Saturday, January 1, 2011

Seen and Architecture 1: Same Old Same Old

The Metro bus stop at Wilshire Boulevard, Fremont Place, and Rossmore Avenue in Los Angeles, California.

I love our community newspaper, the Larchmont Chronicle. Even though I live in the second largest city in the United States, Los Angeles, and am a daily and faithful reader of the Los Angeles Times,  if one wants to know what's happening in this city's Mid-Wilshire, Miracle Mile, Hancock Park, and my neighborhood Brookside, communities, you need to peruse the Chronicle. Here one can find the local crime blotter, news from each of the schools in the area, advertisements for Mom and Pop stores, comings and goings of an increasingly diverse Hancock Park social set, and, at least in the past, my favorite, the columns of the irreplaceable and now deceased, Mr. Blackwell.

Jane Gilman, the editor, also publishes letters that reflect well the fears and hopes of community residents. These tend, at least in my opinion, to run the gamut of present day NIMBY-ism. Over and over the letters bespeak a sense that things are just fine the way they are in our little town, or more accurately the way they were; nothing should change.

For the first issue of the new year Jane publishes a letter titled, "Lack of lanes", by Tony Medley, a resident of Fremont Place. Fremont Place is a gated and secured cul-de-sac of private streets off of Wilshire Boulevard, features turn-of-the-20th Century mansions as well as upper middle class homes, and is a quiet "Model T" suburb amidst the bustle of a still intensifying city. While Fremont Place is a defining feature of the Wilshire Boulevard landscape as one travels east and west along this major thoroughfare past the southern terminus of Rossmore/Vine Street, few actually cross through its threshold and behold its broad green lawns and architectural treasures.

On several occasions I have used the bus stop located at Rossmore and Wilshire at Fremont Place's main gate. Mostly one sees working people waiting at this stop, many of whom no doubt serve the local gentry who live beyond the guard station. I doubt too many of the residents of this community have actually ever taken a bus, which brings me to Mr. Medley's thoughts.

Mr. Medley states in his note to the Chronicle that he is, "astounded that there isn't more outrage about Los Angeles' plan to destroy Wilshire Boulevard by taking two lanes away during rush hour, limiting them to the buses." He goes on to describe his chagrin in conspiratorial tones using words and phrases such as, "intentionally refused to repave the street, "I don't think politicians think for one minute", "far too important an issue to be left to a few politicians", and a "foolish idea"; perhaps he has a point, but on second thought no.

Mr. Medley has gotten on this bus way too late and more unfortunate expressed his outrage in an inflaming manner that assumes elected officials, professional planners and engineers, and citizens who have taken the time to testify for, and sometimes against, this forthcoming improvement, must all be stupid, despite having attended, or attended to, the dozens of public meetings (at least three meetings were held just blocks from Mr. Medley's home), the long process, the massive number of public documents, the alternative discussions, and on and on.

Where was this guy for the past ten years while this project was discussed and planned? Why is my local newspaper giving Medley, who is fortunate enough to live behind gates that shut the City and its problems out, an opportunity to express an opinion that is not in the least informed by the facts of the situation? His is an attitude that undermines civil discourse about the the design of the City. His very late thoughts are a manner of negative expression that does does not contribute to the design and making of a better City, only stasis. This is an attitude that is presumptuous in its sense of entitlement, shooting from the hip without ever looking up a website, attending a public meeting, or reading a fact sheet. This is raw and misguided NIMBY-ism expressed in its most problematic form.

I respect the right of anyone to disagree. My experience is that most of the time disagreement about the design of a city leads to better more thoughtful place-making. At the same time, each of us who choose to contribute to these public discourses have an obligation to at least in a cursory manner learn about the issue before we shoot off our mouths. And, newspapers who are stewards of public discourse, should think twice before publishing an opinion, regardless of whether they agree with it or disagree with it, without providing some context, or insisting that the writer demonstrate some sense of grounding in the issue at hand.

I think it is amazing that after ten years, exploration of many alternative approaches, implementation of a pilot bus lane project in West Los Angeles that failed to persuade people of the efficacy of rush hour restrictions in this part of town,  the opting out of the bus lane option by other communities along the route, that nevertheless progress towards more efficient rapid bus transit was achieved that will shave many minutes off the commute.

I know the young people in my office who ride the bus will appreciate this. I know the thousands upon thousands of working people and commuters who use the Wilshire Rapid Bus will appreciate this. And, I know that some people who drive their cars during rush hour on Wilshire Boulevard will be certainly inconvenienced between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM and 7:00 PM. This is urban compromise, and compromise we must in the big city.

Whatever its limitations and compromises, the Wilshire bus lane represents a positive evolution of Los Angeles towards a city where public infrastructure, such as streets, is reconfigured to better serve more of the public. While Mr. Medley, and the editors of the Larchmont Chronicle - who hopefully unwittingly published his letter - may not agree from an individual perspective, even they will benefit if increased numbers of Angelinos are able to move quickly, in smart and sexy buses, east and west along this aptly named "Fabulous Boulevard" (see Ralph Hancock's 1949 eponymous book).

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