New Year’s Day Musings from Malibu

My New Year’s commentary  aired on 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net, and elsewhere on the web, and posted here:

A hearty Happy New Year, with a fervent peace and good will to all, though I frankly offer this with faint hope, for it seems to me that despite wishes to the contrary, peace and good will, everywhere, continues on the wane.

Still, there is a modicum of hope, which I’m pleased to express based here on KBU, as I have from myriad media outlets where I have toiled over the last half century plus.

Whatever, then and now, the ringing in of the New Year is a time I feel for looking back as well as looking forward.

Indeed. I recall quite vividly the new year 56 years ago when I was a fledgling journalist for WQXR, then the radio station of the august New York Times, working odd hours and on holidays.

Back then in addition to scripting a 5 minute broadcast every hour, on the hour, I also wrote the news crawl for the famed Times Square ticker tape.

This entailed walking from my desk in the news room on West 43rd street a half block to the triangular Times building in Times Square, up three flights, to hand deliver my script to the typist banging out the blaring headlines.

New Years was the toughest day of the year, for to turn my copy in I had to elbow my way through the pushing and shoving crowds to get to the landmark tower.

More challenging was timing the salutation I had scripted,  HAPPY NEW YEAR, to flash on to the ticker tape at the exact moment the ball on the flagpole touched down in view of the celebrating multitude.

There were no super computers back then programming the display to the millisecond. It was done with dumb luck.

I still get shivers as I watch on television the ball descend in Times Square, albeit at midnight New York time, 9 P.M on the coast. By midnight in Malibu I’m asleep

So much for looking back. As for looking forward to 2016, hope still persists on the world stage, for which I leave others to comment on, though of course I have opinions.

As the tag of this radio spot states, my purview is the city observed, how spaces and places are shaped or misshaped to serve or hinder human endeavors, in particular in Los Angeles and my Malibu.

So for 2016 that means on the Southern California scene, among other things, following the fate of the revitalization of the L.A. River; whether architecture and planning can craft a livable, sustainable city; and how best to protect our threatened environments.

Also, and most critical, I intend to monitor whether our current political constructs- the city councils, the commissions and bureaucracies –are up to the challenge,  whether they can act in the pubic interest and not their own. And of course I will be casting a wary eye on the avaricious private sector.

We are talking here of respecting the culture, context and climate of communities. More specifically, locally, whether measure R should be pursued or is there a better way; does Legacy Park have a future; what now for the Civic Center?  Is there any hope for affordable housing, the homeless, and an independent Malibu school district?

For the answers, tune in  …

UCLA Landscape Architecture Students Excel

To end the year on a positive note –there be no bemoaning star architecture today, or censuring city government – I take heart in some graduate student presentations I recently juried for UCLA’s landscape architecture program.

Of course, I’m prejudice, having taught a city-scaping studio there for several years in the past, and having embraced and extolled the extension program’s praise-worthy emphasis on real challenges in real communities.

For me, it also was a refreshing departure from the many design schools where I juried in the past, and the architecture award panels on which I had sat.

Too many of the projects I felt tended to mimic the conceits of the current crop of celebrity architects, or ignored the context, culture and climate of the proposed project.

What made many of the student projects so appealing was that they were particularly site and user sensitive, with several addressing the challenge of derelict locales in under-served communities.

These included a master plan for an evolving Echo Park, with the design by the student Brian De Paz incorporating safety, comfort, health and a sense of place. I particularly liked his treatment of a small, odd shaped vacant site into a modestly landscaped mini park, a friendly place to sit.

Another of note was a plan to link Burbank’s transit center to the surrounding fragmented neighborhoods, Designed by student Tricia O’Connell, the linkages were not just paths, but greenways featuring sitting and play areas, to encourage connecting people as well as places.

Most noteworthy was a project by student Elisabeth Miller-Weinstein labeled Dominguez Crossing. Her ambitious project proposed transforming a swath of vacant land in the adjacent communities of Gardena, North Torrance and the Harbor Gateway into a web of appealing urban trails.

Actually, the land is not exactly vacant, but existing train, electrical transmission and storm channel rights of way. Satefy precautions of course will have to be enhanced for these easements, as the existing public agencies are sure to insist.

But much of the encompassing land is indeed vacant and raw.  just awaiting some imagination and initiative to be turned into useable open space, and the backbone of a linear park celebrating the history of the communities .

Miller-Weinstein’s very professional plans detailing the project’s scope and a timetable indicate a trail network of no less than 10 miles and 50 acres of designed open space, a much needed amenity in the sprawling and wanting south Los Angeles urban expanse.

It is the type of student project that renews one’s confidence in the future of the landscape architecture, and its vital role in the panoply of the design profession. Deserving credit was the studio instructor, Meg Coffee, and program director Stephanie Landregan .

To be aired Dec. 19 on 97.5 KBU and everyhere on radiomalibu.net

 

 

 

 

 

Architecture As A Social Art Subsumed by the Architect As A Social Animal

I don’t think it’s cynical to state that the noble pursuit of designing spaces and places for human endeavor is being corrupted by the cult of star architecture.

From my long tenure as an urban design critic, I see the scramble among a select gaggle of professionals to be anointed, as increasing insidious and insistent,.

This is no thanks in part to a celebrity obsessed media, and so I declare in my weekly commentary for 97.5 KBU, everywhere on radiomalibu.net and on cityobserved.com. and other websites.

And so we have tomes such as Paul Goldberger’s “Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry,” reading more like “The Art of the Deal” by Donald Trump, with architecture as a social art subsumed by the architect as a social animal.

If anything, the read reveals Goldberger’s transition from when he was a solid, if not stolid, critic in his early years for the New York Times, and then the more fastidious New Yorker, to his present vain-glorious gazing at Vanity Fair.

As for the ever-grasping Gehry, noted is his transition from an aspiring architect of modest talent, to a self-aggrandizing, celebrity-schmoozer who sadly believes his own press clippings, and to hell whomever doesn’t.

But Gehry with the gift of a grifter does know how to massage the media, as evidenced by Goldberger’s undiscerning biography, and clients as well, as evidenced by his hyped designs. Little is heard from the users or their advocates.

Granted, it is hard to blame some of the architecture elite for manipulations, given the competition in the profession for deep pocketed clients and prominent projects promising yet more publicity.

It is very much a merry, merry-go-round, unless of course it is not, and one fails to grab the gold ring, and hang on, resulting in what might be labeled, professional envy

Also, running an office is expensive, especially when the principals have to be out and about pontificating at endless forums and glad handing clients, while the actual designs are being produced by the talent in the back rooms.

I recall it was the august Philip Johnson, who was to the manor born, commenting that to be a successful architect, as he was in his time, you had to be a whore.

It is all very depressing, if you think of the effect it has on conscientious peers with a trace of talent and good intentions, desperate for attention, if not a little love, while trying to piece together a practice.

The bad books they have written about themselves and the mountains of monographs documenting their projects tend to be embarrassing, even if just circulated among family, friends and clients.

Still, hope springs eternal, and I appreciate and embrace design. When focused on those who will actually be affected by the crafting of spaces and places – the users– it can elevate the human experience.

12.9.15

MALIBU AND SANTA MONICA DIVORCE PROCEEDINGS

My latest commentary for 97.5 KBU, and everywhere on radiomalibu.net, a hot topic in Malibu. As I have noted previously, the more local the issue, be it planning, the public schools or whatever, the more engaged the public, the healthier the community.

If anything came out of the most recent Board meeting of the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District, it was the resolve of Malibu for its own district, and the distressing recalcitrance of  the Santa Monica majority.

The meeting in Santa Monica I feel was very much a reflection of present community concerns, and a harbinger of an  inevitable political battle in the district.

In the middle of this morass is an evolving Malibu and no less than the efficacy of public education.

Scores of parents present and past, filled the district’s alien headquarters to urge and argue for a locally controlled district, joined in by City Council.\

But before they could testify they had to wait for several hours to listen to a district assistant drone on about a report that contended the separation of the two cities would result in fewer dollars for Santa Monica students,

This contradicts an earlier report that indicated there would be NO loss of funding for either district in a separation, and in fact both would benefit, though maybe not the Santa Monica district central bureaucracy.  There’s the rub.

Having occasionally in my maverick career indulged in institutional oversight, as an administrator and investigative journalist, the projections appeared cooked, in the charts of jumbled numbers and in their mumbled explanations.

Unfortunately, Malibu is frankly viewed by a gaggle of Santa Monica’s self-righteous board members as a cash cow for the district, while their own city continues to gentrify, marked by an increasing tax base and a decreasing student population.

If they are worried about losing students, and state subsidies, to bolster their bureaucratic budgets they could easily accept willing transfers from bordering Venice and West L.A.

And even if the district’s projections were correct, student needs should be the bottom line, not money, which incidentally does not necessarily translate into a better education system.

Malibu is essentially a small rural city; Santa Monica an urban entity, with a disproportionate voter ratio of 84% to 16%. As a result, Malibu is consistently on the short end of the stick for district resources.

Make no mistake about it, for all its pretensions and popular liberal image Santa Monica is innately conservative, yielding to a self serving bureaucracy, under a sham egalitarian banner.

Malibu citizens need to be able to rectify their own academic and administrative school issues in a timely, responsible and reasonable manner; and should not need to travel to another town to attend meetings to beg. SMMUSD is the last district in the state of California that joins two geographically separate cities, an anomaly in public school administrative policy.

The separation is a democratic imperative that cannot be denied, the arguments for are urgent, and also frankly ethical.

 

12.5.2015