Sunday, May 01, 2005

And the Walls came Tumbling Down

Los Angeles is a huge urban sprawl. There are all sorts of neighborhoods and "districts" if you will, just like there are in most major cities. The Westside, Hollywood, Los Feliz & Silverlake, Brentwood, Playa del Rey, Fairfax, Beverly Hills, Melrose, West Adams, Echo Park, West Hollywood, blah blah blah... And these areas are all marked by the community that lives within their borders.

But LA is big on the "gated community." And there are those little "House Protected By" placards in a lot of lawns in a lot of rich parts of town. When I first moved to LA, I lived in the swanky Larchmont Village area, sandwiched between the El Royale (where Jennifer Aniston was staying at the time, pre-Pitt marriage) and the Wilshire Country Club. A block up was Mae West's apartment building, the Ravenswood, and the condo where JFK stayed when he was in LA, a gorgeous green deco delight named the Mauretania. There's a big black "M" on the building in case you're looking. I didn't have a parking space in my building, so I usually parked around the block. I worked late hours at the time, and I remember the handyman and manager of the building worried about that since the "element" came into the neighborhood after hours and broke into cars and homes. Because it was nicer.

Of course, there is that fear in all American cities. The gated communities rise up. There are the pre-fab kind, like Park La Brea, or the ones that spring up on you like in Los Feliz across from Griffith Park. There's even the problem of rich folks walling of the BEACH, fer chrissakes. David Geffen recently re-opened "his" stretch of beach, after years of legal wrangling (like 18 years) with city and coastal commissions.

Heavy Trash, an anonymous collective of artistic urban guerilla types, recently placed big orange viewing platforms at three of these gated communities so that regular folk can peep in and have a look. A lot of people are a bit clueless as to what they are, or assume they are affiliated with road repair (bright orange wasn't the best color choice, guys), but I get their point. It's a point that gets made often in LA. Mike Davis, who famously slammed his adopted hometown of LA in City of Quartz, writes: "In Los Angeles, once-upon-a-time a demi-paradise of free beaches, luxurious parks, and 'cruising strips,' genuinely democratic space is all but extinct. The Oz-like archipelago of Westside pleasure domes--a continuum of tony malls, arts centers, and gourmet strips--is reciprocally dependent upon the social imprisonment of the third-world service proletariat who live in increasingly repressive ghettoes and barrios.... Even as the walls have come down in Eastern Europe, they are being erected all over Los Angeles."

I definitely live closer to the barrio. Would I feel differently if I had an investment to protect? Hard to say. But I do think if you're going to live in the city, then you should live in the city. If you want the walls and security gates, move to the suburbs. Right?