Saturday, January 20, 2007

Bohemian Los Angeles

I used to live in Silverlake district in Los Angeles in the 1970s. That was when I started writing poetry seriously. I got an M.A. in psychology, and quit that to start working as a minimum wage typesetter in the San Fernando Valley and then got a better typesetting job at Aldus Type on LaBrea near Wilshire. Aldus did very good work in typesetting for advertising.

I don't remember how but I met Lillian Marks of Plantin Press. I knew she ran one of the three finest print shops in Los Angeles: Plantin Press in Silverlake; Grant Dahlstrom in Pasadena; and Ward Ritchie. I asked Dahlstrom for a job but he said he didn't hire women. I asked Lillian Marks for a job (her husband Saul had died but she kept on the print shop) and for a brief time she gave me a job hand setting type for her. She was very kind, took me to Dawson's bookstore for an event where the fine printers, friends for years since the 1930s, gathered for events. She also took me to a fine printer's club meeting where we sat around a round table having a fine dinner. I admired Marks, Dahlstrom, and Ritchie for their brilliant book work, knew they were the best printers in Los Angeles from the 1930s through the 1970s, and thought they were traditionalists, carrying on the traditions of Renaissance fine printing into our age.

What I loved most was the Plantin print shop: the most elegant, organized workshop I've ever been in with huge hand presses and a cold type machine press. The shop used both hand and machine presses, different from other fine print shops which only used hand presses carrying on pre-industrial traditions. Instead Saul & Lillian Marks named their press about the great Renaisance typographer Plantin and, I thought, carried on beautiful type and book design into the machine era, using an aesthetic that was pre-20th century.

Besides her kindness and encouragement, Lillian Marks taught me how to work. Before working with Lillian, I would procrastinate and then work for hours at a time without meals. She taught me how not to proscratinate and how to start working at 8:30, take a short coffee break, a lunch break, and a late afternoon break--working slowly and steadily throughout the day. Also, after I'd handset a book title, Lillian would make a proof of it, then suggest corrections, so I'd handset another one. We'd do this until she finally felt she got it right.

All I've had to say is a long introduction to "Bohemian Los Angeles," a new book by Daniel Hurewitz, whowrites about Edendale (Silverlake and Echo Park) part of Los Angeles, showing three kinds of bohemian groups who lived there from 1920-1953: gays, artists, and political radicals who are mostly Communists. What affected me the most was chapter 2 about the artists of Edendale. Of course, I was interested to see mention of people I knew--printer Grant Dahlstrom--and also lovely descriptions of printers clubs, but what affected me is that Hurewitz analyzes all the artists and their book arts friends as modernists, bringing a shift in art from that of external appearances to "externalizing a complete personal world .... Since his [sic] work is untraditional in its methods and imagery, his comprenhending audience is often limited to a few friends and 'intiates'" (98). Hurewitz analyzes the modernists visual artists of 1920s and 1930s L.A.: the post-surrealist school of Grace Clements, Lorser Feitelson, and Helen Lundeberg--as well abstractionist Stanton Macdonald-Wright.

Further, young artists such as printmaker Paul Landacre and sculptor Gordon Newell as well as printer Ward Ritchie and librian Lawrence Powell were all inspired by Robinson Jeffers' poetry which "demonstrated how the natural enviornment could offer an artistic vehicle for emotional expression" (102). In fact, Hurewitz shows that California modernists artists as well as poets were inspired by the natural landscape much more the East Cost modernists and poets who were enamored of the machine and the city: Jeffers' looks to the Big Sur nature while Hart Crane writes about the Brooklyn Bridge.

In that same chapter Hurewitz also discusses the political radicalism of Edendale artists of the 1930s, mentioning both Lester Horton, whose dance company I studied with as a young child, who made the most political, multi-cultural modern dance in the country from the 1930s-1950 (Alvin Ailey was one of his students) as well as Mexican muralist Siquieros who briefly worked in Los Angelesin 1932, making three murals working with young LA artists and inspring them. The Edendale artists also headed and worked in the mural departments of the WPA during the 1930s.

Hurewitz brilliantly shows how these young artists creating both modern art and as well as artistic and literary Los Angeles. Lawrence Powell, friend of the fine printers, was the head of the UCLA library, instrumental in creating it into a brilliant university collection. These artists and book people had to create the very arts institutions as LA lacked such intstitutions as well as being the radical innovators of their times. Hurewitz helped me see Lillian Marks, Dahlstrom, Ward Ritchie as modernists, helping me revision my 1970s past. Yes, these wonderful printers carried on Renaissance printing traditions of fine printing but they carried them into the era of machines and artistic modernism of mid-20th century California.

But the artists are only one chapter in the book. He modurewitz is a gay historian, and he focuses on both the gay cultural scene and the culture of the Communist Party whose many activists lived in Edendale. His first chapter is on Julian Eltinge, a successful female impersanator in vaudville who sang in falsetto and who settled in Edendale in the 1910s. Hurewitz argues that Eltinge refused to identify with fairies while his mainsteam mostly heterosexual vaudville audience say his work as refined.

The main argument of the book is first Edendale's modernist artists and then its Communist Party activists both insisted the interior life as important in arts and in politics--and both modernists and Communists affected gay history. The modernist artists broke with Victorian or vaudeville arts of surfaces to express intertior psychic states. Hurewitz tells how the Communist Party actvists fought for minoirtiy rights in Los Angeles, insisting that opressed minorities had cultures and that racial oppression negatively impacted psyches. The last chapter is how Harry Hay--Edendale resident, 30s Communist activist, and actor involved in 30s modernist arts--took all these elements in creating the Mattachine Society, the first homosexual rights organization in the United States.

Hay argued in those early meetings of the Mattachine Society that just as blacks, Mexican-Americans had a common culture, so did homosexuals. Also, Hay inherited from modernists the idea that interior life for homosexuals including sexual life "was indeed a fundamental--if not the fundamental piece of who they were" (269). Further, the interior life led directly to a politics and political groups which demanded civil rights.

Thus Hurewtiz believes these three kinds of bohemians in Los Angeles created the identity politics of the 1970s, but they created it decades earlier up in the hills of Edendale. Rather than a cultural wasteland from 1920-1950, the Los Angeles of "Bohemian Los Angeles" has vital arts and politics that would affect the larger culture of the United States throughout the 20th century. Hurewitz has written a thought-provoking and fascinating book.

One last note. Throughout their marriage Lillian Marks worked in the print shop along with her husband Saul, but during the 1930s Hurewitz says the printers' social clubs were men only. By the 1970s the printers' club had opened up to include women, so when Lillian took me to the printers' club fine dinner we sat and ate with both men and women.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Report from Los Angeles in the Year 2030: Housing

Los Angeles in 2006 had serious housing problems: 90,000 homeless on the streets; overcowded, dangerous tenements which regularly caught on fire or collapsed; apartment prices so high that families gave up to 50% of their income just for a home, unable then to pay for medical care; home prices so high that 80% of families couldn't afford to buy a home within the city's limits; and long commutes through gridlock traffic from homes in the distant suburbs to jobs. At that same time Los Angeles had wonderful architects designing gorgeous homes for decades, but this talent was never tapped to design a more livable city.

This housing shortage was created by 50 years of bad policy. Starting in the 1950s, larger developers and landowners had gotten fifty years of zoning and tax policy in which poor and middle class city dwellers subsidized middle class suburbs. The landlord lobby had gotten zoning laws which restricted apartments from being built for decades. Right-wing Republicans in the early 1950s had attacked Mayor Fletcher Bowron's integrated housing projects as "socialistic," so no new housing projects have been built for 60 years. Instead working-class neighborhods were destroyed: Chavez Ravine was leveled in the 1950s; Bunker Hill in the 1960s.

After factories closed down in South Los Angeles starting in 1970s, City Hall had abandoned this area. Starting in the 1970s, the powerful homeowners' associations across the city had for decades fought apartment and homeless housing from being built in their neighborhoods.In the mid 1990s the powerful landlord-developer lobby, which dominated both City Hall and Sacramento, had a law passed in Sacramento knocking out parts of the rent control laws of Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and other small cities. After rent control law was weakened, rents in these cities skyrocketed.

By 203 the progressive housing coalition had gotten the city in principle to adopte an $100 million/year housing trust to build afforable housing but it was chronically underfunded under Mayor Hahn. Mayor Villaraigosa adopted the idea of "smart growth," building apartments, townhouses, and condos around subway and light rail stops. The Mayor funded the "Affordable Housing Trust Fund with $100 million for the first time ever and has done so for two consecutive years." He also got a 2nd $100 million for established a sub-section of the Trust Fund million and 2,000 housing assistance vouchers to house the homeless.

By 2006 nearly 5,000 affordable housing units were built in the City of Los Angeles. Developers began building these urban villages in Hollywood, Koreatown, downtown, and Pasadena. Also Tom Gilmore led other developers to convert empty downtown offices into apartments and lofts. Despite these positive acts, the housing crisis just got worse. 5,000 new units did, however, next to nothing to solve the problem.

In 2007 a small number of homeless started what came to be known as the pots and pan marches to end homelessness. First 10 marched on Wednesday afternoon. The next Wednesday 100 marched, banging pots and pans. By the 4th march, 1000 were marching, the TV was coving the pots and pans marchers, and their leaders met with Mayor Villaraigosa. By the 8th march, Villaraigosa had deliverd 1000 trailers for the homeless--this act nearly split the pots and marchers who demanded homes for all 90,000 homeless.

They decided to let families with children and the seriously ill take the first 1000 trailers, and upped their demands: real homes including geodesic dome villages for all 90,000 homeless; small centers for the mentally ill which had been promised decades earlier after the huge state mental ill hospitals had been closed down; subsidies for first and last month's rent for all homeless with jobs to get them immediatley off the street; rehab centers for all homeless with drug programs. The mayor stalled, offering only homes for 20,000 people, so the pots and pans marchers expanded to Santa Ana, Van Nuys, Sacramento, San Francisico, and San Diego.
The final pots and pans marches had 100,000 marching, so Mayor Villaraigosa agreed to tall their demands to "End Homelessness Now" in 2008.

Also in 2008 the End Tenement Now coalition began in the middle of the pots and pans marches to give Tours of Tenements taking TV news crews along with hundreds of people into apartments showing off dangerous wiring; lack of heat; rats and cockroaches; falling down ceilings; holes in walls; lead in ceilings. End Tenement Now then set up their Tour of Tenement exhibition with huge photos highlighting tenement horrors on City Hall lawn.

They demanded Mayor Villaraigosa hire 500 new city housing, inspectors, the City Attorney vigorously prosecute slumlords, the city fully fund the $100 million housing trust/year with $100 million/year. End Tenements Now also demanded that the city change zoning laws to legalize garage apartments as an emergency measure, and rezone many areas for multifamily dwellings. The landlords counterattacked, saying conditions were not as bad as End Tenements Now alleged. End Tenement Now started its own pots and pans marchers to the city buildings with marchers carrying huge blown-up photos of rats, holes in walls, ceilings falling down, etc. Getting how action from the mayor, End Tenement Now had a live-in in City Hall which resulted in 300 arrest.

Then Mayor Villaraigosa announced he would hire the housing inspectors, increase prosecution of violators of the law, legalize garage apartment and change zoning laws. Villaraigosa said he couldn't get the money to fund affordable housing until End Tenement Now got a favorable majority on the City Council to agree with the mayor to have all new developements pay fees into the Housing Trust as well as a small tax on all hotel rooms in the city. For the first time affordable house would be subsidized. Also, End Tenement Now got the Villarigosa to hire some of the best architects in the city to design the affordable housing.

After Villaraigosa lobbied in Sacramento to end all subsidies to new suburbs and rezoned Los Angeles to allow aprtments along all proposed subway/light rail lines, he became known as the Housing Mayor. He was easily re-elected in 2008, and then started Los Angeles great housing construction boom with city, state, and federal monies. Apartments (50% affordable) were built within 1/2 mile along rail lines, subway lines, and rapid bus lines across the city. Apartments were built over stores along main avenues such as Pico Boulevard, Exposition Boulevard, and Wilshire Boulevard. These were the Apartment Zones. Of course, all the new apartments were 100% green with solar panels, recyling & graywater systems. Mayor Villaraigosa won a 3rd term in 2012, and continued building housing in what was known as the great housing boom of 2008-2028 when thousands of new apartments were built.

By 2012 downtown became a residential neighborhood again, particularly as the homeless population shrank as they moved into first trailers and Geodisdic Dome villages and then into new apartments. Supermarkets were built downtown, as the city helped developers reconvert more downtown offices into apartments. Throughout the next 16 years apartment houses and parks were built downtown which again became the hub of the city.

The city still had zones of 1-story houses, which were quite exspensive, but most people by 2016 began to appreciate the many amenities of the new urbanism: good rapid transportation; gyms and childcare on site; even cafeterias and cafes in some larger apartment buildings.

The city also had three new kinds of housing starting in 2010. Ecovillages were mulutiple -story apartment buildings which were small utopian communities. Often the members of the EcoVillage tended nearby urban orchards, community farms, or farmer's markets. Second, small blocks transformed themselves into a Village Green, a couple of acres of 2-story townhouses and 1-story houses set amidst parkland with no streets; garages with cars hidden behind the houses.Thirdly, EcoColonies were built from 2016-2030, large developments which had both small community gardens as well as housing

By 2030 Los Angeles had finally enough housing for all its residents. Homeless was a small hardcore of 500 alchoholics. Tenements were a horror story from the past. It had taken 24 years to build enough new housing to make it once again afforable within Los Angeles the green county.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Report from the Los Angeles in the Year 2030: Transporation

In the 1950s Los Angeles led the country in its devotion to the car
and its assoicated illnesses: suburban sprawl, air pollution; growth of ugly strip malls and fast-food restaurants; gated communities; extrmeley long commutes. By 2006 traffic girdlock was spreading throughout the city. 2007 was the last year in the Age of the Car, but even the years leading up to 2007 people were beginning to question the car. The 2008 Saudi War where gas prices doubled in two weeks led to huge re-evaluation of the Angeleno's dependency on cars. With the doubling of the gas price, millions could no longer afford their cars.

The Bus Riders Union struggle in the late 1990s and early years of 2001 caused improvement in bus service. The Red Rapid redesigned buses were introduced 2004-6. A small program giving junior college students subusdized bus passes for a few dollars per semester at Los Angeles Trade Technical College and Los Angeles City College was extended to 8 communities colleges in Los Angeles involving 150,000 students. Discounted bus passes were also given to seniors. The next year the program was extended to give discount bus passes to 250,000 low income people. Also a smart card was introduced citywide: anyone could buy a smart card and use it on any bus system.

The bus discount bus program was success, so bus service was expanded to serve another 1/3 million riders. The ugly bum-proof bus benches, aimed at getting rid of homeless people by making it impossible to sit, were replaced by comfortable bus benches and bus shelters. After the 2008 Saudi War when gas prices doubled overnight
another million people switched from cars to buses. By 2010 a million more people were riding the bus yet traffic was still in gridlock on city streets and the freeways.

In 2007 Metro, the city rapid transit, was building two light rail lines: the Exposition Line from downtown to the beach as well as the Gold Line Extension East through East Los Angeles. Mayor Villaraigosa in 2007 got the money for the subway extension down Wilshire to the beach. In 2008 two lines were being built from downtown to the beach: the Exposition Line and the Wilshire Line. As the Wilshire subway to the beach was being built, people demanded not subways but more light rail.

The 2008 Saudi War convinced the majority of Angelenos that LA needed an expanded light rail system, so the system was expanded from five light rails to 10 lines: 5 going north and south and five going east and west. These ten lines were connected up with the Metrolink, the suburban commuter train system. Between 2009-2020 Los Angeles was spending more money building rapid transit rail line than any city in the nation.
When finished in 2025, Los Angeles has the most modern, efficient rapid transit system in the nation. The fast train built from LA International Airport to downtown was faster than anyone in the world--even Shanghai's. Angelenos were rightly proud of their clean, beautiful new rapid transit system.

The city expanded bike paths from its increased number of parks and along the rivers and creeks, so thousands of people bicycled, particularly among the youth. The Bicycle Kitchen, started around 2003 at the EcoVillage and then moved to near Los Angeles City College, taught bicycle repair skills and expanded into a chain of 10 bike kitchens, giving teens an alternative to cars along with basic mechanical skills. Bike clubs became popular, sponsoring more Midnight Rides regularly around the city. Every public and most private building had its bike rack.

Neighborhoods were remade for walking with millions of trees planted along the streets, wooden benches and planters put on popular shopping streets, and attractive bus shelters. Many residential blocks by 2006 were using "street calming" devices which made it necessary for cars to go slowly by newly designed stone blockages within the street. New housing developments were designed like the late 1940s Village Green without any trees at all but just parks. In the Village Green the cars were hidden away in garages behind the housing. Some business districts redesigned them themselve as 1 or 2 or 3 block pedestrian way with no cars at all.

By 2030 80% of the people of Los Angeles used rapid transportation as their main way to go from place to place. Yes, people still drive cars, which were either electric or biodiesal after gas prices skyrocketed after the 2080 Saudi War. But after 2008 parking fees had to be paid to park anywhere in the city. The parking fees helped pay for the expansion of the rapid transit city. Yes, a minority still loved their cars as people in the Age of Cars still loved their horses but they had to pay large sums to have cars.

By the way, horesbacking riding became more popular. Up to the 1970s there were horse stables throughout the hills of Los Angeles, but most had been closed during the Age of Cars. With the going of the cars, many stables in the hills were opened. Horebaking riding became a popular sport again, and many busineses near the hills put up hitching posts so horseback riders could ride to the business, hitch up, do their business, and then ride away.

By 2030 so few people were using the freeways the City Council was debating whether to tear down down, recycle the concerete into buildings.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Report from Los Angeles in the Year 2030: A Green Justice City

From 2007-2030 Los Angeles made dramatic changes both making it a green city and a city dedicated to social justice. Los Angeles as the Green Justice City was inspired Los Angeles' progressive social movements of the 1990s. Tens of community activists, policy analysts, and academics worked together for two years from 1999-2000 to produce ideas from the grass-roots for a new city. In 2001 they presented "A Policy Agenda for the Next LA" based on LA's progressive social movements and then published as the Appendix in the book The Next Los Angeles.

The grass-roots people involved with creating The Next Los Angeles clearly understood that any greening of Los Angeles has to be combined with increasing social justice in the city. They also called for economic development in their report, refusing to see any conflict between a green city and a prosperous one without the hunger, the sweatshops, and the tenements of the late 1990s. They had double vision--justice with ecology. Their vision directly led to such transformations that created the Los Angeles of the Year 2030: from a city whose buildings wasted energy and water to a city composed of 100% green buildings; from a city whose open space was largely toxic abandoned industrial sites turned into a network of parks; from a city with thousands hungry to a population without hunger eating 50% locally produced, organic food.

In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina demolished New Orleans, global warming was finally recognized as a danger for any coastal city like L.A. In 2001 70% of LA's energy came from coal and nuclear power which pollute the environment and contribute to global warming. Secondly, LA is a desert city which stole its water in 1911 from the Owens Valley and still pumped much of its water from hundreds of miles away in 2001.

The Next Los Angles recommend and the city adopted in 2008 a Municipal Buildings Policy to redesign all city-owned buildings including all school buildings to reduce energy and water. In Santa Monica the city had built Colorado Court, a 44-unit affordable housing building which produced its own energy. Colorado Court was the prototype for the green buildings --every building with solar panels on top to produce electricity, greywater system to use water for irrigations, rain barrels to collect rainwater, and recycle bins. In 2008 Los Angeles had adopted the Sustainable Building Act to reduce energy and water use for all new buildings, to use recycled materials, and to reduce toxins in older buildings.

Andy Lipkis from TreePeople, which had planted a million trees worldwide, had in 2006 recommended rain barrels all over the city to collect rain which is then used. The city adopted the Rain Conversation Act also in 2010. By 2030, all buildings in Southern California were green: they produced 90% of their own electricity; they used little water; they recycled 90% of their waste. The remaining 90% of electricity came from the cities' electrical grid using wind and geothermal power. In 2030 the cities' buildings used 0 energy from polluting sources.

The City Council also decided to give startup money in 2008 for factories to build solar panels and rain barrels in South Central, where 50,000 jobs factory jobs were lost in the 1980s. They passed a law that these jobs have to be unionzed with livable wages. In 2006 Los Angeles had the largest manufacturing center in the country, so the new factories to green the city's buildings added onto LA's economy as well as saved Los Angeles money in less spending on water and power. Mass producing solar panels lowered the cost tremendously. The city used state money to have a publicly funded public works project GreeeWorks like the WPA of the New Deal program to retrofit all LA buildings.

Los Angeles in 2006 had many toxic industrial sites as well as less parks than any other major city. The Cornfields, a 32-acre polluted rail yard near Chinatown and the Los Angeles River, had been designated as a new park just north of Los Angeles. In the late 1990s neighborhood activists in Chinatown combined with white environmentalists in Friends of the Los Angeles River to get the Cornfields not developed with factories or shops but set aside as a park. The Next Los Angeles had found out that much open land remaining in the city were toxic brownfields like the Cornfields, so they argued the city should clean the brownfield sites, involving neighboring communities in how these sites will be used after they are cleaned up using the Cornfields as a prototype..

In 2009 the city passed the Brownfields Conversion Act, focusing first on park-poor low-income neighborhoods with brownfield sites that were turned into parks or community gardens. Neighborhood activists got the city to open up more parks as well as get more funding going to parks--both improving existing parks and building new ones. Friend of the Los Angeles River's (FOLAR) plan to green the concrete-river was adopted in 2008, so along the river the city built parks, community gardens, bike paths, walkways, and then housing and tourist hotels on both sides of the park land as Eric Own Moss Architects had suggested in their plan that won the award for History Channel's competition. Beginning in 2010 bike paths were also built across the city that go from park to park. The city went from park poor to park rich.

The Next Los Angeles had argued that the city government should end hunger in Los Angeles, one of the wealthiest cities in the globe. In 2008 the city had adopted a food program with three goals: end hunger in Los Angeles; lower energy costs for making food; and ensure healthier food to lessen diseases caused by obesity and polluted food. In the last few months of 2006 and throughout 2007 people were continually getting sick from contaminated foods produced in industrialized farms and factories.

In developing the new food policies of the year 2008, city historians recalled when the city was much smaller in the 1st half of the 20th century, much of Los Angeles County was one of the richest agricultural lands in the nation including a huge amount of orchards. With water, almost anything grow here. Mayor Villaraigoas announced in 2006 a plan to plant a million trees--but the plan was changed in 2008 to make half of the trees fruit trees, particularly citrus. Once Hollywood Boulevard had orange trees, and again starting in 2010 orange trees were planted on this street. Most fruit trees were planted, however, in residential neighborhoods with neighbor sharing for their block fruit trees. The city also started 20 new community gardens. Fruit trees and community gardens provided food.

For food scarce neighborhoods the city adopted The Next Los Angeles’s recommendations to build "four new full-service markets and four new farmer's markets" in Southcentral L.A. The city also adopted a policy to support small, locally-owned restaurants as well as truck and street vendors. The city offered credit for street vendors and helped them produce clean, healthy food as the project at Mama's Hot Tamales Cafe had first helped street vendors in McArthur Park. Los Angeles ended all subsides to fast-food restaurants. In the omnibus Food Safety Act of 2009 all children who needed it got free breakfast and lunch of organic, locally produced foods. All school cafeterias, inspired by the Berkeley, served organic local produce bought from local farmers. By 2030 1/2 of the cities foods again came from local sources: farms, orchards, or community gardens.

The Metro transportation arranged bus routes to help people get to markets. The city helped out farmers by supporting farmer's markets with using the city's insurance and using city's buildings as spaces as well as letting farmer's markets accept food stamps. Food poisoning was reduced after the federal government adopted stringent new laws policing the food industry and more people shifted to eating local food. Also, the city supported unionization through the food industry, so in 2009-2010 farm workers and restaurant workers were unionized, joining the unions of supermarket clerks in one huge food union. Workers in the food union got livable wages as well as health insurance through the state-mandated health insurance passed in 2009. By 2015 hunger was abolished in Los Angeles as the first goal was met. By 2025 energy transport costs were lessened. By 2030 rates for obesity in the city had reduced remarkably.

The city also made huge changes in its transportation system and in housing, but these two vitally important issues will be dealt with in the next section of the report.