The Weather

February 16, 2016

The time has come for me to talk about the weather. It’s purely coincidence – honest – that you may be enduring/have just endured something of a cold snap, depending upon your location reading this. temperatureforecastUp until this period of the winter, a good majority of us having been experiencing warmer than usual temperatures. That remains the case here if not where you are.

I’ve been in Los Angeles for just over 3 weeks now. It was somewhat overcast on the day I arrived and there was one stormy Sunday a couple Sundays back. Until about a week ago or so, temperatures were spring-like to these old bones. The, I’m not sure of the exact terminology, semi-arid, desert-like conditions in which this place sits makes for chilly nights. Again, think one of those beautiful April days when the sun goes down. Jacket? Sweater?

Even when you do notice the drop in temperature, when there’s a certain nip in the gust of wind that’s caught you by surprise, you can pretty much assume that’s the worst it’s going to get. There’s no portent of worse things to come, weather-wise. Winter isn’t on its way because winter’s already here.

Lately, however, it has been hot. High summer hot. Uncomfortable for some but I have nothing but contempt for people like that. californiasunshine2It reveals a weak, northern European blood line.

Yes, there’s the matter of climate change at the heart of these unseasonably warm temperatures. Brought on by this year’s muscled up El Niño? For the sake of this particular post, let’s just assume it to be nothing more than a climactic anomaly, occurring right after the hottest year ever on record, globally speaking. I mean, my neighbour’s still watering his lawn despite the severe drought conditions. We too can whistle past the graveyard for a few hundred words, can’t we?

How does one mentally adjust to constant good weather? Agreeable, let’s refer to it instead, in order to not put a qualitative measure on it.  Although, I guess, ‘agreeable’ does denote a certain positive connotation.

How about this?

How does one mentally adjust to living in a place where flowers are always in bloom? Constant vivid colours despite the sun’s attempt to blanch everything a milky white.

Judging from my very limited perspective so far, it’s pretty much business as usual. californiasunshineOf course you can go to places where the summertime temperatures bring out summertime activities. There is a great big ocean on your left if you’re facing north. The beach doesn’t go unnoticed in this kind of beach weather.

But the streets don’t spring to life when the temperatures go up. At least, not the streets I’ve been making my way around. I’m staying in what to my eyes should be an immensely walkable area of Los Angeles. Pretty much everything you need to get along within easy walking distance. And pretty pleasant walking too if you can ignore the cars, which I’m learning to try to do whenever I’m not fearfully looking over my shoulder with the expectation of being run down, bullying their way through the neighbourhood. Where I come from, these streets should be hopping, full of pedestrians, full of people, in this kind of weather.

It’s almost like the weather, unusual as I’m told it is for this time of year, is taken for granted. You think this is hot? You should stick around until September. That’s real summer weather in Los Angeles.

A common refrain I’ve heard in reaction against the constant sun and life affirming temperatures is how people would miss the seasons, the changing of them. californiasunshine1The fall colours, the spring renewal, the winter… hunkering down and getting through it. You can dress for the cold. You have to hide from the heat.

Variety. You appreciate things more when they’re fleeting. You can only have a favourite season when there are others to unfavourably compare it to. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Although, it, when we’re talking seasons, does come back in about 9 months or so, as sure as the earth goes round the sun and day follows night and winter fall. If my math is right.

After more than a few kicks at that particular can, to every season, turn, turn, I think you can have your favourites and, given the opportunity, vote a preference with your feet, as assholes tend to say. For example, I, personally, could live wearing shorts year round and if I had to sacrifice never seeing a leaf turn colour again, it’d be a sacrifice I could see myself making. I could certainly get used to taking summer-like weather for granted, treating such unseasonably warm winter temperatures as not some blessing from above but as an environmental alarm. wereallgoingtodieThis should not be happening, people. We should not be enjoying it. We should be doing something about it. But, in the meantime, yes, I would like an outside table for dinner. Thank you.

Despite this run of uncharacteristically hot weather, it hasn’t been much of a source of conversation. (Traffic? Now that’s Los Angeles’s idle chatter). Certainly, I’ve heard nothing which you might consider obsessive on the topic of the weather. “Hot enough for you?” Nope. Been uttered within my earshot not a once. Perhaps because there’s some ambivalence from residents here about it. The blazing sun which, if they weren’t born here, lured them westward, provided the golden in the golden state, might represent something less benevolent these days.

The Bringer of Life has become The Destroyer of Worlds!

Maybe if we just don’t talk about it, carry on like none of this is anything out of the ordinary, everything will go back to normal, like it used to be when we didn’t always think about the weather, didn’t see our doom in every abnormal fluctuation in the thermometer. weneedtotalkWhen it was hot when it was supposed to be. When it was chilly when it was supposed to be. When it rained when it was supposed to. When the sun shone almost every day.

Simpler times that led directly to the anxiety filled, dread days we are currently living through.

So, don’t envy me, my time out here in Los Angeles. It’s no barefoot walk in the sand, at least for the most part. It’s just another day, pretty much like the previous day, almost always full of fretful sunshine.

not not liking it herely submitted by Cityslikr


The Freeway

February 12, 2016

L.A. is a great big freeway
Put a hundred down and buy a car

The freeways move you. Except when they don’t. lafreeway1They are theoretical works of genius, “existential limbo where man sets out each day in search of western-style individualism,” according to Brock Yates author, Smokey and the Bandit II and Cannonball Run scriptwriter, editor of Car and Driver magazine, but a failure in practice to efficiently and equitably move the number of people who want to use and depend on using them.

I got reacquainted with the L.A. system a couple days ago, taking the San Diego Freeway – the Fightin’ 405! – from the westside to San Pedro, the Port of Los Angeles, and back again. For the most part, it worked, for me, driving it on off-hours, such as they are here. Twenty-eight miles (45 kilometres), quickly and hassle-free, no delays except for that one with the wrong turn-off, up and over the Vincent Thomas Bridge to the ominously named Terminal Island. It wasn’t. I was able to make it back to my original destination.

The return trip home was a little less smooth, not disastrously so or even that soul-crushing although, any sort of auto-induced traffic snarl kills me just a little on the inside. lafreeway2I wasn’t pressed for time, so the wait wasn’t critical. It’s just, you know, fuck. Sitting in your car, am I right?

It was just past midday, 1 o’clock or so, on a Wednesday. Nothing more than volume, would be my guess, to explain the standstill. Bunching up at freeway interchanges. The 110-405 first and then the 405-10. That 35 minute (without traffic) Google map predicted return home now closer to double that.

Dreams turn into dust and blow away
And there you are without a friend
You pack your car and ride away

The promised ease of mobility implicit with car use comes with tons of concrete and unadvertised strings attached, asterisks and caveats. Los Angeles freeways are huge monstrosities of engineered construction. They take up a lot of prime real estate in order to provide the space necessary for drivers to access the convenience and car commercial abandon. lafreeway3And that’s just the immediately obvious roads, lanes you notice. Sound barrier walls run alongside many of the freeways, dividing them from the neighbourhoods they cut through. The massive footings that keep portions of the freeway sections elevated and looming over many of these same neighbourhoods and communities aren’t inconsequential either.

“… the freeway system in its totality is now a single comprehensible place, a coherent state of mind, a complete way of life,” Reyner Banham writes in his 1971 book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. “The freeway is where the Angelenos live a large part of their lives.”

Behind the wheel of a car, stuck in traffic. This expression of personal freedom exacted by heavy collective costs, it turns out. lafreewayIf too many of us are determined to pursue our individualism and freedom this way, very few of us actually achieve it. There isn’t room, at least not in cities, even cities like Los Angeles that operated under the assumption that space was unlimited. “I was amazed at the size of the city…,” Christopher Isherwood said of Los Angeles back in 1939 (h/t David Ulin’s Sidewalking). “There seemed no reason why it should ever stop.” Sprawl to a crawl was the inevitable outcome of such an impression.

“The private car and the public freeway together provide an ideal – not to say idealized – version of democratic urban transportation,” Reyner Banham wrote, “door-to-door movement on demand at high average speeds over a very large area.”

While he offered qualifiers to that statement, to the limits of who enjoyed such freedom, to the very nature of that freedom, Banham was a big fan of what he called “Autopia”, one of the ecologies in his book. lafreeway4It was certainly preferable to the mess of public transit he experienced in London, Paris and New York at the time. There were drawbacks to auto-dependence, for sure, but in the end, “the freeway is not a limbo of existential angst,” Banham concluded [italics his], “but the place where they [Los Angeles drivers] spend the two calmest and most rewarding hours of their daily lives.”

Such an effusive statement about driving seems laughable, even factoring in the time frame it was written in. It sounds more like advertising copy than the actual insightful and provocative urban thinking the rest of Banham’s book actually presents. It’s little wonder this section is the briefest of his 4 ecologies. It’s almost as if Banham couldn’t take himself seriously on the subject.

Even if the driving in his “Autopia” was as blissful and awesome as Banham claimed, it certainly isn’t any longer, more than 40 years on. It’s become more of a chore, a slog, a grind. Autopia’s been rear-ended by Carmegeddon. Here’s what we know now that previous generations either didn’t or chose to ignore: lafreeway5there’s no building ourselves out of the mess, no matter how much we keep trying. More roads won’t fix it. Self-driving cars will only make the prospect of driving more attractive which, when all is said and done, will encourage more people into cars. Where are they all going to go? Driving begets driving.

Chasing freedom and self-identity in the same fashion as everyone else doesn’t lead to much of either, regardless of the make or colour of your car.

L.A. is a great big freeway
Put a hundred down and buy a car
In a week, maybe two, they’ll make you a star
Weeks turn into years
How quick they pass
And all the stars that never were
Are parking cars and pumping gas

bacharachly submitted by Cityslikr


In The Future…

February 10, 2016

Even over at the Automart, you’ll barely notice the cars.

AutoMart

(From the 1970 Los Angeles General Plan. An “Automobile-oriented commercial facility”.)

curiously submitted by Cityslikr

 


Wilshire Rapid 720

February 8, 2016

The rumblings have died down somewhat from January’s LA Times article about the recent dip in public transit ridership in Southern California. disbandedthepta“For almost a decade, transit ridership has declined across Southern California despite enormous and costly efforts by top transportation officials to entice people out of their cars and onto buses and trains.” How is that possible? transit advocates wonder. You’ll never get people here out of their cars, confirmed drivers assert.

There’s been pushback to the article, unsurprisingly, Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker for one. Starting with Perils of Transit Journalism I: Don’t Let Trendlines Confuse You and going forward to his response to the anti-transit triumphalism of Randal O’Toole at the Cato Institute, Mr. Walker forcefully and thoroughly makes the case why the Times’ story is actually less than it seems. I’ll leave it for you to get into the meat of the argument but one significant thought popped out at me.

“A broader point here is that ridership, and especially ridership trends, are meaningless unless they are compared to the service offered to achieve them,” Walker writes.

This echoes the common fallacy that transit ridership is generated by infrastructure.

In fact, transit ridership comes from operating service. Infrastructure is mostly a way to make that service more efficient and attractive, but its impact on ridership is indirect, while the impact of service is direct.

Or, as he sums up in a later post: “What matters is not what is built but what is operated.”

This is key, as municipalities rush in to build out their transit networks with the latest and shiniest technology. godzillaHere in Los Angeles, one LRT extension opens next month, another in May. A subway line is being added to in the slow march toward the coast.

Toronto too is suddenly all abuzz with new plans for expanded subway and LRT lines. Finally! We are joining the 21st-century.

“What matters is not what is built but what is operated.”

Los Angeles, like almost every North American city that isn’t New York, has a transit system heavily, heavily dependent on its buses to keep it operational. 74% of transit users here, I believe it is, use a bus. Most riders have to get to the higher order transit lines cities like Los Angeles are investing in. The only way to do that, both economically and from a built form standpoint, is by bus.

One of the reasons floated for the drop in transit numbers here was a recent fare increase combined with bus service cuts. The same situation the Toronto mayor, John Tory, faced when coming into office back in 2014. busadForget Build It and They Will Come. Don’t Run It Properly (and Charge More For Doing Less) and They’ll Stop Coming.

This was a very theoretical argument for me, living where I do in Toronto, with my easy access to non-bus transit. But I’ve become a bus rider while in Los Angeles, and things look quite different from the seat (or not) of a bus. This is the defining public transit experience for a solid majority of transit users. You want to increase ridership? Make taking a bus a better way of getting around.

I’ve been taking the Wilshire Rapid back and forth. It’s an express version of the local service, running from Santa Monica in the west, east to downtown. Stops are further apart, meaning less time with ons and offs. There’s a dedicated bus lane during rush hours, for fits and starts along the route that is, more or less observed, depending on how heavy the car traffic is.busschedule

The ride has worked for me more than not although it is still a small sample size. My time hasn’t been of the essence on any of these outings, so an extra 10, 15 minutes or so wasn’t not an issue. If it had been,  I would’ve left that much sooner. Another luxury I have getting around.

Bus travel, at least along the Wilshire Boulevard route, isn’t all terrible. But is that any way to sell people on it, to increase ridership numbers? Take the bus. It doesn’t suck.

Except when it does. When you’re packed tight, standing for close to an hour in close quarters with strangers, that woman, nodding off in her seat, keeps dropping her open beer can on the floor, adding to the cloying fragrance. Is that Axe that guy’s wearing?

The Wilshire “Rapid” grinds to a further halt as it crawls into mixed traffic at the Beverly Hills city limit because it doesn’t care for dedicated bus lanes, like the city’s been fighting to stop a subway running below it. It’s not lost on any passenger who’s able to see out a window that this part of Wilshire Boulevard is lined with luxury car dealers. mclarenBMW. Ferrari. McLaren.

If bus service is integral to a properly functioning transit system, and it is for almost every transit system, and if your goal is to get more people using the transit system and out of their cars, and it should be for every major city, road hierarchies must change. That is the key rather than — or an important addition to — building high end transit infrastructure. Buses must run regularly, on time, and as convenient and pleasantly as possible.

The only way to do that, until at least until we’ve invented flying buses, and that takes us back to big ticket transit projects, is to start squeezing cars, making it more expensive to drive them, taking road space from them and giving it over to the smooth and efficient operation of buses. wilshirebuslaneI sometimes wonder if those like Randal O’Toole claim to be bus “champions” because they realize the only way for a bus dependent transit system to fully function is at the expense of the private automobile. Assuming that’ll never happen, not in their lifetime, not if they have their way, it means public transit will always be a second rate way to get around, never a question of choice but necessity.

As long as that remains the case, the lowly bus as the afterthought in transit planning, building ridership will always be an uphill battle.

bussily submitted by Cityslikr


L.A. Story

February 5, 2016

orangetree6

Until I saw with my own two eyes how asparagus grows, I thought citrus trees were the most exotic things I’d ever seen, florae-ly speaking. Sure, oranges and lemons and limes borne from fruit trees like the simple apple and pear but they actually grew during the winter, the fallow season to my northern mindset. What about grapefruit? I cannot conceive of the massive infrastructure necessary to bring those to… ummmm… fruition? (Really?)

I’m also of an age that can see the orange tree as a symbol of corruption, both civic and personal. Chinatown, anyone? The orange as cinematic forbidden fruit.

When I walk past a tree bearing citrus, I am reminded that I am far from home.

bagoforanges

None of this was really on my mind a couple days ago as I watched from my couch through the window two people approach the orange tree growing across the street from where I’m living. One, I think, was a crossing guard from a nearby school. I came to that conclusion from the uniform she was wearing and the hand held stop sign she used to knock oranges from the branches to the ground. She was accompanied by another guard of some sort, judging from the uniform he had on. Security from the same school? Maybe the church just around the corner or the massive Mormon temple complex down the street.

I’m not sure what it was that caught my particular attention about this scenario. Maybe it was this couple’s official capacity that made it seem unusual. If it had been a bunch of kids knocking oranges from the tree, it might well have gone entirely under my radar except, maybe, for the urge to open up the window and shout at them: Hey, you kids! Get out of that Jello tree! I am of that age, yes.

There was something that felt, I don’t know, a little invasive and I’m not sure why. The tree’s growing on what appears to be private property although in front of a walled fence, putting it in something of indeterminate territory. It wasn’t as if this tree represented a cash crop to whoever did own it, waiting to be harvested to take to market or packed off to the Orangina plant for a thorough juicing. Like all the orange trees I’d stopped and admired in the neighbourhood, this one was just decorative. These orange collectors were probably doing the tree and its owners a favour by plucking the fruit from it, encouraging further growth.

jakegittes

Although, if it isn’t obvious by now, allow me to fill you in on a little secret. I am no horticulturist.

There’s probably something here about the awkward public-private dance that is so pronounced in Los Angeles that I read about or am told by those who know the city much better than I do. No, I wasn’t going to eat that orange but it doesn’t mean you can just come and take it either. Would you just go and help yourself to an orange at Ralphs? Exactly.

I might be pissed off too if somebody just came and took flower clippings from my garden because they’d look nice in a vase on their mantel piece. They’re here for everyone who passes by to enjoy. Grow your own flowers if you want to liven up your living room.

Don’t forget, Jack Nicholson’s Jake Gittes ultimately got his nose slit open for just snooping around an orange grove. He wasn’t even pocketing any of the fruit. Orange growers in these parts can be so proprietary.

asparagus

Maybe it was nothing more than the novelty of it all. Where I come from you just don’t get the opportunity to walk up and pluck oranges from a tree. Or maybe it’s an even broader novelty than that. Here in a land of plentiful citrus trees but fewer pedestrians, nobody just walks up and plucks oranges from a tree when you can simply get in your car and drive to a store to buy some. There was something human about this interaction that was striking in its unfamiliarity.

through-orange-tinted glassily submitted by Cityslikr