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Revisiting Mike Davis' case for letting Malibu burn - Los Angeles Times
"During fire season, I always think about Mike Davis, author of one of the most — pardon the pun — incendiary essays in the annals of SoCal letters: “The Case for Letting Malibu Burn.” I return to this chapter from his book “Ecology of Fear” any time that the Santa Ana winds howl and thousands flee raging infernos — a ritual that used to happen every couple of years but now seems to happen every couple of months.

“The Case for Letting Malibu Burn” is a powerhouse of history, science, Marxist analysis — and a certain amount of trolling. Its main point is that Southern Californians will never accept that fire is not only common here, but part of our ecology going back centuries. To spend millions saving homes in areas never meant for neighborhoods and power lines is not just folly, but a waste of public resources.

This time around, as California burned from the north to the south, I checked in via email with Davis, now professor emeritus at UC Riverside. He’s best known for his literary double whammy against Los Angeles exceptionalism: 1990’s “City of Quartz” and 1998’s “Ecology of Fear.” Those books made the Los Angeles of “Chinatown” seem as sinister as Mayberry. Davis’ tales of racism, poverty, corruption and other sins — backed by copious footnotes — inspired a generation of radical historians and writers, including yours truly. He also riled an army of detractors who so hated his apocalyptic warnings that they ridiculed everything from his scholarship to his marriages to the fact that he was born in Fontana.

But as the years go on, Davis’ bleak words read more like revelations than rants. Just as he argued, we build deeper into canyons and foothills, daring Mother Nature to give us her best shot — and then are shocked when she does.

The Woolsey fire has already scorched more than 96,000 acres in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, destroying 435 structures in Malibu and other cities. It’s yet another “fire of the century” for the beach city.

“Maybe 10 or 20 years ago, you stayed in your homes when there was a fire and you were able to protect them,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said during a news conference this weekend. “We’re entering a new normal. Things are not the way they were 10 years ago.”

In other words, we now live in Mike Davis’ world. He has ascended to the pantheon of Golden State visionary authors like Helen Hunt Jackson, Upton Sinclair and Carey McWilliams who held up a mirror to us that we have ignored at our own peril.

“The Case for Letting Malibu Burn” depicted Malibu and other wealthy cities built in the boonies as created not for “love of the great outdoors or frontier rusticity,” but rather as “thickets of privacy” against L.A.’s working classes and people of color.

We enable this white flight into the mountains, he argued, by not just allowing development where there shouldn’t be any, but also subsidizing those affected by the inevitable wildfire in the form of cheap fire insurance and squadrons of first responders deployed around the clock at the hint of an ember.

He went through a litany of Malibu blazes over the last century, concluding with the Old Topanga blaze of 1993 — which consumed about 18,000 acres but destroyed 323 structures. Throw in climate change, Davis noted in a version of his essay that appeared in the L.A. Weekly, and the catastrophe “marked a qualitative escalation in fire danger, if not the actual emergence of a new, post-suburban fire regime.”

And, almost exactly 25 years later, here we are again.

Davis’ work on Malibu’s flames has aged far better than the criticism of it. Chapman University urban studies fellow Joel Kotkin, for instance, said of “Ecology of Fear” back in the 1990s that it “basically mugs Los Angeles” and is “truly nauseating stuff.” Yet by 2007, Kotkin told the Economist, in an article about the fires that fall that wreaked havoc from San Diego to Santa Barbara, that “nature still has a lot of power” in the once-unspoiled areas where we build homes — which is what Davis contended all along.

Then there’s former Malibu real estate agent Brady Westwater, who refashioned himself as a downtown L.A. booster. You couldn’t write about “Ecology of Fear” for years without mentioning Westwater, who hounded reporters with screeds and stats about Davis’ real and alleged errors until the press finally began to cite him as a legitimate critic.

In his own 1998 essay (whose titled described Davis as a “purposefully misleading liar”), Westwater predicted that “fire damage will decrease over the years” in Malibu because of better infrastructure and better-built homes. Of the Old Topanga disaster, he plainly declared: “That kind of fire can never happen again.”

And yet here we are again.

Davis remains persona non grata in Malibu, from Neptune’s Net to Pepperdine University. Malibuites took “The Case…” as a direct attack on their beliefs and ways of life.

Davis takes no satisfaction in seeing his analysis come true all over again. But the author, who’s recovering from cancer, stands by what he wrote.

“I’m infamous for suggesting that the broader public should not have to pay a cent to protect or rebuild mansions on sites that will inevitably burn every 20 or 25 years,” he told me. “My opinion hasn’t changed.”"
mikedavis  2018  malibu  losangeles  california  fires  whiteflight  suburbs  nature  wildfires  socal  class  race  racism  development  1990s  1993  1998  bradywestwater  helenhuntjackson  uptonsinclair  careymcwilliams  joelkotkin  inequality 
november 2018 by robertogreco
Descartes didn’t say that « Snarkmarket
"I like that description, too! Kotkin liked it so much, he put it in his book. I like it so much, I wanted to find out where it came from.

And it turns out Descartes didn’t say that. And the phrase doesn’t mean what Kotkin thinks it does. But there’s a reason both the philosopher and the new meaning got mixed into it.

Get the genealogical-detective lowdown in a Storify by my Twitter-co-archeologist Wilko von Hardenberg after the jump. (I really like his idea that this would make for a great game/exercise in the classroom.)

Also, if you missed it, see why Martin Luther King and Mark Twain didn’t say what you might think they did either. Similar psychology at work here, too. And it shows that it isn’t just the cut-and-pasters on the interwebs who make these mistakes."

[See also: http://storify.com/wilkohardenberg/the-inventory-of-the-possible-attribution AND http://wilkohardenberg.posterous.com/of-scavenger-hunts-great-cities-and-descartes ]
psychology  cities  twitter  quotes  descartes  joelkotkin  timcarmody  snarkmarket  attribution 
may 2011 by robertogreco
FT.com / House & Home - Liveable v lovable
"“These surveys always come up with a list where no one would want to live. One wants to live in places which are large and complex, where you don’t know everyone and you don’t always know what’s going to happen next. Cities are places of opportunity but also of conflict, but where you can find safety in a crowd."

"What makes a city great: *Blend of beauty and ugliness – beauty to lift the soul, ugliness to ensure there are parts of the fabric of the city that can accommodate change…*Diversity…*Tolerance…*Density…*Social mix – the close proximity of social and economic classes keeps a city lively…*Civility…"
cities  rankings  vancouver  nyc  losangeles  london  joelkotkin  rickyburdett  joelgarreau  tylerbrule  edwinheathcote  2011  livability  diversity  density  tolerance  society  vitality  social  economics  civility  beauty  ugliness  janejacobs  crosspollination  opportunity  dynamism  conflict  classideas 
may 2011 by robertogreco
There’s No Place Like Home | Print Article | Newsweek.com
"Perhaps nothing will be as surprising about 21st-century America as its settledness. For more than a generation Americans have believed that "spatial mobility" would increase, and, as it did, feed an inexorable trend toward rootlessness and anomie. This vision of social disintegration was perhaps best epitomized in Vance Packard's 1972 bestseller A Nation of Strangers, with its vision of America becoming "a society coming apart at the seams." In 2000, Harvard's Robert Putnam made a similar point, albeit less hyperbolically, in Bowling Alone, in which he wrote about the "civic malaise" he saw gripping the country. In Putnam's view, society was being undermined, largely due to suburbanization and what he called "the growth of mobility."
babyboomers  economics  suburbia  future  culture  urban  travel  government  demographics  municipalities  sociology  us  nomads  neo-nomads  joelkotkin  settledness  spatialmobility  mobility  migration  rootlessness  civics  civicmalaise  society  boomers 
october 2009 by robertogreco
Bohemian Sprawl Hits the Limits in Los Angeles - NYTimes.com
"The deep recession, with its lost jobs and falling home values nationwide, poses another kind of threat: to the character of neighborhoods settled by the young creative class, from the Lower East Side in Manhattan to Beacon Hill in Seattle. The tide of gentrification that transformed economically depressed enclaves is receding, leaving some communities high and dry.

For long-time residents, the return to pre-boom rents may be a blessing. But it also poses a rattling question of identity: What happens to bourgeois bohemia when the bourgeois part drops out?"
eaglerock  losangeles  gentrification  crisis  us  recession  neighborhoods  janejacobs  joelkotkin  bohemia 
february 2009 by robertogreco
Suburbia's not dead yet - Los Angeles Times
"Not so fast. The "out of the suburbs, back to the city" narrative rests more on anecdote than demographic or economic fact."
suburbia  urban  cities  demographics  trends  economics  energy  joelkotkin 
july 2008 by robertogreco
Lone Star Rising — The American, A Magazine of Ideas
"How a combination of ambition, entrepreneurship, trade, and tolerance made Houston America’s booming opportunity city."

[See also:http://www.american.com/archive/2008/march-april-magazine-contents/lone-star-rising ]
joelkotkin  us  economics  cities  houston  texas  growth  migration  urban  planning 
march 2008 by robertogreco

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