Finding Bikes in the Strangest of Places

I'm trying to wed two different lines of thought about being in Los Angeles, so please bear with me.

Having moved in to our new place and found that I can sometimes pick up on a wireless signal, I've been trying to unravel my own little interweb. Looking at Midnight Ridazz the other night, I found a link to the Bike Writers Collective. That, in turn, led me to a host of other really articulate writers and bloggers - some cycling specific (like Gary Rides Bikes, Bike Girl Blog, or Westside BikeSide), some somewhere in between (like Will Campbell, who also writes for Metblogs LA, another site I just stumbled across), and some location specific (blogdowntown, which is close enough for me). And while part of me feels a bit like I just stumbled into a really cool party to which I wasn't really invited, it's more than anything else invigorating to find such an articulate group of individuals writing about the Angeleno scene - and more specifically, biking the Angeleno scene. Never mind the fact that I haven't actually been back on my bike since moving in to the new place, I'd still like to think of myself as being on the margins of that scene.

All that said, a recent post at Metblog took me to the site for Bringing Back Broadway. The project, from what I gather, is an attempt to reinvigorate the stretch of Broadway between 3rd and 9th Streets. It's a great idea. A friend of mine scored tickets to one of the Last Remaining Seats programs earlier on this summer, and we all went to see Young Frankenstein in the old Los Angeles. Honestly, the trip was worth it for the building along (although Mel Brooks introducing the film was hilarious); even in its half-ruin, the theater made my head spin. It was striking, though, to see how quickly everyone quit the theater and the neighborhood after the show. The lights and dazzle of the movie palace gave way to the awkward realities of Broadway after dark - it's not, to be frank, all the appealing of a place. So this plan is a welcome step towards returning some glam and glitter to the area.

But it's fascinating to look through the artist's renderings that they have posted to the site.

What was striking was the way in which - I think unintentionally - the drawings picked up the renderings of a very different kind of city.

And it may well be that the perspective, the control of space, that you find in both of the drawings is a common trope to landscape planning. All the same, I can't help but wonder at the kind of viewing subject that these newest sketches assume.

It takes me back to something that I was thinking about a couple of weeks ago after reading Robert Gottlieb's piece in the LA Times. At the end of that post, I wondered at the two sometimes competing senses of the term landscape. One sense of the word depends upon the Northern European sense of landschaft, suggesting social use and inhabitation. The other sense draws on an Italian tradition - indeed, the same Italian tradition that produced Piero della Francesca's Ideal City seen above.

What I'm trying to suggest, then, is that the issue with the artist's renderings is the way in which they turn Broadway - this bright and shining thing - into scenery, a stage set, a prospect. And that transformation risks eliding or otherwise effacing the ways in which people live and use Broadway. I first started thinking about that distinction in Los Angeles in reference to bicycling and cycling advocacy, but I wonder if it's a common tension to planning in the city. My gut reaction is that there is something deeper at work here - that Los Angeles, as master-planned as it may sometimes seem, has an equally powerful tradition of the ad hoc, the social, the people. It's still a bit muddled for me, but I think it's worth thinking about.

In the meantime, there're still plenty of things to read about Santa Monica's bike lanes, thoughts about being in Los Angeles, stories about C.R.A.N.K. MOB, and hoping that things like this are addressed sooner rather than later by the police and the community.


Anonymous said…
Welcome to the party, my friend. Keep riding and writing.
Alex Thompson said…
Yes - welcome to the party. I'm enjoying your blog thus far.

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