(With yesterday’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee’s unanimous vote of approval for the Hybrid #3 option to keep the Gardiner East expressway elevated, a timely post from our L.A. correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum)
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For some time now, I have been playing a game in my head whereby I compare the freeway system of L.A. to a system of vines in a vineyard. How, for example, would a particular vineyard be helped if a little strategic pruning were done? Would the vines allow for a more effective transport of minerals and nutrients to the grapes? And how, analogously, would the city of Los Angeles be helped by a judicious pruning of its freeways? Would cars move more freely into our pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods? Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Some wine-growers like to stress their vines, but could that very stress lead to grape rage?
Okay, so the analogy isn’t exact. But this particular act of analogizing is not so far-fetched, because while we don’t usually think of L.A. as wine country, that’s exactly what it was for the first hundred-plus years of its existence, with the earliest vineyards being established in 1781 at the Mission de Los Angeles. At first they were planted primarily to the drought-resistant, low-acid Airen grape from La Mancha, in Spain. Soon they were joined by other vitis vinifera and spread throughout the area. Many vineyards were added in the early 1800s and the industry was well-established by the time the Forty-Niners hit northern California with a rapacious thirst for Los Angeles wine.
The vineyards, unfortunately, were torn up long ago, but palimpsests of that key period of L.A.’s wine history abound, from the random ubiquity of grapes growing in private gardens and backyards to the streets named after early L.A. winemakers like Vignes, Kohler, Wolfskill and Requena. And then there’s the world’s most iconic street corner, Hollywood and Vine, which marks the transition from a town tied to the land to a city hitched to the stars.
L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne had not dissimilar thoughts on “trimming” (his word) what he calls the “stub end of the 2 freeway as it bends south and west from Interstate 5 and dips into Silver Lake and Echo Park.” Upon reading the article I wanted to celebrate. I had been waiting for this moment in L.A. history, when the city would decide, or at least decide to decide, that it was time to start pruning.
The plan for the 2 freeway doesn’t call for tearing it down (or uprooting it, in the language of the vine), but for re-purposing it. Traffic lanes would be reduced and narrowed, and housing and storefronts would go up along its sides. A park would be built down the middle, which would connect to the L.A. River, where another park is currently being planned under the direction of Frank Gehry. There is even a notion to run a resurrected light rail through it, from Downtown to Glendale, summoning the memory of the Red Cars of two generations ago.
This all comes against the backdrop of other cities removing their urban highways, from the Embarcadero in San Francisco, to the Whitehurst Freeway in Washington,DC, to Harbor Drive in Portland to Cheonggyecheon in Seoul. Could L.A. join this illustrious list of cities? It’s beyond imagination – and, most probably at this time, beyond the imagination of city leaders as well.
Mr. Hawthorne knows it won’t be easy. But even in the letters to the editor critical of his idea (which most of them were), one could sense that the status quo is to nobody’s liking. Being aware of that is a good first step. Los Angeles will surely not be able to support the number of vines (or cars) that it once did, but that shouldn’t prevent it from pruning, as well as uprooting, in order to save the vineyard.
— vino veritasly submitted by Ned Teitelbaum