Friday, December 5, 2008

L.A. Live Symbolizes Our Separation

L.A. Live: "Like an airtight cruise ship, turning not a welcoming face but the architectural equivalent of a massive hull to its neighbors," according to Christopher Hawthorne in the Los Angeles Times. This picture is from the L.A. Live website.

First, a digression: in the late 90s, Professor Leonard Pitt (co-author of Los Angeles A-Z) took his students on a Saturday tour of downtown L.A. We started in Olvera Street and rode the subway, the Dash, even Angels' Flight.

One lesson I remember well from that tour is that ever since we put Olvera Street and the Pueblo behind us, Los Angeles has had a problem with public spaces. The skyscrapers of the 80s and 90s, for example, are embellished with art: fountains, pools, sculpture. That is required by city ordinance. The builders are contrarians, however. The art is put into place to be ignored. Pedestrian walkways to other buildings or the parking structures are built into the second or third floor. No one walks on the streets except the street people that no one wants to meet.

Christopher Hawthorne reviewed L.A. Live in the Los Angeles Times and touched on these same problems that have plagued this city for decades. He says in his introduction that L.A. Live "is relentlessly focused on creating its own wholly separate commercial universe..."

Is that necessarily bad? Well, yes, and it highlights the long-standing urban problems of isolation and division.

Most people (imho) expect a public plaza and paseo--features of L.A. Live--to interact with the surrounding community and invite locals to visit and enjoy the neighborhood. But what L.A. Live presents is an "illusion of public interaction," and "a stage-set version of a public square," according to Hawthorne. The barriers between this "self-contained world...and the streets around keep the rest of our blocks underused and, as pieces of the city, undernourished."

The Times also has a photo spread. Intentional or not, all the photos are devoid of people.

On a slightly related note, a column by Gregory Rodriguez titled "Long live the corner cafe" tells us that the academic worry over our increasing isolation from each other is no longer just academic. "What Americans need is more nonrational, nonpurposeful interaction with people with whom they have no natural common cause." Not your relatives or your book club, iow. Just striking up conversations at a bar--coffee or regular bar--or shouting about the game on the big screen overhead.

Rodriguez mentions the fact that even in Europe, the sidewalk cafe culture is on a downslide. My other blog, A Lot of Gaul, has a post about that with links to articles documenting the decline. Pubs are in trouble too.

So when we design all the self-sufficient, enclave-like entertainment venues, are we doing ourselves a favor or a disservice?

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