The 'free'ways formerly parkways could have been integrated into the Los Angeles urban landscape with much more sensitivity and care. Check the 110 opened in 1940, curvy and flexible as if attempting to work with the existing urban landscape instead of honing a path of domination and ruination. Then check the 10, which came later, or the 105, which came much later, and their extended straight paths that (I still almost can't believe if I didn't see pictures for myself) razed complete and intact neighborhoods!
|Completely intact neighborhoods were destroyed to make|
way for Los Angeles Freeways.
Santa Monica Freeway ripping through West Adams
Of course, LA wasn't the only city to suffer the nation’s highway expansion project, as there are horror stories from all major cities in the U.S. surrounding the blow that was essentially the destruction of the inner city accompanied simultaneously by the uppercut that was suburban expansion and/or white flight.
From "Mi Raza Primero" and "Popular Culture In The Age Of White Flight" -
"The Golden State Freeway was proposed by the California Highway Commission in 1953. The proposal drew strong criticism from East Los Angeles residents as it would dissect and eliminate large residential and commercial areas of Boyle Heights and Hollenbeck Heights. The proposal also seemed to indicate a disregard for the ethnic Mexican American population of metropolitan Los Angeles. The "Boyle-Hollenbeck Anti-Golden State Freeway Committee" was formed for the purpose in blocking or rerouting the freeway. Then-Los Angeles City Council member Edward R. Roybal chaired that committee. Despite this opposition, the construction of the freeway went ahead. When this section was completed in 1956, the newspaper The Eastside Sun wrote the freeway led to the "eradication, obliteration, razing, moving, ripping asunder, demolishing of Eastside homes."
My hypothesis is that LA found itself in a more vulnerable predicament when freeway expansion began than more developed cities because it was truly just moving into its adolescent phase having just hit 1 million a decade earlier. Cities like New York and Chicago were wounded but were much more established with an ineradicable rail system that was already fully integrated into both the psychology and ethos of these cities. Smaller cities (not necessarily younger) like Houston, Phoenix and San Antonio were still waiting for their bones to fuse, so they were much more flexible and mutable to these changes. LA, Seattle, Portland, SF, Cleveland, Minneapolis etc. all suffered greatly as their quaint and charming streetcar urban landscapes were ripped out by huge concrete dividers that reinforced the divisions between class and "race". Have any of the latter cities ever really recovered? In the case of Los Angeles, particularly Central and Northeast LA, I'd have to say no.
|The I-405 literally slicing a neighborhood in two halves.|
Having attended a recent Urban Development & Planning meeting hosted by the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, there were many issues on the agenda that evening. From the latest Small Lot Subdivision that the neighbors of course hated, because it would block their views of the San Fernando Valley, (I know, go figure) to the latest restaurant owner who would like to cash in on the Silver Lake "Best Neighborhood In The U.S." craze by upgrading his liquor license from a measly beer and wine provision to a more robust full-sale all spirits license cash cow. I like to remind people that for time immemorial liquor was thought to have spirits that embody certain personality traits that affect the consumer depending on the libation that has been drunk. Having been a bartender and worked around alcohol for 10+ years now, I have adequate anecdotal evidence that I think makes me an expert. Generally, rum makes one flirty, happy and talkative. Vodka on the other hand, starts a person out talkative and upbeat but after continued consumption usually by the third martini, they recall why they're sitting in a bar drinking so much in the first place. Tequila (a personal favorite of mine) makes you either want to fight or fuck with the two not being mutually exclusive. And as a rule of thumb, gin just makes you look old, both while consuming it and the long-term effects of it. Personally, it just makes me feel like that time I ate an entire weed cookie, paranoid, thirsty and feeling like I was going to die.
Nonetheless, during this neighborhood meeting the one repeated concern was, yep you guessed it, parking! It was parking, parking, parking! I mean, parking concerns were even brought up surrounding the Doggie Halloween Show, as if dogs drove! Let’s settle something here and now that you may have or may not have been aware of regarding these inner city communities. Central LA neighborhoods like Atwater Village, Silver Lake and Los Feliz were never built with this amount of car volume in mind. And no, that's not to say that there wasn't an inclusion and some accommodation made for the automobile rather instead of dominating the roadway it existed side-by-side with the streetcars and pedestrians and I've even seen old photos of bicycles on the streets as well. The large homes in the hills had driveways obviously to accommodate an automobile but they also had access to public stairs. If you wanted to shop down in the flats along Sunset or Glendale Blvd you either walked down from your home in the hills or coming from a different area got there by streetcar. Very few of these Central LA commercial districts were built with off-street parking and if they were it was very limited. The nearly consistent and more or less preserved commercial strips of Los Feliz along Vermont, Sunset Junction, Echo Park and Atwater Village all lack “adequate” parking and I’m of the camp that believes it should stay that way. Providing more space for cars only begets more cars and besides, are we really prepared to witness a 5 story concrete monstrosity to rise amongst the quaint one and two-story shops that grace those boulevards presently? I mean, if people fall out about a 4-story apartment building rising in Sunset Junction how would they react to a 5-story concrete parking garage going up, let’s say beside the 99 Cent store? Um, oh yeah…stupid question.
|The thankfully never built LA River Freeway|
Perhaps I'll write more about this at some other time because I find it interesting and quite ironic that the same folks who out of one side of their mouth’s squawk about how a new development doesn’t fit into the “character of blah blah blah…Lake, Village, Park…” have no problem with shoehorning more parking=more cars down the throats of these quaint streetcar neighborhoods that isn't in their DNA to begin with to be totally car dependent and sedentary. Really, the only way to stop the hemorrhaging of Los Angeles due to the ripping out of its central nervous system, which was the streetcar system is to not provide more car accommodation but to clamp down on auto promiscuity and the encouragement of such behavior. I mean, who doesn’t realize that within a year the newly expanded 405 will be backed up again? This is akin to putting a Band-Aid on the elbow of someone who is bleeding internally in the head.
We must go about the business of creating an urban landscape that is conducive to walking and being able to make daily errands on foot. Preserving and enhancing wonderful walkable neighborhoods like Sunset Junction, Larchmont and Leimert Park that already exist. The expansion of bike lanes, applying road diets where permissible, eradicating minimum parking requirements, creating exclusive or rush hour only bus lanes on ALL major boulevards, the continued expansion of our rail system and directing growth and density around this system without compromise are the figurative clamps on the vessels.
The city will not be able to survive this continued bleed out indefinitely. For Los Angeles to stay relevant and competitive it must be able to move its people around in a timely manner and in an effectual way. And through advocacy, education and participation we can be the thrombin (go look it up) of our age.