Saturday, January 07, 2006

Learning From Los Angeles

Tom McGeveran wrote this week, in The New York Observer's The Real Estate, that this blog is more sober than others on Atlantic Yards. Thanks, I think. But that doesn’t mean we can’t reference some less polite sources….

In 1990, Mike Davis (aka “The Friedrich Engels of Los Angeles”) observed of the new developments in downtown L.A.:

The American city, as many critics have recognized, is being systematically turned inside out – or, rather, outside in. The valorized spaces of the new megastructures and supermalls are concentrated in the center, street frontage is denuded, public activity is sorted into strictly functional compartments, and circulation is internalized in corridors under the gaze of private police” ….“De facto disinvestment in traditional public space and recreation has supported the shift of fiscal resources to corporate-defined redevelopment priorities. A pliant city government – in this case ironically professing to represent a bi-racial coalition of liberal whites and Blacks – has collaborated in the massive privatization of public space …. Yet most current, giddy discussions of the “postmodern” scene in Los Angeles neglect entirely these overbearing aspects of counter-urbanizations and counter-insurgency. A triumphal gloss – “urban renaissance,” “city of the future,” and so on – is laid over the brutalization of inner-city neighborhoods ….even as the walls have come down in Eastern Europe, they are being erected all over Los Angeles.” (From
City of Quartz, p. 225)

So, 15 years later, after a period in which Prospect Heights has witnessed its own renaissance, how has the "urban renaissance" of downtown Los Angeles progressed? This week, John Pomfret
wrote in the Washington Post about downtown Los Angeles:

More pets than children live downtown, and no schools serve the area. Because much of downtown was rebuilt at the height of the automobile age, at some intersections it’s impossible to walk across the street. At night, the area is desolate and its nightlife is more like a dusk life. The kitchen at the swankiest restaurant, Pinot, closes at 9. It is impossible to hail a cab because the police department refuses to allow random stops, but even if it did, most Los Angeles cabbies would not take short fares. Local redevelopment boards have hired their own security services and trash collection services because city services are stretched too thin.”

What are the lessons that Los Angeles has to offer us about urbanism? Fuggedaboutit!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we learn that cars (wide roads) and urbanism don't work. Services must be within walking distance. Atlantic yards accomplishes walkable services. A-yards is wrong on other levels, but not because downtown LA doesn't work.

11:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmmm.... from this i come away with the lesson that sprawl is bad, density is good, and building a lot of residential, entertainment and office space atop a major transit hub near downtown brooklyn might not be such a bad idea.

what do you get from it, J?

11:02 AM  

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