Monday, August 31, 2015

New Orleans's Choice

Here is a video of President Barack Obama speaking at ceremony to commemorate the Ten Year Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina:

Post-Katrina downtown New Orleans, Louisiana
Hello Everyone:

It is hard to believe that ten years ago this month, Hurricane Katrina struck nearly submerging the entire city of New Orleans, Louisiana.  The images of impoverished residents escaping the rising floodwaters compelled urban planners to flock to the city with dreams of "a more equitable community built on higher ground."  However, as Dante Ramos writes in his Boston Globe article, "10 years after Katrina, New Orleans abounds with hard lessons," the reality of creating this dream city went wildly off script.  Ten years later, the city is still in the same place but the big news (wait for it) is the proliferation of hipsters and yuppies.  Yuppies and hipsters aside, the story is really about the direction post-Katrina New Orleans is going in.  Does want to continue waiting for closure or fix what it can and move toward a brighter future?

Post-Katrina St. Roch Market
New Orleans, Louisiana
Amidst the endless and contentious rounds of post-hurricane planning sessions, one thing people on both sides of St. Claude Street could find consensus on was the need for a food store.  St. Claude is a major artery, that still has the scars of New Orleans's modern history.  During the desegregation era, working-class whites families travelled down the street, out to the suburbs.  By 2005, St. Claude street was a demarkation line between the poor, predominantly black areas that bared the brunt of the flooding and more integrated areas that were spared.

As the post-Katrina discussions continued, attention focused on St. Roch Market, "...a St. Claude Avenue landmark where working people once did their food shopping."  Mr. Ramos shares his experience of his first visit to the market twenty years ago.  He writes, "...but the city pumped $3.7 million into rehabbing the space.  Yet instead of an everyday grocery store, St. Roch reopened this spring as a gleaming, high-end gastronomic emporium..."  Instead of the every day necessities, the shelves were stock with expensive gourmet foods that seemed an anathema to the residents.

St. Roch before and after
Steven Bingler, a local architect who oversaw the market's rehabilitation told Mr. Ramos,

In their minds, they wanted it restored to what it used to be, which was an authentic neighborhood market...Ironically, when you added gentrification to that formula, it didn't come back as that.

The revival of St. Roch Market is one real-life conclusion of "...the post-Katrina experiment: uplifting on some level-hipsters equal money equals growth-but anxiety-inducing on another."

Sustainable home in the Lower Ninth Ward
Dante Ramos cites information from the New Orleans demographic research group, Data Center ( to point out that since the storm, "The income gap between white and black New Orleanians has widened significantly..."  Further, the child poverty is 39 percent, the same level it was before the hurricane. (Ibid)  These shocking statistics occurred despite the billions in aid and the presence of numerous non-profit organizations, including actor Brad Pitt's high profile Make It Right organization, which funded a new generation of sustainable home in the flood damage Lower Ninth Ward.  Katrina was a completely singular disaster, without a doubt.  However, when Hurricane Sandy ripped through parts of New York, it proved that down-on-their-luck Southern ports are not the only places that find themselves subjects of post-disaster urban policy experiments.  When this does happen, post-Katrina New Orleans serves as warning to planners everywhere-recovery did not make things right, it only reinforced the disparities.

Man walking past a burning house in the Seventh Ward
Gentrifying hipsters was the absolute least of New Orleans's worries when Hurricane Katrina made landfall on august 29, 2005.  Mr. Ramos, then an editorial columnist for the daily newspaper, recalls paddling through the streets with a colleague, taking in the

"...otherworldly beauty to the place: not just the blue sky, or the graceful live oaks trees, or the rows of brightly painted Creole homes, but also their reflection on the surface of the murky waters."  Poetic description of the aftermath of a hurricane.

Dante Ramos also recalled how the days became increasingly chaotic as residents tried to flee toward higher ground.  The images broadcast on television shocked the viewers.  "How could the victims, disproportionately poor, elderly, and African-American, have been abandon to their fate in flood-prone areas?"

Post-Katrina destruction
Photograph by Pia Z. Erhardt
As the waters receded, a new train of thought began to form: "A stricken city built partly on drained swampland should focus its energies, and its population, on higher ground."  The Urban Land Institute declared, The city should be rebuilt in a strategic manner.  Mr. Ramos wrote an editorial, cautioning against using aid money to coax people back into low-llying areas that may not be adequately protected for years.

In a strange move by the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, assembled by then-Mayor Ray Negin, individual neighborhoods were called upon to demonstrate their viability, placing symbolic green dot-indicating potential areas for future parkland-over the low-lying Lower Ninth Ward and Broadmoor.  The hope was that there would enough federal funds to fuel large-scale relocation to higher ground.  In reality, "that was never, ever, going to happen."  This country does not have a readily available stash of cash, said Tulane University geographer Richard Campanella.  Available stash of cash that can be evenly distributed while all these folks are displaced and wondering what the next chapter of their lives is going to be, Prof. Campanella continues.

"Katrina was here"
Photograph by Richard Campanella
Other New Orleanians knew better, "the more heavy-handed the planning process, the more those in power could use it to further their own agendas."  History has confirmed this strain of thought.  When it came to public works projects-i.e. planning highways or responding to floods-civic leaders have never been shy about calling on the people to make sacrifices for the greater.  Let me clarify, people other than them.  Ironically, one of the hardest hit places was an upscale, overwhelmingly white neighborhoods.  Not a single green dot was to be found.

Eventually, the Unified New Orleans Plan, that called for the rebuilding in all the neighborhoods, was adopted.  Still, it was the same old song and dance.  "Homeowners got repair grants that reflected the pre-Katrina value of their homes-hobbling those who owned inexpensive homes but faced stiff renovation costs."  An outraged LaToya Cantrell, a Broadmoor community leader now City Council member put it succinctly, Everybody pays the same price for Sheetrock...So why in the hell-if they're building their fifteen hundred square feet and I'm building mine-why would my grant be different?

Post 119 in Gulfport, Mississippi
Katrina before and after

It was this precise problem resulted in a legal settlement, but there were thousands of strings attached. "Did you have clear title to a family property?  Did you haggle with insurers?" and so on.  It was enough to make someone lose their will to live. Seriously, all this nitpicking was relevant to any social justice issues, but they all conspired against the less affluent.  Even today, Ms. Cantrell observes that the majority of African-American homeowners are in limbo, completing some repairs before the money, to finish the job, ran out.  There are lessons to be learned from these troubles, Dante Ramos writes, "Superficially neutral rules for insurance and public aid can end up cheating people.  Homeowners make decisions less on abstract imperatives-move to higher ground!-than the size of the checks they receive.  If neighborhoods are to be abandoned altogether, that'll happen only over decades, not by fiat in a matter of weeks."

When you are not encumbered by unrepairable property, new economic opportunities materialize.  In parts of New Orleans that avoided serious flooding, there is a building boom in process, the very same "urban renaissance that's invigorating downtowns from Boston to Los Angeles..." is taking root in New Orleans too.  One example, is a vacant former downtown hotel that is finally being renovated.

Night Market on St. Claude/St. Roch Avenue
New Orleans, Louisiana
Entire parts of the city, including St. Claude Avenue, barely changed in the years prior to Katrina have now become retail and restaurant destinations.  This was by design, the city's recovery program included the rehabilitation of several dilapidated former main streets.  What was startling, was the rapid pace, by New Orleans's slow paced standards, of private investment.  Mr. Ramos comments, "If not the pork belly in your appetizer and Sazeracs on the $12 cocktail list, you'd wonder which city you're in."

Fueling the new commercial corridors is an unexpected influx of money and innovation. New Orleans became a refuge, of sorts, for unemployed college graduates when the global financial crisis hit in 2008.  For years, Louisiana politicians bemoaned the continuous brain to Atlanta and Houston.  Prof. Richard Campanella told Mr. Ramos, New Orleans today is home to about 40,000 people who never lived in the city before Katrina-probably more than half of them young and college-educated-who've brought with them their own muscle and human capital.

Trolley car in the Garden District
New Orleans
 What is also noticeable different about New Orleans is its character.  The current population of New Orleans, based on the 2014 estimate, is 384,320.  ( Of this, 60 percent are African-America-based on the 2010 census figure.  (Ibid)  Five years before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, African-Americans accounted for 66.6 percent of the Orleans Parrish. In 2010, that number dropped to 59.6 percent.  (  Essentially, the city has 97,000 fewer African-American residents than it did before the storm.  In the days immediately following the storm, community activists and civic leaders gathered around the "right to return"-the importance of bringing displaced residents back to the city.  After going through several election cycles, it became clear to the powers that be that the majority of the absent African-American residents were not coming back

Downtown New Orleans; Canal and St. Charles
Flozell Daniels, the president of the Foundation for Louisiana, told Mr. Ramos "a dearth of jobs in New Orleans, coupled with a lingering bias against black applicants, keeps people from giving up opportunities elsewhere."  Those who came back to this crazy and magical place, as Mr. Daniels calls his city, have had a difficult time finding employment.  Mr. Daniels flatly told Mr. Ramos, I have not patience...for this narrative that everything is fine, that we're doing better in every area.  We're not.

Be that as it may, while New Orleans is great at making true believers out of transplants, the demographic shift inevitably alters the culture in ways that rankle the displaced residents.  Mr. Daniel says,

Some of [the new people] don't like loud jazz music in the street...Some of them move next to bars and can't understand why they're open late.  Some of the old New Orleanians are like, "Eh"..."I'm not interested.  It's not for me."

Bywater section of New Orleans
Pretty self-explanatory
The culture clash occasionally leads to tension between new and old residents.  For example, not long after the St. Roch Market reopened, five masked vandals, clad in black, came late at night, proceeded to break windows, splashed paint, and left the message "YUPPY=BAD" on the walls.

The real question is whether or not New Orleans is better off today than before Hurricane Katrina.  The answer depends on who you are.  Dante Ramos writes, "If you're young and aesthetically minded, the city feels far more dynamic than ever."  St. Claude Avenue, the St. Roch Market, is dotted with trendy bars and restaurants featuring a wide-ranging mix of food and entertainment.  Nearby is the casual and unpretentious Faubourg Wines.  There is an acupuncture studio and a measurable upswing in bicycle traffic.  The bursts of millennial bohemianism along the streets of the Bywater section are hard to ignore.  Catherine Markel, the owner of Faubourg said, You see people [who] look like they just walked off the set of "Portlandia."

Bywater hipsters in costume (?)
Dante Ramos writes, "If there's anything at all to the 'creative class' theory of development-the notion that artists and film producers and academics are a foundation for growth-New Orleans is due for a breakout."  The "Big Easy" business climate has built a foundation which looks very Instagram-able: no big surprise that New Orleans is showing up on national rankings for startup cities.  Even the less innovation magnet areas of the city are beginning to sprout green shoots of a 21st-century economy.  The good news is the levee system has been strengthened at a considerable expense.  However, instead of morphing into a water-retention park, Broadmoor now the site of Propeller, a social-entrepreneurship incubator and Idiya, a storefront 3-D printing and and laser-cut wood store.

The Treme Jazz Band marching through the French Quarter
This is not the kind of recovery that New Orleans envisioned following Katrina.  It does present some different types of challenges like how to get more people into higher elevation communities where the property values are skyrocketing and how spread the new found prosperity.  Nevertheless, longtime residents believe their customs and traditions are still searching for equilibrium in post-Katrina daily life.  Ms. Markel says,

I'm just doing my thing...There are probably economists and sociologists or anthropologists who are experts and can explain what's going on.  I'm just kind of living in it.

New Orleans's current situation is not unique as other cities struggle to regain some equilibrium following great singular disasters that call for grand gestures and collective recovery efforts.  However as Dante Ramos succinctly puts it, "...but recoveries are built on how hundreds of thousands of individuals confront a fundamental choice:  You spend a decade waiting for closure to come, for justice to be done, for the heartbreak to heal completely.  Or you patch things up as much as you can, and hope the future leads to something beautiful."

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Los Angeles Convention Center
Hello Everyone:

It seems that Los Angeles Mayor Eric J. Garcetti has grands plans for the city.  First, the latest in city's effort to become the American bidder for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Today, an Los Angeles Times article reported that a proposed budget for the summer games which includes funds for facilities renovations and new construction.  Second, there is the ongoing saga of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art redesign and, the proposed Frank Gehry master planned Los Angeles River. Christopher Hawthorne recently reported in his recent Times article, "L.A. Convention Center's proposed design screams 'conventional thinking,'" the venerable Los Angeles Convention Center is being eyed for renovation.  The problem, according to Mr. Hawthorne, is the proposed renovation is, well, conventional.

Rendering of proposed Los Angeles Convention Center
  Christopher Hawthorne does not mince words, "Over the last couple of years, Plan A for expanding the Los Angeles Convention Center has been slowly morphing into Plan B. Unfortunately, the proposed design for the expansion, though there's still time to improve it, doesn't deserve much than a gentleman's C." The story of how Plan A morphed into a Plan B that, at best, deserves a gentleman's C began in 2010 when Los Angeles offered to build a football stadium as part of the downtown site.

The Anschutz Entertainment Group, the
Aerial view of proposed LACC redesign
Populous and HMC, architects
owners of Staples Center and L.A. Live made a deal with the city of Los Angeles build an NFL stadium on a part of the sprawling convention center site.  The attraction for City Hall-a promise from AEG to pay $315-million for upgrades to the complex.  Mr. Hawthorne writes, "Though the idea was hugely complicated politically as well as architecturally, it wasn't hard to understand why the city would at least pursue it.  With visions outside money windfall dancing in civic officials's head, the thought of horrendous Sunday football traffic was a minor inconvenience.  After all, the revenue would be enough to pay for the convention center makeover.  Really, the construction of a new multi-use facility-"where luxury suites would have doubled as meeting space for conventioneers, was another story.

Los Angeles Convention Center West Hall
Eventually, AEG and the NFL have gone their separate ways, when the league entered into serious discussions with smaller cities: Inglewood and Carson.  Now, the dream of a football team in Downtown Los Angeles have been dashed and convention center has room to expand in, a more conventional manner, along Figueroa Street, from 10 Freeway across Pico Boulevard along the northern edge right to the front door of L.A. Live.

On February 18, 2015, the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering announced a design competition for the expansion and renovation of the LACC. (  From the field of eleven architecture firms, including AC Martin Inc. and LMN Architects; Gensler and Lehrer Architects, and the eventual winner HMC Architects and Populous.  Mr. Hawthorne notes, " Still, even without the stadium attached, this is a plum commission and a major civic project with a total budget of $470 million." The chosen design, for which the City Council will discuss in November, calls for a dramatic makeover of the West Hall, the portion of the complex nearest Staples Center and L.A. Live.  The proposed design will add a concourse spanning Pico Boulevard and redesign Gilbert Lindsay Plaza along Figueroa, named for Los Angeles's first African-America Council member.

Staples Center
The changes are expected to increase meeting and exhibition space from 870,000 to 1.28 square-feet.  There are also plans for adding a major 1,000-room hotel along Chick Hearn Court, right where the convention center becomes L.A. Live.  According to Christopher Hawthorne, "Those basic moves address-and will go a long way toward solving-four problems that have long plagued the convention center..."  The Convention Center, opened in 1971, was designed by Charles Luckman and was later expanded by James Ingo Freed and I.M. Pei.  By comparison to other American convention centers, "...ours is seen as outdated, inflexible, undersized and served by a severely limited supply of nearby hotel rooms."  Outdated, maybe.  Inflexible, perhaps.  Undersized?  Not by Blogger's own estimation.  However, it would be nice if Populous and HMC could something about designing a more efficient on-site parking layout.

L.A. Live
The architecture of the proposal, "as if to compensate for the sober event-management calculations around which it is organized," leans more toward the frenetic, think the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland.  Mr. Hawthorne criticizes the design gestures as "oversized and occasionally overwrought, its colors perma-bright." Blogger concurs with this opinion. From a historic preservation perspective, the proposed designed has fetishized saving one of the Freed-Pei glass entry towers, marking the corner of Figueroa and Pico, while demolishing the one near Staples.  Blogger supposes that having a landmark on an important corner makes sense in establishing a compass point, if you will.

Chick Hearn Court with statue

A 70,000-square foot open-air ballroom would replace the current lobby and meeting rooms in the West.  Above that would be another ballroom, 100,000 square-feet, wrapped mostly in glass.  Both would offer dramatic views. Lindsay Plaza would get a much needed energy boost with colorful new paving and plants by landscape architecture firm Olin. The open space would stretch toward L.A. Live and wind its way behind Staples.  The East and West halls, would be connected by a bridge-type building spanning Pico.  Where the complex buts up against the noisy 110 Freeway, a new sound wall with thick plantings would provide updates to drivers and reduce traffic noise spilling into the convention center.

Gilbert W. Lindsay Plaza
Los Angele Convention Center
Christopher Hawthorne suggests a couple of simple changes that would seriously improve the plan: "One is to move the hotel to the Figueroa edge of the site, since what that crucial urban corridor linking USC to the heart of downtown needs is more foot traffic and a more dynamic-and also simply taller-king of urbanism."  He does observe that this ample room to build a "slender hotel while also making Lindsay Plaza a more successful open space."

One of the questions Mr. Hawthorne poses is "what the convention center owes downtown and nearby neighborhoods, architecturally or otherwise."  The cynic says since AEG, in spite of losing the NFL plan secured a five-year contract to run the convention center, has some that the complex renovations will nicely complement the L.A. Live architecture, so that traffic between the sites becomes seamless.  Blogger thinks that frenetic Pixar movie architecture of the proposed design would complement Ginza-at-night architecture of L.A. Live (Blogger's own description).

Northbound on Pico Boulevard and Figueroa Street
The way the process has unfolded, specifically the placement of the hotel and the way the rooftop ballroom is turned away from the Figueroa Street access toward L.A. Live, facilitates this seamless more than hinder it.  If there is any design difference between the proposed convention center design and L.A. Live in palette, there is a similarity in style, tone, and a general aversion to subtlety.  Mr. Hawthorne suggests, "...another goal should be to turn down the volume on both the architecture and landscape architecture of the winning proposal.  The architecture of the expanded West Hall, for instance could be significantly edited as the design is refined, its stack of folds thinned, its collection of bends and kinks streamlined."  Blogger concurs, the less visual clutter, the better.

Los Angeles Convention Center East Hall
Christopher Hawthorne also suggests "A less caffeinated plan for Lindsay Plaza would also help a treatment of Pico that didn't suggest that the street was being removed from the city grid..."  Conventioneers may come and go but the rest of us have to look at it everyday of the week.  Further, Mr. Hawthorne also ponders the question that City Council and other with have to ask, "...whether these changes would salvage the winning plan or merely make it less disappointing."  In greater sense, results of the design competition for the Convention Center is yet another reminder that Los Angeles needs to find a way to broaden the field of firms (and design philosophies).  Mr. Hawthorne cites the example of Santa Monica, "a much smaller city, has shown far more ambition in selecting architects for civic projects, choosing not just well-known international names...but also talented local firms like Koning Eizenberg and Kevin Daly Architects." This from the man who is (was) Peter Zumthor's head cheerleader.  Blogger does not have a short memory.

McCormick Place Grand Concourse
Los Angeles Convention Center
Christopher Hawthorne observes, "In certain ways the flaws of the winning design aren't surprising.  Despite some talk of new approaches, like a distributed-conference model in which events are scattered among several venues in a given city, convention architecture remains hidebound."

The stakes in this case are high not just for downtown but for the entire city and county of Los Angeles.  Instead of relying on new construction, the convention center's additional square footage will be woven into and on top the existing mid-century buildings.  Mr. Hawthorne observes, "This more and more the kind of condition architects face in L.A., a site where what's required, rather than some original or boldly eye-catching state of purpose, is a sustained, strategic effort to rehabilitate, re-clad, or even redeem older buildings in a languishing or under-performing corner of the city."

Los Angeles Convention Center interior
In 1989, James Ingo Freed made this statement,

Convention centers seldom make a profit in their own right...Essentially they are architectural machines designed to generate business for the city.

This is still true.  Nevertheless, as the city runs out of empty land and tries to revive its long ignored civic realm, it no longer has the luxury of considering a project of this scale as solely as a generator of tourist revenue or economic development.  Christopher Hawthorne writes, "We have to consider what it means for public space, neighborhood character and -as a horizontal city turns ambivalently more vertical-the shape and personality of the skyline as well."  The machine needs to function at a higher capacity.

Monday, August 24, 2015

When Lack Of Transportation Becomes A Barrier To Health Care

Woman riding a Greyhound bus
photograph by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Hello Everyone:

Fresh week, fresh things to talk about.  First, yours truly wants to express the utter shock and revulsion over the destruction of the Baalshamin Temple ruins in Palmyra, Syria. The continued wonton destruction of cultural monuments is an attack on humanity itself by those who respect neither human life or civilization.

Now for today's subject, lack of reliable transportation as a barrier to proper healthcare. It is no secret that reliable and safe transportation in suburban and low-income communities is inadequate.  The inability to find a nearby bus or train station can mean missed appointments or poor health.  In his article "The Transportation Barrier" for The Atlantic, Imran Cronk, illustrates this dilemma with his own experience as an emergency room volunteer.  One evening he encountered an older gentleman who was having vision trouble from medication and did not have bus fare.  Mr. Cronk suggested the gentleman try the admissions-and discharge desk but that was no help to the gentleman.  Mr. Cronk watched with concern, as the gentleman was having difficulty pacing the waiting room.  Finally, after his shift was over he gave the gentleman a ride home.

East Baltimore, Maryland
The point of Imran Cronk sharing his experience is to highlight the fact that distance can still be a barrier for poor people living in suburban and urban areas.  The irony is that despite the closer proximity to medical and dental facilities, people still have trouble with finding reliable transportation.  One problem is "Some households don't have a vehicle, or share one among multiple family members."  Underscoring this point is Gillian B. White's article, "Stranded: How America's Failing Public Transportation Increases Inequality" in The Atlantic (May 16, 2015).  Ms. White quotes Moss Kanter, a Harvard University professor and author of the book Move: Putting America's Infrastructure Back in the Lead,

Without really good public transportation, it's very difficult to deal with inequality...Access to just about everything associated with upward mobility and economic progress-jobs, quality food, and, and schooling-relies on the ability to get around in an efficient way, and for an affordable price.  (

Broken window field study
Lowell, Massachusetts
Low-income neighborhoods are acutely affected by sub-standard transportation infrastructure-"subways may not service areas on the fringes of a city, buses may be unreliable, and both are vulnerable to strikes or service suspensions.  And for those who are disable, obese, or chronically ill, riding the bus or the subway can be a difficult undertaking."

Therefore, a trip to the emergency room or doctor's office, without a way to get there and back, can mean either being stranded or missing an appointment altogether.  Mr. Cronk cites a "...2001 survey of 413 adults living at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level in Cleveland, Ohio, published in the journal Health & Social Care in the Community, researchers found that almost one-third of respondents reported that it was 'hard' or 'very hard' to find transportation to their health care providers..." A 1997 surveyof 593 cancer patients in Texas, published in Cancer Practice revealed "...that in some cases, trouble with transportation led patients to forgo their cancer treatments.  The problem was especially prevalent among minority survey respondents; 55 percent of African America and 60 percent of Hispanic survey respondents reported that transportation was a major barrier to treatment, compared to 38 percent of white respondents."

New York City housing project
Imran Cronk continues, "More recently, 2012 survey of 698 low-income patients in a New York City suburb reported that patients who rode the bus to the doctor's office were twice as likely to miss appointments as patients who drove cars."  Also, in 2013, a study published in the Journal of Community Health, titled Traveling Towards Disease: Transportation Barriers to Health Care Access concluded that about "25 percent of lower-income patients have missed or rescheduled their appointments due to lack of transportation."  Further, patient who had transportation problems "also missed filling prescriptions more than twice as often as patients without that same problem."  The study authors reported, These consequences may lead to poorer management of chronic illness and thus poorer health outcomes. (Ibid)

Random corner in Watts, California
University of Pennsylvania professor of medicine Shreya Kangovi explains, In some situations, patients without transportation access may for a medical emergency just to be able to see a doctor.  Dr. Kangovi continues,

Mr. Jones might a disability that makes it difficult for him to use public transportation, so he has been waiting until he's really sick, short of breath, and then calling an ambulance because there is no other good way to get care.

Dr. Samina Syed, the lead author for the 2013 study told Mr. Cronk,

If a patient can't get to see their health-care team, then it's a domino effect...Missed appointments mean they can't address their questions and concerns, or update physicians on changes in their history or life circumstances.

This is a particularly worrisome situation for patients with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, which require active care management.

Community Health Worker in South Los Angeles
While the obvious remedy to the problem is to add more public transit (bus and subway) lines, which may not be feasible, there is another approach to making sure patients get to their appointments and their prescriptions filled.  Mr. Cronk writes, "Some health-care providers are trying to less the problem by employing community health workers (CHWs), people who help patients navigate the health care system."  CHWs are usually individuals, without health-care backgrounds, who are tasked with coordinating transportation to and from office visits, encourage them to take their medications, and educate individuals on healthy lifestyles.  As of 2014, there were about 50,000 CHWs in the United States.

The implementation of CHWs shows promise of positive change in health-care access.  Imran Cronk cites a 2003 study on health disparities from the Institute of Medicine, which praised the CHW model, stating that it offer[s] increase racial and ethnic minorities' access to health care and improve their quality of care.  Research has supported this concept: a 2007 study revealed that CHWs can help hypertension patients better manage their situation and a 2014 study concluded that "patients who worked with CHWs scheduled more primary-car follow-up appointments than those who didn't."

Care Coordinator reviewing a prescription with a couple
Another approach to breaking down the transportation barrier to better health-care are care coordinators.  Care coordinators, unlike CHWs, do have training in a health-related profession (social work or nursing) and are used by some hospitals and doctors.  The coordinators support groups of low-income or chronically ill patients, helping them to navigate their care strategies and schedule appointments with primary-care physicians instead of repeat visits to the emergency room.

Nevertheless, a significant number of patients, especially those with limited resources, struggle to locate reliable and affordable transportation, there are options for those who know how to find them.  Every state offers a "non-emergency medical transport benefit to Medicaid recipients, which covers a set number of rides per month and some Medicare Advantage plans also allow for a specific annual number of trips (eligibility varies according to state).  Some states enter into contracts with local companies to provide transportation; others use volunteers, or hire cabs.  Uber, Lyft are you paying attention? There is a need for reliable transportation for low-income patients.  You could provide a real service to a community who desperately needs it.  Private insurers are also taking steps to make transportation accessible for their clients, albeit through a time-consuming bureaucratic process.

Interior of a Baltimore area bus
Photography courtesy of ArchPlan Inc

The restrictions surrounding these transportation programs can be daunting and can inhibit patients from availing themselves.  Returning to the patient Mr. Cronk encountered during his shift at the ER, he writes, "The patient I encountered in the ER at midnight, for example, did not have the luxury of planning his ride home in advance.  No one who undergoes emergency hospitalization has the benefit of foresight for planning how they might leave."  Those patients who received planned care through a doctor's office or other outpatient setting may not be aware of the resources available to him or her.  The very same low-income patients, who are impacted by transportation barriers, are also likely to lack health literacy which makes it difficult for them to climb the levels of bureaucracy just to get a ride.

Dr. Shreya Kangovi explains, If you have health-literacy issues and if you don't have good access to care to begin with, you're not going to be able to fill out the application and get your provider to fill out their side of it...Barriers like that, which seem small and detailed, end up being insurmountable barriers for patients.

If it is not the lack of health literacy that prevents patients from obtaining access to transportation, it is a sense of self-consciousness.  Mr. Cronk, citing Dr. Samina Syed, writes, "Often, doctors may not even realize that their patients have problems with transportation."  Dr. Syed elaborated,

There are things patients might not tell you, or that you don't ask them, and so they just hear from the doctor that you shouldn't miss appointments, and they say 'Okay,'...But there is more to it that is beyond their control...You can provide the best care in the world...but it doesn't matter if the patient has no way to get to it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Are We Ready To Step Into The Inner Ring?

Kelly Park
Compton, California
Hello Everyone:

Over the weekend, the N.W.A. biographical movie Straight Outta Compton made its debut; crushing its box office competition, earning a staggering $60.2 million. (  The title comes from N.W.A's 1988 "gangsta" rap album which put the city of Compton, California in the spotlight.  Emily Straus writes in her article "Straight Outta Suburbia" for The Atlantic, "A rap album made Compton an icon of urban decay, but the struggles of that California town are common to inner-ring suburbs.  The double-platinum album's song lyrics and music videos emphasized street and economic devastation, portraying Compton as brutal and lawless."  Compton and similar inner-ring suburbs do not fit into the suburban stereotype of happy families, living in nice single family homes in quiet, clean, crime free communities.  Indeed not.  The album cover featuring Eazy-E pointing a gun directly at the viewer contrasted against the sparkling blue California sky upends this image.

Straight Outta Compton
N.W.A. 1988
The movie and Dr. Dre's new album, Compton, the city has once again been thrust onto center stage.  N.W.A.'s brutally merciless vision still defines the city for many American.  In 2011 Sports Illustrated and CBS News produced a joint special report about gangs and schools only reconfirmed Compton's status as an urban jungle.  The report took its title from the album and presented students using sports participation to survive in gang-infested communities.  N.W.A. made Compton a signifier "urban decay and inner-city crime."  However, there is more to Compton's story than gangs and urban decay-"a hidden history of the 'other' suburbia."

While N.W.A's videos featured the gritty streets and back alleys, however, if you pay close attention, you can see modest-single family with front gardens that run counter to the ghetto image in most peoples's minds.  Compton is also known as the "Hub City" because of location near the exact geographic location to the geographic center of Los Angeles County. (  The area was settled in 1867 by a group of 30 families, led by Griffith Dickenson Compton.  In 1868, the settlement built a multi-purpose building which served as a schoolhouse, church, and a place for civic meetings.  The settlement took the name Compton in 1869.  On May 11, 1888 the City of Compton was officially incorporated into Los Angeles County. (Ibid)

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
Compton, California

Emily Straus writes, "Compton may be legally incorporated as a city, like all California municipalities, but it's actually a suburban town...But this never fit into what became the middle-class suburban model: a deep tax base, good schools, and an overwhelmingly white populace."  Rather, Compton is symbolic of inner-ring suburbs which grew up " central cities as single-use, residential-only subdivisions."  These types of suburbs do not have strong business districts which limit their commercial potential; they are populated with aging housing stock that diminish their attraction to higher-income earners.

Compton, like other inner-ring suburbs, like other inner-ring suburbs, was denied affordability and accessibility made them susceptible to racial turnover.  In the fifties, the city was majority white but by the 1970s, it was majority African American to majority Latino in the nineties.  The demographic shift coincided with Compton's "progressive impoverishment; by 2000, 28 percent of the town's residents lived below the poverty line, double California's 14.2 percent figure and more than twice the national 12.4 percent.  Further, the town's reputation as a "black city" inhibited any potential entrepreneurial ventures.  The cherry on top  was "The cultural associations of N.W.A and gangsta rap..." which limited any prospects for outside investment in the community.

House for sale
Compton, California
Emily Straus writes, "Without strong business or residential-revenue streams, Compton and similar inner-ring suburbs around the U.S. spiraled downward."  The inner ring suburbs got caught up in a vicious cycle of deindustrialization and disinvestment.  This resulted in these communities inability to maintain their infrastructure.  Desperately needed reinvestment was hard to obtain which forced Compton and like communities to resort " a variety of superficial, and ultimately unsuccessful solutions to their endemic problems."

Despite its nationally (in)famous reputation, Compton's situation.  Ms. Straus makes an analogy between Compton and other inner ring suburbs, including Ferguson, Missouri.  Like Compton, Ferguson also experienced racial and economic changes, "...going from 99 percent white in 1970 to over 67 percent African American in 2010.  By then, Ferguson's unemployment exceeded 13 percent, and the number of residents living in poverty had doubled in only a decade."  Further, Ferguson also experienced business disinvestment coupled with falling residential real estate values. To add insult to injury, when businesses did open shop in Ferguson, they were protected by tax exemptions, leaving the town's poor to shoulder the burden for services.

Straight Outta Compton
The story of Compton or Ferguson is emblematic of other suburban stories.  Like every town, across the United States, Compton was built with a good deal of hope and was home to waves of different ethnicities looking for better lives.  However, the reality of the place was a cold hard slap to the face of many of these ethnic groups.  Their suburban dreams slipped away, blocked by misguided housing policies, deindustrialization, disinvestment, and segregation.

Emily Straus speculates, "N.W.A put Compton on the map in 1988-too soon for most Americans to understand what they were really seeing."  After the fires of Ferguson, Straight Outta Compton is reacquainting America with Compton's ongoing struggles and hopefully focus attention on the unique plight of inner-ring suburbs.  It is not a coincidence that Straight Outta Compton opened the same week as the fiftieth anniversary of the Watts Uprising and the one year anniversary as Ferguson.  Like Compton, Watts is an inner-ring suburb that has suffered the same plight as Compton.  Emily Straus is correct when she wrote that 1988 was too soon for Americans to fully understand what they were looking at.  The good times atmosphere of the first half of the eighties still lingered.  That era of good times is long gone and hopefully, we can begin to deal with the unique challenges facing the inner-ring suburbs with greater awareness.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What Is Frank Gehry's Vision For The L.A. River?

Watch this Friends of the Los Angeles River video:

Los Angeles River before the concrete
Hello Everyone:

Today we move from the celebration versus shoe-gazing analysis of Los Angeles to more current events.  Two exciting news items from the City of Angeles: first, Mayor Eric J. Garcetti is campaign to make Los Angeles the American bidder for the 2024 Summer Olympics.  Second and relevant for today, architect Frank Gehry is working with civic officials to draft a new master plan for the Los Angeles River redevelopment.  The good part, is that it is not Peter Zumthor-so no black blobs.  The bad news, according to the comments on the social media reflect concerns about his firm's lack of landscape architecture and planning experience as well as their over-dependence on computational architectural.  Recently Peter Jamison, Martha Groves, and Dan Weikel report in their story for the Los Angeles Times, "Exclusive Architect Frank Gehry is helping L.A. with its Los Angeles River master plan, but secrecy troubles some," what Mr. Gehry's presence will bode for the future.

Bridge overlooking the L.A. River
Frank Gehry is better known for the contemporary icons Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles,  However, since last year, Mr. Gehry has been doing under the radar work on "...what officials describe as the beginning of an overarching plan for the bridges, bike paths, walkways, and other improvements intended to revive public use of the river as it winds from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach."

Much of the specifics of Mr. Gehry's vision still remain under wraps.  Mayor Garcetti and the L.A. River Revitalization Corp, a nonprofit organization established to coordinate a renewal effort, had not intended to announce the Santa Monica-based architect's involvement until later this month.  Nevertheless, the Times beat the Mayor and the L.A. River Revitalization Corp to the punch this past Friday; "...Garcetti said the architect is working on the project pro bono and producing a 'master plan, in the truest sense of the word.'"  Mayor Garcetti went as far as to compare the secretive master plan to the work of famed Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted.  To have the Olmsted of our time focusing on this, is extraordinary, said the Mayor in an unrelated City Hall press conference.

L.A. River 1895-1920
Peter Jamison, Martha Groves, and Dan Weikel observe, "Gehry's involvement marks a potential turning point in a decades-long struggle to reinvent the river and its concrete-lined banks.  But his plan is getting a cold reception from some of the activists who helped draw attention to the cause."  Their concerns include the secrecy surrounding the plan and lack of public input on a potentially broad blueprint for the river's future.  They also have sounded the alarm over the possible direction for river redevelopment could impede "...federal funding for $1.4-billion, 11-mile restoration project in northeast Los Angeles and downtown."

Those concerns came to the forefront last week when the nonprofit group, Friends of the Los Angeles River ( led by Lewis MacAdams, sent a letter to the River Revitalization Corp, categorically refusing to support Mr. Gehry's effort.  The letter also stated that "...the river environmental group would take in a news conference announcing the architect's plan."  A copy of the letter obtained by the Times, in which Mr. MacAdams expressed fear that the new vision and plan for the river led by Frank Gehry would undermine our efforts to receive funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and create confusion among the public and political leadership.

Lost Wetlands of Los Angeles
Photograph from Herald-Examiner Collection 
In an interview with the newspaper, Mr. MacAdams clarified his opposition to the project.  He told the reporters that "...his group's decision not to endorse the project stemmed partly from philosophical opposition to the sort of top-down land-use planning that led the federal government in the mid-20th century to turn a meandering river into an unsightly drainage channel."  Lewis MacAdams continued,

Last time there was a  single idea for the L.A. River it involved 3 million barrels of concrete,...To us, it's the epitome of wrong-ended planning.  It's not coming from the bottom up.  It's coming from the top down.

Frank Gehry's office did not respond to requests for comment.

Current view of the L.A. River
   Deputy mayor for city services Barbara Romero told the reporters, "...there would be an extensive outreach process to solicit Los Angeles County residents' thoughts as Gehry's work moves forward.  Ms. Romero also told the reporters that public comment process was to be determined and handles through the River Revitalization Corp.  She also said, "...Gehry had be studying the river in conjunction with the Revitalization Corp. since last November...his work would 'build on' the Army Corps-funded restoration project, not interfere with it."  Blogger can only imagine what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has in mind.  Ms. Romero bubbled, At the end of the day, the L.A. River is an infrastructure...Having someone like Frank Gehry involved elevates it.  Elevates it to what remains to be seen.

Los Angeles River and Downtown
The L.A. River Revitalization Corp issued a statement to the reporters saying Mr. Gehry's efforts will expand upon decades of important work that has come before...Far from complicating any other efforts, his work will complement those efforts.  The statement continues, This project will have tremendous amount of public input from the diverse talent and ideas of people across the region.  This all sounds well and good but blogger thinks it might be helpful for Mr. Gehry and River Revitalization Corp could, at least, publish some sort of teaser drawings.

Some, such as architect Kevin Mulcahy of RAC Design Build, a four year-old firm based in a riverside warehouse in Elysian Valley, were happy over Mr. Gehry's participation.  Mr. Mulcahy told the reporters, "it was an exciting resolution to the question of who would ensure that the restoration project would have a unified design as it winds through a patchwork of cities and unincorporated county land."  Keving Mulcahy said,

It ends a years-long street fight...over who might have the world-class vision and world-class capital to develop a comprehensive plan for transforming the entire river into a 51-mile-long public space.

Urban hike the L.A. River
The mostly arid concrete riverbed is one in a series of urban waterways targeted for redevelopments.  The best-known is the San Antonio River Walk, "which attracted more than 9 million non-resident tourists last year and million more locals."  According to Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow with the Urban Land Institute in Washington D.C., Most American cities turned their backs on the water in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s.  Today, There's hardly a city in the country that hasn't tried to reconnect with its waterfront...Some have had more success than others.

The Los Angeles River revitalization master plan was adopted by city officials in 2007 after extensive public comment.  Ms. Romero told the reporters, "Gehry's work will flesh out design elements that were left vague."  This may sound all well and fine but "in a region and state known for heavy regulatory review of large developments-especially near environmental resources-question remain about which government agencies will have a say in how Gehry's vision is implemented."  Figuring this out should be fun.

Los Angeles River through downtown in the evening

Los Angeles-based environmental attorney Douglas Carstens told the reporters,

It could be the city of Los Angeles with input from the federal government and local agencies or it might be a federal process with cities as the commenting agencies...They might turn this into something regional.  All of this needs to be coordinated.

Perhaps if civic officials provided more clarity about which agency was taking the lead in this project, it might ease some of the concerns over this project.  Mr. Carstens comment about the need for coordination is more of a statement of the obvious.

According to Mr. Carstens, one of the challenges is, balance competing visions of the river as environmental haven-featuring abundant parkland and public access-and as the spine of major urban redevelopment, surrounded by shops and housing.  If there are differing visions, the conflicts and issues would have to be worked out...Frank Gehry might be able to do that.

Los Angeles is a park-poor city and no doubt the redevelopment of the Los Angeles River has the potential to partially remedy this situation.  Perhaps in the coming months as more information becomes available, the public will have a chance to comment on the project.  Regardless, much remains to be seen of Frank Gehry's vision for the Los Angeles River.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Reyner Banham Loves L.A. While Mike Davis Not So Much

Ecology of Fear:
Los Angeles and the Imagination of  Disaster

Hello Everyone:

The City of Los Angeles is our focus today.  Specifically, we are going to talk about two seminal books written about the city's ecologies: Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971) by Reyner Banham and Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (1998) by Mike Davis.  Guiding us in our discussion will be Jonathan P. Bell's article for UrbDeZine Los Angeles, "Reyner Banham, Mike Davis, and the Discourse on Los Angeles Ecology." Mr. Bell writes,

...Banham's Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies celebrated L.A.'s idiosyncratic built form and history.  Defying critics who wrote off Los Angeles as a cultureless city without history.  Banham argued that L.A.'s four ecologies-the beaches, the foothills, the flatlands, and the freeways-made the traditional city obsolete...Mike Davis responded with Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster, an apocalyptic polemic chronicling what seems to be L.A.'s normative order of chaos.  According to Davis, Los Angeles is ceaselessly on the verge of destruction, by natural disasters..., the human hand...,or superlative forces....

Yet, somehow, Los Angeles continues to survive.

Los Angeles:
The Architecture of Four Ecologies
 In a number of ways, these books bracket a body of literature on Los Angeles.  If Mr. Banham's book is a celebration of the pinnacle of post-war boosterism, then Los Angeles, Mr. Davis's tome is a frighteningly cautionary critique of the city. (de Turenne, Salon, Dec. 1998)  In short, the dire warnings of pending doom in Mr. Davis's book cancels out the joyfulness in Mr. Banham's work. However, Mr. points out, "...this interpretation would be misleading. In fact, reading the texts side-by-side, one sees a striking correlation between their ecologies."  He describes this correlation as symbiotic.  The compliment each other, providing a counterpoint to one another.  Together, they give the reader a "...holistic, sobering and revealing alternative history of Los Angeles."

Four Ecologies and the Ecology of Fear

The beach towns that dot the Southern California coastline comprise Mr. Banham's Surfurbia, his first ecology famous for the sun, the surf, and the suburbs.  Surfurbia stretches from Malibu at the western-most edge towards the Balboa peninsula at the southern-most point, distinguished by two modernist masterpieces: The Hunt House, by Craig Ellwood (1955) and the Lovell Beach House by Rudolph Schindler (1926) in Newport Beach.  (Banham, 21, 1971)

The Hunt House (1955)
Craig Ellwood
Malibu, California
The coordinates are worth mentioning for two reasons:

Firstly, Surfurbia transcends the Los Angeles/Orange County boundary.  Banham's cross-jurisdictional definition of Los Angeles is one of the first to declare that L.A. neither begins nor ends at the city limits.  As Banham argues, Los Angeles is a regional metropolis and more than a city proper.  Secondly, rather than defining Los Angeles according to traditional municipal boundaries, Banham uses two modernist landmarks to demarcate Surfurbia...

In this case, the Lovell Beach House in Newport Beach, California by Rudolph Schindler and the Hunt House in Malibu, California by Craig Ellwood.

The Lovell Beach House (1926)
Rudolph Schindler
Newport Beach, California
Reyner Banham begins his tour through Surfurbia in tony and very private Malibu beach.  Mr. Banham does not find the fact that shore is cut off from public access controversial because he believes that the private shoreline is the result of building large houses on small lots, which effectively restricted the public inlets between the beach and the Pacific Coast Highway.  (22)  In the wake of the contemporary cries for more public access to the beach, Mr. Banham's defense of privacy makes him sound like an apologist.  Yet, it does not seem right to judge his arguments by today's standards, because he does acknowledge the importance public access, observing that Santa Monica beach is wide open to the public.  Mr. Bell writes, "Indeed, the notion of accessibility is important to Santa Monica's history.  Banham maintains that Santa Monica Canyon 'is the point where Los Angeles first came to the Beaches.'" (26)

Santa Monica State Beach
Since early efforts to create a port in Santa Monica Bay, Angelenos have been flocking to this beach community.  Reyner Banham believes that the attraction is the city's distinctive civic atmosphere.  (28)  Moving south, Mr. Banham cruises past, the then, decaying Venice community which he describes as having the charm of decay, but this will almost certainly disappear in the redevelopments that must follow...  (28)  As continues driving south, Mr. Banham passes through the South Bay communities of Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, and Hermosa Beach-a cluster of cities from which the word Surfurbia emerges.  It is here that he identifies the signifiers of this ecology: the boardwalk and surfboard.  As Mr. Banham puts it, 'the concrete boardwalk'...characterizes mile after mile of the true surfurbian shore.  (30)  He observes the boardwalk's inner face of cottages, hotels, and restaurants, buttressing the seawall as the surfboard, the prime symbols and functional artefact of these beaches where California surfing began.  (31)

Redondo Beach Pier
Redondo Beach, California
 Reyner Banham waxes prosaic over the surfboard's role in Surfurbia,

Leaning on the sea-wall or stuck in the sand like plastic megaliths, the concentrate practically the whole capacity of Los Angeles to create stylistic decorative imagery, and to fix those images with all the panoply of modern visual and material techniques-and all, remember, in the service of the preferred local form of noble savage, pitting his nearly naked muscles and skilled reactions against the full force of the 'mighty hulking Pacific Ocean.'  (Ibid)

Long Beach, California

The surf side idle quickly changes beyond the Surfurbian cities. In posh Palos Verdes, "..the prominent promontory topped with 'exclusive residential suburbs' disrupts Surfurbia's boardwalk urbanism."  Further south, in Long Beach, Reyner Banham writes,

  the shoreline could be mistaken for a European waterfront save for the oil rigs clumsily encased behind decorative screens.  The Surfurbian city then reemerges in Huntington Beach, "the loosely developed surfer's paradise" across the Orange County line.  (34)

It is in Orange County, that Mr. Banham aimed his critic's eye at his first ecology.  Targeting the faux-Italian Huntington Pacific apartments, he observes, [I]t is literally perched on the shore, is surrounded by a wall and is guarded by a uniform cop.  If it heralds the subdivision of the shoreline...into a series of fortified private segments, it is a sorry portent for surfurbia.  (35)  Mike Davis could not agree anymore with this assessment.

Different "Keep out" signs in Malibu
Surfurbia rebuttal

Mike Davis also assigns Los Angeles distinct boundaries.  This is particularly true in his observations about the beaches, which extend from Santa Barbara to San Diego.  For Mr. Davis, it is a darker picture.  In his estimation, the restrictive beach access is a product of zealous developers's land grabs during the 1920s open space debates.  In contrast to Mr. Banham's lovely image of Malibu, Mr. Davis argues, "...that developers set out to privatize public space, especially the beaches, in order to maximize profits at the public's expense."  Specifically,

As early as 1928, 'barely half an inch of publicly owned beach frontage was left for each citizen of Los Angeles County.  (Davis, 65, 1998)  The tactic of restricting beach access is particularly evident in Malibu where reactionary residents have denigrated beach access advocates as "radicals" and equated their advocacy as unconstitutional property seizures.  (135)

Mike Davis's version of L.A. beaches is a battleground fraught with class and racial overtones, not the laid back version of Reyner Banham's Surfurbia.

Joe Legotte sits in a chair during a winter storm
San Diego, California
Traveling up and down the coast, the signs of impending disaster are everywhere.  Surfurbia is a favorite target of Nature's wrath.  Jonathan Bell frighteningly writes, "During winter, heavy rains wash an assortment of deadly snakes from adjacent hills into the ocean and the waves bring them back onshore in droves..."  No doubt something straight out of a horror movie, Surfing Snakes anyone?  For Mr. Davis, the snakes are messengers from angry Gabrielino Native American deities sent In times of ecological crisis...(as) the avengers of transgressions against nature.  (197-99)  Revenge of nature is the overarching theme in Ecology of Fear and the beach communities are the primary location for Mother Nature to visit her wrath upon L.A.  Mr Bell writes, "The book opens with a description of the Hawaiian Kona storm system that hits L.A.'s coast at least once a decade.  According to Davis, the storm carries several cubic kilometers of water, or the the equivalent of half of Los Angeles' annual precipitation.  (5)  Of course, the odd Hawaiian storm system is nothing in comparison to the waterspouts that frequently plague Surfurbia.  Waterspouts were spotted in the Santa Monica Bay as early as 1937 but have largely gone unreported in the media despite the onshore havoc they wreck.

Oakwood section of Venice Beach, California
Mike Davis's images of doom and disaster are a bucket of ice water on Reyner Banham's pastoral Surfurbia.  Mr. Banham's beach is place of endless pleasure, while Mr. Davis's beach is another combat zone in a volatile Los Angeles.  Moreover, Surfurbia's location appears to exaggerate racial and class difference, something Mr. Banham omits is his Four Ecologies.  The Oakwood section of Venice Beach is an example of what can happen with race and class tensions collide with gentrification.  Mr. Bell writes, "Low-income, mostly African-American residents of Oakwood are being priced out of the neighborhood by similar exclusionary interests that run Malibu."  Typically, it is the long-term residents that get displaced from their community.  However, in a perverse sense of poetic justice, the long-term residents are getting themselves out of the path of the danger about to be visited upon the elite who are gentrifying the neighborhood.

Chemosphere (1960)
John Lautner
Photograph courtesy of Josh White
Los Angeles, California

The next stop in our tour through Los Angeles's ecologies is the Foothills.  They are the hillsides that ring the greater L.A. Basin.  The Foothills's coordinate lie "...the L.A. River just north of downtown, as the starting point, the western foothills run from Silver Lake, over Beverly Hill and to the Palisades.  To the east, they encompass Highland Park, Pasadena. Sierra Madre and Monrovia.  In the South Day, the communities of Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills define the southern foothills."  Reyner Banham offers his politically tinged thoughts when singling out Baldwin Hills as "a planned development wrongfully supported restrictive covenants in the title deeds which excluded Negroes and Mexicans." (Banham, 80) What brings these spread out hillside communities is their planning (or lack of) typology.  Mr. Banham writes, That is what the foothill ecology is really all about: narrow, tortuous residential roads serving precipitous house-plot that often back up directly on unimproved wilderness, (81)

Chemosphere interior
Like an explorer discovering new land, Mr. Banham wanders onto recognizable movie locations, hidden modernist gems, and lavish castles.  These sites are almost hidden away, behind a curtain of laurels that allow instant privacy, essential to the fat life of the delectable mountains.  (82)  However, amid the bucolic hideaway are the seeds of it demise.  He writes,

  In so far as this ecology is threatened it is threatened by its own desirability more than anything else; a desirability attested by the appearance of small two- or three-storey apartment blocks balanced awkwardly over impossibly precipitous pocket handkerchief sites... (84)

 The mad dash to develop whatever available hillsides remain has led to builders taking the the topography for granted.  Other times, the topography inspires unique solutions such as John Lautner's masterpiece Chemosphere, "perched atop a concrete pillar embedded deep into the forty-five degree Hollywood Hills."  Other times, as Mr. Banham observes, the un thought-out solution-if solution it is-simply takes a standard developer's tract-house and perches it in mid-air on steel uprights...  (86) This or just bulldozing the hillside.

The foothills above Bradbury in the San Gabriel Valley
Photograph courtesy of Jonathan P. Bell
Given Los Angeles's propensity for rapid urban development, transforming the Foothills is almost a given, the natural outcome in a place of "de facto urbanization."  Be that as it may, Jonathan Bell observes, "...what differs most strikingly between piecemeal and hyper development in the foothills is the scale of the resulting projects."  Mr. Banham tells us,

(T)he customary methods of working and designing did not alter the profiles of whole hills, exalt valleys, or make waste of places plain, in the way that large-scale mountain cropping does.  (89)

The problem is enhanced by the Foothill's susceptibility to mudslides thanks to pathetic run-off and ground-level undercutting.  This point allows Mr. Banham the rare opportunity to agree with L.A. Moroses (the Greek deity of doom).  He notes that given the dangers of rapid hillside development,

(I) t becomes difficult not to entertain apocalyptic queries about how some of these developments are going to settle down and where!  Such large-scale triflings with the none too-stables structure of an area of high earthquake risk seems more portentous as a direct physical risk to life and limb that as a lost ecological amenity. (91)  Then, of course, there is Mike Davis's central theme of Los Angeles's apocalyptic demise in Ecology of Fear.

Malibu Fire 2007
Foothills rebuttal

Mike Davis is also concerned about the threat of natural disasters but from a less circumspect point of view.  In Mr. Davis's opinion, Foothill development is an insult to L.A.'s already precarious natural environment.  In response to this affront, Mother Nature is fighting back with annual firestorms that make the case (but do not) against large-scale hillside development  The lush hillsides of Malibu are not, oddly enough, a favorite inferno site.  Mr Davis writes, The rugged 22-mile coastline is scourged, on average, by a large fire (one thousand acres plus) every two and half years, and the entire surface areas of the western Santa Monica Mountains has been burnt three times over this century.  (Davis, 86)  Comforting thought.

Further, Mr. Davis points out that in thirty years five firestorms have burnt over 1,000 luxury homes, sometimes striking the same unfortunate homeowner twice.  (98)  You would think some people would learn?  Nevertheless, after the devastating 1993 Malibu Fire resulted in $1 billion in damage but did that stop residents from rebuilding and moving back in?  No way.  In fact, the angry residents demanded more fire protection, mistakenly supported as a policy of total fire suppression.  While this strategy soothed the residents, Mr. Davis wrote, ...has been a tragic error because it creates enormous stockpiles of fuel for additional and inevitable fires.  (101)

Drawing by relkavin
If firestorms are not dangerous enough for hillside dwellers, the Foothills are home to the threat of native wild animal attacks.  Los Angeles's rugged terrain, coupled with rapid development, is one explanation for the uptick in the number of annual attacks.  Mike Davis writes,

First of all, metropolitan Los Angeles, now bordered primarily by mountains...rather than by farmland as in the past, has the longest wild edge, abruptly juxtaposed tract houses and wildlife habitat, of any major nontropical city...Second, this is primarily a mountain edge... (202)

Recently, the number of wild life attacks has become more brazen and common, implying that the animal kingdom is done with L.A.'s persistent development.  The roster of real and imagined "When Animals Attack:" includes: mountain lions. black bears, coyotes, African bees, and chupacabras of Latin America mythology.  In short, Messrs. Banham and Davis do express sincere concern for out-control development in the foothills.  However, Mr. Banham sees it as an inevitability and should proceed with caution while Mr. Davis sounds the alarm, no hillside is safe. They both could be right but they reveal an inherent weak point in Los Angeles's Foothill ecology.

Duarte Historical Society and Duarte Museum
Rancho de Duarte, California
Plains of Id

The Plains of Id sounds like something straight out of a Sigmund Freud textbook.  Instead, the Plains of Id are Reyner Banham's descriptor for the flatland communities which make up the bulk of Los Angeles out which, "the city's primal development urge originates."  Mr. Banham writes, These central flatlands are where the crudest urban lusts and most fundamental aspirations are created, manipulated and with luck satisfied.  (Banham, 143)  Mr. Banham's dissection of the Plains of Id begin in the San Gabriel Valley.  Following Foothill Boulevard east, he retraces the progress of suburbia to its foundation in eastern L.A. County-the Azusa-Duarte area.  In 1851 Henry Dalton first began subdividing his rancho into smaller farm tract which produced the Duarte township.  The subdivisions spread west as settlers came to L.A. via the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads.  Railroad was the crucial mechanism that drove plains development.  As the rail lines extended north and south, new opportunities for suburbanization appeared.  Reyner Banham points out that the San Fernando Valley and Orange County were products of railroad expansion.

The Hauser
Los Angeles, California

Other than the odd urban monument-eg. the Watts Tower-that might distinguish one suburban plain for another, Mr. Banham observes

...the landscape tends to disappear into 'an endless plain endlessly gridded with endless streets, peppered endlessly with ticky-tack houses clustered into indistinguishable neighborhoods, slashed across by endless freeways that have destroyed any community spirit that many once have existed.  (Ibid)

This description of the plains could explain the ceaseless hunger for development but "what else is there to do by grow?"  Jonathan Bell writes, "But suburban development does not always translate into beautifying the plains."  To a great extent, developing the plains results in a confusing and lackluster built environment.  For example, while passing through the San Gabriel Valley, Mr. Banham points out a substantial four-lane highway will apparently stop at a white fence and a grove of trees, throwing off the traveler's locational awareness.  (150)

Dingbat apartments
Los Angeles, California
 Visiting West Los Angeles, he identifies the ubiquitous dingbat architectural typology: ...two-story apartment building with a bland street-facing facade, uninspiring architectural detailing, and required on-site covered parking spaces tucked under rectangular overhanging bedrooms propped up on thin steel pipes.  (157-9)  He comes to the conclusion, complaints aside, these suburban "anomalies" should be celebrated as a unique L.A. ecology.  The never ending flatlands beckon the Eastern and Midwestern transplant and were essential to the formation of the modern day metropolis.  Moreover, this undistinguished townscape and its underlying flat topology were quite essential in producing the distinctively Angeleno ecologies that surround it on every side.  In a sense it is a great service area feeding and supplying the foothills and beaches... (155)

Watts Tower
Watts, California

 Plains of Id Rebuttal

Reyner Banham presents a relevant analysis of the Plains of Id's physical design but omits the ecology's sociopolitical challenges.  In some cases, such as the City of Duarte, this omission might be warranted, but in the more marginalized and impoverished communities of the Plains, this omission glares brightly.  For example, Watts,  Mr. Banham rightly focuses some attention on the celebrated Watts Towers and their strategic location on the transportation grid but fails to provide an analysis of the political climate.  This is in light of the fact, the City of Los Angeles just marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Watts Uprising, which took place six years before The Architecture of Four Ecologies.  Jonathan Bell rightly asks, "How can the 1965 Watts Uprising go unmentioned in this analysis when the rebellion itself sprang from the particularities of the local ecology?"  Answering his own question, Mr. Bell writes, "The Watts Uprising was the product of mounting urban inequalities that included aversion towards community development in Black communities."  Contrast this with the pathos that drives the "subdivisionist lust that drives the plainspersons' the desire to disinvest when communities lack amenities and resources to sustain profits."  In Mr. Banham's sanitized vision of suburbia, dingbat architecture, not inequality is the main concern.  Naturally, Mike Davis has a grimmer outlook.

Custom house in Cheviot Hills
Los Angeles, California
Mike Davis's disturbia image is a counterbalance to the genteel sociopolitical of Mr. Banham's idyllic Plains of Id.  Mr. Davis's image of suburban development has more ominous consequences.  Suburbanization has stolen the last remaining scraps of open space in Los Angeles.  According to Mr. Davis

While the population of the Los Angeles region grew by 45 percent from 1970 to 1990, its developed surface area increased by 300 percent.  (Davis, 86)

One the byproducts of suburbanization is the increased privatization of public space.  One positive result is "a sense of safety given the array of security technologies deployed to monitor users' activities..."  However, Mr. Davis argues, it is a fallacy to think the suburbs are safer than downtown.  

From the dusty roads of Lancaster to the sleepy streets of Orange County, the plains are ground zero for what Davis call the "low intensity" urban race war between neo-Nazi skinhead and unsuspecting minority groups.  (405-11)

This low-intensity race war has been fueled, over the last twenty years by the increasing migration of minorities to previously all White suburbs.  Circling back to Watts and the persistent myth of the inner-city as a hotbed of crime, violence, blight, and racism-think again and look to the suburbs.

Under the I-110/US 101 Freeway
Downtown Los Angeles
Photograph courtesy of Jonathan P. Bell

The sprawling freeway system that spreads itself across Los Angeles is the image for Reyner Banham's Autotopia, his last and most infamous ecology.  It is also what Mr. Banham points to when he made his most controversial argument, "L.A.'s heavily trafficked pollution-causing monolithic freeway system is not a source of consternation, but rather a praiseworthy feat of planning ingenuity."  If you have ever driven the L.A. freeway, you would probably be incredulous at this statement.  Mr. Banham explains,

...the freeway system in its totality is now a single comprehensible place, a coherent state of mind, a complete way of life, the fourth ecology of the Angeleno.  (Banham, 195)

In Reyner Banham's opinion, the freeways, despite their unique ability to make the average Angeleno question their existence, liberates the driver from the congested streets that compose the typical urban grid. Jonathan Bell writes, "Here Banham opens much for debate.  He wisely addresses the traffic stereotypes early on.  He does not deny that traffic is problematic in Autotopia, but he downplays its extent in comparison to European standards."  From Architecture of Four Ecologies, 

(T) freeway system can fail; traffic jams can pile up miles long in rush-hours or even on sunny Sunday afternoon, but these jams are rarely stationary for as long as European expectations would suggest.  (197)

State freeway junction
Los Angeles, California
Jonathan Bell faults Reyner Banham for not defining what "European expectations" are nor does he explain why L.A. drivers would consider using an international traffic standard as a basis for comparison.  This leaves the reader thinking that Angelenos have no business complaining about traffic in "the land of eternal sunshine and smog."  Reyner Banham admits that the smog is damaging, he ultimately concludes that smog is psychologically or no, most Angelenos (drivers) are neither retching with smog nor stuck in a jam... (198)

Reyner Banham seems to blithely argues that traffic and smog are of little concerns, "...given that Autotopia, externalities and all, symbolizes the all-American values of democracy and freedom."  True, being stuck in traffic does not distinguish between high- and low-born.  One valid point that Mr. Banham raises is "...driving in Autotopia requires special skills and knowledge that are acquired only through time and applied study..."  Mr. Bell makes the analogy of driving and voting.  He writes, "...both are adult rights-of-passage that require discipline, consensus, and consideration of another.  Furthermore, driving is about self-reliance and free will, especially in comparison to public transit.  Using Reyner Banham to buttress his argument, ...the price of rapid door-to-door transport on demand is the almost total surrender of personal freedom for most of the journey.  (199)  Again, Mr. Bell faults Mr. Banham, this time for failing to acknowledge the bus-rider or low-income rider who cannot afford a car, leaving the reader to wonder " they fit into this hypothetical democracy."

Never ending construction on the 405 Freeway
West Los Angeles
Jonathan Bell observes, "What is revealing in Banham in Banham's analysis the freeway's implicit disciplinary order.  For even the most free-flowing democracy needs a system to ensure safety and functionality.  Autotopia has impressive disciplinary devices."  Reyner Banham describes the freeways as first, a cyborg, man/machine system requiring the driver to synchronize with the roadway so that both function properly. (Ibid)  By giving into and becoming one with the technology of infrastructure, "the safe and sensible driver inches closer to machine-hood."  Second, the driver must obey the myriad of road signs designed to control traffic.  The road signs are more than a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, they remind the driver there is no alternative to complete surrender of the will to the instructions on the sign.  (201)  Functional operation is the prime directive of Autotopia, thus it is incumbent upon the driver to diligently monitor traffic reports in order to stay informed of any disruptions in these allegedly well ordered system.  Given the imposition of discipline on the driver, it is little wonder that Mr. Banham predicts a future where the driver is the proverbial cog in the automotive machine:

Thus a variety of commanding authorities-moral, governmental, commercial, and mechanical (...)-direct the freeway driver through a situation so closely controlled that...he will hardly notice any difference when the freeways are fitted with computerized control systems that will take charge of the car at the on-ramp and direct it at properly regulated speeds and correctly selected routes to a pre-programmed choice of off ramp.  (202)

Newhall Ranch Road to Golden Valley Road
  Autotopia rebuttal

Reyner Banham's freeways are a joyous celebration of free-flowing movement.  Conversely, Mike Davis's freeways and cars are the villains in the ongoing destruction of L.A.'s landscape.  Mr. Bell points outs, "To be fair, in Ecology of Fear Davis makes few direct criticism of the freeway, a surprising omission since one of the most familiar Los Angeles stereotypes is that freeways dominate.  Nevertheless, Davis' implicit criticism of Autotopia is palpable."

Newhall Ranch Road
Newhall, California

One of Mr. Davis's overarching themes is relentless suburbanization has wrecked Los Angeles.  Mr. Bell rightly points outs, "Suburbanization could not be accomplished with first supplying a conduit to transport anti-urbanites between the outlying bedroom communities and L.A.'s polycentric job centers.  Hence, the freeway systems was was born.  As suburbs continued to develop farther from L.A. proper, more freeways were to connect the periphery and core."

Mike Davis points to Newhall Ranch in Valencia to support his anti-freeway expansion thesis.  To accommodate the proposed 70,000-person suburb, developers proposed enlarging Highway 126 to eight lanes.  This development eventually consumed a substantial amount of already scarce open space, according to Mr. Davis. Further,

...the development's proposed 25, 000 housing units are to be built atop an agricultural flood plain that was home to state-protected endangered species that had to be relocated.  (Davis, 86-7)

Newhall Ranch Road and Copperhill
Photography by Konrad Summers
Mr. Davis argues that this example of freeway urbanism is part of a greater development pattern that has destroyed the region's already disappearing natural environment.  Additionally, in considering the freeway system and the necessary street-level support facilities, the affect of Autotopia is more alarming.  Mike Davis wrote,

The automobile (has) devoured exorbitant quantities of prime land.  By 1970 more than one third of the surface area of the Los Angeles region was dedicated to the car: freeways, streets, parking lots, and driveways.  (80)

To sum up this section, Reyner Banham's freeways signify freedom, a notion rejected by Mike Davis.  In Mr. Davis's view, the freeways are a form of totalitarianism.  Freeways cut through neighborhoods and displaced families.  They are divisive, a tool for obliterating the Los Angeles landscape.  Jonathan Bell writes, "If one were to merge Davis' and Banham's interpretation of Autotopia, the freeway system would be an unforgiving disciplinary machine."

Both Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies and Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster present alternative histories of Los Angeles.  In laying out the histories, several tried and true stereotypes emerged.  The authors bring their own agendas to the work, intended to either justify or pierce through the hype.  This is a limited critical analysis, at best.  Perhaps, a synthesis of both works would bring a more sober and holistic perspective of the city.  Something that could offer planners a critical interpretation of Los Angeles urban life and space use which could inspire new urban planning directions.  Reyner Banham book is quaint in a civic booster sort of way while Mike Davis's book bolsters his urban dystopia thesis.  Either way, they offer two very different perspectives of Los Angeles written at critical times in the city's history and provide a guide to the future.