[title] City of Dreams
I have this fantasy about what the LA basin will look like in the future. Not that I consider any of it remotely possible, but it warms my heart on cold nights. Its based on the near complete destruction and rebuilding of the city – not to mention a severe population check.. Come with me to a Los Angeles that we may never see.
It’s a beautiful city, filled with classic Art Deco high rises, Victorian and Craftsman bungalows and dotted with Spanish and Mediterranean architecture. It also has some new settlements, built with simple sweeping lines – replete with eco friendly materials. And here and there are some funky, creative structures that rise out of the rubble, built with found objects.
The landscape rolls out across valleys and hills, a myriad of brown and green, with crumbling edifices of cement – monuments to a sprawl that once was. Cutting through the land, to the east of what was once downtown, is the Los Angeles river. (Yes, we have a river.) It is no longer bound by concrete. Instead, it flows at a leisurely pace, feeding the willows on the banks and edged in parkland. In some places the river slows to a trickle and disappears underground. But if you follow the dry riverbed about a mile or so, the water comes up in marshland and once again flows as a recognizable waterway. It looks a lot like it was when William Mullholland found it.1
Standing at the base of Griffith Park, across the water from Burbank, I can see a train shooting by on raised tracks. The Los Angeles Pacific Electric Railway rides again.2 Along the routes that used to be eight lane freeways, there are now trains, bike paths bordered by trees and a two lane highway for private electric cars making long trips.
To get around, now, there is a network of high speed trains, trolley cars and shared vehicles. Most people walk or bike to their destinations. Except for special occasions, they don’t need to go too far beyond their neighborhoods.
Say, for instance, I wanted to spend the day at Disneyland. (Of course Disneyland is still there sillies. It’s a common belief out here that a nuclear bomb could hit Los Angeles and those in the Mouse House would never notice.) I would get my friends together by posting a note in the living room of our co-housing community.3 And at the designated time, we would walk four blocks to the trolley and take that, to the San Gabriel Valley Bullet Train Terminal. Then we’d hop on the Southbound Five and get off at the happiest place on earth - simple, cheap, efficient and fun.
But what about the not fun occasions, you know, grocery shopping? Well, in this world, it is fun. On Market Day (think of a cross between a farmers market and a swap meet - for everyone within a five mile or so radius), we’d load the truck (Ethanol powered) with any goods for barter or sale. Or, on those days when there isn’t a whole truckload of stuff, you take the NEV4 cargo carrier downtown. The rest of the family would get there the usual way – public transportation.
The main thing about this utopic City of Angles, is the atmosphere. Everyone is friendly, courteous and crime is nearly non-existent. Oh, sure, you still have Hollywood, where the movie thing happens. The city where starlets are hot one night and the next nobody knows who they are doesn’t disappear. That whole you have to know someone to get somewhere is part of the magic of our Babylon. But, this mecca of plastic people doesn’t really touch the soul of the city – it never has, it never will.5
I know it’s a fantasy, the population halved, the river restored, people having the wherewithal and sense of community to build and live in a way that preserves the environment – idyllic, beautiful and peaceful. But, I can’t help hoping that I might be able to influence the little things and bring us closer to this dream. Who knows, we may avoid catastrophe yet.
1 – William Mullholland was the Chief Engineer and General Manager of the city owned Bureau of Water Works and Supply in the teens and twenties. He purported to love the river and yet, was in charge of the project that paved it over. The DWP website has a whole tribute to his masterpiece – the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
2 - The Los Angeles Pacific Company was one of the large interurban electric properties on the Pacific Coast. It operated between Los Angeles, Hollywood, Colegrove, Sherman, Sawtelle, Soldiers' Home, Port Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Ocean Park, Venice, Palms, Playa del Rey, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and intermediate stations in California. Think about the famous Red Car – one of the plot points in the Roger Rabbit movie.
3 – Cohousing is a fancy modern term for a commune; only instead of sharing everything, people have their own homes. The “co” comes into the common house, that has a large dining room, kitchen, lounges etc. Everyone shares in the chores and upkeep of the common area, has potlucks, baby-sits the rugrats and watches movies together.
4 – Neighborhood Electric Vehicle: A glorified golf cart. Take a look at the GEM for a really cute model.
5 – No. Really. I believe this with all my heart. I’ll explain another time.