On the nature of LA in 'Her' and a new 'Green room' at the bay aquarium

jc-mg-200-names.jpgJon Christensen writes: You've probably heard by now that the new Spike Jonze movie "Her" is set in Los Angeles in the near future. You undoubtedly know it's a love story between man and machine. If you've been hiding under a rock, Scarlett Johansson plays "Samantha"--a new, highly personalized "operating system," really more of an artificial intelligence--that gets installed at the beginning of the movie on all of the devices used by awkward hipster Theodore Twombley, played by Joaquin Phoenix. And yes, the future is still filled with awkward hipsters, alas.

Here in LA, the movie has generated a lot of chatter because of its portrayal of a densely packed city of high-rises, filled with beautiful apartments and offices, where everyone travels by pleasant, comfortable mass transit. You can even ride a train from downtown to the beach! Fittingly, this rare utopian vision of LA has been nominated for best picture.

Her movie.jpgLA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne weighed in on the conversation with a thoughtful piece this weekend arguing that "Her" represents a vision of the future for a city that is currently "caught in limbo between two very different kinds of urbanism: between its private and car-dominated past and denser, more public and more connected future." Hawthorne likes the way Jonze looks ahead and "sidesteps the retro riptide" that preoccupies so much of our culture these days, including architecture. (Note to Pulitzer Board: Give it up. There is not a critic working today who more consistently, creatively, provocatively, and productively addresses the crucial questions of the city in which he lives, as well as global issues in architecture and urbanism.)

But there is a third way that Jonze and Hawthorne ignore here. Call it "ecological urbanism." Aside from a brief visit to the beach, Jonze's vision of LA's future is bereft of nature. The mountains can be seen off in the distance behind the beautiful scrim of dense skyscrapers. (Jonze achieved the effect digitally and by shooting some scenes in Shanghai, which brings dense smog back to the city.) Nature exists outside the city: in the Sierra Nevada and on Catalina. There are a few scrubby trees here and there and patches of sorry looking rooftop grass, but otherwise the city is a completely self-contained technological snow globe. And there is no sense of how this city runs. Where does the energy come from? What causes the smog? Of what nature is this city built? It is tempting to think that this lack of nature in the city of the future parallels the emptiness that gnaws at its main characters.

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Mark Gold writes: Last Saturday, on another gorgeous 80 degree day during our year without a winter, Heal the Bay dedicated the new "Green room" at their Santa Monica Bay Aquarium to the extraordinary life and achievements of their founding president and California treasure, Dorothy Green. Some things haven't changed much in California over the last 35 years since Dorothy became a force of nature opposing the peripheral canal project in the late 1970s. We have the same governor, he just declared an official drought last week, and a new version of the peripheral canal (with tunnels this time) is in the news and controversial again.

Dorothy wasn't a big fan of drought declarations. She educated many of us about the importance of valuing all water, whether it came from rain, snow melt, or sewage. Her life's goal was to get everyone to understand that California has enough water, but we don't have a drop to waste. The Green room shares this vision of smart water management. You'll find exhibits on the importance of local water self reliance through conservation, water recycling, and stormwater capture there. And you'll learn about the importance of protecting our watersheds and the benefits they provide to wildlife, our coastal waters, and to all of us.

Green room.jpgOutside the doors of the aquarium lies a bay that no longer contains fish with tumors and fin rot, or a dead zone, or beaches that are routinely closed due to large sewage spills. A lot has changed for the better since Dorothy created the vision and provided the leadership and inspiration that has made Heal the Bay such an unprecedented success. The Green room helps tell her story of how one person made a difference by improving the quality of life for millions of people in the Los Angeles region who enjoy and love our beautiful coast and the incredible biodiversity in our bay and local watersheds.

The Green room will educate and inspire tens of thousands of people annually on how a strong environmental ethic of activism, sustainability, leadership, and perseverance can heal even the most polluted bays or degraded rivers. Dorothy educated, mentored, and inspired generations of environmental stewards and activists, including myself. In the most fitting of launches, her young granddaughter opened the Green room by cutting the ribbon, thereby initiating the next generation of future activists to learn about Dorothy, watersheds, and sustainable water management.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Heal the Bay.

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