Constant Motion

April 14, 2016

Admittedly, while living in Los Angeles, John McPhee’s 1993 book, Assembling California, may not be the most restful bedtime reading. assemblingcaliforniaIt’s all about tectonic plate theory, earthquakes and volcanoes, and fault lines running hundreds of miles long. Things that go bump in the night. Or when you’re sitting at a red light under a freeway overpass at 2:17 in the afternoon. Or taking in a World Series game in the early October evening.

The very definition of bad timing is standing in a door frame, waiting out the 45 seconds of a toss around earthquake, your existence here on the planet not even blink of the hundreds of billions of years that geology operates on. Really? Now?!

Even taking into consideration a 250-350 year schedule that some of the more active faults tend to follow before needing to pop and grind and drop significantly enough to cause serious problems, living in California seems to be a reasonable risk management assessment. Yes, there’s going to be a significant earthquake. While you’re still alive, though, and sizeable to rearrange your furniture?

Don’t be surprised when an earthquake happens. But, inevitably, you will be because… Really? Now?!

Besides, earthquake prediction is a mug’s game, albeit one that’s become more sophisticated with the advance of technology. earthquakeGone are the days when we had to rely on the dog acting all weird-like to tell us the ground was about to shake. We can practically see the earth move now. Still, it’s all about X% chance of a magnitude Y earthquake happening by the year 20ZZ.

23 years ago, when McPhee wrote Assembling California, it was said there was about a 50% chance of a major earthquake happening along the San Andreas by 2020. Within a year, Los Angeles did have a major earthquake, but it wasn’t the San Andreas. It was a fault nobody knew even existed at the time!

So it goes. Keep your emergency kit stocked and a flashlight handy. You probably won’t need either (fingers crossed!) but if you do…

People look upon the natural world as if all motions of the past had set the stage for us and were now frozen. They look out on a scene like this and think, It was all made for us – even if the San Andreas Fault is at their feet. To imagine that turmoil is in the past and somehow we are now in a more stable time seems to be a psychological need. Leonardo Seeber…referred to it as the principle of least astonishment. As we have seen this fall, the time we’re in is just as active as the past. The time between events is long only with respect to a human lifetime.

This is a passage from Eldridge Moores, the geologist-tectonicist McPhee travelled around with for parts of 15 years before writing his book. I love this idea of a principle of least astonishment even if I haven’t fully got my head around it. sanandreasIn a non-programming sense, it’s akin to whistling past the graveyard, isn’t it? A land of mental make-believe we construct in order to cope with the nasties life throws at us, the sad and sometimes terrifying realities of it all.

But if you really don’t want to experience a pants-peeing type of earthquake, move to where the possibility is less likely to happen. Toronto, for example. Or Phoenix, god forbid. Places more geologically stable.

On the other hand, if you’re destined to find yourself in the midst of a temblor – the most benign sounding term for an earthquake ever!! – if that is what the fates have in store for you, where better than Los Angeles? Regulatory codes have endeavoured to make it as safe as you could reasonably expect in the face of a catastrophic movement of the earth. I like my chances of living through the Big One there more than I would in, say, a remote area of China or Iran.

And if California slides into the ocean
Like the mystics and statistics say it will
I predict this motel will be standing until I pay my bill

The concept of terra firma is strong one for us, a solid foundation, if you will. And for good reason. warrenzevonThe vast majority of humanity, to the point of a mere rounding error, really, past, present and future, will not be swallowed up by a giant crack in the earth’s surface or swept away by a tsunami or be crushed under the weight of collapsing building. The earth acts as a stable stage for us to live our lives upon.

I think it worth contemplating, however occasional or philosophical, on the fact that the ground beneath our feet is in constant motion. Imperceptible as it may be to us, as divorced from the timeline of our reality as it is, the plates we stand on are moving. Grinding, crashing into each other, pushed deep back down into the molten core to be entirely transformed. Given enough time, ocean floors become mountain tops. subductionzonePermanence is an illuuuusion, Michael, a trick of our fleeting grasp of time. Impermanence and change are the norm. Rocks crack and become gravel.

If even the earth is subject to perpetual instability, why should we be immune from it? Inerrancy is neither possible nor desirable. It enshrines bad ideas and disallows good ones from ever becoming better. Continents shift. We should more readily humble ourselves to follow along with them, to follow the fault lines and see where it takes us.

tectonically submitted by Cityslikr


The Los Angeles River

April 11, 2016

“The Los Angeles River today is like a scar on the landscape, a faint reminder of what it used to be.”*

Wait. Los Angeles has a river? Get out of town!lariver6

In fact, you’ve probably all seen it, in movies or on TV. That concrete raceway that regularly hosts filmed car chases. Yes. That Los Angeles River.

“By 1960, the federal government had created the fifty-nine-mile storm drain that is still flatteringly called the Los Angeles River.”

In this semi-arid, desert-like location in the American southwest, a, if not mighty, a persistent, let’s call it, river once did flow. Don’t think of the Mississippi or St. Lawrence. The Los Angeles River (and its tributaries and neighbouring county counterparts) provided enough water to help establish and sustain settlements, going well back into the pre-Columbian era. The city itself owes its original location, called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula by the 16th-century Spanish colonizers, to the river.

The history of the city’s development and its relationship with the rivers running through it offers up a fascinating testament to systematic bungling based on the primacy of self-interest over collective action. lariver5Within about a century of the official establishment of Los Angeles, the eponymous river was near depleted to the point of uselessness in sustaining the communities around it by largely unregulated over-use. When it flooded, which it did regularly and without any discernible pattern, the river was seen more as a menace than a vital element.

If you think political calculation, regional antagonism and mistrust of expert opinion are all part of some modern outcropping of a damaged, corrupt system, don’t despair. They all seem to have been part of the process long before any of our apathy and disillusionment took hold. In the battle to contain and constrain the damaging aspects of the Los Angeles River, possible solutions were routinely ignored and derided. Collective efforts to deal with flood control were undermined by hyper-local and personal interests.

“There was little coordination of effort, and much of the works was in direct conflict. Neighbors became enemies. Farmers were occasionally forced to guard their levees with rifles.”lariver

“Flood protection work at Los Angeles, while more effective than the piecemeal efforts attempted elsewhere, also proved the futility of using a localized approach to combat what was essentially a regional problem.”

Funding the necessary infrastructure through ballot initiatives to contend with the flooding also served as a source of dissension, a very modern sounding problem.

“The chief obstacle to reaching consensus on a flood control bill was a difference in opinion on the way the work should be funded. Some favored he creation of assessment districts, which would tax only those in areas where works was to be done. This method was favored by the Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, not surprisingly, since city taxpayers had already spent considerable money on the construction of levees and were understandably reluctant to spend more to help outlying districts do what they had already done. Others, however, preferred a uniform assessment for all taxpayers throughout the flood-prone area.”

And expert opinions? We don’t need no stinkin’ expert opinions. lariver3We go with our gut, my own personal observation and anecdotal evidence.

“Many of those interviewed who had witnessed the great floods of decades past, however, expressed skepticism that such floods could be prevented and that the rivers could be controlled. One man, who had ridden in a rowboat from Long Beach to Wilmington when the river had overflowed, said, “I have seen some pretty good ones, and if you can tell me how you can put a body of water nearly two miles wide…into an eighty foot channel and only six or eight feet deep, then that beats me.”

“Former California Governor H.F. Gage, who lived beside the San Gabriel River, said, “It’s all rubbish what they propose to do. The people should take care of the river.”

“A man from  the road department was down here. [He] had a lot of expensive ideas, but [they were] principally hot air. lariver2The supervisors can find ways of appropriating money for entertaining a lot of people…but try to do something for the citizens of the county who deserve attention, who are poor and need some help – that is out of the question.”

“But the way the proposition is being handled only makes salaries for some engineers.”

Of course, sacrificing the idea of the greater good at the altar of private interests also played a part in the history of the Los Angeles River.

“Even in 1915, the high price of real estate in Southern California inhibited flood control planning. Because the Los Angeles River was no considered a navigable stream, most of its channel was privately owned and, therefore, had to be purchased before work could be done. The cost of land along the river south of Los Angeles precluded engineers from giving the river a wide berth…The confining of the river into a relatively narrow channel would increase the velocity and erosive power of floodwaters, which meant hat levees would need extra protection…The price of real estate, officials said, also made the construction of a reservoir impractical at the only site on the coastal plain where the development of a large reservoir was physically possible…”

A history that is being revisited in much the same manner again these days.

Fifty years after the river was paved over in what seemed like a final act of the drama, a possible renewal and transformation has emerged as a hot topic. lariver4“The revitalization of LA’s neglected riverfront has gone from social-justice crusade to money-soaked land grab,” Richard Kreitner wrote in The Nation last month. What started as a truly grassroots, community-based movement way back in the mid-80s has become a pitched cultural and socio-economic battle, another stark drawing of lines between the public good and private interests. It’s as if whenever it comes down to water in this city, the specter of Chinatown is evoked.

When it was revealed that starchitect Frank Gehry and his firm had been quietly brought on to draw up plans to transform the river, the normally well-regarded, progressive mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, defended that decision as an attempt to “elevate this [river revitalization] so the civic elite of L.A. realizes this is not a hobby of the activists but one of the grand projects of our time.” ‘The hobby of activsts’. You can’t get much more condescending than that without actually trying. lariverbookAnd, unsurprisingly, once the “elite” get involved, questions of money making and conflict of interest inevitably follow.

How’s that saying go? You can never step into the same river twice, loosely paraphrased. The river may be different. The players involved may have all changed. The politics, though, sound eerily familiar, timeless almost.

 

(* All quotes from the very enjoyable and informative book by Blake Gumprecht, The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death and Possible Rebirth).

all wetly submitted by Cityslikr


Traffic

April 8, 2016

It finally happened. Nearly 3 months into my stay, having painstakingly calculated my every movement in an effort to avoid ever having to experience it, there I was, smack dab in one of those legendary Los Angeles freeway traffic jams.slamonthebrakes My own personal apocarlypse.

There’d been brief whiffs of it previously, of course. Unless you lock yourself away in your house, never venturing outside and bringing the world to you through modern technology, you can’t not be aware of the traffic. Freeways, surface streets, there is always evidence and glimpses of gridlock here. Up until this moment, however, I always had an escape plan at the ready, an alternate route to hop off onto in order to give myself the sensation of getting to where I was going less slowly.

And it wasn’t like I deliberately drove right into this one with no exit strategy. I carefully calculated timing so as to not arrive right at the brunt of rush hour, whatever time that actually was. Left late, arranged stops along the way, happily toodling along the Historic 101, the Pacific Coast Highway, through the beach towns that line the coast between San Diego and Los Angeles.lafreeway2

But just beyond Oceanside, the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base turned me inland from the water, toward Interstate 5 and things began to unravel. Not immediately, mind you. The first stretch of the 5? All good. Zipping right along, all the way up into Orange County. Easy peasy.

The plan, it was working to perfection.

So smooth the sailing, I decided not to return to the PCH at Dana Point, opting instead to take the 73 toll road connection toward the 405, up past Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, well on my way back to L.A. I mean, it was a toll road, for chrissakes! It had to go fast, right? I was prepared to pay for the privilege.

So were a lot of other drivers, apparently. But that wasn’t the source of the problem. An accident somewhere up the way, past Aliso Viejo, ground everything to a halt, a slow, grinding, halting McHalty grind halt…

I will say this about traffic jams. They are the great equalizer. No matter what your vehicle type, a Maserati or a Tercel, SUV or some tiny thing, in a traffic jam, you’re all going the same speed ultimately. lafreeway4Some may offer a better quality ride while you’re idling, a/c when it’s hot outside, heated seats and steering wheel when it’s cold, a state of the art sound system to make it seem like you’ve got nothing better in the world to do, nowhere else you’d rather be than sitting in your car, listening to tuneage.

In the end, though, we’re all still stuck in traffic. The clock keeps the same time. The same number of minutes, ticking away in your life.

How people cope with this on a daily basis I do not know. For many, I realize, it is not a lifestyle choice but one foisted upon them by economic forces. Others put up with it as a fact of life if you want some more square footage, a backyard, a quiet street. Some even embrace it, I imagine, as a symbol of success, of having made it.

Whatever the reasons, it’s just the way it is. So sit back, crank the music and enjoy endure. The coast will clear, sooner or later.

For me, sitting in a car, stuck in traffic, even the rare times such a thing happens to me, I cannot stop wondering how on earth we as a species have advanced as far as we have. roadrageCongestion, caused by an over-dependence on private vehicle use, is not a new phenomenon. As soon as we started building roads and freeways to accommodate cars travelling further and further distances, we found ourselves in traffic jams. The math is pretty basic, the variables few. Volume, dimension, space.

Yet, we keep trying to massage the numbers, rework the equation. Build more roads. Bury and elevate transit lines. Synchronize traffic lights.

So far, to no avail. Congestion is demonstrably worse in large urban regions than we’ve experienced previously. It turns out that there’s simply not enough room to provide for, in workable, sustainable way, more people driving more cars. Never mind the adverse environmental, social and psychological effects of trying to do so.

But wait! What about smart, self-driving cars? Won’t they be the solution to all our transportation problems? Technology will save us. trafficcongestionTechnology always saves us.

No doubt such technology will alleviate some of the stresses that cause congestion. Reduce the number of accidents that snarl traffic. Increase the smart decisions that can help traffic flow, instead of the random, stopping and starting, weaving back and forth between lanes that constitute driver-led traffic management we witness now on our roads. Maybe it might even lessen the need to own our own automobiles.

Self-driving technology will very likely even make sitting in a traffic jam more enjoyable. Without having to concentrate on driving, car users will be able to go about their daily business while still behind the wheel, getting a jump start on work, helping their kids with homework assignments, even just sitting back and enjoying the scenery. Just like you can do now on a commuter train or subway car.

Rest assured, self-driving cars will not eliminate road congestion. By making driving more enjoyable and feasible, you will entice more people to (self) drive. Having more people in cars on the roads means…

We know what it means. sittingintrafficJust look around, the next time you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam, inadvertently or not, wondering why and how to make it better. The answer’s obvious. We remain stubbornly convinced that there has to be another way, and determined to find it, no matter how long it takes us to get where we’re going.

traffickingly submitted by Cityslikr


Take It Easy

April 6, 2016

I’m standing on the corner… no, not in Winslow, Arizona. Why would that be the first thing to pop into my mind? sandiegolibraryI fucking hate the Eagles, man.

San Diego, California, actually, having just toured around their gherkin-shaped Central Library, a symbol of the city’s downtown renewal that hasn’t yet cleared all the streets of their homeless and indigent. Maybe next trip. Fingers crossed!

That was unduly harsh. It’s the fucking Eagles, man. I tell you. Just talking about them gets me blood-boilingly irrational.

I’m on the corner. The traffic light changes, signalling my turn to move. I take two steps into the street when I stop up suddenly, staring as a car runs the red light. Another car, coming surprisingly quickly through the intersection with the green light, expertly swerves behind this car, avoiding a serious t-bone collision I am absolutely convinced is unavoidable. A second vehicle stops successfully, allowing the red light runner to crawl through the intersection, in a manner I’m imagining to be sheepishly, out of harm’s way. runaredNo harm, no foul. OK. Some foul language shouted out the window by one of the drivers. But no harm.

As I continue across the road after all this excitement I notice the car that had run the red, a white Jeep Cherokee, I believe, how I know these things, I do not know, has pulled over to the side of the street. Sensible, I thought. Collect your thoughts. Regain your composure. Take a deep breath and thank you lucky stars. It could’ve been so much worse.

Only afterwards do I think I should’ve walked over to the parked car, that white Jeep Cherokee, tapped on the passenger side window and asked if the driver was alright. Maybe assure them that mistakes happen. This one was a close call but, you know, all’s well that ends well. Or something like that. I am terrible at consoling people.

No matter. I didn’t. I just proceeded on my way which, when you stop to think about it, is really weird and inconsiderate. reliefIf such a scenario had happened under any other circumstance, someone slipping off a curb and falling down, say, or two people, both distracted, running into each other, knocking one another to the ground, a cyclist hitting a bump and going ass over tea kettle, most of us would stop to make sure everybody was OK, nobody hurt enough to require medical assistance.

Granted, there was no actual physical damage or possible injury with the automobile near-miss. Maybe the driver who ran the red light wasn’t rattled at all, maybe they simply stopped to finish sending that text they were in the middle of when the light so rudely changed to red on them. I don’t know. I certainly didn’t stop to check either way which I still think is odd.

The automobile enables us to not really give a shit about anything or anybody around us. There’s outside the car and there’s inside the car with very little overlap between the two. We give ourselves leeway to disregard laws while driving that we would rarely do outside of it. takeiteasyWe shout profanities out the windows, lean on the horn at the slightest little perceived slight or inconvenience, and just generally act in aggressively assertive ways that would be shocking if we behaved similarly in a restaurant or theatre or elevator. Politeness and civil behaviour are for pedestrians. Behind the wheel of a car we are all battle-scarred warriors.

And when a driver throws out the anchors to steady their shaken nerves after a near-death experience, one they are almost entirely responsible for, we just keep on walking, thinking to ourselves, Just another inconsiderate asshole driver.

self-reflectingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Transit State Of Mind

April 2, 2016

As Los Angeles prepares to push another sales tax initiative to raise $120 billion for a massive 40 year expansion of its transit and transportation system, it is not without contention. losangelestransitThere’s the usual stuff, like who gets what and when, the best use of money on the proper technology, i.e. bus, light rail, subway, will this really help relieve congestion. Nothing other jurisdictions haven’t had to deal with in one way and at one time or another.

But 20 years in to this massive and ongoing project, there are some L.A. specific quirks to the proceedings.

Take, for example, the fact that some of the existing transit lines here were built on abandoned freight track beds, the old streetcar tracks from a once vibrant system back in the day having been ripped up, their routes paved over by some of today’s urban freeways, as local legend has it, meaning I heard somebody say it or read it somewhere, Reyner Banham probably, and couldn’t be bothered to do any research to see if it was true. Using the old freight corridors made the new transit lines less expensive. Also, and again I’m guessing here, it kept the new transit projects from competing for actual road space, thereby reducing conflict with car drivers except when they had to wait at level street crossings for the trains to pass.

One of the consequences of building transit lines in old freight corridors was pointed out by Gene Maddaus in LA Weekly a couple weeks back. reynerbanham“Those freight lines were generally designed to serve industrial areas and to avoid commercial centers,” Maddaus writes. “This explains why they sometimes run just out of reach of vibrant and walkable shopping districts.” New, more transit friendly development doesn’t magically appear when new transit is built. Until it (or if it ever) does, ridership may not meet projections, congestion may not be relieved, leading to existential questions about the very viability of transit, blah, blah, blah.

I bring this up not to engage directly with the debate, put transit where it’ll take immediately versus build it and they will come, not that there’s necessarily an either-or to that equation, just the best use of limited resources and all that. I raise it as a long-winded introduction to my Tale of Transit Travel This Week: Part They Put A Bus Stop Here?!

Metro’s Green Line runs 20 miles inland from the city’s South Bay beaches to within figurative spitting distance of LAX, and east, greenline1through or near communities like Hawthorne, Crenshaw, Compton, Lakewood, before ending in Norwalk. It is almost entirely an elevated LRT except when it runs along the median of Interstate 105. The Green Line connects with 2 other rapid transit lines, the Blue and Silver which both connect passengers to Long Beach and San Pedro to the south, respectively, and downtown and beyond to the north.

I arrived at the Aviation/LAX station a little earlier than expected, and looking to kill some time, found myself pretty much in the middle of nowhere. That’s not exactly true. You could see a residential neighbourhood not far from the platform, a midrise apartment building going up right across the street. The airport runways were just over there. The 105-405 freeway interchange sat above me in the opposite direction. Grab a coffee and a breakfast burrito? Not so much. So I just reloaded my transit card instead and looked at the station art.

Three bus lines stop at this particular station. There are certainly surrounding neighbourhoods to provide a walk-up ridership although, I did tell you there were 2 freeways nearby plus all your airport service roads, right? So it’s not exactly a pleasant morning stroll to the train.

Not that anyone’s arguing every transit station has to be a destination. Networks and systems are going to have spots that work as nothing more than stops along the way. greenlineIt’s that end, and that end, this hub and that one, that determine the necessity for a particular line or route. Besides, there’s something significant and symbolic about riding transit right in the teeth of the very symbol of car culture, the freeway.

But this was just a prelude to the real fun and excitement. Four stops on, I hop off at the Harbor Freeway station to make my connection to the Silver Rapid Bus Line. Yep, the 110 freeway, running from San Pedro, north to downtown Los Angeles and on to Pasadena. Uh huh. The LRT connects to a bus in the middle of a highway, a busy, busy highway.

My first thought was, where the hell am I? This is where I get off? You have to walk along the platform which is above the freeway, and down a set of stairs to the bus stop. silverlinestopThe overwhelming sensation that hits you is, it’s loud. Fucking loud. I don’t know, the overhang of the station catches the noise from the train departing and all the cars racing by below you. You actually have to shout to be heard. It’s unpleasant.

The bus stop is even more disorienting. At the bottom of the stairs, you wind up right smack dab in the middle of a busy expressway, cars whipping by you in both directions. Sure, you’re pretty well protected but still. How often have you found yourself standing in the middle of a highway, waiting for a bus? Moreover, how exactly do you promote development around this rapid transit stop?

I know, I know. It’s bus rapid transit, just a bus, but do not doubt the rapid part, at least not along this highway stretch. The Silver Line runs a more local service in San Pedro and through downtown, but on the 110 and 10 past downtown out to El Monte where it ends? You fly. silverlinestop1Like a bus with Sandra Bullock in the driver’s seat.

I really should’ve kept time but we moved nearly 12 miles (including a couple stops) in what seemed like minutes, 15, 20? We certainly passed cars, stuck in traffic as they were, riding in our dedicated bus lane. It was fast. While you regular Greyhound users may not be impressed, this is a blast to someone who’s spent an inordinate time on city buses over the past 3 months or so.

Never mind the joy such a ride brings to a transit tourist like I am. How about the vital role in providing true mobility to those who really need it? It may not be pretty. It may not be particularly flashy. But there’s a real sense of empowerment, looking out of the window of a bus, traveling uncontested along the freeway, zipping past cars bogged down in congested traffic.

Public transit cannot always be just about ridership numbers and the latest, sleekest technology.  speedIt shouldn’t simply be boiled down to delivering the biggest bang for the buck. Serving up a consistent, even if only brief, boost of, I don’t know, fun and sense of unimpeded forward motion can go a long way to encouraging transit users to believe that their time matters and that the city isn’t always designed as an obstacle to them getting on with their lives.

speedily submitted by Cityslikr


Westwood

March 30, 2016

More news on the lunacy of our parking policy/philosophy front: It’s tough finding a parking spot at your local Trader Joe’s!traderjoes

Read through the Twitter timeline in this Buzzfeed post, 23 Hilariously Accurate Tweets About Trader Joe’s Parking Lots, and after about the 4th one in, try not screaming, THEN GET OUT OF YOUR CAR, YOU FUCKING DIMWIT!! WALK A BIT!

Let me add a personal anecdote. There’s a Trader Joe’s about a 10, 15 minute walk from our place here. It pretty much sits right in the heart of Westwood. Even before reading this article, we noted the hazard of walking past the store’s underground lot. Cars flew out, past the gate with little obvious thought to occupants on the sidewalk ahead. Cars turned madly into the lot, not making eye contact with the pedestrians they just stopped in their tracks as if this was perfectly acceptable behaviour. Horns, the soundtrack of Los Angeles, frequently sounded.crazedparking

It must be pure pandemonium down there, we thought. A real knock-em-down contest for precious few spots. I even wrote about it earlier, the importance of validation, some weeks back.

What’s particularly frustrating about this is that, after downtown Santa Monica, and the ocean strip between it and Venice, and maybe Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Westwood is probably the most pedestrianized area on the westside of Los Angeles. The UCLA campus anchors it on the north. Many of the students live in low and medium rise buildings within walking distance to the west and southwest of the school. The western end of the so-called Condo Canyon strip along Wilshire Boulevard stops just to the southeast.

There is lots of built-in density in the area, in other words, which should provide a natural pedestrian constituency to Westwood. Yet cars still rule. Aside from a couple scrambled pedestrian crossings up nearer to the campus, traffic lights are geared to car travel. zeegogglesYou could stand for minutes waiting at even the non-busiest of side streets, vainly pressing the walk signal. Zee button! It does nuss-ing!! At other spots, the pedestrian crossing is awkward, unnecessarily two-stage. Another is simply fucking dangerous.

Why?

This entire section of Westwood would be perfect for some tactical urbanism. Close streets to car traffic here, reduce it to a single lane there. Encourage more restaurant patio life which is surprisingly sparse, given the generally agreeable climate.

The truth is, it couldn’t hurt Westwood. While memory shouldn’t be considered reliable, at least not mine, at least not mine contemplating over 20 years, I do remember a much livelier neighbourhood back when I lived here in the early-90s. More restaurants and bars. Retail didn’t feel as, I don’t know, shopworn and trinkety. I mean, even further back in the day, Westwood was the place for big Hollywood premieres. westwoodA couple of those theatres remain in place, carrying the pedigree if not the status they once did.

It’s not that Westwood is devoid of street life. While not exactly bustling, there are people on foot, getting to the places they’re going. There’s just no sense of lingering. No just hanging out. No Gehl-ing.

Westwood seems like a perfect place to try and instill a little of that sensibility in Los Angeles.

There is a weekly farmer’s market on one of the side streets. Further down Westwood Boulevard, south of Wilshire, a block was cordoned off from cars last Sunday, for the Persian New Year celebration, Nowruz, in the area of the city known as Tehrangeles, for the Iranian population that settled there. People flocked to the event, once they could find a parking spot on a nearby sidestreet.

In fact, the whole strip of Westwood Boulevard, from Santa Monica Boulevard north, which, to these eyes, is far too wide already for the amount of traffic it accommodates, could be scaled back on its auto primacy, and reconfigured in a more equitable way. Remove a couple car lanes. westwoodblvdInstall an actual bike lane instead of the painted lines that are more notable for their disregard than actual use. Widen the sidewalks. Green it up. Actually try embracing the boulevard in Westwood Boulevard.

An uphill battle in most cities, even those less entrenched in a car culture, this would be the steepest of inclines here. Those who might benefit and enjoy it most, UCLA students, have their own public commons on campus, although it’s surprisingly small and contained, competing as it has to for space with the various parking lots. I guess Westwood as it stands serves their needs as much as it has to, with its various grocery stores, drug stores, quick eats joints and bars.

And much of the rest of the surrounding community, living in some of the most expensive real estate in the country, Brentwood, Bel Air, Beverly Hills adjacent, has shown open hostility to any sort of suggestion that would get in the way of their cars. tuscanyA dedicated rush hour bus lane along the Condo Canyon section of Wilshire. Bike lanes on Westwood.

I guess you don’t buy your expensive automobiles in order to leave them parked in your laneway while you walk over to do some shopping or grab a bite to eat. There are parking spots at Trader Joe’s to fight over and bitch about the lack of, dammit! If people want to stroll somewhere to grab a bottle of good, inexpensive wine, can’t they just go to Tuscany like everybody else?

in vainly submitted by Cityslikr


Irvine

March 29, 2016

I spent a couple days in Irvine, California last week. It was the longest 4 hours of my life!

irvineca1That’s sort of how the joke goes, right?

But seriously, folks…

I went to Irvine last week to visit what is considered to be one of the best examples of a “planned-community” there is in post-war North America. It is full of green space and bike trails, nationally ranked schools, good paying jobs, a robust economy and all the other good and positive things you read in local brochures. Which made the gentleman’s suggestion at the Chamber Tourist office that I go to Newport Beach if I only had a few hours in Irvine somewhat strange.

I’ll confess. I am suspicious of these master-planned communities. They elicit thoughts of Disneyland, and its real world manifestation, Celebration, Florida. Not so much communities as enclaves, escapes from the world around them instead of additions. This is my bias that is more visceral than well-thought through.

The city of Irvine itself was something of a reaction against the ill-planned and wild west suburban development that haunt urbanists’ dreams, the types of formless suburban tracts then encroaching upon Irvine, spreading in all directions out from the city of Los Angeles. This particular area of land was owned by one family, the Irvines, natch, irvineca5who successfully ranched and farmed it for about a century before turning their eye toward urban development. The idea, initially, was to carefully construct a city of 50,000 people, radiating out from a University of California campus, Irvine, natch, sitting at its centre.

Irvine is now a city 5 times that size, the university campus an integral part of but not at the centre of the city. Irvine is, according to the Chamber’s 2015 Community Report, “an economic powerhouse…the address of choice for Fortune 500 companies and start-ups in cutting-edge industry sectors like life sciences, advanced manufacturing, information technology and digital arts and media.” The city regularly tops lists of the country’s most liveable and safest cities. It’s young, with a median age of 34, and fairly well-to-do, a median household income of over $90K.

Irvine sees itself as the ‘centre of Orange County’.irvineca

Depending on your perspective this can be seen as either a) simple civic boosterism; b) more or less geographically correct; c) damning with faint praise.

It dawned on me during my brief Irvine outing that cities are built (in a planned manner or ad hoc) not primarily to be visited but to be lived in. To really get a sense of the place, I should’ve brought my bike down south with me, tried out the off-road trails that, apparently, would connect me to everything the city had to offer. Evidently, I was missing something.

Here were all the progressive fundamentals taught at architecture and planning schools since the 1920s (earlier if you count Ebenezer Howard): superblocks, pedestrian paths, mixed uses, integrated landscaping, public amenities. Here were concepts championed by Catherine Bauer, Lewis Mumford, Clarence Stein and other reformers, in the decades when suburbs were not yet reviled as soulless bedroom communities. And here was this vision built, lived in, mature, and thriving. Even as I remembered the intellectual planning history, my reaction was primarily emotional. Before me was not a theoretical treatise, but a real neighborhood with real architecture rooted in good principles: logically planned town organization, the useful integration of nature, multifaceted community, variety of choice. Its pleasures were obvious.

This was the assessment of Irvine by architect, historian and resident, Alan Hess, back a couple years ago. The article, at least in part, evoked a city I didn’t really catch a glimpse of. Its pleasures may have been obvious but were fleeting.

Certainly, the views out over the Little League baseball diamonds in the parklands abutting the Irvine Civic Center were fantastic, looking as they were toward the Santa Ana Mountains. northwoodA path between a couple of the fields led to a bike trail running along some sort of culvert, the San Diego Creek, perhaps? There was a bridge across it to a hockey rink, playing Kanye West over the loudspeakers, All of the Lights/All of the Lights.

Without a bike, however, I got back into my car to head off to my next destination, one of the early areas of development in Irvine, although developed independently of the “plan”, Northwood. It was about 6.5 miles away and if I wanted to get there really, really fast, I could, barring any adverse road conditions. In Irvine, there are arterial roads where you can drive between the various “villages” as they’re called, at 55 miles per hour! That’s right. 55 miles per hour. In a city.

That’s not to mention Irvine is cross-sectioned by a couple of major interstate freeways, the 5 and 405, along with a couple lesser ones, the 133 and 261.irvineca4

Bringing me to the crux of my discomfort with a planned city based on the primacy of moving people in cars, easily and speedily. I know that concept doesn’t appear stated anywhere. Mr. Hess writes of the “logically planned town organization” with its “superblocks, pedestrian paths, mixed uses, integrated landscaping, public amenities.” From his townhouse, he can walk to a library and grocery store.

So where are all these pedestrians, I wondered, gunning down the street like Sammy Hagar. Could they be tucked away, out of sight, off-road, going about their daily lives? Granted, it was a Monday afternoon, so maybe Irvinites had other things to do aside from just walking around, enjoying the good life. In my travels, I did stop at a park near a schoolyard that was full of kids, and their parents, waiting by their cars to drive them home.

Another detour took me through a couple of these dizzyingly laid-out neighbourhoods where, if you didn’t know your precise destination or lacked a keen sense of direction, could turn you around and have you discombobulated in no time. Interestingly, in one of these neighbourhoods, the streets had no stop signs, irvineca2no traditional visual guideposts. It was almost as if I’d stumbled into some secret, magical place of complete streets. With no obvious right of way, no authoritative directions on how to negotiate the streets from behind the wheel, I naturally drove far more cautiously, slowly.

Which left me crawling along empty daytime streets, not quite sure where I was going, rounding every corner in the hopes of catching a glimpse of some speeding traffic on a nearby arterial road where I could reorient myself and collect my bearings.

Having arrived in Irvine, unprepared to take advantage of the natural attractions of the place, the biking, the hiking, I was ultimately left with one thing to do if I was unwilling to go to Newport Beach. Head to the mall. The Spectrum, to be a exact, in the eastern part of town, not far from what will be the Orange County Great Park on the site of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.spectrum

As far as malls go, the Spectrum is a nice mall. All open air with most of the familiar franchise shops you’d recognize. There’s a ferris wheel, merry-go-round and train ride around the place. Still. It’s a mall.

It seems to me that as well-intentioned and as well-executed as your planned community or city or neighbourhood is, if it’s planned around the automobile, ultimately, you end up driving to a mall. For all the talk of ‘logically planned town organization’, ‘superblocks’ and mixed uses, Irvine struck me as single-use as any suburban development I’ve been to. Maybe, back in the early days, when Irvine was a town of 50,000 residents, most people could walk to their local library and supermarket. If you live in one of those houses today, maybe you still can.

That’s not what most of the city felt like currently, at least to this outsider. All your recreational needs are within an easy car ride, a longer bike ride, a walk maybe, irvineca6if you don’t have anything else planned for the day. The automobile is the key integrative element to any sort of successful flow in Irvine.

The best laid plans will not mask that. No amount of green space will change it. Or will having the best school system in the world.

At some point of time, there will have to be a reckoning. That’s just basic math.

touristly submitted by Cityslikr


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