Catching up

Where are we now, following some recent posts?

Picturing transit. L.A.'s buses and trains continue to run - not always on time - while the quantity of transit service continues to shrink, often in the places where it's needed most, and Mayor Villaraigosa continues to pitch his vision of a transit-oriented city.

Time Magazine gives the mayor's smile plenty of time to shine in this short video update on transit issues, but the visual context is puzzling. Michael Douglas goes killer psycho in a clip from Falling Down, as if typical Angeleño drivers, buttoned-up as tight as Mormon elders, were one SigAlert removed from mayhem. The mayor offers verticality as the medicine for this distemper (although without commenting on how height alone empties freeways).

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While the mayor explains the exciting politics of federal transit funding, the camera stares down a Redline platform that is virtually empty, gawks at the deserted entrance of the North Hollywood subway station, and watches two riders get on a Metro local bus downtown while a third gazes up the street for a bus that's probably ten minutes late. In between are shots of freeways, always moving however. An aerial view of a Green line train pulling out of the Harbor Freeway Station shows the grand snarl of the 110/105 junction as utterly unbusy.

Disincorporated. Perhaps Vernon is learning from Libya? The oligarchs here have hired gangs of mercenaries from among Sacramento's top lobbyists and legislative strategists to do their fighting for them. According to Capitol Weekly, Vernon is bankrolling former state Attorney General John Van de Kamp, at $550 an hour, and Bob Stern, former general counsel of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, at $450 an hour, to work the halls of the statehouse to beat back a disincorporation bill introduced (and vigorously pushed) by Assembly Speaker John Pérez.

By Capitol Weekly's estimate, Vernon is paying about $50,000 a month in lobbying fees alone, a figure that does not include other legal costs or the city's heavy advertising campaign. Despite the barrage of cash, it's unclear if the forces of oligarchy or the insurgents have the advantage in the battle for Vernon.

Tell me not in mournful numbers. Depending on where you draw the lines (and which parts of which Census tracts you include), downtown Los Angeles now has a live-in population just above or just below 50,000. Lest you think all of these new residents are 20-something hipsters with noir-adjacent desires, a lot of the urban growth since 2000 is centered in Chinatown. Still, there's much to celebrate in the remaking of the city's historic core, even if growth in the more chic parts depended as much on the dicey economics of redevelopment as it did on urban theory.

And theory may have to be rewritten. Recent data from the 2010 Census reinforces the idea that downtown urbanity is niche lifestyle product akin (in concept) to a seniors-only housing development.

The real story isn't the opening of another retro-saloon on Figueroa, but the degree to which other cities - Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, and Indianapolis, for example - have begun to resemble the dispersed, multi-polar region that is L.A. Here, many different downtowns - parts of Long Beach, Santa Monica, Glendale, Burbank, Whittier, and western Los Angeles - circulate jobs and economic development in and through the region's mostly suburban matrix.

It's an elusive urbanity that Los Angeles is making, and hard to fit into the rigid taxonomy of urban forms that governs how federal and state dollars are allocated. Misunderstanding L.A. will make it harder for a "City of Transit" to be realized in ways that actually match the character of our metropolitan region.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles every Monday and Friday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user zagatbuzz. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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