inspiration     Aug 24 2010

Learning from Los Angeles

Mapos LLC

Newsweek magazine recently commissioned six design firms to imagine the “city of the future.” Three firms each looked at New York and Los Angeles to envision how America’s two largest cities might develop in the coming decades.
The results echo the recent statistics that urbanism – namely densification of programming and built area – is a viable susatainable strategy for a more populated world. It’s rather predictable. More people live in urban areas than ever before, and this pattern will continue, as it has for millenia, especially in the developing world. We are increasingly living, working, playing, and commuting, within the same landscape and in closer proximity to each other. This is not new. What will be new, if we take the beautiful renderings as prophecy, is an urban landscape that is scrubbed clean of texture and history and the messy vitality that IS humanity. Especially a humanity that lives so close together for so long. Why does utopia look so banal and boring?
As New York is already the poster-child for density, the three New York teams had no real room to move, and no real new ideas. Proposing urbanism at the scale of the building is not new. Mixed-use has been around since the first farmer built his home above the stable. It isn’t even that new to think that infrastructure – highways, rail yards, water ways – is fertile ground for mixed-use. The proposed projects at Atlantic Yards, Hudson Yards, and Sunnyside Yards have been on the boards for over a decade. What might be new is an overly optimistic view that as long as two different things can happen at the same place, happy, sustainable, urbanism will flourish. We’re not advocates of single-use zoning by any means, but multi-tasking is more of a syndrome than a cure.

Out in Los Angeles, things are a bit better, perhaps because LA, unlike New York, is typically American in its sprawl, so can be an example for cities across the country. So what would LA do? Evidently be more like New York. Densify the landscape with infill construction and multiple uses. Fill backyards with new homes. Build atop the freeways. Develop parks along the rivers. What is novel here, however, is the appreciation for what is quintessentially LA. The strip malls and fast-food restaurants and parking lots are not plowed under for gleaming new visions of a happy future. The are renovated and incorporated and included. In-N-Out IS LA, and it is good.