Sunday, December 16, 2007

Towers on top of tar, on top of fault lines

This article by William Fox puts it in perspective -
read it here

Christmas in the PLB

Hundreds of Santa Clauses invaded 3rd street Saturday, attracting cops and news choppers overhead – it’s all part of a loosely knit, online group called SantaCon. Read and see more about this roving band of Kris Kringles here and here.

In dense block housing . . . (part 1)

Both Chip and I have lived in dense housing out of the country; him in college in Vienna in dormitory housing, me in graduate school in Paris in a residential tower. We keep telling each other that, aside from the fact that we’re in the center of L.A., with it’s legendary lack of center and reputation for sprawl, the experience of living in our tower at Park LaBrea echoes some of our experiences in the European block housing set-up (which is losing it’s stigma and catching-on as an appealing form of housing in the US , as it has been in other country besides the US for over fifty years.) This means a few things:

1) In dense block housing you interact with your neighbors.
This isn’t always a good thing. I live next to a big fat man who eats Dominoe’s pizza for every single meal and blares his schlock action films every night. There’s a pack of noisy kids too on my floor (at the other end of the hall, thank God), and if someone’s cooking greasy fish or cabbage, you’re gonna whiff it too. On the other hand, the idea of actually living in close proximity to other people – which is arguably the definition of “city” – is a completely refreshing lifestyle change after living in Los Angeles for most of our adult lives.

2) In dense block housing you must be much more aware of your trash.
Trash builds up quick in the dumpsters in the basement; and by the end of the weekend it can be fairly pungent in the depths of the towers. That’s a fact of life in dense living. Ask a New Yorker. Here’s the solution: use smaller trash bags and take the trash out more frequently; use the trash chutes on your floor of the tower so that you don’t have to venture down into the smelly dark rooms with the dumpsters in the basement. I learned that one in gay Par-ee.

3) In dense block housing you are close to groceries, gym, parks & other commercial establishments.
We walk to get all of our groceries, we walk to breakfast at Farmer’s Market on Sundays, we walk to movies at the Grove, I ride my bike to my job, I run in Pan Pacific Park, etc., etc. I buy less gasoline too. And I’m losing weight. Heee!

4) In dense block housing you do more walking.
From your car, to the front gate, down the hall, up the stairs, back to the car. This is a good thing in my book. See the losing weight part above.

odds & ends

Sofa success!! (don’t ask how we got it in the place) We're done moving in. Boxes everywhere. But I think Chip is going to hurt someone if he has to go back to Ikea one more time.
While we catch up with more posts to the blog, here are some odds & ends . . .

Take a look at Park LaBrea’s all watching eye

and one more factoid:
In PLB the median household income is $53,000 and the median age is 36.
Here’s a snap of our neighborhood watering hole: farmer’s market.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Dense Living vs. Sprawl & Recent Fires

Over the last few weeks many stories and opinions have been written on whether the recent firestorm conditions in regions of Southern California are the product of the sprawling types of housing developments that make up L.A.’s outlying areas. Since this blog considers the experience of living in a dense community (as opposed to living in a sprawling community), I’ve been thinking about the consequences of dense living vs. wide-open living. By now we all know that sprawl is inherently a flawed endeavor and is not sustainable. I could write a thesis on this, and in fact, I sort of did; but I’ll just make note of a couple statistics, and link some good stories.

In Park LaBrea 11,000 residents live within a one-quarter square mile area (176 acres).
In 4S Ranch near San Diego – where homes were evacuated last month, but none were lost thankfully – 12,259 residents (2.6 per household – same as PLB’s average) live in 4,715 single family homes within a four and a half square mile (2900 acre) subdivision.

In other words, 4S Ranch takes-up approximately 2,165 more acres of open land (3.4 square miles - the size of two and a half central parks*), than Park LaBrea does, to house the same amount of people. Is it time to rethink the American dream yet?

Sprawl and fires links:
For numbers on
acres-to-homes-to residents ratios --

Opinions on fires and sprawl

And more density is coming to the greater L.A. area if not the sprawling suburbs of Southern Cal:
LAWeekly story about how L.A. is going to get denser

And an LA city proposal to offer bonuses to developers for denser building find the link under "proposed ordinances."

*this is also the same amount of land needed to harvest solar energy for 100,000 people (since it takes a little under 4 square miles of solar panels to generate a gigawatt, the same amount of electricity provided by two power plants).
*this is also half of Griffith park
*this is also the size of the city of Concord, Alabama
*this is also the size of 7 Disneylands

Meetings in the elevator

Recently, I started asking my friends and co-workers, “who was the last stranger you spoke to?” A person selling you something doesn’t count, I add. They sometimes can’t think of one, some can usually think back to a bum they gave money to, or to a wrong number that called their cell phone.

I’m fascinated to find out about people’s interactions with strangers since I have them so much in my new home at Park LaBrea. There’s something fundamentally altruistic and civilized about two strangers wishing each other good night as they leave the elevator. It’s one of my favorite things about our new apartment. It almost keeps the city at bay for me.

I met a woman in the elevator on Halloween who was delivering candy throughout the tower because, as she said, “the kids don’t come to me, so I go out to them.”

I met a little girl in the elevator who called me the “second Mommy in the elevator.” We introduced ourselves and we all counted the number of the approaching floors out loud.

I met a security guard in the elevator who helped us with our elevator the morning we moved. He asked if we hade moved in alright.

I met an older lady in the elevator who told me she had lived in Park LaBrea for forty years.

I meet a girl twice a week in the elevator who tutors a kid on my floor mornings before she goes to work herself. I’m always so happy to see her, and we get to catch up on the little things we know about each other as we descend to the lobby.

Case in point, my stranger stories are so much better than those that others tell me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The View from the 12th floor

Absolutely amazing.

The Sofa and the Elevator

The movers came today to deliver our beautiful new sofa from Ikea. And it didn’t fit in the elevator. And we live on the 12th floor.

Needless to say, the movers said no thanks to the stairwell and its 12 flights of stairs. I find it very hard to believe that not one resident in 60 years of its existence, in any of the 18 towers has furnished their apartment with a 7-foot-long couch. No one? You’ve got to be kidding me. Chip says we will go back to Ikea and get a shorter one. I still think there’s a way we could’ve gotten it up to the 12th floor. The movers are on Chip’s side too.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Orientation and Moving In

It’s the moment we’ve been waiting for -- our first day in our new home and in our new Home-Sweet-Gated Community. The very college orientation-like day is the norm for every new resident; and of course for me and Chip. This is the time when you sign the lease, and in which you are given piles of helpful literature and then you are asked to sign your name on multiple contracts over and over again, with a smile by the helpful PLB staff.

Orientation comes off without a hitch. Much less stressful than college. After we’re done signing everything, we get the keys and check the place out. (I’ve already seen the unit, but Chip has not.) We have a nice Sunday afternoon walk through the towers.

Monday morning is our move in date. It’s a busy time inside the gates of the PLB. People rushing off to work, ladies in their exercise gear on walks, bikers whizzing by, fix-it men in golf carts and Chip and I in the middle of it all, attempting to get our bearings while trying to move our bed.

The requirement that PLB sets for reserving an elevator for moving is kind of a joke; there is no freight elevator – you’re moving in or out with the rest of the community on their daily, back-and-forth routes, so it gets frustrating. People want to get into the elevator with you and all your crap and your sweat and funk. When you’re not looking people steal your elevator. And you just want to move your stuff as quickly as possible.

All things said and done, moving into (or out of) a tower via an elevator versus moving into or out of a house or apartment with stairs or a long driveway are both, in their own special ways, tiring and difficult and take a long time. Today was just a different way of moving Chip and I hadn’t yet experienced. We have boxes everywhere and now we’re just waiting for our table and sofa.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

We like to ride our bikes

And we'd like to keep it that way. Apparently the acreage contained within the gates of Park La Brea is safer than the rest of the surrounding city in terms of violent crimes. BUT when it comes to petty theivery, PLB's got some nasty stats.

Thanks to the LAPD's fun and interactive police blotter, and LA Life's slightly more comprehensive crime tally, we can monitor just how good a chance we stand of loosing our beloved Electra Townies. Time to invest in a good lock.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What We Know and What We’re Looking Forward To.

Alexander Garvin called Park La Brea, “A pallid copy of Corbusier’s City of Tomorrow.” Reyner Banham has called the entire area of the Miracle Mile and Park LaBrea, “Conversion urbanism, a linear motorized downtown.” And in Architecture of Fear, Kevin Sites described Park La Brea “like a film studio back lot with children playing on green lawns and suburban-style streets,” but from farther away the towers seem to him like, “giant Stonehenges, gathered together in a protective magic circle.”

Architecture writers love theatrics.

Our friends who’ve lived in PLB say it’s “nice,” “okay.” And “parking sucks.” They tell us we’re going to “really feel like socialists.” And “it’s only a year.”

We’ve only been inside twice now, but we know this much: In 1948 the Metropolitan Life Insurance group, acting as developers, completed construction of 4,000 units across the grounds of the original 160 acres of land PLB still owns today. Between Fairfax and Cochran, with 3rd street bordering on the North side and 6th street on the South side, Park La Brea is currently home to something like 11,000 residents. And for you conspiracy theorists out there, the street layout was created in a Masonic pattern as a reference to the Masonic heritage of the Met Life founders (i.e. the Sacred Order of the Stonecutters). After being labeled “the projects” in L.A.’s ghetto years (late 70s to early 80s), the complex was refurbished in the early 1990s when they added the burnt orange paint to everything and once again the PLB drew aspiring actors and other new-to-L.A.ers of the non-entertainment industry variety.

The Architects, Gordon Kaufman and J.E. Stanton, (credited with other off-the-map L.A. institutional buildings like USC’s student health center, UCLA’s Young Hall and the Lincoln Heights Jail, which we love by the way), were in fact highly influenced by the “City of Tomorrow” themes of European Modernism. Park La Brea was envisioned as a new model for living – dense and streamlined in its verticality, allowing for plenty of light and open recreational space on the ground below. It remains the largest modern housing community West of the Mississippi.

We’re expecting our neighbors to be a Petri dish of L.A. demographics – Korean and Russian immigrant families (since PLB has proximities to both Koreatown and east West Hollywood’s Little Ukraine), budding actor/dancer/American Idol types (just dropped at the Greyhound station), elderly folks, single middle-aged folks, old hippies, Central American immigrants, single Moms looking for a good school district and maybe some white yuppie/hipster couples like us? These are just a few premonitions; please check back to see if any of this is true.

P.S. We’ve been approved by the leasing office!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hi: an Introduction and an Explanation

My name is Sally. I am fortunate because I live in a single family home on a bucolic tree-lined street in West Los Angeles – owned by my partner, Chip. For those who aren’t living in Southern California or any other region of the country with an inflated housing market, having a home to live in (and to own as an investment) in Los Angeles is a coveted, highly revered and envy-inducing thing. Home ownership in L.A. is a thing that well-earning professionals strive for and sometimes never achieve. We too would be one of these house-less couples if it were not for Chip’s generous family. With that said, we have a home to upkeep and now, it all needs updating. Long story short, we’re doing major renovations and we can’t live in the house while the roof is off and the walls become Swiss cheese. We need a place to live for one year.

Enter Park LaBrea: The West coast’s canonical, most famously analyzed and well-documented planned community, right in the heart of Hollywood. What architecture and urbanism connoisseur wouldn’t jump at the chance to live in tinsel town’s own rendition of Corbusier’s utopian plan? Well, most wouldn't jump probably. But I’m game. I am an architect and urban designer at a firm in L.A., Chip is in the movie business and is a professor of the media arts at a University in the area. We’re both from L.A. and know the city well, having lived in various areas of it including Silverlake, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Pasadena, Venice, Mount Washington. We also have strong opinions and worries regarding L.A.’s future, but we ultimately feel very tied to the city and nostalgic about it at the same time. So please check back periodically to see how we’re doing. We’re putting ourselves under the microscope for you urban database! And we’re looking forward to spending ONE YEAR ON THE INSIDE with you.

Wish us luck, Sally and Chip