APA-LA), created to raise public awareness about the future of high-speed rail.

“We are doing these workshops to get ideas from the public about what they want to see when high-speed rail comes to their neighborhood,” says James Rojas, urban planner and artist with railLA. “Do they want a Starbucks Coffee Shop, a park, an open space or housing? We want to know.”

During the forum the public was seated at tables stacked with piles of shiny bric-a-brac, including ice cream sticks, buttons, toy cars, plastic tubes, necklaces, hair curlers and more. They were then given 20 minutes to build their ideal high-speed rail station.

“The creation of small models helps participants of any age to articulate their desires publicly,” says Rojas. “Since there are no-right or wrong answers, all social barriers are broken down, thereby creating a friendly exchange of ideas.”

The results of the workshops were creative and varied, with participants adding fountains, coffee shops, parks, movie theaters, bars and restaurants around the stations.

“My model is a tribute to Los Angeles,” says Philip Jones, a self-described “big supporter of high-speed rail,” who took the subway to event. “My station has a dome, an entrance with a lot of grass, a fountain and a couple of stars because it’s LA. I wanted to blend in with the neighborhood and still be dramatic.”

In January, California was awarded $2.25 billion, the largest amount for any state, in federal economic stimulus funds to develop a high-speed rail line running from Anaheim to San Francisco. The project, currently in the process of finalizing track alignments, will feature trains running up to 220 miles per hour. The $45-billion system is scheduled to start construction in 2012 and begin serving passengers between San Francisco and Anaheim in 2020.

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