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robertogreco : latimes   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
Corporate political transparency ratings - Spreadsheets - Los Angeles Times
"Many of America’s most powerful companies do not report how much they spend to influence elections and legislation. These companies contribute millions of dollars to powerful trade associations and to other politically active groups that are not required to report the sources of their funding.<br />
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Those groups, in turn, spend the money on lobbying and other political activity. The Los Angeles Times reviewed how the 75 largest publicly traded companies in the energy, healthcare and financial services sectors disclose their political giving on their corporate websites."<br />
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[Related article: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-money-politics-survey-20110424,0,1545345,full.story ]
latimes  politics  corporations  corporatism  disclosure  policy  2011  ratings  energy  healthcare  finance  elections  corruption  transparency  government 
april 2011 by robertogreco
Alfie Kohn: What Passes for School Reform: "Value-Added" Teacher Evaluation and Other Absurdities
"Of course people disagree about good education, just as they may not see eye to eye about which movies or restaurants are good. We may never change each other's minds, but we ought to have the chance to try, to discuss our criteria and reflect on how we arrived at them. As Deborah Meier likes to point out, disagreement is both valuable and inevitable in a democratic society. Undemocratic societies attempt to conceal the disagreement, imposing a single, simple standard from above -- and, worse, use that standard to make decisions that can ruin people's lives: which teachers will be humiliated or even fired, which kids will be denied a diploma or forced to repeat a grade, which schools will be shut down. A productive discussion about who's a good teacher (and why) is less likely to take place when the people with the power get to enforce what becomes the definition of quality by default: high scores on bad tests."
alfiekohn  nclb  rttt  education  standards  standardizedtesting  standardization  teachning  learning  policy  tcsnmy  unschooling  deschooling  lcproject  arneduncan  joelklein  billgates  2010  latimes  valueadded  meritpay  schools  uniformity  reform  charterschools 
september 2010 by robertogreco
The Channel Islands: Southern California's offshore Eden - Travel - LATimes.com
"Unparalleled kayaking, diving and that rarest of finds -- solitude -- await on 'America's Galápagos.' And just getting to the watery national park is an adventure, breaching whales and all."
channelislands  latimes  losangeles  santabarbara  travel 
july 2010 by robertogreco
Alabama's Homeboys - Los Angeles Times
"For three years, L.A.'s Homeboy Industries...has sent a few of its members on an extraordinary pilgrimage to work with impoverished kids in Alabama Village, Prichard, Ala. Tucked away in the southwest corner of the state, the small community is rural, largely segregated, oppressed by violence and ignored by the surrounding community. Its young people have come to know their enclave as "Death Valley." The povery of the children of Alabama Village is shocking --- even to the Homeboys, who come from the tough inner-city streets of Los Angeles. But there is also much the Homeboys recognize: drug dealers, shootings, dead-end choices and the desperate situation of youth facing no way out. It is in these children 2,000 miles away that the visitors from L.A. find their calling."
homeboyindustries  activism  alabama  urban  latimes  abandonment  atlanta  gangs  journalism  documentary  multimedia  photography  video  poverty 
december 2009 by robertogreco
California's deficit of common sense -- latimes.com
"This is the usual problem of the United States, which is not just the richest and most powerful nation on Earth now, but on Earth ever, and one of the most blessed in terms of natural resources. We just collectively make loopy decisions about how to distribute the money and water, and we could make other decisions. Whether or not those priorities will change, we could at least have a reality-based conversation about them...Turn­ing Cal­i­for­nia into a Third World nation where the envi­ron­ment is neglected, a lot of peo­ple are gen­uinely des­per­ate and a lot of the young have a hard time get­ting an edu­ca­tion or just can’t get one doesn’t ben­e­fit anyone. We're not poor in money or water. We've just chosen to allocate them in ways that benefit tiny minorities at the expense of the rest of us. We should at least have a conversation about how we distribute our abundant resources. Derek is right: California is a place of abundance, except when it comes to political sense."
us  california  money  water  resources  budget  policy  politics  economics  thirdworld  economy  agriculture  latimes  culture  society  2009  priorities  education  colleges  universities  farming 
november 2009 by robertogreco
Neighborhoods - Mapping L.A. - Data Desk - Los Angeles Times
"Welcome to the Los Angeles Times' map of L.A.'s neighborhoods. So far, Times staffers have laid out 87 communities within the city limits. Many of these include well-known smaller neighborhoods--such as Larchmont or Little Tokyo--which are listed under larger communities, at least for now.

Let us know what you think. As you explore the neighborhoods, you can leave comments and even draw the boundaries as you see them. For several weeks, we plan to listen as we finalize what will become The Times' standard for L.A. neighborhoods and the basis for more interactive projects to come."
losangeles  mapping  maps  crowdsourcing  california  geography  cartography  neighborhoods  interactive  tcsnmy  offcampustrips  demographics  cities  urban  census2000  data  ethnicity  income  population  housing  families  education  age  military  ancestry  immigration  community  latimes 
february 2009 by robertogreco

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