Thursday, December 14, 2006

Los Angeles in the Year 2106: some ideas

LA Times had an article December 14 that the History Channel had a competion asking seven architectural/design teams from Los Angeles plus one from Harvard to design LA in the year 2106, a century from now. History Channel is running the same competition in New York and Chicago as well as Los Angeles. One hopes the NY's and Chicago's ideas are better because LA's architects aren't very imaginative.

A panel of judges at Los Angeles County Musuem of Art gave the $10,000 prize to Eric Owen Moss Architects. Eric Owen Moss proposed filling the Los Angeles river with more water as well as making the area around the Los Angeles River in downtown Los Angeles a green belt with parks, gardens, houses and hotels for neighbors as well as tourists. The team also wanted to add housing "on both sides of the river, merging the historically Latino Boyle Heights with a burgeoning downtown." Eric Owen Moss's idea is good but it's hardly new. For over a decade Friends of Los Angeles River (FOLAR) has worked hard to transorm the river the concretized Los Angeles river by building parks, bike paths, and agricultural lands along the 30-mile length of the river. I'm all for making the LA River a greenbelt as well as apartments and houses just past the parks--rather like apartment houses on both sides of Central Park in New York--but Eric Owen Moss should have said it was building on FOlAR's ideas.

Eric Owen Moss's proposal is just for one small part of a huge city, so it fails for not rethinking a city. George Yu architects had a landscape with "man-made hillocks, gullies, and purifications" systems to catch rainwater that is linked up to reserviors. A good idea but also not a new one. Andy Lipkins's TreePeople has been arguing for barrels to catch rainwater all over Los Angeles. So far both Eric Owen Moss and George Yu are just recylcing ideas that Los Angeles's environmental leaders have already proposed.

The LA office of EDAW/DMJM Deisgn had a disaster scenario: it imagined global warming causing a 25-foot rise in sea land, obliterating Long Beach and San Pedro as well as making a new waterfront. Thanks but no thanks. Any serious ideas about the city has to ward off environmental disasters not give in to disasterous environmental planning.

Three of the proposals were sheer science-fiction. Griffin Enright Architects presented "Aerotopia" where mass transit is airborne through a wide gride of linked circles. These people need to come down to earth to see more practical mass transit ideas. Xefirotarch and Imaginary Forces imagined a mutation which produced "Chlorofilla," a plant that can be made into buildings and has intelligence. No such plant exists, so forget about "Chlorofilla." Office of Mobile Design's also thought of buildings made of "biomatter" watered by desalinated water. The biomatter buildings are lving things "that can adapt like plants to changes in climate or time of day." Ok, that's interesting, but "biomatter" seems to require mutations of plants like "chorofilla." These three proposals are failures. Yes, I'm all for imagination, but silly ideas like intelligent plants or air-born transporation just are tinkering around with straws.

The Harvard Graduate School of Design's students created "Nephopolis--City of Clouds," which has L.A. covered by a mist created by household desalination. Interesting, but I'd go with Andy Lipkin's catching the rainwater we have before trying any expensive desalination projects.
Finally, the team of Roger Sherman Associates and City/Lab had the most intruiging idea of using the city's many neighborhoods as its "inherent DNA " proposing "a landscape of radically different zones affording to each-his-own range of living styles." That sounds promising, but we need more details, particularly how to help neighborhoods retain traditions while becoming safer with an improved economy.

What strikes me is that none of the eight had any real innovative ideas. If one wants innovative ideas, read The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City by Robert Gottlieb, Mark Valliantos, Regina M. Freer and Peter Dreier. Gottlieb, Valliantos, and Dreier are urban studies professors at Occidental College while Freer teaches politics at the same college. They helped organize a conference in 1998 which got community activists and academics together discussion the history of LA's social reform movements. Then they got a group of grass-roots activists, academics and policy makers to work together from 1999 to 2000 to create a grass-roots plan how to develope LA--that work became the book The Next Los Angeles.

This remarkable book includes in its first 50 pages the first history of progressive movements in Los Angeles in the 20th century, then an analysis of the 1992 civil unrest, and next an analysis identifying a political agenda that would both lessen inequality as well as improve the enviornment. Lastly, he Appendix has 30 pages of recommendations called "A Policy Agenda for the Next L.A." These planners saw clearly than greening the environment had to be combined with social justice--only this double vision of ecology with justice can improve the city.

The Next Los Angeles in its 30 pages of propsals deals with issues the 8 architectural teams never touch:
1. housing for a city with a tremendous lack of decent, affordable housing;
2. the urban environmental for a city which has few parks; polluted industrial lands and toxics in housing; polluted air; pollution in oceans and springs; horrid traffic jams and lack of decent rapid transporation etc.
3. food and nutrition including ending hunger in Los Angeles as well as ensuring a healthy food supply for all
3. improving the schools
4. expanding democracy
5. expanding worker's rights in a city with sweatshops and thousands working at low-wage jobs
6. economic development in a city with large acres of extremely poor neighborhoods.

The 8 architecture/design teams only dealt with a few issues of the urban environment but ignored the other seven issues and never connected with the history of LA, its huge number of ethnic groups, or its social activists. Oh well. If History Channel starts a national debate about how to improve the cities, they have done well.

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