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robertogreco : carolinamiranda   9

Remapping LA - Guernica
"Before California was West, it was North and it was East: the uppermost periphery of the Mexican Empire, and the arrival point for Chinese immigrants making the perilous journey from Guangdong."



"Open any contemporary map of LA and you can see the exact spot where the Mexican gives way to the American: Hoover Street, just west of downtown, in which angled Mexican streets bend to accommodate the US grid. In a 2010 essay, Waldie described that point as “crossing from one imperial imagination to another.” A shift in power, in place and identity—all marked by a single line.

***

In his map, Ord diligently marked street names, topography, and the families to whom designated agricultural lands belonged. (Many of these names now remain in Los Angeles memory as city streets: Sepulveda, Vignes, and Sanchez.) Ord, however, omitted one crucial feature: the plaza.

The city block that it occupies made it into the map. But the plaza itself went unlabeled. Perhaps it was an oversight, an urban feature that may have seemed inconsequential to a surveyor from the East Coast. The omission, however, marginalized a crucial feature of Los Angeles.

Under Mexican rule, the bare plaza—a photo from 1862 shows a rough square crisscrossed by footpaths—had been of critical importance. It anchored social and civic life in the city: a site of weddings and inaugurations, and, ultimately, the place where United States military commanders parked their troops when they invaded during the Mexican-American War—complete with brass band playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Even more, the plaza represents an important facet of the mestizo, an urban space that mixes elements of the indigenous and the European. In the early days of colonization, plazas in Spain were small, medieval affairs, tucked into a city’s available spaces. But plazas among Mesoamerican cultures were power centers—larger, more open, more ceremonial, more central, often surrounded by a settlement’s most important buildings. In his engaging 2008 book The Los Angeles Plaza, William David Estrada notes that the vibrant plazas that developed in Latin America, “especially in Mexico, were as much a product of the Indian world—the world of the Maya, Toltec, and Aztec before the conquest—as they were European.”

The Plaza de Los Angeles, therefore, is not simply a random green space. It is the urban embodiment of a non-Anglo, hybrid American space—American, in the sense of belonging to the continent, not simply the US. Of the 44 pobladores who arrived from Sinaloa, Durango, and Jalisco, and who founded the City of Los Angeles in 1781, only two were Spaniards. Most of the people were indigenous, mixed-race, black, or mestizo. The plaza was their shared space—a space that reflected the city’s location, not as a Western outpost, but as a Northern one.

Today, the Plaza de Los Angeles is lined with stately trees and punctuated by a bright bandstand. It is a prominent tourist attraction, part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument that includes nearby Olvera Street, a passageway stuffed with vendors dispensing ceramics, ponchos, and hot churros dipped in sugar and cinnamon. The plaza is no longer the center of civic life in Los Angeles, but it remains an important social space. On weekends, musicians entertain Latino families who attend religious services in the area, then descend on the square to eat and dance.

In the popular imagination, LA is often cast as a Westside yoga girl who’s into colonics and kale. But Los Angeles is more likely to be a little Mexican girl, grooving to a cover of “Juana La Cubana” in the plaza—a space her ancestors helped devise.

***

As important as the plaza has been to Mexican life, it has been critical for other groups, too—in ways both poignant and chilling. That takes me back to the simple map that hangs at the Chinese American Museum.

Shown on the map is a short lane that once ran parallel to Los Angeles Street, just off the plaza. Sometime during the era of Mexican independence, it became known as Calle de Los Negros. As the story goes, one of the alcaldes (mayors) of the era baptized the street after the mixed-race families who lived there, and the name stuck. After California was ceded to the US, Calle de Los Negros was Anglicized to “Negro Alley”—never mind that most the people who lived there by the end of the nineteenth century were Chinese.

Calle de Los Negros, in fact, was the site of a notorious riot known as the Chinese Massacre of 1871. The ruckus started when a white man was accidentally killed in crossfire between two Chinese groups. In the wake of his death, a mob of 500 people “of all nationalities”—including police officers, a city council member, and a reporter—began a brutal assault on any and all Chinese people living in Negro Alley. Some were lynched; others were shot. Bodies were mutilated and dragged. An estimated 17 people died; seven men were ultimately convicted for manslaughter.

It was an episode of vicious anti-Asian sentiment that drew international headlines. It also drew attention to a street whose name was born of racism—racism that carried into Los Angeles map-making. Calle de los Negros was frequently referred to in English as “Nigger Alley.” And in some early twentieth century maps, it is that appalling pejorative that appears as official map nomenclature, including on the historic sheet at the Chinese American Museum.

Today, all that remains of Calle de los Negros are the maps. The lane was later renamed Los Angeles Street. In the 1950s, it was razed and replaced with a freeway on-ramp and a parking lot. Sometimes ugly histories are also erased from the faces of cities and their maps.

In the 1930s, much of old Chinatown was bulldozed to make way for Union Station. The community was relocated a few blocks to the north, to a complex of fanciful buildings that bear the flourishes of Chinese temple architecture. The new Chinatown is less residential and more commercial, cluttered with restaurants and tourist markets and a photogenic statue of Bruce Lee (not to mention a singular Asian-Mexican gas station). Subsequent generations of Chinese immigrants have chosen not to live in this area. Instead, they have moved to communities such as Alhambra and Monterey Park, further east.

But one vestige of the old Chinatown still survives: the Garnier Building, a red brick, Romanesque Revival structure completed in 1890. The Garnier, which appears in the map at the museum, once served as an important hub for Chinese life in Los Angeles. It was here that residents could visit the herb shop, get access to financial services, and support organizations that fought for citizenship rights. (The Chinese Exclusion Act prevented Chinese Americans from applying for citizenship until 1943.)

The Garnier is now the home to the Chinese American Museum, which helps preserve the community’s history. A small courtyard marks the entrance to the museum, where paper lanterns bob in the breeze. It is a touch of Asia in a structure that lies between tilted streets with Spanish names, just steps from the Plaza de Los Angeles.

To look at Los Angeles as West is to see a charming, yet incomplete, picture of Los Angeles. It is one narrative that overwrites many. The Los Angeles of the West is a Los Angeles molded to Anglo preconception. It is a Los Angeles of railroads and Hollywood. It is the end of the line.

The Los Angeles of the North and the East has been here for centuries, and it is everywhere. It has given Los Angeles its name and its grid. It has shaped the city’s architecture and supplied its most distinctive flavors. It is Chicano teens drinking Taiwanese bubble tea on an avenue called Cesar Chavez. It is Latino families flocking to a 1960s American diner that’s been converted into a pan-Asian noodle joint. It is Asian low-riders and Salvadoran sushi chefs. It is the point of entry—the beginning."
carolinamiranda  us  california  losangeles  history  maps  mapping  cartography  2019  china  chinese  mexico  architecture  cities  plazas  power  east  west  orientation  chinatown  canon  djwaldie 
march 2019 by robertogreco
Commentary: Critics say a San Diego museum's Postmodern entry should be preserved. But why keep what doesn't work? - Los Angeles Times
"Now, MCASD La Jolla is set to be reconfigured again. Selldorf, whose firm is known for work on historic museum buildings — including the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., and the Neue Galerie in New York — has been charged with adding 30,000 square feet of gallery space — the museum currently has no dedicated space to show its permanent collection — which she will achieve by transforming the auditorium into galleries and by adding another hall on a newly acquired property to the south.

To weave this Franken-complex together, she is removing a portion of VSBA’s arched facade and the pergolas. She is also shifting the museum’s main entrance to the south, aligning it with Mosher Drew’s auditorium building, which means that Axline Court will no longer serve as the principal point of access — though it will remain as a gathering space. It is these latter moves that have raised a critical outcry.

First and foremost, there is the question of the entrance.

As part of their 1990s re-do, Venturi and Scott Brown placed the main doorway to the museum behind their concrete pergola, where it was not only difficult to find but also competed visually with the rebuilt arched sun porch of the newly uncovered Scripps house a few feet away — an entryway that, ironically, no longer served as entrance.

Confusion over the location of the entrance was such that about a year after the expansion was completed, the museum asked the architects to devise some sort of signage that would help point the way, hence the addition of the word “MUSEUM” in yellow capital letters above the correct doorway.

Goldberger, who was architecture critic for the New York Times and the New Yorker before becoming a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is one of the major figures who signed the open letter condemning the Selldorf plan. In 1996, he wrote a glowing review of the Venturi Scott Brown expansion in the New York Times, describing it as “an exquisite project.” But in the piece, he also noted the awkward position of the entrance, which required visitors to “make an illogical turn to the left to arrive at the front door.”

Goldberger said this was a minor issue, in light of the museum’s “graceful composition” and its “public presence on the streets of La Jolla.” But as someone who has directed disoriented visitors to the entrance on numerous occasions, I would argue that an important part of a public institution’s public presence is a clear and welcoming doorway.

Then there is the matter of the pergolas.

In a 1996 review of the expansion, Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight noted that the pergolas designed by VSBA echoed the delicate lines of a Gill-designed pergola that hugs the facade of the Scripps house, but that it did it on a much larger scale in “clever” “Toontown” fashion. The pergolas also serve to frame the Gill house, setting it apart from the street and the rest of the museum’s facade.

The petition argues that removing the Venturi, Scott Brown pergolas would “prevent visitors from experiencing [the Scripps house] in the way Gill intended: from the intimate, pedestrian-scaled space in front of it.”

But at this point, it’s hard to say what exactly we are experiencing of Gill’s original architecture.

When Mosher Drew wrapped its own building around the Scripps house in the 1950s, a portion of the Gill house was torn down during construction. This included demolishing the original sun porch, stripping part of the facade and filling in windows. In a lecture delivered in 1979, architecture critic Esther McCoy described watching pieces of the structure come down: “I saw the wrecking company razing it. Real labor to destroy a Gill building.”

So when VSBA uncovered the Gill structure, it wasn’t simply uncovering. It was also rebuilding. And to their credit, the architects went to terrific lengths to get it right: using poured concrete where Gill had used poured concrete and reinserting windows that matched the ones in historic photographs of the house.

The Scripps house now largely exists as fragments embedded in the larger museum, the most complete original portion of which is the entry foyer. And even that is not in its original state: It was refurbished first by Mosher Drew, then by VSBA, which added gray wainscoting. (One can only imagine what Gill, who was all about stripped-down Modernism, would make of wainscoting.)

Lastly, there are the issues of urban planning.

One of the principal arguments for leaving the current design untouched is to preserve the ways in which the museum relates to the streets of La Jolla. “Its street frontage, museum store and cafe extend the rhythm of Prospect Street’s lively storefronts,” reads the petition, “celebrating the museum’s location in the village commercial center and drawing visitors towards the building.”

In my experience, that is an optimistic view of how the museum relates to the street.

Although the museum sits within a commercial zone, it is at a point where the area grows increasingly residential. Pedestrian traffic tends to peter out two blocks away, both on Prospect Street to the north and Silverado Street to the east. One of the closest commercial sites to the museum is a restaurant more than a block away that was recently shuttered for renovations and shows no signs of reopening. Most folks who land at the museum arrive intentionally, not because they happen to wander in.

Moreover, the critical focus on the street ignores the site’s larger natural context: namely, the Pacific Ocean.

For whatever reason, MCASD La Jolla has historically turned its back on this incredible feature — with loading docks that offer views of the water and a sidewalk cafe that overlooks ... asphalt.

Moreover, if, as intended, you approach the museum by walking south on Prospect Street, the first thing you encounter on the museum’s property is not a garden, cafe or gallery. It’s the parking lot — a parking lot with resplendent views of the ocean where I’ve seen families (including my own) pose for group pictures amid the parked cars. It is absurd.

In their design, Venturi and Scott Brown smartly dealt with some of these challenges. The architects sliced windows into Mosher Drew’s more oppressive structures, allowing visitors glimpses of coastline in galleries that had once been boxed in. And they linked the ocean-view garden on the site’s eastern slope — now the Edwards Sculpture Garden — with the museum for easier access. (Previously, it was accessible to the public only from Coast Boulevard; the garden will remain unchanged in Selldorf’s design.)

In her redesign, Selldorf is working to reorient the entire museum complex to the ocean, its best asset. Parking will go underground, allowing for a public park, a more pastoral place to enjoy ocean views. Other spaces that engage the Pacific will include terraces, meeting rooms, an event space. In this regard, her makeover is overdue.

Postmodern architecture is experiencing a critical moment. It is at a point where it looks old enough to be outdated — too flamboyant in our age of austere iPhone minimalism — but not old enough to have achieved the status of venerable. Iconic structures, such as Michael Graves’ Portland Municipal Services Building in Oregon and Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building in New York (now the Sony building) have faced the threat of wrecking balls and ill-conceived renovations.

I am wary of erasing architectural history. But as Aaron Betsky noted in a column in Architect magazine about the case of MCASD La Jolla, “advocates are asking us to preserve a building that has a somewhat confused organization, banal spaces and ridiculous ornamentation.”

Selldorf’s plan holds on to elements of the site’s myriad design histories — to which she will add her own story. In a way, it’s in keeping with the museum’s own history as a place of continuous architectural evolution. There is no reason that evolution should stop in the 1990s."
2018  carolinamiranda  lajolla  mcasd  sandiego  architecture  design  history 
september 2018 by robertogreco
@cmonstah: EULOGY FOR JONATHAN GOLD  (a cut-up poem taken...
[poem links to the reviews the lines were taken from, so click though for that]

"EULOGY FOR JONATHAN GOLD
(a cut-up poem taken from his restaurant reviews)
(Photo by Javier Cabral @theglutster)

You may belong to L.A.’s great brotherhood of taco eaters
huddled around trucks late at night.
You munch still-muddy radishes to sweeten your breath,
but the stink of onions and garlic and cilantro and pig flesh
haunt you like a friendly ghost for days.
When we’re hungry, everything tastes good
Hunger is the best spice.

Pico was where I learned to eat
I saw my first punk-rock show on Pico
was shot at, fell in love, witnessed a knife fight,
took cello lessons, raised chickens, ate Oki Dogs and heard X, Ice Cube, and Willie Dixon perform
(though not together)
on Pico.

When this dining room was Tiny Naylor’s
my mom used to take us here for patty melts
when she didn’t feel flush enough
to spring for the onion rings across the street.
You could drive by the restaurant 300 times
without ever being tempted to stop.

You dump your Lexus off with the valet,
march down a breezeway.
It looks like the path to Thunder Mountain at Disneyland
You walk past a watery ditch lined with shattered rock whose cracks ooze green light.
You are led to an elevator in the rust-colored steel structure.

If you spend much time watching period Asian movies,
you will remember scenes of dark inns,
a crew of women tending an ancient grill,
prodding battered cookpots licked with yellow flame.
Their interiors resonate with dark wood and leather,
stone and iron, surfaces oozing water and flame.
Like the fifth level of any first-person shooter.
You never know quite whether to order a Dirty Martini
or to search the ground for a pulsing golden key.

It is time to go down into the dining room.
The minimalist soundtrack,
which sounds like the part
where the icebergs float by in a National Geographic film.
If you try to muscle your way toward a seat
that may not officially belong to you,
a stooped Chinese woman will cut you off at the knees.

A waitress will try to sell you a third or fourth martini.
The skull of Simon Le Bon splats on your forehead.
His brains trickle down your cheek like warm yolk.
I wave toward the canapé,
telling him that I had always considered truffle oil
to be the Heinz ketchup of the overbred.
Traditional dishes are more austere
than what used to be served,
possibly because of the seediness
radiating from the adult-video store next door .

Ghost-white Kobe beef grilled to a crisp-edged liquid succulence.
A foil-wrapped construction the size and girth of your forearm
drapes over a paper plate like a giant oozing sea cucumber.
The bare hint of sweaty afternoon sex in the scent of a juicy midsummer melon.
This is the first of many flowers you will see tonight.
You will recognize none of them.

What will happen is
that your date will suck up the last of his or her Jolly Roger Bowl
and carve your initials in the booth.
You hear the occasional lonely moan of a train whistle
from the tracks that run a few blocks south of here.
It seems exactly right.
As if you are eating your lunch
at some railroad-station restaurant
a hundred miles in the countryside.

And it is hard to avoid feeling that everything
is pretty all right in the world."
carolinamiranda  jonathangold  food  eulogies  writing  poems  poetry  2018 
july 2018 by robertogreco
A new U.S.-Mexico border? At the Venice Biennale, imagining a binational region called MEXUS
"As part of their research into watersheds, Cruz and Forman have created an inventory of public lands in Los Laureles that can serve multiple purposes — as green space, environmental education center and natural buffers to mitigate flows of waste. And they are working to see how they can create a mechanism to invest in those spaces so that they might be preserved.

“Instead of the investing in the wall,” says Cruz, “can we invest to get the poor settlement to regulate the flow of waste? Can we get the poor residents to take care of the rich estuary?’

The subjects are tricky, but in these types of projects, Zeiger says she sees plenty of optimism.

“In architecture, if we don’t allow ourselves to visualize a condition that is different than the current condition, then we really cut off how we will impact the future,” she says.

For Forman, that consists of fomenting a new type of border culture.

“Citizenship,” she says, “is not an identity card. It’s about coexisting and building a city together.”"
teddycruz  fonnaforman  carolinamiranda  border  borders  us  california  mexico  sandiego  tijuana  texas  arizona  newmexico  2018  venicebiennale  architecture  citizenship  politicalequator  geography  geopolitics  mimizeiger  annlui  afrofuturism  architects  mexus  walls  nature  watersheds  land  maps  mapping  territory  ybca 
may 2018 by robertogreco
Is it inspired or irresponsible to call Donald Trump's border wall prototypes ‘art’?
"We reach the intersection of Cuahtémoc Norte and Juventud Oriente, where a small roundabout serves as memorial to those who have died crossing the border. A European curator who is working with Büchel on the prototypes project — but who declines to go on the record — points out the memorial to the group.

I ask her and Diers whether they had ever visited Tijuana before working on Büchel's prototypes project. Neither had.

Within 20 minutes, we are standing in a hilly colonia on the eastern fringes of Tijuana, just before the metal border wall.

On the Mexican side of the dividing line are the junkyards that contend with the overflows of waste generated by Tijuana's maquiladoras, which craft the cheap goods that will ultimately end up in the U.S. On the other — al otro lado — are the looming prototypes.

Just south of the fence sits one of the stone obelisks that marked the border during the late 19th century. Diers notes that the simple presence of the obelisk was once enough to mark the international dividing line: "It was a conceptual border more than a real border."

Since they were completed, the border wall prototypes have turned into architectural celebrities of sorts — debated on the news, filmed by drones and scrutinized by critics. The Times' architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, describes them as "banal and startling," a combination of "architectural exhibition and the new nativism rolled into one."

Beyond their political implications, it's easy to see why the structures have drawn so much attention: They are absurd — bloated security theater in a color palette befitting a suburban subdivision. (So many shades of putty.) It was only a matter of time before an enterprising artist horned in on the action.

All the attention has also had the effect of turning this humble settlement into a tourist attraction. A folding ladder is placed near the metal wall, and we each take turns climbing up to get unobstructed pictures of the prototypes.

Soon we are joined by Alexis Franco Santana, an ebullient 22-year-old tijuanense who lives in a small room across from the site. Santana, outfitted in white tank, red headphones and constantly pinging cellphone, says the structures have drawn visitors from all over the world.

He thinks the prototypes are laughable.

"It's like Donald Trump said, 'Go to Toys R Us and bring me all the toys, and I will choose the best one,'" he says. "They can make the wall from here to the sky and we can find a way to get around it. Los mexicanos tienen maña." Mexicans have knack.

His neighbor, Juan Manuel Hernandez Lozano, takes a dimmer view.

Hernandez was born in Mexico but was taken to Los Angeles without papers when he was about 5. He spent almost his entire life in Los Angeles and speaks English laced with the musical cadence of the Eastside. To prove his real-deal L.A.-ness, he shows me a Raiders tattoo.

Nine years ago, he was deported. His family lives in L.A., but he's stuck in Tijuana. In that time, he has missed the funerals of both parents and a brother.

"It's been hard," he says. "I got sick over here. I have cancer. I should have been dead a year ago."

I ask him what he thinks of the idea of turning the prototypes into a national monument.

"It's a racist thing," he replies. "Why would they do something like that? What are they getting out of it?"

When the Manzanar internment camp was designated a national historic site by Congress in the 1990s, it was not without controversy. The camp, in the Owens Valley, had once harbored upward of 11,000 Japanese Americans, who had been interned there during a period of intense anti-Japanese paranoia during World War II.

Japanese American activists — among them, former internees — had called for protection of this contentious site as a way to remember this dark episode in U.S. history. ("A national symbolic step that must go forward," activist Sue Kunitomi Embrey said at the time.)

But some groups fought the designation. In a letter to the National Park Service, which manages the site, one critic described the portrayal of Manzanar as an internment camp as "treason." Others preferred that the camp be depicted as the benevolent provider of wartime "housing" for Japanese Americans.

The efforts to sugarcoat history ultimately failed. Manzanar is today one of the most prominent sites in the U.S. to commemorate the internment of Japanese Americans.

The making of a monument is a messy business. It requires unflagging advocates, inevitable detractors and a majority vote in Congress.

It also requires time.

Manzanar was declared a national historic landmark in 1985, four decades after it was shut down. It became a national historic site seven years later. And it all came as a result of a groundswell of support for the idea that this was history worth commemorating.

In the case of the border, that history is still being written. The border prototypes could become monuments to racist folly or reawakened white supremacy. All of it leads me to wonder what the reaction would have been in 1943 if a European artist had visited Manzanar, and then described the place as a "land art exhibition" in a press release.

Toward the end of the tour, Dier gathers us in a circle and asks what we think of the idea of turning the prototypes into a monument. One person says they could serve as "a monument to hubris." Another says they could be preserved like an American Auschwitz. I suggest that in the spirit of the border, where U.S. goods and ideas are constantly being recycled by Mexico, perhaps we should allow the residents of Tijuana to dismantle the prototypes and use them to build something new.

Members of the group disperse to catch their final snapshots. I ask Santana, who has been hovering in the background, if he's OK with turning the prototypes into art.

Not in their current form, he says. "If it's going to be art, they should paint them. They could put a beach scene on one or a forest on the other. But they need to paint them, otherwise it's not art."

The group clambers into the van and we make our way back to the other side — the one where many of us, through accidents of fate, just happened to be born."
carolinamiranda  border  borders  sandiego  tijuana  california  us  mexico  art  2018  donaldtrump  policy  christophbüchel  renéperalta  gelarekhoshgozaran  whitesupremacy  race  racism  xenophobia  politics  history  berlin  berlinwall  manzanar 
february 2018 by robertogreco
Los Angeles, Houston and the appeal of the hard-to-read city
"This is not going to be a column about all the things the New York Times got wrong about the Los Angeles Times in its recent front-page story by Tim Arango and Adam Nagourney, "A Paper Tears Apart in a City That Never Quite Came Together." It is not, for the most part, going to be about all the things the New York Times got wrong (or simply failed to mention) about Los Angeles itself in that article, which argued that recent turmoil at this newspaper is emblematic of the city's broader lack of support for its major institutions. Plenty of smart people have already weighed in on both fronts.

And yes, every word in the previous sentence links to one of those smart people. Here are a couple more for good measure. When Josh Kun, Carolina Miranda, Daniel Hernandez, David Ulin, Alissa Walker, Matthew Kang and Carolyn Kellogg are united in knocking your analysis of Los Angeles, it might, you know, be a sign.

Anyway. This is going to be a column, instead, about something slightly different: about the legibility (and illegibility) of cities more generally. About how we react — as reporters and critics and simply as people — when we're confronted with a city that doesn't make sense to us right away.

Ten days or so before that story appeared, I spent a long weekend in Houston, meeting up with three old friends ostensibly to see the Warriors, the NBA team I grew up rooting for, play the Rockets — but also just to hang out and eat barbecue and visit the Menil, my favorite museum building in America (just edging out another Texas landmark, the Kimbell in Fort Worth).

Houston is casually written off even more often than Los Angeles, which is saying something. Now the fourth largest city in the country in population — and gaining on third-place Chicago — it's an unruly place in terms of its urbanism, a place that (as Los Angeles once did) has room, or makes room, for a wide spectrum of architectural production, from the innovative to the ugly. Like Los Angeles, it's a city that invested heavily in freeways and other car-centric infrastructure last century and remains, in many neighborhoods, a terrible place to walk.

It's long been a place people go to reinvent themselves, to get rich or to disappear. The flip side of its great tolerance is a certain lack of cohesion, a difficulty in articulating a set of common civic goals. (Here's where I concede that the instinct behind the New York Times piece on L.A., if little about its execution, was perfectly reasonable.) As is the case in Los Angeles, the greatest thing and the worst thing about Houston are one and the same: Nobody cares what anybody else is doing. Freedom in both places sometimes trumps community. It also tends to trump stale donor-class taste.

Roughly one in four residents of Houston's Harris County is foreign-born, a rate nearly as high as those in New York and Los Angeles. Houston's relationship with Dallas, the third biggest city in Texas, is something like L.A.'s with San Francisco; the southern city in each pair is less decorous, less fixed in its civic identity and (at the moment, at least) entirely more vital.

I've been to Houston five or six times; I like spending time there largely because I don't know it as well as I'd like to. That's another way of saying that while I'm there, I'm reminded of the way in which much of the world interacts with and judges Los Angeles, from a position of alienation and even ignorance. I just happen to enjoy that sensation more than most people do.

If I had to put my finger on what unites Houston and Los Angeles, it is a certain elusiveness as urban object. Both cities are opaque and hard to read. What is Houston? Where does it begin and end? Does it have a center? Does it need one? It's tough to say, even when you're there — even when you're looking directly at it.

The same has been said of Los Angeles since its earliest days. Something Carey McWilliams noted about L.A. in 1946 — that it is a place fundamentally ad hoc in spirit, "a gigantic improvisation" — is perhaps even more true of Houston. Before you can pin either city down, you notice that it's wriggled out of your grasp.

People who are accustomed to making quick sense of the world, to ordering it into neat and sharply defined categories, tend to be flummoxed by both places. And reporters at the New York Times are certainly used to making quick sense of the world. If there's one reason the paper keeps getting Los Angeles so spectacularly wrong, I think that's it. Smart, accomplished people don't like being made to feel out of their depth. Los Angeles makes out-of-town reporters feel out of their depth from their first day here.

Their reaction to that feeling, paradoxically enough, is very often to attempt to write that feeling away — to conquer that sense of dislocation by producing a story that sets out to explain Los Angeles in its entirety. Because it's a challenge, maybe, or because they simply can't be convinced, despite all the evidence right in front of them, that Los Angeles, as cities go, is an especially tough nut to crack.

Plenty of journalists have left Los Angeles over the years and moved to New York to work for the New York Times; none of them, as far as I know, has attempted, after two or three months on the job, to write a piece explaining What New York City Means. I can think of many New Yorkers — each of them highly credentialed academically or journalistically or both, which is perhaps the root of the problem — who have come to Los Angeles and tried to pull off that same trick here.

That tendency — to attempt the moon shot, the overarching analysis, too soon — is equal parts hubris and panic. It usually goes about as well as it went this time around for Arango, not incidentally a brand-new arrival in the New York Times bureau here, and Nagourney.

Among the most dedicated scholars of Houston's urban form in recent years has been Lars Lerup, former dean of the Rice University School of Architecture. In his new book of essays, "The Continuous City," he argues that the first step in understanding Houston and cities like it is to begin with a certain humility about the nature and scale of the task.

This kind of city has grown so large — in economic and environmental as well as physical reach — that it begins to stretch beyond our field of vision. The best way to grasp it, according to Lerup, is to understand that it is not Manhattan, Boston, San Francisco or Chicago — to recognize it instead as "a vast field with no distinct borders."

"The old city was a discrete object sitting on a Tuscan hill surrounded by a collectively constructed wall; the new city is everywhere," he writes. "Only when we accept that we can only attain a partial understanding can work begin."

Lerup stresses that huge, spread-out cities like Houston — which he also calls "distributed cities," places where "the spiky downtown is just a blip in the flatness" — have long been tough to read, in part because they are "always in the throes of change." But the relationship between urbanization and climate change has added a new layer of complexity, because big metro regions and their pollution are exacerbating the ecological crisis. The city now "owns everything" and must answer for everything, "even the raging hurricane bearing down on its coast." The vast city has grown vaster still.

If there's one place I part ways with Lerup, it has to do with his insistence that "few conceptual tools have evolved" to help us grapple with the distributed city and its meanings. At least in the case of Los Angeles, the literature on this score is richer, going back many decades, than even many locals realize.

There's not only McWilliams' superb, clear-eyed book "Southern California: An Island on the Land," which I would make required reading for every new hire if I were running the Los Angeles bureau of the New York Times. (Especially the part where McWilliams admits that he hated Los Angeles when he arrived and that it took him "seven long years of exile" to understand and appreciate the city. Seven years! And that was with a brain bigger and more nimble than most.) There's also architect Charles Moore's 1984 guidebook, "City Observed: Los Angeles," which he wrote with Peter Becker and Regula Campbell.

Right at the beginning, Moore, as if to anticipate Lerup, reminds his readers that L.A. is "altogether different from the compact old centers of Manhattan and Boston." (It is not a discrete object sitting on a Tuscan hill.) Making sense of it, as a result, requires "an altogether different plan of attack."

That simple bit of advice is the only one journalists newly arrived in Los Angeles really need to get started on the right foot. It's also one those journalists have been ignoring for 34 years and counting."
houston  losangeles  cities  illegibility  vitality  urban  urbanism  nyc  christopherhawthorne  2018  socal  california  larlerup  manhattan  boston  sanfrancisco  chicago  nytimes  careymcwilliams  joshkun  carolinamiranda  danielhernandez  davidulin  latimes  alissawalker  matthewkang  carolynkellogg  timarango  adamnagourney  elitism  legibility  population  place  identity  elusiveness  hubris  panic  urbanization  climatechange  complexity  charlesmoore 
february 2018 by robertogreco
How Michelle Garcia told the story of Juárez, a city lost to violence, through its dogs - Nieman Storyboard
"The Al Jazeera America piece, reported with Mexican reporter Ignacio Alvarado Alvarez, haunts with its indelible portrait of pets paying the price when a terrorized place goes feral"

[Referring to:
"Mexico's city of dogs: A portrait of ambitions and failures in Ciudad Juarez"
http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/9/4/city-of-dogs.html ]
michellegarcía  carolinamiranda  dogs  animals  multispecies  ignacioalvaradoálvarez  juárez  ciudadjuárez  pets  photography  journalism  juarez  mexico  2017  2013 
may 2017 by robertogreco
Third L.A. with Architecture Critic Christopher Hawthorne | KCET
"Architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne partners with Artbound for an episode that looks into the future of Los Angeles. "Third L.A. with Architecture Critic Christopher Hawthorne" examines the city's architecture, urban planning, transportation and changing demographics, giving us a glimpse of Los Angeles as a model of urban reinvention for the nation and the world."

[See also:

"Is Los Angeles a Horizontal City?"
https://www.kcet.org/shows/artbound/tall-buildings-los-angeles-vertical-construction

"Is Los Angeles a City of Houses?"
https://www.kcet.org/shows/artbound/los-angeles-architecture-history-multi-family-housing

"Is Los Angeles a City of Immigrants?"
https://www.kcet.org/shows/artbound/demographics-of-los-angeles-immigrantion

"Is Los Angeles a Private City?"
https://www.kcet.org/shows/artbound/privacy-segregation-in-los-angeles

"What is the Third Los Angeles?"
https://www.kcet.org/shows/artbound/christopher-hawthorne-critic-third-la-los-angeles ]
christopherhawthorne  carolinamiranda  losangeles  urbanplanning  2016  architecture  urban  urbanism  transportation  demographics  barbarabestor  michaelmaltzan  michaelwoo  history  future  density  cities  development  gentrification 
june 2016 by robertogreco

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