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robertogreco : christopherhawthorne   10

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
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
Koreatown's cool old buildings point to L.A.'s future - LA Times
"If K-town increasingly resembles an empire on the march, gobbling up new territory by the week, it is not an empire made of bricks and mortar. It is a net draped over the existing cityscape, a net of signage and light, easily stretched and infinitely expandable. It fills, cloaks or remakes spaces in the city others had abandoned or forgotten about.

In a city that has often demolished even its best-known landmarks, that makes it both an anomaly and a suggestion of the L.A. to come. Threaded through a neighborhood that in demographic terms is mostly Latino, well served by subway and bus lines, K-town is a thriving, charismatic advertisement for a more intensely urban Los Angeles.

It is also a reflection of a city whose immigrants are more settled than ever before, increasingly gaining the clout to shape public and private architecture.

We think of Southern California as region of immigrants, and for good reason: 36% of the Los Angeles County population was born outside the U.S., a figure three times the national average.

But immigration to L.A. County peaked in 1990. The foreign-born population is older, better connected socially and more financially stable than it's ever been. A recent study found that just 5% of children here are immigrants but that a remarkable 60% have at least one immigrant parent.

As debates over legal and illegal immigration continue to roil Washington, the rest of the country looks to Los Angeles to catch a glimpse of its cultural future, to see how a metropolitan region, over many decades, has dealt with profound demographic change.

And when L.A. wants to see its own future along those lines? It looks to Koreatown.

The first Korean immigrants to Southern California, a small group that included a number of Presbyterian evangelists, arrived in the late 19th century, settling first on Bunker Hill and later near USC. In the 1960s, thanks to relaxed federal immigration rules, Koreans began arriving in much larger numbers.

Many found housing or opened businesses in the once-glamorous mid-Wilshire area. Rents were cheap, and there was a stock of impressive architecture, including Art Deco buildings wrapped in terra cotta and postwar towers of glass and steel.

"The buildings were not in great shape," said Katherine Yungmee Kim, author of a recent book on Koreatown. "And some of them are still not in great shape. But they're intensely beautiful.""
losangeles  california  koreatown  history  urban  urbanism  2014  urbanplanning  cities  immigration  socal  christopherhawthorne 
december 2014 by robertogreco
How Arcadia is remaking itself as a magnet for Chinese money - LA Times
"Most Los Angeles architects are lucky if they complete two or three houses by their early 30s.

Thirty-one-year-old Philip Chan, who runs a firm in Arcadia called PDS Studio, has already seen more than 75 of his residential designs built across the San Gabriel Valley.

He's still not the best-known designer in Arcadia. That title belongs to Robert Tong, 54, founder of the equally prolific firm Sanyao International.

A growing architectural rivalry between the two men is a key part of a construction wave that is radically remaking Arcadia. Blocks that were once sleepy, with single-story ranch houses from the 1940s set comfortably back from the street, are now lined with bloated villas pushed near the front of their lots as if clamoring for attention.

Chan and Tong, whose names are featured in San Gabriel Valley real estate listings as prominently as Frank Gehry's is on the Westside, tailor their showy Mediterranean-style houses to appeal to wealthy Chinese buyers, many looking to park some of their money here or to enroll their children in American schools.

In the last year alone, more than 90 houses have sold for more than $2.5 million in Arcadia, a city of 56,000 that sits just east of Pasadena at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Prices in Arcadia are up more than 39% from their peak in 2007 before the housing downturn. The city, now 60% Asian, has become more expensive than Calabasas, the suburban enclave that is home to Justin Bieber and the Kardashians. It's become known as the "Chinese Beverly Hills."

What's happening in Arcadia is less about big new houses and startling sales figures than how new patterns of immigration are transforming the architecture of Southern California. New arrivals from China are not victims of change, as they were when Southern California's original Chinatown was razed in the 1930s to make way for Union Station.

This time around they're the ones with the economic power. The architectural landscape is being remade not to displace them but as a magnet for their money.

When you drive around Arcadia, the vast amount of residential construction suggests an architectural free-for-all. Dust produced by work crews rises behind chain-link fences wrapped in green fabric — the telltale sign that a big new house is going up. The fabric is often covered with banners advertising home-theater specialists or signs reading, "We buy land and older houses.""
arcadia  losangeles  2014  cities  china  california  christopherhawthorne  socal 
december 2014 by robertogreco
'Latino Urbanism' influences a Los Angeles in flux - LA Times
"Work crews in recent weeks have made major design changes to Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, widening the sidewalks and adding planters, chairs and round cafe tables with bright-red umbrellas where rows of parked cars used to be. The upgrades aim to make the street as welcoming to pedestrians as drivers.

They're also superfluous: the urban-planning equivalent of carrying coals to Newcastle. Broadway has for several decades been among the most popular and vital walking streets in Southern California, one typically crowded with Latino shoppers, including many recent immigrants from Mexico.

What's more, Broadway's makeover — which arrives just as some of its discount stores are being replaced in a wave of gentrification by upscale boutiques — happens to take many of its design cues from street life in Latin American cities.

The redesign suggests just how many politicians and policymakers in Southern California are finding inspiration in Latino Urbanism, a term that describes the range of ad hoc ways in which immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America have remade pockets of American cities to feel at least a little like the places they left behind.

Planners are adding parks and bike lanes to major streets but also pushing to loosen outdated restrictions, so that murals can be painted in the arts district and street vendors selling tortas or sliced fruit can operate legally. Temporary events like the popular CicLAvia open-streets festival, patterned after a program in Bogota, Colombia, are spurring permanent urban-design changes that challenge the dominance of cars.

"We're seeing what had been a series of informal activities become more formalized," said James Rojas, a city planning consultant and East L.A. native who coined the term "Latino Urbanism."

Rojas sees the influence across the region, from Santa Monica along the coast to Pasadena in the foothills, and especially in Los Angeles itself. "There's a whole official design lexicon that is borrowed from lessons about how Latinos design their homes and interact with their neighborhoods," he said.

The result is that Los Angeles, long a Latino city culturally and demographically, is beginning to resemble a Latino city in terms of how its streets and public spaces are designed. Latino Urbanism, largely the study of how immigrants use Los Angeles, is increasingly reflected in how Los Angeles looks.

What the shift means for immigrants themselves — particularly in quickly gentrifying neighborhoods like downtown or Boyle Heights — is a separate and deeply fraught question.

For decades in Los Angeles, Latinos have carved out space for entrepreneurial and community-minded activities in a city organized around the freeway and the private house. Largely renters without the connections or capital to remake the architecture of the city, immigrants have found ways to modify an established, largely suburban metropolis around the edges to make it more hospitable and sociable.

In the process they've blurred the line between public and private space that earlier generations of L.A. residents tried to draw as indelibly as possible.

In a neighborhood remade by Latino immigrants, signs are mostly hand-painted, whether they announce an accountant's office or a nail salon. The walls of grocery stores are covered with pictogram-like drawings of milk jugs and boxes of detergent.

Fences are less barriers than thresholds (or impromptu storefronts). Parks are crowded on the weekends, but so are front yards, as birthday parties and other celebrations spill toward the street."



"In some fundamental ways, though, the political establishment's growing embrace of Latino Urbanism is consistent with the cultural history of Southern California. Despite the dominance of car culture over the last half-century, it is remarkable how many of our most successful corridors celebrate walking and some version of sidewalk commerce, authentic or expensively faked, whether it's Olvera Street, the Grove, Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A., or Santa Monica's 3rd Street Promenade.

After decades of building walkable private enclaves — hugely popular escapes from the rule of the automobile — we are finally turning to the design of the streets and sidewalks themselves.

In Los Angeles, a city with deeper Latin roots than Anglo ones, a street remade to mimic Latino Urbanism is a slice of the city both reinventing itself and looking back to some important first principles."
losangeles  2014  urbanism  urban  latinamerica  cities  urbanplanning  california  christopherhawthorne  socal 
december 2014 by robertogreco
Spike Jonze's 'Her' a refreshingly original take on a future L.A. - latimes.com
"Critic's Notebook: Spike Jonze boldly bucks the retro trend in creating a vivid future L.A. in 'Her,' a thoughtful meditation on tech and culture."



""Her" bucks the retro moment by jumping enthusiastically, and blindly, into a future that is neither utopian nor dystopian but — like our own era, and like every era —somewhere in the slippery in-between. The film is set in the Los Angeles of two or three decades from now; the year is never specified.

The city has dense clusters of tall towers and a mass-transit system to rival London's. Cars seem to have been banished. The thoughtful but hopelessly needy hero, Theodore Twombly, lives in a large and serene apartment in a downtown high-rise and either walks or takes the train everywhere."



"Alternating between scenes shot in Los Angeles and Shanghai gives this limbo cinematic form. The city is stuck between two realms just like Theodore, with his feet on the ground in Los Angeles and his mind and heart in a digital reverie.

Those gestures by Jonze and Barrett turn "Her" into an extended and surprisingly kindhearted meditation on how we grapple with major change — personal, cultural, technological and architectural.

The reason the culture has become creatively stuck, endlessly reusing our own recent past, is not only that it has become so easy for artists and consumers to call up old material. It is also because we are in the midst of a dramatic and profound digital upheaval that is remaking our personal and professional lives.

We have had a tough time moving forward in part because we haven't had a chance to make any coherent sense of what this digital revolution means culturally.

The question seems so huge and unwieldy, so existential, that it has been easier to turn our backs and find either comfort and inspiration in the newly accessible past.

This retro turn hardly kills creativity; it has produced some energetic and important work, a lot of which seems to fully inhabit and animate past styles rather than simply ape them. This is particularly true of records and novels by artists in their 20s and early 30s, digital natives who effortlessly give fresh energy to discarded or antique genres.

Think of "Days Are Gone," the addictive 2013 debut from three twentysomething sisters from the San Fernando Valley in the band Haim, which shamelessly borrows tricks from '80s pop and still manages to sound fresh. Or "The Luminaries," the Booker Prize-winning novel by Eleanor Catton, a 28-year-old New Zealand writer who mines Victorian fiction for inspiration.

In architecture, too, the ease of looking backward has made looking forward tougher or simply more rare. Younger architects are relying on historic pastiche to a degree not seen since the heyday of postmodernism in the 1980s. Consider the work of the recently disbanded London firm FAT (Fashion Architecture Taste), which in recent years rescued tongue-in-cheek historicism from the margins of architectural practice.

Or the newly opened Ace Hotel on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles; occupying the ornate 1927 United Artists tower by the firm Walker & Eisen, the hotel has interiors remade by the Los Angeles design firm Commune as a loving tribute to 1920s architecture, with nods to Rudolph Schindler, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Viennese modernist Adolf Loos.

Like "The Way Way Back," which is essentially set in the 1980s and the present day at the same time, the hotel's design scheme is comfortable mixing historical eras: Layered atop the throwback architectural details are artworks by contemporary L.A. artists, including pencil drawings on the walls by the Haas Brothers.

At a certain point, though, we are going to have to confront the growing gap between the relentless pace of innovation in the high-tech world and the ever-faster cycle of rehash and rediscovery that dominates the cultural one.

"Her" is one of the first high-profile efforts to do so. Jonze sidesteps the retro riptide that has trapped so many of his peers. And he eagerly takes on the question of what it might mean to live in an era when nearly everything is capable of being delivered (and theoretically improved) in digital form — not just newspapers, music, novels and architectural blueprints but love affairs too."
her  losangeles  future  spikejonze  2014  elizabethdiller  dystopia  utopia  cities  christopherhawthorne  retro  culture  history  architecture  design  film  lizdiller 
january 2014 by robertogreco
Ganga Style: Los Angeles and Culture as War | tjm.org
"Don Cheto’s creative team shows admirable appreciation for L.A.’s urban landscape, in setting the various scenes of the video, and in particularly it’s heartening to see the monumental new LAPD headquarters so well-integrated into the cultural conversation, if not quite in the manner the builders may have intended. This $500M project strove mightily to incorporate community-building gestures, such as a public auditorium, restaurant, and park, and truly, efforts were good all around.

However, this is the fractured “City of Quartz”, as brilliantly described in cultural critic Mike Davis’s 1990 cultural history of the same name – which the Boston Review summarized as showing L.A. to be a “Postmodern Piranesi…and prisoner factory.” …"

"Don Cheto’s dystopian “Ganga Style” shows LA at its best: expertly crystallizing cultural influences into a stylish travesty, continually reclaiming itself as a vibrant stage and focal point for global cultural war, this time joining with the new…"
landscape  christopherhawthorne  chrishedges  morphosis  thommayne  caltransbuilding  lapd  lapdheadquarters  police  timmccormick  cultureaswar  gangnamstyle  cityofquartz  2012  mikedavis  losangeles  doncheto 
november 2012 by robertogreco
The Struggle to Define L.A.'s Transitional Moment - Design - The Atlantic Cities
"“If we can agree that the city has been linked with suburban development and private mobility, and those two things are both either being called into question or breaking down to some degree, what happens next? How do we establish some kind of identity for a post-suburban future?” Hawthorne says. “And that doesn’t mean the freeways are going away or cars are going away or single family houses for that matter, it just means that those things won’t define the character of the city in the way that they have.”

Just what that character will be is as much shaped by the transition underway as by our understanding of the city. For Hawthorne, this year-long literary trip has bolstered his perception of the city as a product of its past. But, he says, even the most overarching  studies of the city can’t and don’t describe what is emerging in the L.A. of today."
urbanism  change  density  transportation  cities  urban  books  christopherhawthorne  2012  transition  socal  transmobility  personalmobility  future  history  nateberg  losangeles 
january 2012 by robertogreco
a m l - want to look ahead? look around instead.
"when new high-tech & high-priced gizmos like kindle & its much hipper cousin ipad came out, the blogosphere was very excited. nevermind that hacker websites from russia to south america have been scanning & posting pdfs for consumption of rest of the world that does not have a library around the corner nor easy access to jstor et al. the ipad is not the revolution, digital text is. it is less important how you read it, than the possibility of being able to read it at all! ingenuity finds uses for technology other than those originally intended, & this often happens because of need. think of cell phones used as micro loan mechanisms in india. think of the development of the bus rapid transit system in curitiba, transforming the bus into a dedicated line system resulting in an affordable mass transportation system that has been replicated in several cities in south america. christopher hawtorne thinks we should look at medellin… he is, of course, a bit late, but hey, we’ll take it."
thestreetwillfindause  medellin  colombia  india  streetuse  technology  ipad  kindle  libraries  text  digitaltext  anamaríaleón  cities  suburbia  travel  jetset  sustainability  green  latinamerica  southamerica  jaimelerner  pdf  learning  information  hacks  hacking  microloans  rapidtransit  christopherhawthorne  architecture  urban  urbanism  planning  future  decline  invention  thefutureishere  medellín 
may 2010 by robertogreco

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