Why Old Style Cities are the Future of California

Cities for People—or Cars? | The American Conservative.

“Modern development represents not just a step backward in sophistication but an abandonment of complexity in favor of systems that are efficient, orderly, and dumb.”

Civil engineer Charles Marohn explains why the quest for the post-modern city is a step in the direction of not only sustainability, but durability, livability, and genuine community.

In doing so he offers a blueprint that no state needs more desperately than California, and no city more than Los Angeles.

Walking Away from Our Sunset

A Sunset Boulevard sign, in Los Angeles, Calif...
A Sunset Boulevard sign, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In another of his installments on walking L.A.’s more storied avenues, L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne offers the perspective on Los Angeles’ future he gained by walking Sunset Boulevard the other way – i.e., from the beach to East L.A.

Hawthorne offers us echoes of familiar critiques Los Angeles, noting the disappearing sidewalks and three-story-tall hedges that line the winding street on the West side; the disappearance of Hollywood the industry from Hollywood the place; and the general sense of decay that pervades the Boulevard and its environs from the Beach to downtown.

But the columnist really hits his stride when he suggests that in the once-Jewish now-Latino shtetl of Boyle Heights we find hope for the future of Southern California. In the area along what is now known as Caesar Chavez Boulevard, Hawthorne suggests he has found the answer to Los Angeles’ unspoken challenges in a neighborhood unified by culture where the automobile is relegated to long trips and people actually walk places. He offers a similar treatment to Sunset Triangle Plaza, a block-long street cordoned off to traffic and re-landscaped for pedestrians as an experiment in neighborhood planning. Such experiences are an enticing vision, but one is left with the feeling that the future of Los Angeles is somehow wrapped up in making it more like New York City.

Whether you agree with that approach or not, Hawthorne does a great service by offering us more than a pedestrian’s travelogue, having the temerity to leap off the front page of our Sunday paper, rip our sunglasses off, and demand that we go looking for the seeds of L.A.’s next germination.

Yet I finished the article feeling like Hawthorne had more to say – or that maybe I wanted him to have more to say. Indeed, my most serious critique of the article was that it should have been about three times as long. I’ve driven the length of Sunset myself a hundred times, and the omissions leap out. Music merits barely a mention, but the Los Angeles music industry is probably more vibrant even than New York’s and Sunset is thrumming with that rhythm. (New York’s music scene and its importance to the art and the business has been in a long decline, capped by the 2008 closing of CBGBs.) Digital entertainment and advertising shops, most of them small but incredibly creative, are starting to cluster in the area. Healthcare gets a passing mention, without a suggestion that the future of Southern California – given its salubrious climate, superb research and teaching hospitals, and America’s aging Baby Boomers – may be wrapped up in the addressing needs of the aging. And as important as car-less transportation is to Hawthorne’s point, the slow-motion revolution radiating out from the Union Station/Gateway Plaza complex deserves at least a mention.

I suspect the problem was space, as it is with most dead-tree journalism. I have to believe Hawthorne wants to say much more. All of us who love California are in search of her future, and few people have the training and the gift of communication that Hawthorne has to be able to offer us some vision of what that future should our could look like. Hopefully Hawthorne is already thinking about a book on this subject: I would imagine he has much more to offer us on this theme than what the editors of the Times allowed him.

Point Hueneme Lighthouse

Point Hueneme Lighhouse was first used in 1941...
Point Hueneme Lighhouse was first used in 1941. It still contains its fourth order fresnel lens from 1897. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Point Hueneme Lighthouse

There is something soulful about a lighthouse, standing as a sentinel to guide lost ships in search of refuge or in avoidance of danger. Even today, when lighthouses seem supplanted by such innovations as GPS and satellite navigation, the now-automated lights are a reminder that there are still those on the sea counting on seemingly outmoded implements to find their way on the water.

California is blessed with some of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world, and most of them have both significant history and pleasing architecture. It is a testament to the nation that we put so much thought and care into the design and upkeep of whate are, basically, maritime aids to navigation. In some sense, then, lighthouses are baubles in America’s love affair with the sea.

Our local favorite here on the Strawberry Coast is the Port Hueneme (wah-NEE-mee) lighthouse, the now-automated sentinel that marks the entrance to Southern California’s other other deepwater port. The structure itself is a nicely done example of the Art Deco Moderne style that characterized so many of the public structures built in the early 20th Century in Southern California. Volunteers of the Coast Guard Auxiliary have created a little museum at the base of the light, and it is open to the public from 10-3 on the third Saturday of each month. The link above will give you the details.

If you are in the area, it is worth a trip, and if you combine it with breakfast at Mrs. Olsen’s Coffee Hut nearby, you’ve got a superb beginning to a summer Saturday, even if Coastal Eddy is having his way with the weather.

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