Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Adam Sandler - Original Hanukkah Song Video

Aspirational Los Angeles,0,2017209.story#axzz2lhS8yGnp

Mayor Eric Garcetti kayaking on the L.A. River
Catherine Opie
Hello Everyone:

Those of you on the East Coast of the United States, I hope you all are managing to stay warm and dry in the face of those storms.  Hopefully, you all will be able to make it in time to spend Thanksgiving and Chanukah with your families.  For the rest of the world, I hope day is/has been going well for you.  Today, I'd like to look at the image of a city.  Specifically, what is a tourist's first perception of a city when they get off the airplane. In Los Angeles, newly arrived visitors are greeted by posters featuring a prominent politician welcoming tourists to the city.  In a recent article for the Los Angeles Times, "LAX getting new Eric Garcetti posters shot by Catherine Opie," David Ng discusses a new series of posters photographed by Catherine Opie featuring recently elected Mayor Eric Garcetti in well-known locales, such as the Los Angeles River.  Mr. Ng seems to overlook the obvious issue, what kind of first impression does Los Angeles want to make on tourists?

Beach culture
The new posters created by Ms. Opie will feature Mayor Garcetti doing things like kayaking along the L.A. River, posing in front of cultural landmarks such as Watts Tower and Chris Burden's "Urban Lights," and the Hollywood Farmers Market.  The latter is no big shock because prior to being elected to mayor, Mayor Garcetti was a member of City Council representing Hollywood.  One cannot help notice that Los Angeles' new mayor seems to be the very embodiment of stereotypical Los Angeleno, young, successful, good looking.  Those qualities were certainly an asset during his campaign.  However, I would like to draw your attention to the image on the left.  It is a poster created by United Airlines of a tanned, bikini-clad young woman standing against a backdrop of sunshine and palm trees.  Here, UAL is trying to sell the image of Los Angeles as a place of sun tanned babes in a land of sunshine and swaying palms.  What does this image say to us? UAL is selling tourists on the idea of what Los Angeles is like, a place of "healthy", beautiful women who are waiting for you.  I put healthy in quotes because by current standards, she appears to be a walking advertisement for skin cancer and anorexia.  In making Mayor Garcetti the focal point of the new series of posters, Ms. Opie appears to be conveying the same message as the United Airlines poster, Los Angeles as a place where young, good looking men and women engaged in outdoor sports.  You can aspire to be one of them.

Coastal Southern California
On the heels of the bikini babe image is this poster of the Southern California coast.  Like the previous poster, this image is rendered in bright colors, a city bathed in sunlight.  This section of the coast is presented as a chaotic place where urban life and water sports all collide at the edge of the continent.  The idea is you can live in the urban core, yet not be so far away from the ocean that you can go sailing or water skiing anytime.  The urban part is represented by the city of Santa Monica.  Santa Monica was originally conceived as a sea-side resort.  It eventually became a city of contradictions, affluence meets socialism.  Yet this dichotomy seems to work, occasionally crashing into each other on various socio-political-economic issues.  Yet, at the water''s edge everyone can enjoy the sun and surf, suggesting a place of happy coexistence.  In creating this poster, the graphic artist sought to convey the image of Los Angeles' playground by the sea.  Overlooking the chaos in the foreground are buildings designed in the Mediterranean mode, a reference to the image the city wishes to project.  If you move further back, you see structures built in the mid-century modernist manner.  Look carefully, and you see that the modernist buildings seem to dwarf the Mediterranean buildings, implying the old losing ground to the new.  Santa Monica, by extension the Southern California Coast, is the place of the future.

City Hall
Here's another iconic image of Los Angeles, City Hall.  Look very closely at the background of the poster, you'll see Los Angeles' Spanish Colonial/Mexican heritage in sepia tones.  City Hall rises in the foreground, in bold colors.  The building is strong and proud.  The new city emerging out of the mists of the old.  The caption reads "The wonder city."  The poster was created in 1931, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the city's founding.  Yes, Los Angeles is over two hundred years, a babe in the urban jungle.  Los Angeles in the thirties was a growing and dynamic city.  The Great Depression had barely made a sizable impression in the City of Angels.  Los Angeles sought to fashion itself as a Mediterranean metropolis.  The Pacific Electric Railway was expanding the city outward.  The film industry was creating escapist images of the city as this glittering place where dreams could come true.  The Oil and utilities industries formed the infrastructure of a city that was propelling itself forward in the face of crushing economic times.  City Hall echoes the modernist architecture popular during this time with its flat plain and right angles as if to say, "this is a modern city built on the ashes of the old."  Los Angeles as the city of the future.

Los Angeles as the "film capital"
Finally, we have this poster of Los Angeles as the "film capital" of the world.  The image the graphic artist has chosen is Charlie Chaplin in soft blue tones behind a muted green old style movie camera.  Charlie Chaplin is one of the film industry's most iconic people.  You mention his name and most people associate it with movies such as The Little Tramp, City Lights, The Gold Rush, and The Great Dictator.  I would posit that the choice of Charlie Chaplin was no accident.  Charlie Chaplin rose from a hard scrabble life to become one of the film industry's best-loved and well-known actors.  Though he engendered controversy in his lifetime, his films remain touchstones of comedy. Hollywood has always been looked at as an aspirational place.  A place where fantasies could be played on the screen.  Charlie Chaplin aspired to be a great actor, director, and producer. He got to do that and more.  Very few actors, writers, producers, directors, et cetera successfully scale the heights of stardom, languishing in obscurity.  For those like Charlie Chaplin, his contemporaries, and those that came after him, stardom found them.  Thus in using the image of the "Little Tramp," the artist is conveying the idea of Los Angeles as a place of aspirations.

The series of posters being created by Catherine Opie and the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board through Mayor Garcetti's office are intended to convey the best that Los Angeles has to offer. Yet, the image of a young good looking mayor being photographed around town conveys an image of what Los Angeles and its residents could be like.  The reality is far from it.  Happy Thanksgiving Day and Chanukah to all of you.  Enjoy your holiday.

Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Love Your Modern,05716384,full.story#axzz211urxt2y

Hello Everyone:

Before I get going on Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne's appreciation of the Houston Astrodome, I'd like to call your attention to two causes worthy of your attention: Road Recovery and Hungerthon.  Road Recovery( is an organization dedicated to helping teens dealing with alcohol-addiction issues.  Hungerthon ( is a national radio campaign, in its twenty-eighth year, which challenges the notion that anyone should go hungry and how we nourish our country.  As we get ready to celebrate the holiday season, please stop for a minute and think of those who are battling addictions and/or going hungry every day.  For more information or if you'd like to donate, please go to the links provided.  Now on to an appreciation of the Astrodome.

Houston Astrodome
Houston, Texas

Let me begin by recapping my post from November 6, 2013 titled "Dome Sweet Dome." On November 5, 2013, the voters in Houston, Texas rejected Proposition 2, a plan to save the Astrodome from a date with the wrecking ball. Unless an alternate plan can be devised, the storied stadium faces a grim future.  While it would be easy to say that the Astrodome is "just a stadium, not a great work of architecture," or the real problem is that it's just modern architecture.  The latter point is emphasized by the recent demolition of the Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, a notable clover-
Prentice Women's Hospital
Bertrand Goldberg
shaped concrete tower designed by Bertrand Goldberg, that Northwestern University has begun razing to make room for a $370-million biomedical research center.  This point is further emphasized by the threats to important buildings on the East Coast designed by Paul Rudolph.  It's not that modern architecture, particularly mid-century modern architecture, has an image problem.  Some of the great works of architecture were built between the twenties and fifties and earned the admiration of critics and fans the world over, giving them the veneer of protection even in Los Angeles where an old building is anything over ten years old.  So what's the problem with modern architecture?

As Christopher Hawthorne points out, the problem is not with modern architecture as a whole but with a subset of significant buildings that went up in the sixties and seventies (eg. Tower Records, I had put in a shameless plug), just as modernism was losing it global steam and breaking off into competing factions.  The Astrodome was completed in 1965 and the Prentice Hospital was finished in 1975.  Paul Rudolph's Orange County Government Center in New York, which has so far dodged the wrecking ball, opened in
Orange County Government Center
Paul Rudolph
1970.  What is it about the late-modern architecture that has left it so vulnerable to threats of demolition in recent years?

One theory is their age.  In architecture, a period style, regardless of era, begins to go out of fashion after twenty-five years and by age forty to fifty, they hit their nadir of popularity.  Even buildings have midlife crisis.  Buildings designed between the twenties and fifties aren't the only ones subject to threats of demolition.  New York's Pennsylvania Station, the massive example of Beaux-Art inspired neoclassicism designed by McKim, Meade and White, opened in 1910-threatened with demolition in 1955 at age forty-five.  It finally came down, much to the great sorrow of preservationists, in 1963 at the age of 53. In Los Angeles, Irving Gill's Dodge House, an very fine example of Los Angeles pre-World War II modernism, completed in 1916 and razed in 1970 after being in existence for fifty-four years.  If you do the math, the Astrodome has been empty since 2009 at the age of forty-four and is not likely to see fifty.

Elgin Mental Health Center
Elgin, Illinois Paul Rudolph
Age is only one threat to late-modernism in the United States.  The biggest source of vulnerability is the way modernism splintered in the 1960s and 1970s.  A movement that once valued novelty and minimal geometry while rejecting extraneous ornamentation and overt historic references became extremely pluralistic.  Architects such as Edward Durell Stone, Minoru Yamasaki, and William Pereira stayed true to the modernist doctrine while incorporating hints of decoration.  Others such as Paul Rudolph and Bertrand Goldberg built blocky, massive, tough buildings in the style known as Brutalism, derived from the French phrase béton brut-raw concrete.  Even as architects were pursuing new threads of modernism, there was a new generation of architects waiting in the wings to topple the acien regime.  Michael Graves, Robert Venturi, and Denise Scott Brown lead a historically-minded, somewhat ironic approach that came to be known as post-modernism.  Sim Van der Ryn and other West Coast architects planted the seeds of eco-conscious sustainable architecture. The main theme of architecture during this period was a lack of a dominant theme.  Sort of an architectural free-for-all.  This go-your-on-way period is particularly irritating for preservationists since much of the architecture from this period was decidedly tough, complicated, or plainly ambivalent about its cultural context.  Thus rallying around a specific building can be difficult.  While we can love a novelist or a painter who bucks the market place trends, we rarely show architects the same kind of love.

The Astrodome
The Astrodome is not not one of those doubtful buildings.  It is confident in its approach-the idea that nature can be contained and controlled. However, it was the last of the prominent high-modern buildings in the United States.  Not only does it represent a modernist high-point but also a beginning of the end.   As the stadium was being planned and built, American culture was beginning to chip away at the idea its architects and supporters took for granted, American dominance over the political area of influence and the natural world.  Rachel Carson's seminal book Silent Spring and Jane Jacobs' equally influential tome Death and Life of Great American Cities, as well as Robert Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture were published between 1961 and 1966.  Each book undermined the idea that domed, climate controlled modern stadium built in the middle of a parking lot made any kind of sense.  Thus, the Astrodome makes the perfect and complex test case for the current state of American preservation.  The battle to save the stadium is an uphill one.  It would be hard to imagine any Brutalist building winning anything remotely close to 47% of the vote.  This goes for the architectural experiments from the so-called L.A. School represented by Frank Gehry, Michael Rotondi, Thom Mayne, and Eric Owen Moss.  So what's a preservationist to do?

To start, preservationists will have to accept the fact that winning public support for a late-modern building is a tough road to travel.  It's better to pick your battle-like Tower Record on Sunset Boulevard (shameless plug).  For example, in an ironic moment, Christopher Hawthorne suggests re-evaluating the William Pereira building on the Los Angeles County Art Museum after vigorously arguing for Peter Zumthor's proposed "Black Flower" building.  Additionally, preservation campaigns will have to be carefully and meticulously run.  The campaign for Proposition 2 was badly managed.  It quietly placed on an off-year ballot that guaranteed to draw low interest and attract older, anti-tax voters.  Had the supporters of Proposition 2 waited until next autumn, they could've promoted their cause to a wider audience and the initiative would've passed by a great margin.  Could have, would have, should have. This would have buoyed preservationists around the country in their efforts to save late-modern works. Most important, is the new emphasis among preservation groups on proactive campaigns.  There should be a protest when, not only there is a threat of demolition, upkeep and the dignity of a building is compromised.

Astrodome interior
The Astrodome's fate may have been sealed when the Astros moved out after the 1999 season and when Reliant Stadium, home to the NFL's Texans, was built literally right on top of the dome, two hundred feet away in 2002.  The final result was the new stadium appeared to elbow the older stadium out of the way.  Local and national preservation group should have insisted on some breathing room between the two.  Proactive advocacy means getting out of the office and not being afraid to throw a few elbow and take a few hits.  It means educating the public about the period styles the public finds so distasteful.  Right now, it's about landing a few punches in the name of architecture produced from the late 1960s through the 1980s.  Pre-war modern, Case-Study modern, "Mad Men" modern, Googie modern, space-age modern are all really cool but let's hear it for the work by Craig Hodgetts and Ming Fung, Frank Israel, Kevin Roche, Anthony Lumsden, and Gunnar Birkets.  Let's sing the praises of the mirrored-glass, cheeky neoclassical and exposed joint ruminations of the L.A. School during the Nixon, Ford, Carter Reagan years.  Love your modern, I do.

Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram

Hungerthon 2013 - Home

Hungerthon 2013 - Home

Hello Everyone:

As we enter the holiday season and its abundance of good cheer and food, let's pause for a minute and remember those who go hungry everyday.  Hungerthon is annual national radio campaign aimed at challenging the notion that people should go hungry and the way we nourish our nation.  If you'd like more information and/or would like to donate please go to


Monday, November 25, 2013

Hosting an Olympics on a Budget

Road Recovery poster
Hello Everyone:

With the Winter holidays bering down us, I'd like to turn your attention to a terrific fund raising event.  Road Recovery is holding its 15th Annual Fundraising Goal.  Road Recovery is an organization that's dedicated to helping teens at risk.  For every $30 donation, one teen dealing with addiction is reached. So far, the organization has impacted the lives of over 50,000 teens.  In the coming year, Road Recovery is committed to expanding their services in order to reach 5,000 teens.  You can help.  If you love reading this blog as much as I love writing it, please go to  Even if you can't afford the $30 pledge, donate whatever you can.  Thanks so much.  Now on to the subject

1964 Tōkyō Olympic gymnasium
Tange, Kenzō
The Olympic games are returning to Japan -ganbate.  The prospect of hosting an Olympic games, for any country is exhilarating, to say the very least.  In Japan's case, once again the timing could not be better.  In the summer of 1964, Japan hosted it's first Olympic games, a mere nineteen years after the total devastation of Allied bombing runs and two nuclear bombs.  Japan was originally scheduled to host the 1940 Summer Olympic Games but they were moved to Helsinki, Finland and ultimately cancelled due to World War II.  In the wake of the massive destruction and nuclear meltdown at the hand of the Tōhoku Earthquake in 2011, once again the Olympic games are coming to lift the spirits of country.  Yet, the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room is the cost of putting on the games.  After witnessing the building sprees that Beijing and London went on in advance of their hosting duties, Japan is doing what it can to keep costs down.

Zaha Hadid
In mid-October Hakubun Shimomura, the Japanese minister for education, sports, and science told the Diet that the proposed Olympic Stadium, designed by Zaha Hadid, would have to be scaled back. Japanese Olympic officials have estimated that the 80,000 seat stadium would cost $3 billion to build, not the original estimate of $1.3 billion.  Big disparity here.  Mr. Shimomura deemed "too massive a budget," and called for something more scaled down.  Too massive, you think?  The decision to dial down the building plans came after a group of prominent Japanese architects gathered together in mid-October to express their concern over the cost, the scope, and the potential damage the project could inflict on Japan's neighbors.  The symposium was initiated by 1993 Pritizker Prize winning architect Fumihiko Maki.

Proposed Olympic Stadium
Zaha Hadid
The architects that attended the symposium  concurred that Ms. Hadid's stadium, which will be located in a prominent downtown Tōkyō park, needs to be more environmentally sustainable and scaled down in the interest of site context.  Sou Fujimoto, one of the attending architects, insists that he is not "fighting Zaha," and tells Architect's Journal that, "the design could be better."  Zaha Hadid is an innovative architect whose work is well-known around the world.  Like many well-known architects, she has somewhat of an outsized personality.  So it remains to be seen if Ms. Hadid will follow the suggestions of the Japanese architects and scale back her proposed stadium.  If anybody heard the call to tone down the scope of the project, it's Hakubun Shimomura.

London Olympic Aquatic Center
Zaha Hadid
According to an Associated Press report, Mr. Shimomura emphasized that the basic design concept will remain the same and the proposed stadium will still meet the Olympic hosting needs.  Ms. Hadid's own firm is no stranger to inflated Olympic building price tags.  The Hadid-designed aquatic center designed and built for the London Games in 2012 was originally estimated at $118 million but the final price tag came in at $400 million by the time it was completed.  Now I'm pretty sure you're all wondering how did the cost jump by 29.5%, angering United Kingdom Olympic officials.  My best guess is materials and labor costs, the usual culprits.  I would also venture a guess and say that all the concerned parties also built into the budget a contingency amount of roughly 20%.  However a $282 million difference in the estimated cost and the final cost is pretty significant.  Understandably, the organizers of the 2020 Tōkyō Olympics want to look for more cost efficient methods to host on the games.  In the meantime, Ms. Hadid's office said that they were willing to discuss the suggested design changes.  Construction on the new facility is slated to start in 2014.  Stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram

Friday, November 22, 2013

Birthday Greeting

Hello Everyone:

Another year bites the dust and another year to look forward to.  What started out as a place to organize my thoughts, has become a place to talk about subjects I care about and interest you.  I am eternally grateful for all your support.  Your continued readership is the heart and soul of this blog.  It certainly makes the task less lonely.  One of my favorite things is checking in on page views and seeing where you all are.  I love it when I see page views from all over the globe.  I'm looking forward to another of writing this blog and bringing you topics about the urban world we live in.  So a big shout out to fans, follwers, friends, and fiends.  I'll keep writing if you keep reading


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hiding History,0,570232,full.story#axzz218HL,phgb

Dealey Plaza
Hello Everyone:

We are on our way to 5,000 page views.  Let's keep it going.  I'm optimistic that we can do this.  You all are so supportive of this blog, something I truly appreciate. Yesterday evening I attended a meeting of the West Hollywood City Council in support of designating Tower Records a historic-cultural landmark.  It was exciting.  I was the first public speaker up and my knees were knocking and I was shaking hard but I made through my prepared remarks.  I rocked it. Unfortunately, the motion was denied but nonetheless, I loved it.  It aint over until the wrecking ball shows up, so stay tuned.  On to a more serious topic,  in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States of America on November 22, 1963, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne takes a trip to Dallas, Texas to the site of the event to give us his observations.  The title of his article is "Dealey Plaza: A place Dallas has tried long to avoid and forget."  The key point in this article is the association of memory and place.

Historic image of Dealey Plaza (date unknown)
Dealey Plaza was not always place associated with a tragic event with epic ramifications.  The plaza is named for George Bannerman Dealey, the longtime publisher of the Dallas Morning News.  It was built when the Trinity River, which used to flow near this part of Dallas, was re-routed behind a series of levees.  This move was part of a broader planning project begun after a particularly severe flood in 1908 opened the western edge of the downtown for new development.  The plaza is a strange combination of high-traffic intersection, part gateway to the city, part flood-control project, and part accidental historical monument.  Dallas' official JFK Memorial was designed by architect Philip Johnson and completed in 1970.  The memorial curiously sits 200 feet to the east of the actual place where the assassination took place, behind a red-brick county courthouse.  The reason I say curious will become apparent in a short while.  The modest two-part project to restore the plaza's New Deal-era landscape and pergolas is almost finished.  However the restorations don't give the space any real sense of coherence.  When the crowds gather on Friday, they'll be standing in space that's more automobile than pedestrian orientated-one that many Dallas residents try their very best to forget.

Ghosts of Dealey Plaza
Dealey Plaza was designed in the 1930s by the firm of Hare & Hare as part of the Works Project Administration program and dedicated in 1935.  The actual site is the confluence of Elm, Main, and Commerce Streets which meet at the a bottom of the hill, where they run underneath a railroad bridge to form what has come to be known as the "triple underpass."  The open space between the streets, partially landscapes, stands white concrete pergolas and two small fountains.  In the wake of the assassination of the thirty-fifth president,  Elm Street, located on the northernmost edge of the wedge-shaped plaza became its focal point.  This focal point occurs rather awkwardly in the middle of a busy three-lane road that traffic officials have very little, if any, interest in closing off to cars.  Their reason is part practical, it's a main traffic artery.  More important in understanding why Dallas wants to forget this moment in time, it's connection to the killing of a president and it's implications for the city's reputation.

Aerial photograph of Dealey Plaza
When President Kennedy toured the Lonestar State in 1963, anger over his agenda and federal government overreach was growing throughout Texas.  Sounds familiar.  The shooting confirmed the fact that there was a deep reserve of hostility just below the seemingly calm and prosperous Dallas society.  Residents were tired of their city being known as a "city of hate."  In the succeeding years, Dealey Plaza languished. The cars kept moving along the infamous interaction as a statement to the world that the city keeps moving on.  The Book Depository, where Lee Harvey Oswald lay in wait with rifle poised, was nearly torn down before a group of Dallas residents rallied to save it.  The Sixth Floor Museum, an institution dedicated to the president and the assassination, opened in the building in 1989.  Other than that, very little has been done at street level.  The pergolas chipped and cracked over time.  According to Niccola Longford, the executive director of the Sixth Floor Museum, "As the city grew, Dealey Plaza became the site of neglect...[I think] it was reinforced by the fact that the site told the story of a very sad time that Dallas has found it difficult sometimes to remember and confront."

Dealey Plaza with grassy knoll
Dealey Plaza has become a tourist attraction, attracting a million visitors every years, two-thirds of them are from outside Texas.  Morbid curiosity I guess.  As a sign of things, in March 2013, an appellate court ruled that the First Amendments gives vendors the right to set up souvenir stands in the plaza and sell assassination-related memorabilia.  You can draw your own conclusions.  Despairing over the state of benign neglect, "It's a site that's well know throughout the world.  Our visitors don't understand why it looks the way it does."  The landscape areas on both sides of Elm Street, which includes the equally infamous "grassy knoll," is frequently populated by conspiracy theorists.  One of the theorists is Robert Groden, who reportedly was the first person to draw the white X to the street, to indicate the place where President's limousine was driving when the shots rang out.

John F. Kennedy Memorial
The Philip Johnson designed memorial symbolizes the city's reluctance to commemorate the assassination.  The memorial consists of a spare cenotaph (open tomb), originally intended to be built in marble was, instead, built in cheaper concrete.  The location of the memorial is curious because its 200 feet east of the actual site inferring that city is hiding the history of that sad day.  "Everyone in town wanted to get away from Dealey Plaza," said Judith Segura, a local historian who helped lead the fund raising campaign to repair the site.  "They didn't want the memorial to be right there.  They thought that would be ghoulish."  Dallas-based architects Good Fulton & Farrell created a master plan to restore the plaza in 2001.  Recent work has been carried out and partially paid for by the city, putting the total amount spent at about $25 million.  "We really had to shame the city into it," added Ms. Segura.  "We went to the city and said, 'Look, we're going to be the focus of worldwide attention in 2013."  Eventually, civic officials decided to restore the pergolas and fountains to their original appearance and the landscape: the oak trees and the grassy knoll to resemble their look on that day in November.  By Dallas standards, it's progress, sort of.

Dealey Plaza National Historic Landmark plaque
Christopher Hawthorne speculates that had President John F. Kennedy been shot inside a building, that building would've been razed by now-like the Book Depository nearly was.  In a like manner, the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California, where Robert F. Kennedy was shot and killed by Sirhan Sirhan was demolished by the Los Angeles Unified School District.  Perhaps for the sake of the collective national conscience and historic preservation that, by a stroke of luck, that the assassination happened in a seemingly banal place.  On a more personal note, your truly was born on November 22, not the same year.  I've always been self-conscious about that date because of its connection to a national tragedy.  Over the years I've learned to own that date and make it a day of celebration of the past year and to look forward to the future.  I hope that, one day, the city of Dallas will be able to embrace this moment in history and look forward to the future.

Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram

Monday, November 18, 2013

What Happened to Sarajevo

Hello Everyone:

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
I noticed that we're 4,100 page views, that's amazing.  Can we reach our year-end goal of 5,000 page views?  It's only November 18 and midnight December 31 is way off in the distance, let's do this. Today is an exciting day for yours truly.  Tonight, I get to go before the West Hollywood City Council and tell them why Tower Records should be saved from demolition.  I plan to work the historic/cultural connection angle.  If you're in the Los Angeles area and want to come and show your support, the meeting is at 6:30 p.m in council chambers located at 625 San Vicente Boulevard half a block north of Melrose Avenue.  Let's show WeHo that historic preservation rocks.  Today I have a short but kind of sad piece for you on the fate of the Winter Olympic city of Sarajevo, the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Mark Byrnes of The Atlantic Cities discusses photographer John Pack's book The Olympic City, which documents the fate of Sarajevo with images taken by Reuters photographer Dado Ruvic.  The good news is that the city, ravaged by war, is being reclaimed by the locals and brought back to life.  The bad news is some of the sites are still suffering from neglect.  In 1984, the city played host to the Winter Olympic games.  It wasn't a particularly spectacular or noteworthy games but it was still an Olympics with all the pomp and pageantry that comes with it.  The succeeding years were far from kind to the city called the "Jerusalem of Europe."  The Bosnia War and years of neglect turned facilities that once show cased feats of athletic heroism into abandoned buildings, mine fields, and empty rusted out hulks.

Kosovo Stadium today
Let's start with the good news first.  Kosovo Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies took place, was renovated in 1998. Zetra Ice Hall was rebuilt in 1999 and Skenderija Hall, abandoned for many years, was renovated in 2006 and takes in 500,000 visitors every year.  Mount Jahorina, the site of the women's Alpine skiing events, is a popular vacation site, although watch out for the occasional land mine still buried in the off-course slopes.  Unfortunately, not all the former Olympic venue sites have been successfully brought back to life.  Mount Trebevic, where the bobsled and luge facilities were housed, was used an artillery stronghold, with bullet holes still evident.  The site is now a magnet for vandals and graffiti artists.  The ski jump venue
The former bobsled and luge track

on Mount Ignam is a haunting shell of its old self.

There are only eighty days left until Russia, once again, hosts an Olympic games in Sochi, now is a good time to look back at images from the 1984 Olympics and consider what happened to this one-time site of athletic glory.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bullet-ridden award stand

1984 Olympic Hockey

1984 Winter Olympics logo

Sarajevo Olympic mascot
1984 Winter Olympic Opening Ceremony

Zetra Ice Hall

Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What International Aid Agencies Can Do About Urban Violence

Hello Everyone:

This turning out to be a banner day.  Yesterday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation posted an article on Facebook about ailing historic structures on Veteran's Administration campuses across the United States.  So yours truly commented that I posted a blog about the West Los Angeles VA campus. Someone read it and replied to my comment saying they liked what they read and would mention it on their Twitter feed, which the NTHP did.  A very big thank you to them.  Then, I added Sarah Heffern, the Social Media Director to my Google+  and the NTHP to my Google+ circle.  I welcome you to my world and I look forward to continued contact with you.  Now if that weren't enough, you my beloved regular readers, pushed the blog to 4,026 page views.  Thank you so very much for all your continued support.  I can't do this without you.  This abundance support makes it less lonely and I am truly grateful to all of you.  Shall we shoot for 5,000?  Let's go for it.  Now for today's topic, international aid agencies and urban violence.

Medellín, Colombia
In my continued effort to get through the backlog of articles in my dropbox folder, I pulled out an interesting article from The Atlantic Cities ( about international aid agencies turning their attention toward urban violence.  In her article, "Why International Aid Agencies Are Starting to Focus on Urban Violence," Jordana Timerman looks at the city of Medillín, Colombia, which won the 2013 "Innovative City of the Year" award and is also on the cutting edge of a troublesome trend: an epidemic of urban violence that's turning cities into war zones.  A study released in September by a Brazilian think tank determined that the level of violence in the the second largest of Colombia is equal in intensity to that of traditional armed conflict, despite lacking the organizational infrastructure to qualify it for this designation.  All this sounds contradictory, let's examine why this is so.

Medillín neighborhood
 Medillín is hardly alone in this dubious distinction.  While, traditional conflicted-related deaths are falling around the world, urban violence is on the rise,  For example, in 2011, there were approximately 55,000 combat-related deaths globally, compared to 471,000 homicides outside of defined war zones.  The World Bank estimates that one out of four people around the world are affected by violence, and experts are sounding alarms about non-combat violence in cities in Latin America, the Caribbean, Central and South America.  Africa accounts for 37% of the world's homicides, the homicide rate in the America is more than double the world average of 6.9 per 100,000.  Latin American and Caribbean cities are particularly leading the rankings of homicides.  (Ms. Timerman notes one caveat: obtaining reliable data for cities in this region is often impossible).  In 2012, urban violence claimed the lives of almost 38,000 people, and forced thousands more to evacuate their homes, effectively making them refugees in their own country.  The World Bank calculated that a major spasm of urban violence can wipe out a generation of economic progress.

Medillín  slum
 These nebulous zones of urban conflict are slowly attracting the attention of the international community.  Robert Muggah, research director of the Brazilian Igarapé Institute and the coordinator of the HASOW project (, which commissioned the report cited by Ms. Timerman, refers to the city as a "canary in the mine" for the larger urban violence.  Cities like Medillín could be a "prelude to new forms of organized violence," while being on the cutting edge of rapid urban globalization says Mr. Muggah.  Almost 80% of Latin America's population live in urban areas.  Mr. Muggah continues, "We've already passed the big moment of that massive shift of population.  And it happened very quickly, it happened in some cases, in an unregulated way.  It has generated all sorts of contradiction as city authorities have struggled to try to manage that massive transition.  And across Latin America, almost without exception, cities present much higher rates of homicidal and organized violence than virtually anywhere else on the planet."

Medillín neighborhood II
This conundrum has important implications for the international communities, including federal and local governments. HASOW is concentrating on what the changing face of violence looks like to humanitarian agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, who in 2012, launched a new program in Medillín to curb violence in places that's different from defined combat zones where it's normally found. Medillín is not exactly the most violent city in the region, it has several variables that make it a good place to being examining these trends.  The city has a long history of violence, as does the rest of Colombia.  International aid agencies have a history of working in the country.  Medillín, which won an Urban Design award from Harvard, also has  very entrenched municipal and national institutions.  The later, in particular, is a key difference between the traditional and the grey war zones.

Plazuela San Ignacio
The intensity of violence in Medillín could come as a surprise to outsiders.  In the nineties, the city had a reputation of being one of the most notoriously violent cities in the world, under the control of Pablo Escobar's Medillín Cartel.  During this period, the homicide rate was a shocking 444 per 100,000.  Presently, the city is considered a major success story: in 2007 the homicide rate was 28 per 100,000.  About the same time, the municipal government began to implement initiatives under the umbrella of "social urbanism."  This was a series of programs that targeted the poorest neighborhoods with infrastructural investment and social program with a participatory element.  The results have garnered praise and include an architectural noteworthy library, kindergarten and school facilities, escalator and cable car lines for vertically isolated shanty towns and social outreach programs.

Skate borders
However, between 2008 and 2011, the city's homicide rate more than doubled, and in some of the poorest districts of the city, that number was even worse.  One example, 2010, nearly 6,000 people were classified as internal refugees, displaced into the countryside because of urban violence, while another 5,000 moved into the city for the same reason.  It's more difficult to find accurate statistics on sexual violence, also a mechanism for territorial control or retaliation by armed groups in Medillín known as combos.  In 2011, there nearly 1,350 reports of sexual violence in Medillín, with hundreds of cases in the most violent neighborhoods.  Forced disappearances are also underreported, however official statistics cite at least 50 in 2011.  The HASOW study connects this increase in violence to the extradition of a Medillín paramilitary leader, which shift the balance of power between the city's numerous combos into flux.  At any given point in time, according to the study, there are about 300 combos in the city that can operate within a shifting larger organizational structure.

Medillín at night
"The problem with Medillín right now is the sheer number of armed groups," says Robert Muggah.  "The groups are very dynamic.  This creates a very difficult challenge:  What is the best approach to dealing with different groups, different levels of violence?"  Agencies such as the ICRC believe that urban violence trend in cities such as Medillín will increase in rapidly urbanizing countries in the future.  Thus they are developing strategies and coordinating with local authorities.  As the nature of conflict changes, the development of strategies may be of increasing in humanitarian aide.  Both the ICRC and Médecin San Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) are working in different cities around the region, and earlier in 2013, the European Commission's humanitarian aid arm approved two million euros in funding for violence effected slums in Central America and Mexico.

The danger these agencies and experts warn is, "mission creep," operating outside of international humanitarian laws, which governs war zones.  Further, national governments are worried about issues of sovereignty and extraterritoriality.  Nevertheless, the ICRC notes that many mayors already use the terminology of armed conflict when they speak of what's happening in their cities.  Further, the ICRC is looking at the idea that aid agencies can function as neutral parties in these settings, allowing them to work with the participants.  Mr. Muggah agrees that "their very presence can send a strong message."  However, he cautions that aid agencies must adapt to the institutional setting they find themselves: recognizing the public, private, and civil social actors that already work in the areas and empower rather than substitute for them.  Sage advice.  "They almost serve as intermediaries that can support, through influence and persuasion and some technical expertise, the direction of aid efforts, as opposed to actually carrying it out."  Aid agencies need to learn to lead from behind

Please show some love for Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard.  Time is running out for the Tower Records building on the Sunset Strip  A West Hollywood City Council meeting is back on Monday November 18, 2013 at 6:30 p.m.  Yours truly will be making an appearance and speaking on behalf the iconic record store.  Please go to and sign the online petition.  Also email Council Member Stephanie Reich at to let her know why this building should not be demolished to make way for another high-end mixed used development.

Like me on Facebook
Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Which Way Grand Avenue?,0,2927079.story

Hello Everyone:

We are edging towards 4,000, can we do it?  Yes, we can.  I know you all won't let me down  Do I dare to hope for 5,000 by year end?  A girl can wish, can't she?

Grand Avenue with view of the Disney Concert Hall
Los Angeles, California
In my ongoing effort to get through the pile of articles accumulating in my dropbox folder, I pulled this one out for today.  The subject is the proposed redevelopment of Grand Avenue, one of downtown Los Angeles' main thoroughfares. In an article published in the Los Angeles Times, "Grand Avenue Project At Turning Point," writers Seema Mehta and David Zahniser discuss the direction of the proposed transformation of a section of this avenue into the "Champs-Elysees" for the City of Angels. The project has encountered many obstacles and delays for years.  This audacious plan to create an upscale cultural destination centered on Frank O. Gehry's landmark Walt Disney Concert Hall has already been scaled back because of the economic downturn.  Recently, a key deadline has come and gone and the centerpiece of the project: two luxury condominium towers, a hotel, high-end shops, and restaurants is facing another test.

Proposed plan drawing for Grand Avenue
At a little noticed meeting on September 23, 2013, county Supervisor Gloria Molina and other officials unanimously rejected the conceptual plan for the $650 million redevelopment project.  I could only imagine what that money could be used for.  Supervisor Molina criticized the  design and project developer Related Cos, saying that the plan failed to create an enticing public space in addition to the up-scale shops and restaurants.  I don't know what Ms. Molina had in mind but as I look at the plan, I'm not seeing a lot of green space or a focal element such as a fountain or public art.  The rejection of the plan put the project in jeopardy, according to concerned business leaders and government officials.  The agreement between Los Angeles Grand Avenue Authority and Related has expired.

Aerial view of model for Grand Avenue
Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the Central City Association was "shocked and angry" over the committee's rejection of the Related Cos' plan, which already committed $120 million to the project. Cutting it so close to the dealing for the contract's ability to go forward, the vote cast dispersion on whether or not the project can even proceed with Related.  "After nine years, that was shocking to hear," said Ms. Schatz.  The Los Angeles Grand Avenue Authority is made up of representatives from the city and county, voted the proposal down 3-0, and important milestone.  Authority officials and their spokespeople were quick to point out vote was merely a rejection of the proposed plan, not the developer.  It kind of sounds like the "it's not you, it's me" argument.  However, a report prepared ahead of the September 23rd vote, plainly stated that a rejection of the plan would effectively kill the plan.

Grand Avenue model showing Disney Concert Hall
Further, if this project falls apart, the county could face a major legal liability mainly because Related Cos already put into the expansion and reconstruction of the section of Grand Avenue that stretches from the Music Center to City Hall.  Related is already building a residential tower as part of the Authority's attempts to remake this portion of Grand Avenue.  Given the possible legal consequences of the negative vote, the matter was quickly reconsidered and Related's contract was extended before the midnight Monday September 30 deadline.  A meeting to extend the contract-which the Los Angeles Grand Avenue Authority stated was not a vote on a new plan-was quickly arranged.  During the September 23 meeting, both Ms. Molina and county Chief Executive Warren T. Fujioka were quite clear about their displeasure with the plan.  Both said  they did not see how it could be a high caliber project for Grand Avenue.  Really?  Check out the models and plan drawings; decide for yourselves.  Ms. Molina criticized the "boxiness" of the of the proposal and complained that one entry point lacked "any architectural interest whatsoever."  Again, you be the judge.

Rendering of Grand Avenue project
 Gloria Molina went on to further say, "There's nothing there that lends itself to any aspect to a design that promotes any kind of of pedestrian activity, any street activity, or anything."  I suppose Ms. Molina would consider an armed fortress more conducive to pedestrian activity. Also, "It is still a continuation to me of the fort-like conditions down Grand Avenue."  Are we missing something here?  Mr. Fujioka, who voted down the proposal with Ms. Molina and her fellow county Supervisor Steve Valenzuela said during the meeting that was "very, very disappointed" with presentation.  Absent in the meeting was City Council member Jose Huizar, who represents the area.  Who appointed these so-called arbiters of architectural design?  Bill Witte, the president of Related California remains committed to the project.  "We have in good faith fulfilled all of our obligations through every step of the process, had multiple meetings on the Conceptual Plan and were therefore surprised and disappointed that it wasn't approved," said Mr. Witte

Grand Avenue
Since the September 23 vote, county officials had to struggle to explain what happened and what would come next.  On Friday September 27, Ms. Molina's spokesperson Roxane Marquez said the panel voted to "remove Related from the Grand Avenue project," then back pedaled a bit saying that, too, could change at the meeting on September 30.  On Sunday September 29, Ms. Molina's aide Gerry Hertzberg, corrected the statement that the plan was not presented at the September 30 meeting and the committee "did not vote to terminate" Related's contract.  "If they don't approve a new Sept. 30 then [the] Related's contract terminates,"  Mr. Hertzberg wrote in an email.  Martha Wellborne, the former chairperson of a nonprofit committee that initially began promoting a Grand Avenue effort in the early 2000's stated that she was"very concerned" by the authority's actions.  "This was always seen as the flagship of the project.  It's right across from Disney Hall," said Ms. Wellborne.  Any further delays could mean "a more uncertain future at the top of Bunker Hill and the impact that the project can have."  Ms. Schatz hopes that the Los Angeles Grand Avenue Authority and Related can come to terms quickly.  "There is no more time to wait...The project must move forward now."

Time is also running out for the Tower Records building on the Sunset Strip  A West Hollywood City Council meeting is back on Monday November 18, 2013 at 6:30 p.m.  Please go to and sign the online petition.  Also email Council Member Stephanie Reich at to let her know why this building should not be demolished to make way for another high-end mixed used development.

Like me on Facebook
Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram

One World Trade Center Is Officially America, s New Tallest Building

One World Trade Center Is Officially America's New Tallest Building.  Any big surprises here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day Post,0,6742126.story?track=rss#axzz2k0Yy8Dj

Hello Everyone:

For those of you in the United States, I hope you're having a nice Veteran's Days and for those of you in U.K, a pleasant, albeit belated, Remembrance Day to you.  It's on days like this that I always get sentimental about the country I live in and what it stands for.  More importantly, I think about the men and women who chose to put on a uniform and serve in this country's military.  They swore an oath to defend the United States against all foreign enemies and the nation's freedoms written into the Constitution.  I also think about my uncles: two (now deceased) served in World War II and a third who served in the Korean Conflict.  They served, I believe, not only because they were called, they served because of their immigrant parents that came to the United States in the late nineteenth, early twentieth century looking for opportunities.  If you haven't done so already, please remember to thank a person in a military uniform.  However, the United States Veteran's Administration has not been so kind to its historic property.

Los Angeles Veteran's Administration Building
According to a recent study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (, there are hundreds of Veteran's Administration buildings across the United States that are in danger of being demolished or completely abandoned due to lack of maintenance and the agency's failure to comply with with federal historic building protection laws.  The VA owns more than 2,000 historic properties throughout the country, including a number on the eleven campus built in Ohio, Tennessee and elsewhere that were built following the American Civil War (1861-65).  In West Los Angeles, the massive campus has approximately three dozen historically designated properties or structures, deeming the site eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.  One of the more prominent historic structures on the sprawling campus is a Victorian-era chapel, visible on Wilshire Boulevard.

West Los Angeles VA Chapel
The study released last Wednesday by the NTHP reported that abut half of the historic buildings were unoccupied and at risk of deterioration.  This is a sad state of affairs as the VA finds itself in growing need for real estate to accommodate of veterans from Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  In the last thirteen years the number of soldiers and sailors receiving VA-provided health care has jumped from 3.4 million in 2000 to nearly 6 million in 2013.  Rather than rehabilitate the older buildings, the agency has embarked on a new construction spree.  Does this sound like the highest and best use of existing resources?  The report went on to say that the VA has new replacement medical facilities planned or under construction at a cost of $10 billion.  I think that this princely sum could be used to update the facilities and provide much needed care for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress.

Garden view of VA Building
Typical of a federal government agency, the VA has ignored its own analysis indicating that it would be more cost effective to rehabilitate the older buildings then undertake $10 billion worth of new construction. According to Leslie Barras, an attorney and preservation expert, "There's a perspective that we can't adapt old buildings, especially for medical facilities."  In a written response, the agency stated that it "takes very seriously its responsibility to care for historic buildings in its custody" and plans to use historic buildings in the fight against homelessness among veterans.  The VA promised to review the NTHP report recommendations.  Yes, of course, the VA has a plan to combat the problem of homeless veterans.

West Los Angeles VA Building in reflection
The need for Veteran's Administration facilities is especially acute in Los Angeles where there are an estimated 6,000 chronically homeless former soldiers and sailors.  It took the agency several years to approve $20 million to convert a little used building on the West Los Angeles campus into therapeutic housing for the chronically homeless veterans.  While work is under way on this project, two other buildings slated for housing conversion await funding.  According to Adrian Scott Fine, the director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy (, "The report illustrates the challenges in terms of how the VA has maybe looked at these buildings as a liability rather than assets."  Believe it or not the National Historic Preservation Act (1966) and the National Environmental Policy Act (1970) do not forbid the destruction of historic properties.  So much for that myth.  Nevertheless, they do require the VA and other federal agencies to consider alternatives to demolition and involve the community in the decision-making process.  Not doing so leaves the VA open to lawsuits.

Exterior corridor at the West LA VA Building
Member of Congress, Representative Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) has indicated in an interview that a public-private partnership would be an ideal way to cover the costs of rehabilitating the decrepit structures.  Rep. Waxman cites the Wadsworth Chapel, just north of Wilshire Boulevard as a good beneficiary of nonprofit fund raising efforts.  In 2007, the VA estimated it would cost $11.5 million to rehabilitate the Victorian-era chapel.  In its defense, a VA spokesperson said that in the past decade, the agency has entered into public-private partnerships to renovate 5 mill square feet of structures for housing.  Yet, it still wants to build $10 billion worth of new facilities.  If the VA has entered into public-private partnerships to rehabilitate older buildings for homeless veteran's housing, why not do the same for medical facilities? Think about it for a second, some of the 6,000 chronically homeless veterans also have very serious physical and mental health issues so providing state of the art treatment facilities would be a natural extension of housing projects.  Makes sense doesn't it?

Speaking of buildings that could definitely benefit from a public-private partnership, Tower Records still needs your help.  Please go to and sign the online petition.  Also email Council Member Stephanie Reich at to let her know why this building should not be demolished to make way for another high-end mixed used development.

Like me on Facebook
Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Google+ and Instagram