Los Angeles is pregnant.
Ultrasound says it is going to be an urban baby. Sure to be a hyperactive child who has been punching mother's womb relentlessly since its inception. We do not know who the father is. They say, he might be an action-type of dude who likes dense urban environments and Sunday drives to large parks. Most likely he has a car.
Orhan Ayyuce, Los Angeles, Nov 02, 2007
AN ITALIAN IN LOS ANGELES
This city was once called 'La Citta Capitalista' by an Italian scholar studying urban planning in UCLA who authored a book of the same name. This book was never translated to English, but I was lucky to see it in ‘six rack’ Sci-Arc library in 1980. It predated City of Quartz, a Mike Davis classic about Southland, more specifically, Los Angeles.
(Please don't destroy the rare copy, although you can tell the librarian you've heard about it from me...)
Enter ' PUBLIC SPACE LA!', last month’s well-organized 'summit' event in Pacific Design Center.
You would think Los Angeles, being a major Metropolitan area in its own class, would have such events every month or so. No. Not even in my recent memory. Over the last few decades, I have been living in the sprawl and mostly witnessing the one night stands...
The stakes are higher, the sprawl model is no longer reasonable, public transportation is inadequate, land is scarce, political will is more attuned to gain power base (votes) via urban development, and add to that, speculative nature of any improvement happens in most American cities. Urban living is well marketed. The Economy needs urban development. Public space, namely parks, makes it easier to open big parcels to profitable private development. The investors know how to use public money to benefit their projects. In the eyes of many, increased property values and gentrification means success.
These developers backed with money, tax breaks, and political connections all the way to DC also have all the top design talent in their disposal.
These people can revive half-century-old ideas such as new improved LA River corridor, a low fat Latte Hill on Bunker Hill, and install enormous donated public space spectacles. Thus increasing the property values.
In the mean time and on the other side of the tracks;
Urgency is on-call in a struggle for survival, population increase via immigration, need for housing, public education, health care, transportation problems, environmental issues and deepened socio-economic divides, all maturing to bear their bitter fruit perhaps sooner than most people think.
Is there any romance to add to this? You better believe there is. Specially speaker after speaker, showing the floral compositions and minding their ducks in LA River, the darling of the visionary cookout.
Let's not veer off the subject.
CITY COUNCILMAN GARCETTI CLOUT
Back to taming the delicious clouds in Eric Garcetti Jr. blog. Councilman Garcetti brings out a crucial point to all of this via Walter Benjamin. Have you ever heard a city council member quoting or even mentioning a name like that? Anywhere? It makes my day. He says behind all these open space/public space discussions and actions must be city's spirit. Yes, define that folks. Where is your soul? Every Park must have a soul. Fight the Soul Deficit Disorder. Get that? Important.
I enter my reactionary summary from the echoes of what I heard so far, writing in one breath;
" OPEN LAND HUNT IN LOS ANGELES "
Welcome. We need open space. No, not air. Not fair. Usable, developable, buildable, profitable easy land. Take it from train yards. Take it from concrete river. Hmmmn, river, big river, no project is too small. Projects, projects, gimme parcel, big parcel. Out, out! Drug dealers, Homeless, disfranchised. Out them, millennium in! We're gonna make parks. Move-move / river-river / park-park. No park is too enough. Open space, my space, my project. Deal M-Park for us, Senator, Fortune 40,000 head man, your name on a brick, green brick, ducks have landed, take me to the river. I showered already.
There. It feels good.
I hit and miss the morning part of the summit due to cross-town traffic and going to sleep 4 am, few hours before and not being able to drink some coffee in the theatre. I join the power lunch after spitting out my ink drops in italics, above...
'Power Lunch' is organized around three speakers, Kevin Starr, Patt Morrison, Barry A. Sanders, who provide anecdotes of public interest instead of chamber music for the pasta salad lunch. They discuss and inject history, observations, comments and humor into the mix. Look at Barry Sanders, President of the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Commission, who honed his skills during 1984 Olympic Games. Look at their home page banner, get into your car and drive, recreate yourself... He yarns how Los Angeles democratized upper caste games like tennis, golf and black jack. Ha-ha last one is my put...
These three want to talk more and talking/writing is their craft, they have access to great stories. Without waiting the end of it, I leave ‘Power Lunch’ to look for fabric samples (kidding again) and check out the scene in Design Center.
After 2:00 pm and behind schedule, audience moves into Silver Theatre, where not only coffee but also no cameras are allowed.
Star-studded panel #3 is on.
Ruth Coleman, Director of California State Parks, George Hargreaves, FASLA, Thom Mayne, FAIA, Larry Smith, Director, North East Trees. Moderated by William H. Fain Jr., FAIA.
"WHAT IS URBAN OPEN SPACE and WHO OWNS IT?" is going to be discussed. I am all ears and feels.
"Public space is Parks and it belongs to taxpayers. And they (it?) must be connected to people by any means necessary, we prefer public transportation but there will be a lot of parking. Cornfields, a 32 acres empty lot (her project) must be turned into a world class park not unlike Millennium Park in Chicago, with money coming from bonds and private funds."
The Template; "Increased property values."
The Urgency; “More Police or more Parks? And, “Combating Nature Deficit Disorder in Children"
Ruth Coleman is focused and powerful. Sac City power...
George Hargreaves (Ruth Coleman's architect, idea competition winner of LA State Historic Park);
He gives a short lecture on parks with his three-point design methodology check points.
a. Who uses it?
b. Who owns it?
c. Who runs it?
A client based approach. Harvard GSD powered corporate know how. Well done.
He takes audience to Germany, Holland, France, Texas, New York and drops them off at the Cornfields, North of Chinatown. A better and another park in Los Angeles. Few parks rendered in one. Thanks. Mr. Hargreaves is a very talented park designer.
(If I were in charge, I would continue the Cornfield model and leave the expensive top soil where it is, and spend the millions on much needed pocket parks in neighborhoods around the city. Buy the long abandoned busy intersection corners; make them available for public use. I mean they are everywhere...)
I assume, both Coleman and Hargreaves know Downtown and Bunker Hill needs them. I really do. They are lucky. If their project is realized, it will be mainly for Northward expansion of Broad Corridor starting at Convention Center via Bunker Hill and bridging to a bright urban perspective. Once built, this park would have to be one of the best spots to look towards downtown and say, “beautiful”. A choice site that says “make me a park.” We are talking prime (grade A) real estate here. A site edging a real river that needs TLC, a site that slivers like a bridge to the developers’ potential bonanza; So. Pacific Railroads and beyond, a site that continues the sprawl equation with projected vertical earnings in one story city.
Thom Mayne hits the microphone with points nobody has considered thus far. He says forget about visionary sketches and let's get on the board with research, facts and conditions. Bring on the micro to macro processes. Let’s look at the bigger pictures.
Green on green? Not always. I agree with his remarks.
He tries to convey with his first slide (above referenced) that the future might not be as lush.
Let me also bring a slideshow of his studies in Madrid, Spain, which I have photographed last summer. Visionary solutions? Yes, he has them too, with a group of students from UCLA. Funny thing is, there are similar conditions in both cities. At least from high above.
And, Larry Smith;
Mr. Smith advocates his three C's. Community, Commitment, Courage. Agreed. He also has innovative ideas real-time engineering studies about storm run off and eventually getting rid of the concrete lining of LA River.
By the way, Los Angeles River is most people's bride in this event.
Moderator W. Fain asks, "What is about Los Angeles you would address?"
T. Mayne, "economic divide."
G. Hargreaves, "lack of framework."
Ruth Coleman, “the lack of money for parks, children’s health."
L. Smith, "torn social fabric in the city founded on speculation."
Somebody asks, "What about the developers?"
Answer, "We need developers, they are essential."
When P#3 ends, there is a 15 min. coffee break in the silver lounge, a mixer. I mainly gaze and I tell you, if you are a famous journalist like me, people want to be in your perspective frames, ‘camera not so obscura.’ No, only kidding.
I don’t care, I got in trouble for saying things like that in public, but here it is; prettiest of them all was Hargreaves' Co.
Everybody goes back to their seats for conclusive panels inside. I stay out in the lobby when it is quite and my mind wonders back to my own parallel project, 'La Citta Capitalista, Revisited.' This is a good day to re-hash some points of references.
Have a look. Content page is still holding out after 30 years. Los Angeles, still crazy after all.
(slideshow of select pages from ‘La Citta Capitalista’)
BRIDGING TO MILLENIUM STYLE
When I return to Panel discussions, I get to see and hear about Chicago’s now #1 Millennium Park, revenues, upsurge in property values of surrounding area, skyrocketing visitor numbers, little anecdotal exchanges between the architect and the client, behind the SOM out FOG in, Gehry’s Bridge* design ambitions vs. Isozaki's proposal etc-tidbits-etc.
*Another personal self-promotional moment and message to Mr. Gehry by yours truly, we know he reads Archinect :
Frank, I have designed and installed a bridge at your former clients’ request to replace a decayed earlier bridge. I hope you approve the design. I have chosen the simple route not to interfere with your best house and act egotistically hopeless and embarrassing. I am sure you'd do the same if you were in my place. (Pictures of the bridge at Sirmai-Peterson House by the author, you be the judge dear readers. 1 / 2)
Where were we?
Oh yes. The Millennium Park and the benefits of a shiny donut.
As part of Panel #4, Ed Uhlir, FAIA introduces his city’s latest accomplishment as public space, questions about Guggenheiming the museums and Millenniumizing large urban parks come to my mind. I don’t see anything so urgent like that in Los Angeles where we have already access to various attractions spread out the city, both public and private.
We are physically different than Chicago.
Mr. Uhlir makes the Millennium Model so palatable, the larger questions are reduced to;
“How to get Mc Donald’s Restaurants to donate money for happy urban parks that work as Universal Studios tour for children under the theme park deficit syndrome?”
Towards the end of his presentation, the whole thing boils down to the slogan; “It’s not which park you go to, it’s which park you have raised money for.”
Somehow, we go just a little beyond the park equals public space this afternoon.
SUM IT UP CAMPBELL
At 4;30 PM, Robert Campbell, FAIA and Architecture Critic of the Boston Globe, summarized the whole event with upbeat note the Summit deserved for trying. His closing remarks more or less consisted of four points he developed during the Event and they need almost no further explanation:
1. Wealth distribution
2. Lack of government money for public spaces.
3. Consumer Culture
4. Mapping the problems
He ended the Summit with these remarks. I respect Mr. Campbell all the same.
Perhaps he meant, You have two choices:
1. Public Park
2. Consumer Park
If he didn’t, I mean it.
WHAT IF SOME NEW TEMPLATES?
On my way out, I briefly discuss with ex-city council member Mike Woo about the project he has written.
Before parks, there was food! It would be more interesting and more dynamic if urban farming advocate and author Woo was included in Panel 3 of the near future, I hope. Not only for his long and native experience with the city, but also for his knowledge of the public accounting.
I remember a theoretical discussion I have had with Lauren Bon, artist behind much loved Not A Cornfield Project,
“What if it is true, that the days of new urban parks as recreational spaces are almost over?”
If for nothing, but just to change the template. To set out new ways of perception, development diagrams and perhaps discovering brand new formulas.
It is good to talk and Symposiums like this should be regular bi-monthly events, connecting many urban forums and communities, not just the expensive ticket holders.
I said 'just and democratic' for a reason.
There is a definite need for new voices and plan of action, not just cocktail party list after cocktail party list.
Bring on the local design schools, engage students into this, and reach out to community.
The Public should be empowered, not just bussed. And, re-thought that they are the biggest stakeholders in all this.
Excuse my political geography and public space experience below. The subject is so vast, I could only touch and drive by.
"All around us, a micro-anarchy is spreading. This is the point at which the reform of our society must begin - the primitive origin of the chaos. Our country is suffering from a lack of lines." -Catalin Avramescu. (Just think of Los Angeles instead of Romania...)
LA River Movie by Plasmatic Concepts
Not A Cornfield + Under Spring + Farm Lab
Friends of LA River
UCLA Dept. of Urban Planning
UCLA Dept. of Architecture and Urban Design
LA City College
USC Marshall School of Business
Los Angeles with additional floors oa
Decorate LA oa
The Privatisation of Public Space and the Democratic Alternative A related Znet article by Tristan Ewis
Another quote :
“The chief function of the city is to convert power into form, energy into culture, dead matter into living symbols of art, biological reproduction into social creativity” -Lewis Mumford
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