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Comments (13) Posted 05.24.11 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Essay: Michael Maltzan

No More Play



Los Angeles. All photographs by Iwan Baan, courtesy of No More Play / Hatje Cantz. 

I chose to live in Los Angeles. For many who come to this city, the decision to do so is often based on a job, family, a relationship, convenience, political reality, the weather, school, cars, art, science, media, hope, music, the beach, opportunity, or a random turn in life. My desire to be a part of Los Angeles was undeniable and decisive. I was drawn to Los Angeles because it seemed real — perhaps the most real place I had ever known or been exposed to in my life. I had spent most of my childhood on the East Coast in traditionally suburban and nonurban American towns. In college, I moved to Providence and Boston, which can easily be described as traditional cities and urban centers. Those cities never seemed to fit, leaving me with a nagging sense of incompleteness. Looking back, I needed more complexity.

At first impression, during a week-long trip to Los Angeles while in graduate school, the city presented itself to me as a series of colliding events and interactions. Multiple cultures and landscapes emerged through the light of the overexposed horizon in flashes of contradiction: fertile and arid, dark and blinding, restrictive and generous — spaces ripe with inconsistency. Slowly, the city's form revealed itself around me, incomplete and genuine. I knew at that first moment that Los Angeles condensed all of the challenges and all of the possibilities of the contemporary city and resembled the future of what was to come. At first, my reaction to Los Angeles was the opposite of the reaction of most people, who find the relentlessness frightening, numbing or overwhelming. Instead, the sprawling, horizontal city-plane; the peculiar, verdant confusions of nature and garden; the mineral-like opacity of the light; and the constant pace of movement were eerily familiar and comfortable. Los Angeles felt like home.

I grew up in Levittown, in the middle of Long Island, New York — a postwar suburban development. Developments like Levittown — built by William Levitt in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s — were self-contained communities of houses, schools and shopping centers planned around the automobile. Slowly the newness of these developments wore off, and people began to adapt to the formally sterile, endless rows of cookie-cutter homes. While Los Angeles and Levittown have had different life cycles, they share this primal makeup in their inception, making both cities familiar, development-centric American landscapes.





Observing Levittown on its own terms at such an early age erased any preconceptions I had of what defined a real city. I did not fixate on iconic or singular forms, nor was I fascinated with the everyday. Subtle qualities and diverse, ambient experiences stood out in the repetitious and seemingly monochromatic Levittown landscape. I found order and connective threads in the subtly shifting patterns across the façades of the tract houses, the calculated variations of shingle types, the periodic blooms of wild weeds in the storm sumps, the intense light in a place with immature trees, and the landscape of the in-between. My familiarity with Levittown caused me to distrust the traditional context of cities and instead focus on the equally compelling subtle characteristics of place. I developed techniques of discrimination and perceptual tool sets with which I could identify specific environmental qualities, rather than evaluating a city by the generic tools of traditional formal urban thinking.

I returned to Los Angeles two years later as a permanent resident and fell back into the sprawling environment, wondering if my newly minted education in architecture would help or blunt my capacity to understand subtleties in the urban setting. Perhaps I had previously romanticized the relentless terrain of Los Angeles. But by the time of my return, my perception of the scale of the city had changed. It was now an unending conveyor belt of diversity and iteration. As I look back, I recall memories from that time of successive, lovely, serpentine journeys through and across the city. As a montage of images and impressions, the memories have no beginning or end — just the pleasure I found while riding within an unspooling stream of experiences.

My perception of the city changed once again in 1992, soon after my return. It was a typical day in Southern California, the relentless sun was beating down from the sky; then, instantly overnight, Los Angeles erupted into violent rioting. A social upheaval long in the making, the devastating events of that spring exploded across the landscape after four white police officers were acquitted for the videotaped beating of an African-American, Rodney King, after a high-speed pursuit. Preconceptions of our stable, diverse, multicultural city were turned upside down overnight and were replaced both physically and psychologically with the realities of a newly battered, confused metropolis. As the fallacy of an integrated Los Angeles was challenged, the lines and forms of the city's distinct districts appeared. The divided social constructs of many cultures formalized. While the city was still in the throes of collective shock, clarity emerged through the formal and psychological reshaping of its identity.







At this extraordinary, acute moment of focus on my surroundings, my instinctive emotions took hold. The Los Angeles that I intimately knew evaporated from my grasp and was replaced by a new beast: unfamiliar, raw and fragile. The violence and rioting were not the nexus of the transformation of the metropolis, but instead, after a long period of change, they were the apex. The commonly accepted characterizations of the city before that moment — a horizontal, suburban, center-less city; a place of sprawl and smog — now seemed almost romantic and quaint in the face of what Los Angeles had become. Los Angeles was no longer the historic city of our parents and grandparents; it was now a different creature.

Los Angeles' relentless growth has never paused long enough to coalesce into a stable identity. Los Angeles and the surrounding regions have grown steadily since the founding of the original pueblo, but the period immediately after World War II defined the current super-region. During this time, the economy accelerated, and Los Angeles became a national and international force. Today, innovation and development define the metropolis as the region multiplies exponentially, moment by moment, changing into an unprecedented and complex expansive field. The region continues to defy available techniques and terms in modernism's dictionary of the city.

Constant change defines the core character of Los Angeles and facilitates its relationships with other emerging contemporary cities. As we continue to wrestle with new urban issues presented by Los Angeles, negative or positive, it is likely that the same issues will occur in other locations in the global society. Los Angeles has been compared to a laboratory — an urban ground for experiments both prescribed and accidental. Laboratory is a perfect word. Enveloping, chaotic and mutable, Los Angeles is a nocturnal workshop where the constant experiments leave no time to tidy up and reset the data in order to start fresh in the morning. In Los Angeles, you are both the experiment and the scientist. One is forced to be the object of fascination and fray, while simultaneously judging and monitoring the urban experiment. The rare emotion of being watched while also watching cajoles one to continue to refine and reevaluate his or her perception of the city. And the city constantly repositions itself at a different acute angle and offers a new data set.







My thoughts are focused on Los Angeles at this moment not only because of its usefulness in general urban studies; nor am I interested simply because of my personal history and fascination with the city. I believe that Los Angeles is now at a pivotal moment where the general equation of what it is and has been is being redefined. Los Angeles's new identity is being determined. The critical moment is precipitated by two simultaneous realities: the exaggerated geographic boundaries of the city and the continuing appearance of new densities.

The prototypical suburban context of the city has given way to an emerging context of real physical intensity and population density. The indicators are visible. Higher levels of new infill buildings and projects are being developed. Large masses of buildings form suddenly in empty lots. Easy mobility decreases as the freeways turn into virtual gridlock well before and well after the traditional rush-hour expectations. Mass transit hubs have emerged. And, most surprising of all, development using existing buildings in leftover and in-between building sites has increased and is resulting in a new urban palimpsest that was unheard of even five to ten years ago.

Los Angeles has long been able to lay claim to being a dense metropolis. One only needs to observe the city through the small plane portal upon arrival at LAX to understand the complete, continuous carpet of occupation and construction. But the sprawl of yesterday is being built upon in novel ways, causing density's newest iteration to be greater in scale and mass than ever before. And the new density has imposed psychological effects on the city's collective identity, suggesting that a boundary or limit of the city-region of Los Angeles has finally been reached.

From Los Angeles's inception, the city has defined itself by its ability to continuously push the outer edges farther and farther out. Our temperament of expansion, which is tangent to Western thoughts of manifest destiny, resulted in disposable built landscapes and a defined horizon of endless development. The remaining artifact is both the iconic image of Los Angeles and the poster child for arguments about late-capitalist sprawl cities. Now the bounding perimeter of the city has been hit, and perceptual, psychological and physical limits of what it means to be in Los Angeles have arrived. Part of this is purely pragmatic and a function of the real constraints of the region’s physical geography. Bounded on three sides by the San Bernardino Valley, the San Gabriel Valley, and the Santa Monica Mountains — and defined by the Pacific Ocean — Los Angeles has always been a city with physical limits. Geography, however, is only part of the story in the transitioning identity of the city. Development will continue beyond the periphery of the city into the outreaches of adjacent deserts and valleys, but it is highly questionable how the new development will relate to Los Angeles.





The debate about limits can be reduced to a philosophical exercise, but greater ramifications are found in the resulting question for Los Angeles: what is the new identity for a city whose entire life has been marked by its ability and desire to endlessly expand? Perhaps the lack of perceptible hierarchies — or, likely, the reality that traditional thresholds and boundaries in this city are hidden and constantly transgressed — makes Los Angeles a difficult case study in the urban milieu. Intuition, phenomena, perception and experience are necessary tools to make sense of this place. In many ways, the real task is to take on the challenge to move beyond traditional nomenclature and to understand the nuances of the form of Los Angeles in a case-by-case manner.

One could bemoan the current reality of Los Angeles as the inauguration of the endgame of a remarkable city, but it is exactly the opposite. As inhabitants of a city that is continually confronting change, we possess an inherent creativity and ability to constantly surprise the world with our inventiveness. We are witnessing the beginning moments of Los Angeles’s latest transformation.

The delicacy of this moment for architects, urban theorists, landscape architects, designers, planners and city leaders requires keen investigation to produce forms that represent this city and its culture, as opposed to importing other urban models. Those models will not work in Los Angeles. They will eventually wither in the hard light that outlives all forms here — because only Los Angeles is Los Angeles. Our goal and responsibility is to remember that the opportunity to redefine the city based on its own willed, creative responses will allow Los Angeles to become even more itself.





Other cities in their youth, such as New York and Chicago, have undergone moments of transition and redefinition that are not only apparent in the resulting skylines, but can also be felt in the underlying sense of each city. Extreme scales of activity, development and social intensity are evident in the examples of powerful metropolises. The same indicators are present in Los Angeles. We are about to tip over, accelerating at an unrelenting pace. We have reached a point where past vocabularies of the city and of urbanism are no longer adequate, and at this moment, the very word city no longer applies.

First, we must develop a new approach to understanding this moment and acquire the proper additional vocabulary to describe what is around us. Or not. Perhaps the best approach to understand the city's high-velocity transformation is to step back and observe the visible complexities, ambiguities, activities and forces. Los Angeles is a place of constantly overlapping layers, complications and evolutions. As an evolving being, its dynamics make description difficult. Perhaps it is not a city — perhaps it can only be described as Los Angeles.



Editors' Note


This essay is excerpted from No More Play: Conversations on Urban Speculation in Los Angeles and Beyond, by Michael Maltzan and edited by Jessica Varner, published this month by Hatje Cantz in collaboration with the University of Southern California. The text and images appear here with the permission of the author and the publisher.
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Comments (13)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

"Large masses of buildings form suddenly in empty lots."

Do they actually form suddenly? I thought they were built by developers, nearly always (and absolutely always in the case of the new urbanist behemoths we're talking about) through crooked, taxpayer-robbing deals involving the Community Redevelopment Agency, the City Council, and the unions. It's also funny how those "empty lots" just magically seem to happen in places where the legitimate owners have been eminent domained by the CRA.

But you know what are not forming suddenly? People who want to rent, buy, patronize or in any other way fill these transformed spaces.

Has the author of this article visited Los Angeles in the last five years? There's barely a block in L.A. County where you don't see multiple for sale and for lease signs, and that goes for rich neighborhoods and poor. I challenge anybody to find a shopping center that is close to 100% occupied. (In my part of flat Hollywood, there are several that are close to 0% occupied.) Enrollment in LAUSD drops every year, the city's child population is declining rapidly, and there's a net out-migration of working people.

As for "mass transit hubs," are you kidding? The only mass transit hubs in L.A. are along Vermont Ave. in the morning, as hundreds of people wait for buses because MTA has gutted its bus service in order to pour more money into the rail-centered delusions of Eli Broad and his useful idiots at the L.A. Times. At 10am on any given weekday, Union Station is a morgue.

When people in L.A. County have any choice in the matter, they choose to live in detached homes with yards. That may seem like poor taste to the daytime dreamers who can't accept that the city will never be New York. But the big transformation right now is that the big-dollar-big-labor-big-complex development model has been revealed as a complete sham.
Tim Cavanaugh
05.24.11 at 01:44

Your essay is a great read, Michael. I have my feet more firmly planted in your camp than that of Mr. Cavanaugh...I agree that LA will re-invent itself yet again, fueled by greater mobility, flexible urban planning solutions and, as always, the rich mix of cultures and influences that has made LA such a fascinating place since, well, since it was LA.
Michael Lejeune
05.24.11 at 04:48

Mr. Cavanaugh, certainly you can't be as bitter as you sound. Stretch your legs a bit and enjoy Los Angeles. It truly is transforming.

Los Angeles By the Numbers-

Los Angeles is not one single place. It's the amalgamation of many. To share the vastness of its spirit in only eight photographs is about as impossible as writing an eloquent novel using only the letters A through F.

As a city, we are 498 square miles with an elevation ranging from sea level to 5, 080 feet. Yet, as a region (and when you refer to Los Angeles, you really are referring to the whole place - not just the City of Los Angeles), the urban area extends beyond the city limits to include a population of 17.8 million people. We are the third largest economic center in the world with a gross metropolitan product (GMP) of $831 billion. If we were a country, we'd have the 15th largest economy in the world, placing us just below Australia's GDP and above such nations as the Netherlands, Turkey, Sweden, Belgium, and Indonesia.

Perhaps, most importantly: we have an average of 3,265 sunshine hours per year with a daily mean temperature of 66.2 degrees fahrenheit.

Immigration Reform-

As the "Creative Capital of the World", Los Angeles imports diversity and exports creativity. We speak 224 different languages and we are home to the largest population of numerous ethnicities outside their own home nations. In tandem with that rich tradition of cultural import, we also host the challenges of a growing population demanding immigration reform, job creation and economic growth. Our growing population demands better infrastructure, better healthcare, more schools, more public facilities and more social services.

The Issue of Homelessness (Skid Row)-

Los Angeles also hosts the dire challenges facing our nations most chronic homeless population. Skid Row alone, an area just east of Downtown Los Angeles, has an estimated population of 7,000 to 8,000 homeless citizens. The image you see here is from a recent initiative called Project 50 led by our local newspaper, The Los Angeles Times. Project 50 was a progressive (if not controversial) social program that gave access to housing to 50 of the areas most at-risk, and didn't tie that housing to any restrictions (such as psychiatric medicines or 12-step meetings). The premise was that access alone to clean, safe housing might be enough to stabilize their lives.

The debate is still ongoing, but one thing is for certain: at a time when our State's budget-crisis is continuously pulling from local resources, we truly are at a crossroads.

As a transitional city, we must take our next steps wisely and yet with full resolve.

The Food Truck Economy-

Our transition is apparent by the growing prevalence of temporary, yet regularly occurring (intermittent) programing of our public space with weekly Farmer's Markets, street fairs like Sunset Junction, initiatives such as Ciclavia, or Park(ing) Day LA. Or, probably most vibrant is the ever increasing popularity of our food truck economy and events such as the LA Street Food Fest, where literally thousands come out to sample from small business enterprises that are serving unique dishes, such as tamarind duck tacos and korean bbq. There's even a food truck called Coolhaus that serves ice cream sandwiches named after famous architects.

Bicycle Activists-

The possibilities abound: whether it is with private, grassroots initiatives such as:

The Los Angeles Guerilla Gardeners, The Los Angeles Urban Rangers, Fallen Fruit (the inspiration behind celebrating our edible landscape), or the growing popularity of bicycle advocacy groups such as the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and the Bike Writers Collective, which are transforming our city streets and helping to update the transportation element of our general plan to encourage more multi-modal forms of mobility and advancing the Cyclists' Bill of Rights.

The Los Angeles River-

Or whether it is with the formal, public initiatives such as the River Improvement Overlay District master plan for the Los Angeles River - which we hope will revitalize over fifty miles of the Los Angeles River. This picture here is of river activist Joe Linton canoeing down the LA River less than four miles north of Downtown (just east of the 5 freeway).

Urban Parks and Open Space-

Or whether it is with the emergence of a strong network of newly created urban parklands such as Vista Hermosa, the Civic Center Park, Spring Street Park, and Los Angeles State Historic Park, or one of the numerous efforts to green our streets and alleyways, one aspect is for certain: the possibilities abound.

The Map of the 30/10 Plan-

One such solution for how to move forward is our region's 30/10 Plan, which will (if approved) expedite thirty years of transit improvements into ten years, fostering overall cost savings and enabling quicker connectivity moving forward.

So what will the Los Angeles of tomorrow look like? Probably much as it does now. We will continue to have a vibrant urban tapestry of eclectic single-family neighborhoods laced intermittently with dense commercial nodes and corridors, strategically channelling our growth to areas of the city near transit. But what will the Los Angeles of tomorrow feel like? What will become one's future experience of Los Angeles - that is the much more interesting question and it is up to us to figure that out as we take our next steps forward.

Los Angeles is experiencing an era of transformation evolving from its former self to what it will someday become. Bluntly put, you could say we're a rattlesnake shedding its skin. Or, perhaps more accurately - we're a caterpillar that is experiencing a deep metamorphosis. Even though our region is withstanding unprecedented fiscal challenges, now more than ever Los Angeles is buzzing with emergent opportunities. As a world-class city, we are at a crossroads. It's a make it or break it moment. A transition that will either propel us ahead of the curve or leave us choking in the dust.

-WrW

Will Wright
05.24.11 at 07:59

I appreciate the perspective of someone from Levittown who found his natural home in Los Angeles. You could dismiss it as a move from one suburbia to another, but in fact the dismissal or scorn heaped on LA is better understood as the culture shock of people from traditional cities: it says more about them than it does about LA. It is a giant sub/urban city, and that gives it its identity. Its unique culture and society is tied up with its urban and natural landscape. This is what makes it a Place (capital P). I don't love LA, personally, but I don't hold that against the city. I can see why the author loves it as a case study for an architect, as well as home.
Neil
05.25.11 at 03:23

finally, an essay about los angeles that really GETS IT. thank you for such a fine piece of writing, michael maltzan.
a.
05.25.11 at 04:25

This is an effective expression of our LA identity. I moved here in 1994 for "school" (as is slightly maligned by the author?) and for me Los Angeles has a kind of enigmatic, occasionally menacing allure that I find too exciting to leave.

Mr. Cavanaugh's views are founded in reality but I think they ignore the aspirational aspect of this essay. I believe that only by embracing the experimental nature of our city can we overcome the challenges he outlines. I don't see this essay as an explicit endorsement of CRA-style development, either.
Damon Seeley
05.25.11 at 06:25

This essay is extraordinarily persuasive, and as much as I want to believe in a positive outcome for our sprawl-addled nation, I can't help the nagging sense that this transitional moment being sensed, this hopeful grasp for a sense of responsibility and reigning in of LA's (nee California's) sense of entitlement, is more akin to the suffering of LA's true lingua franca, the Porn industry, as it grapples with where to go once you've gone, to be indelicate, everywhere.

An anti-social urban environment based on communicating thru the intermediary of 4,000lbs machines and plastic surgery works great when there are bombers to build and movies to be made, but its unclear what way is forward when Lake Powell is running dry, oil is going off the charts, and the populace's demand for 1/4 acre buffers become increasing liabilities as the sprawl climbs into the desert.

An instructive feedback mechanism for those brave enough to suggest, god forbid, multi-family housing or, heaven help us, 20ft wide lots without side yards, would be the stats from U-Haul on the balance of their fleet's exodus from the City of Angels; hello Idaho! Hello Favelas of Tijuana!

Best of luck from a former SoCal resident.

Mr. Downer
05.25.11 at 11:02

"Perhaps the best approach to understand the city's high-velocity transformation is to step back and observe the visible complexities, ambiguities, activities and forces."

I think that contemporary Los Angeles needs to embrace and develop its identity as a place of exciting urban experimentation. Right now, LA seems like the perfect place for change to be pursued through things like student design competitions. Seems like a worthy (and charitable - good for the PR!) endeavor for architecture, planning, and development firms to put up even a small amount of reward money to encourage talent and innovation to come up through the woodwork. In this economy, it WILL come up through the woodwork. With the plethora of unpaid internships and volunteer hours being the only way to currently 'get your foot in the door,' students and other entry-level candidates in the field are already working for free. But design competitions should be part of a larger effort to engage and involve the public through the facilitation of community visioning charrettes.

I think that this approach to planning is applicable and necessary for Los Angeles right now more than any other urban area because, as the article points out, (1) LA is a hub for all kinds of creativity and (2) LA defies nearly all of the "traditional nomenclature" that has been prescribed to cities. Get UCLA involved, get USC involved, get programs such as VISTA Americorps involved. There are some great sources of cheap, enthusiastic labor that can be re-envisioning streetscapes, planting trees, starting gardens in public schools, and doing other things that would raise quality of life in LA while the state scrapes together funding for large behemoth projects such as High Speed Rail. A place that supports exciting ideas and the 'Creative Class' will attract the young people that are declining numbers-wise in this area! Though we have overused many resources in the Greater LA area (such as water), we have many underused resources here in Los Angeles. I'm just saying, it might be young people and ordinary people who can truly change Los Angeles for the better - they are the ones with the knowledge of what is going on on the streets every day. As Mr. Maltzan points out very skillfully:

"Intuition, phenomena, perception and experience are necessary tools to make sense of this place. In many ways, the real task is to take on the challenge to move beyond traditional nomenclature and to understand the nuances of the form of Los Angeles in a case-by-case manner. "

Los Angeles can and will become a better place to live and work. It is (culturally, geographically, naturally, etc.) an AMAZING place that is begging to be lived in more correctly and efficiently by its human inhabitants. We need to start "case-by-case", neighborhood by neighborhood, to build civic identity and pride piece-by-piece until the region comes together as a more coherent, livable whole. Let's get thinking. Let's get creative. Let's get even a tiny bit of money behind innovation by sponsoring contests and encouraging new and exciting urban ideas.

-a recent college grad, and LA native
Emily Laetz
05.26.11 at 02:45

Why doesn't Amazon list a 2011 edition for this book from the publisher and USC? It was published in 2007 by Hatje Cantz and that edition is out of print.

How does one acquire it?
KBKBKB
05.26.11 at 10:58

I am a native and, Michael, you nailed it.
tom
05.26.11 at 02:20

I just purchased my advance copy from Amazon? I also saw it for direct sale on the Hatje Cantz website. Perhaps KB you have misinformation?
LA Bound
05.27.11 at 02:11

Wonderful essay. The first three paragraphs characterize my own coming to Los Angeles from back east story quite well. So much complexity here that answers something deep inside me. LA has always felt like home to me also. But you begin to lose me with thoughts like these: "Constant change defines the core character of Los Angeles and facilitates its relationships with other emerging contemporary cities." and "the city constantly repositions itself at a different acute angle and offers a new data set." I'm sorry but these statements represent, I think, and feed off of, some of the more pervasive myths of Los Angeles. Lies we like to tell ourselves. Almost like something one would find written in a program handed out to patrons at a civic event. I personally have a much different reading of Los Angeles as a place that's stunning in how very little it ever changes. In a way, that's always been, I believe for so many, at the heart of the area's charm. I would bet that 99.9% of everything the eye falls upon in LA in terms of buildings and storefronts is decades if not a full half century old. The small business-lined boulevards like Pico and Westwood and Santa Monica that looked so much like what small town Main St America once looked like... haven't changed at all in the 25 years since they first charmed me upon my own arrival here. Visually much of Los Angeles remains almost pridefully in a mid-last-century time warp, and I've embarked on a personal photo project to document that. But beyond appearances, the social structure has never changed in Los Angeles. Not in any way that alters the basic socio-economic bargain that exists here. Politically speaking, and since you've put forth this grand experiment theme, Los Angeles remains, as it always has been, almost a corruption experiment. LA is the LA of the films Chinatown and LA Confintential. How things work here has never essentially changed from what was probably broadly thought to be the 'era-stereotypes' identified with the city in those films. But it turns out era had little to do with what are perpetual entrenched realities about this place. I think, in many ways, Los Angeles has a lot in common with the notoriously corrupt and yet womderfully old and charming city of New Orleans. We function better certainly. Our corruptions work better for more of us here. But it's all a far cry from the kind of place you describe in this paragraph that I quote from. This American city may be a high-functioning happy and alive place weathering a deep economic downturn better than most places, but it's still nevertheless perfectly representative of what it is and that's a big messy corrupt town perfectly in keeping with any messy corrupt American town that's vintage last century.
donald barnat
05.30.11 at 01:00

You have to respect Michael Maltzan's genuine affection for Los Angeles. As a matter of cold hard fact, however, global warming is now rendering Los Angeles (and the American Southwest in general) uninhabitable.

The numbers tell the story: 23 June 2006, Woodland Hills, California -- a high temperature of 119 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer 2010, downtown Los Angeles -- a high temperature of 114 degrees Fahrenheit.

"When Obama took office, he appointed some of the country’s most knowledgeable climate scientists to his Administration, and it seemed for a time as if he might take his responsibility to lead on this issue seriously. That hope has faded."

New Yorker article "The New Politics of Claimte Change: Storms Brewing," 13 June 2011, Elizabeth Kolbert.

Newsweek article "Are you ready for more?" 29 May 2011, Sharon Begley.

"Picture California a few decades from now, a place so hot and arid the state’s trademark orange and lemon trees have been replaced with olive trees that can handle the new climate. Alternating floods and droughts have made it impossible for the reservoirs to capture enough drinking water. The picturesque Highway 1, sections of which are already periodically being washed out by storm surges and mudslides, will have to be rerouted inland, possibly through a mountain. These aren’t scenes from another deadly-weather thriller like The Day After Tomorrow. They’re all changes that California officials believe they need to brace for within the next decade or two. And they aren’t alone. Across the U.S., it’s just beginning to dawn on civic leaders that they’ll need to help their communities brave coming dangers brought by climate change, from disappearing islands in Chesapeake Bay to dust bowls in the Plains and horrific hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet only 14 states are even planning, let alone implementing, climate-change adaptation plans, says Terri Cruce, a climate consultant in California. The other 36 apparently are hoping for a miracle."

From the calitics blog:

...L.A., like the rest of the state, has no time to lose in building out a mass transit network that can handle the travel needs of its population. As oil prices rise later this year, part of a long-term trend upward that will lead to a sustained price of $175 a barrel by 2017 according to Deutsche Bank analysts, the LA economy will grind to a halt unless more effective mass transit options are provided.

Source: "Why Antonio Villaraigosa's 30/10 Plan Matters," by Robert Cruickshank, 3 April 2010.

Between Peak Oil making Southern California's "happy motoring" infrastructure unsustainable, and global warming drying up the water from the Sierra-Nevada snowpack that Los Angeles depends on, Angelenos are looking at 135 degree Fahrenheit temperatures while they bike to work. If you think that's going to work, you may need to get a toxicology workup, because that suggests evidence of hallucinogens in your bloodstream.

The Anazsazi people built tremendous cliff dwellings in the Chaco Canyon region hundreds of years ago. Those vast cliff dwellings now stand vacant. Drought rendered the Chaco Canyon region uninhabitable.

Southern California, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico will all slowly empty out as the Death-Valley-like temperatures in the 130 to 140 degree Fahrenheit range and sustained oil prices above $180 a barrel make life their impossible.

Affection is one thing: reality's another. The reality remains that Los Angeles offers a classic example of post-war radical unsustainability built on a now-vanished mild climate, dirt cheap oil, and plentiful water.

Not only is Los Angeles clearly and provably NOT the future of America, it now belongs to a distant and vanished past of cheap oil and one-person-per-car freeway culture and suburban sprawl we must now characterize as exemplifying a dead way of life as permanently vanished as Aztec human sacrifice, Deep South plantation slavery, Viking longboat raids, or the harvesting of trees by the inhabitants of Easter Island.

mclaren
06.08.11 at 12:16



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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Maltzan, FAIA, is the principal of Los Angeles-based Michael Maltzan Architecture.
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On Places, a slideshow by photographer Peter Holzhauer, of his recent work on Los Angeles, curated by Aaron Rothman.

Steve Jobs: Architect
On Places, Simon Sadler finds provocative common ground in the extraordinary careers of Steve Jobs and Rem Koolhaas, both driven "to learn about the world through the attempt to change it."

Beautiful and Terrible: Aeriality and the Image of Suburbia
On Places, D.J. Waldie explores the relationship between aerial photography and the postwar suburban boom, a relationship at once materialistic and transcendent, "beautiful and terrible."

20 Years Later: Legacies of the Los Angeles Riots
On Places, California historian Josh Sides assesses the dynamic changes in South Los Angeles in the 20 years since the riots of 1992.

CicLAvia: Reimagining the Streets of Los Angeles
On Places, Aaron Paley and Amanda Berman argue that the semi-annual CicLAvia — which bans cars from parts of L.A. — is inspiring Angelenos to imagine a new urban future.

Drylands: Water and the West
On Places, an essay and slideshow by Peter Arnold and Hadley Arnold of the Arid Lands Institute, on what they call "the largest and least understood environmental challenge of the 21st century."

Banham's America
On Places, Gabrielle Esperdy traces the American journeys of Reyner Banham, and views the British historian in the lively tradition of European travelers who tell us Americans something important about ourselves.

Thirsty City
On Places, Austin Troy assesses the massive infrastructure required to bring water to the arid American West — and the huge amount of energy that makes it possible to take a shower in Los Angeles.

Water in the West
On Places, a slideshow from the collaborative photography project Water in the West, with an introduction by Mark Klett.

Beyond Foreclosure: The Future of Suburban Housing
On Places, Aron Chang argues that the foreclosure crisis highlights the need to transform suburban housing — to make it responsive not to dated demographics and wishful economics but to the actual needs of a diversifying and dynamic population.

Scenes from Surrendered Homes
On Places, urban historian Alex Schafran looks closely at Douglas Smith's photographs of foreclosed homes in California, and sees poignant documentation of the personal toll of the great recession.

L.A. Day/L.A. Night
On Places, a portfolio of images by photographer Michael Light, exploring Los Angeles in the day and at night, with an essay by David L. Ulin.

Dreams, Dust and Birds: The Trashing of Owens Lake
On Places, Karen Piper narrates the latest chapter in one California's longest water wars: Los Angeles' efforts to undo the environmental damage done to Owens Lake, decades after its waters were diverted to supply the thirsty metropolis.

Burning Man and the Metropolis
On Places, Nate Berg looks at Burning Man, and how a beach party in San Francisco mushroomed into a week-long temporary city of 50,000 out in the Nevada desert.

Frontiers: On the Edge in Merced and Malibu
On Places, a portfolio of photographs by Luther Thie and Kathrine Worel, documenting houses and homes on the frontiers of the contemporary economic and environmental crises.

Streets: Into the Sunset
On Places, a portfolio by photographer Leigh Merrill of photo-fabrications of the streets of San Francisco — images that are, like home ownership in America, an unsettling mix of fantasy and reality.

Urban Crude
An online gallery extracted from Urban Crude, an exhibition created by the Center for Land Use Interpretation, documenting the metropolitan petroscape of Los Angeles.

The Infrastructural City
Los Angeles depends upon vast infrastructural systems that are breathtakingly powerful, yet vulnerable to disruption, even disaster. Landscape architect Chris Reed reviews The Infrastructural City.