October 6, 2005


We live (for now) in Ochreville.

Stephanie's company provided us a place to live as we transistion into Los Angeles. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to demean the place. It's plush. It's very commodiius. It has all the amenities you need in the middle of a city like LA and then some; pool, gardens, gym, security, and proximity to a lot of the good stuff a city like LA has to offer.

It's just that it is so... ochre.

It's a Palazzo, the 21st century version. This is a question that I wrestled with so many years ago in crafting the Parallel City manifesto. How can we design human scaled urban environments without resorting to Disneyland tactics? Good intentions plagued by seemingly reflexive pastiche.

The Grove, probably the best shopping center in LA, is a block away from our place.

For a city where everything is accessed by car, this proximity is an amazing circumstance for us. Remember, we've lived on the scruffy East side of town for many years. Income levels and apparant cultural sophistication gradiates from Malibu (high range) down to Santa Monica (mid range), then again from Beverly Hills (high range) down to West Hollywood/ Fairfax-Wilshire/ Larchmount (mid range) down to SilverLake (lower- hippy range) down to Echo Park (even lower hipster/gangster range), down to the seeming backstop of Downtown LA (a melange of ranges from the mid to the ultra druggy homeless bottom).

Here, you can see the Palazzo on the left and the Grove to the right.

My initial critique of this place (the Grove aside the Palazzo) is the separation between private residences on one side of the street and (private) shopping on the other. They traveled toward the human scaled city of olde but they veered away when it came to the habitation part.

It's like the use of the backlot Hollywood "New York" set where the actor laconically strolls through the simulated streets, so worldweary. Why can't we integrate housing with commercial/retail? Maybe there's a legal limitation 'neath there somewhere? We need tort reform, badly. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that a shopping center is a contiguous private domain and that there is a problem in having a separate sub-private domain with housing mixed into the shopping experience. Maybe it's a linguistic/mental block: we can't bring ourselves to de-center a shopping center.. if you atomize a shopping center, you might lose the identity?

Ah, the difficult marvel of zoned cities.

Don't laugh at America, my EU friends, I think that the zoned city is the only pattern we all have- worldwide- for creating or extending the contemporary metropolitan fabric. That's the essence of my critique: that we need to create an alternative to the zoned city without creating a sugar glazed cutsey pastiche from memories of our ye-olde-historic cities. We all have the same problem. How can you do it (building the human scaled city) for real?

Here's how we enter the ye-olde urbanity of the Grove. Through Nordstrom's.

(Don't get me wrong, I like Nordstrom's. They're customer service freaks. Gotta love that.)

The interior "street" of the grove.

So, what can we do?

Well, we can open up the street inside the Grove, connect and canalize the Palazzo with it. Then we can insert commercial architecture into the Palazzo and housing into the Grove.

Then there's that wonderful micro rail system*1 inside the Grove. Liberate it. Let it connect (Sunset/Melrose) upper and lower Fairfax (the tar pits and the cultural stuff associated with it -the County Museum) and to lil' Ethiopia further down South (a little block of Africa there).

We need (in LA and ultimately all zoned cities) an array of transit systems from independant autos to the Metrorail, to the bus system to cross community and intra community little guys to independant entreprenural jeepney gigs, all the way down to bikes and scooters. An array that spans and links several spheres of urban scale.

(image source)
If I could score a decent grant somewhere, I'd love to commision a few Jeepney's to cruise up and down Sunset Boulevard (between SilverLake and Chinatown for example). That would be fun.


Any supporters out there?

*1 Pues, That would be a.... trolly.

Posted by Dennis at October 6, 2005 5:14 AM

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