Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Green Monster

There will always be critics of city government, and they’re right that alliances are made for the wrong reasons about all of the time. But the doomsday criticism from Mike Davis’ article “Fortress Los Angeles: The Militarization of Urban Space” might bee too much.

He writes: “Here, as in other American cities, municipal policy has [answered] the middle-class demand for increased spatial and social insulation. Taxes previously targeted for traditional public spaces and recreational facilities have been redirected to support corporate redevelopment projects. A pliant city government…has collaborated in privatizing public space and subsidizing new exclusive enclaves (benignly called "urban villages"). The celebratory language… is only a triumphal gloss laid over the brutalization of its inner-city neighborhoods and the stark divisions of class and race represented in its built environment. Urban form obediently follows repressive function.”

Self-sufficient redevelopment areas aren’t like old city streets; they are designed to keep some in and others out. They are "hermetically sealed fortresses" and random "pieces of suburbia [in Downtown]”. Apparently, they have “killed the street" and "dammed the rivers of life.” More devastatingly, they have slaughtered any dreams of “pedestrian democracy”: an intermingling of races and classes where they can see each other and must learn to deal with one another.
It is absolutely true that the redevelopment zones of LA Live and the Financial District, a few walkable blocks from Skid Row, have brought money and foot-traffic back to a formerly derelict part of the city. It is also true that the more natural process of gentrification, which is happening, for example on the periphery of the fashion district, needs no city funds or state tax breaks to push the homeless, the trash and the working poor into other corners of LA. Sure, there’s some elite misunderstanding of poor plight alongside natural processes here, but authority has always aligned to push the unsavory sights and smells somewhere else.

With regards to open space, though, the City of LA is not entirely the green(stealing)monster. In my area of South LA, the Nature Park is bed to migrant workers, play space to small children and educational facility to bored kids in the summer. It is social space for middle-aged walkers and a safe running spot for the health conscious. Near China Town sits Elysian Park, where people dating each other watch businesses light up the night skyline. Not much further north, Echo Park’s central fountain is surrounded by hipster couples, Latino families and weekly, my group of suburban teenagers debriefing their week of city volunteering. My favorite public space is Pershing Square. There, I can eat my pastry or read my book next to four homeless people, all of different races, who are in different levels of sleep and stages of sobriety. Security guards make sure all are sleeping on the grass and not on the walls or benches and that the peace is kept. I find the area to be benign and the true definition of mixed-use; Pershing is a bathhouse, a library, a bed, a romantic picnic spot and a morning coffee hang out, depending on who you ask. In McArthur Park, migrant workers, homeless families, recovering users from the halfway house and other locals use the city's outdoor exercise equipment and walking paths around the central fountain.

-Rachel, CSM Los Angeles Summer 2011 City Host

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1 comment:

Steve said...

Hmm, I've been reading of cities like and including LA, and their attempts at straying from urban sprawl.