Jon Christensen writes: As we walked out into the balmy evening air after listening to LA Times architecture and urban design critic Christopher Hawthorne in conversation with Mayor Garcetti at Occidental College on the eve of Valentine's Day, a friend turned to me and said: "I'd like to live in Eric Garcetti's LA."
The evening was a love letter to a vision of Los Angeles shared by the critic and the mayor. The only dark notes were sounded by composer Gabriel Kahane who sang two of a suite of songs about LA buildings--one about the Ambassador Hotel where Bobby Kennedy was shot, and the other about how LA movie villains always seem to live in modernist masterpieces--during a bizarre musical interlude in the middle of the conversation. A sign of the times, perhaps: nowadays we hipsters only reveal our troubles in awkward, ironic, witty asides. The mayor snapped a photo with his phone and shared it on Instagram, natch.
Afterward, my friend wanted to know how all of the mayor's wonderful goals--a rail connection to LAX, a mass transit tunnel under the Sepulveda Pass, parks within walking distance of every Angeleno's house, dedicated bike lanes, bike boulevards, and more!--are ever going to get done and who is going to pay for them. Such a literal mind! These are important questions, of course, but not for the valentine! What a buzz kill.
This event was all about the vision. And it's an inspiring one: the LA River as our High Line, but even better, a symbol of a return to the old heart of Los Angeles, the river where the pueblo was founded, providing a connection to nature accessible to residents from the San Fernando Valley to San Pedro. An end to the divisive, dead-end battles between motorists and bicyclists and pedestrians, with green, "complete" streets that accommodate all uses and around which neighborhoods and businesses thrive. A downtown that works for visitors and residents, as well as the homeless, and more affordable housing throughout the city. A revised building code that everyone can actually read and understand and that allows people to get things done as neighborhoods remake themselves, village by village transforming the megacity. A transit system that connects the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, the San Gabriel Valley to Santa Monica, and South Los Angeles to the rest of the city, with first and last mile connections that work so people can get around the city quickly and easily. Public architecture that welcomes the public rather than projecting a brutal, fortress-like mentality.
Garcetti and Hawthorne know that this vision will not be fully realized in one or even two mayoral terms. But LA is fortunate to have a mayor and a critic at our major daily newspaper right now who get what's at stake and can articulate a vision for the city in this crucial period of transition to more sustainable forms of urbanism. Changes in the next several years could set in motion new patterns in Los Angeles that could enable the city to reshape itself from the inside out in the decades to come. All of that will depend, of course, on answers to the oh-so-literal-minded questions my friend said would have to be answered after their conversation. And though I doubt I will ever see Eric Garcetti's LA--even if he succeeds, it will be a long time coming, I think I'd like to live there too.
Note: Christopher Hawthorne, David Ulin, Alice Kimm, and I will be talking about "Architecture, Identity, and the City of Angels" on Friday, February 21, from 1 to 2pm, at the LA Public Library as part of the free conference "Writing from California: Tales from Two Cities."
Photo by Marc Campos, Occidental College Photographer.