Having focused on parochial planning issues in my recent commentaries for public radio KBU, in print and on various websites,, I thought perhaps a more universal perspective was needed, if only for a break.
With this in mind, and in a gesture of hope over experience, I attended a symposium on the future of Los Angeles.
Through the years I have gone to many, particularly back in the days of print when I was a design critic for the L.A. Times and several other publications.
Perhaps now that I’m an octogenarian, I frankly feel focusing on the future is an indulgence; an excuse not to deal with the present.
Whether labeled symposiums, conferences, or workshops, the gatherings prompt the infamous quip among the free loading media of, “call it anything, but don’t call me late for your lunch.”
The light feedings aside, the gatherings of late usually have turned out to be a parade of self-promotions for the principal speakers and a pageant for their self-serving sponsors.
These include the academic urban institutes justifying their own existence and paying homage to their benefactors, and tenure. And then there are the self-satisfied foundations with their supercilious staff secure in their sinecures.
There is also the assorted independent, non-profit think tanks, some admittedly I occasionally wrote for and whose largess I once enjoyed.
Most are staffed with articulate, earnest wonks, good government types, and indeed engaging. Though a few I must add sadly are simply well groomed, glad-handed grifters.
Whatever, in retrospect it is still mostly a mystery how they exactly affect policy as they purport to do, and improve anybody’s quality of life other than their own.
Nevertheless, I found myself at the recent Los Angeles Times Future Cities Summit, for, quoting the newspaper, “a discussion on urban development, resiliency, architecture and the design of the urban environment.” This is grist for my mill.
There also was the promise of the Times to “convene the world’s foremost thinkers, policymakers, developers, entrepreneurs and industry stars for a conversation on shaping the city of the future.”
My former employer frankly has not been doing well, and I was curious to witness its latest endeavor as an event planner and so-called summit sponsor, and perhaps see some former colleagues.
I did indeed saw a few, and that was pleasurable. But I have to report the Summit was not. It was a pretentious affair, and deserves to be criticized, indeed as if I would do if still writing as an unforgiving, if unloved, critic for the paper.
The estimated 250 or so curious, half filling that the 500 plus seat Broad auditorium in Santa Monica, regrettably heard very little about the future of Los Angeles, and a lot of what the guests were doing at present. That is when they could get a word in edgewise.
The moderators were Times staffers who arguably might be decent deadline writers, but not necessarily discerning futurists and discussion facilitators. This made the speakers and the audience skittish.
There was a second string FEMA official reviewing preparation for the next disaster: boring. And art curator and gallery operator Paul Schimmel talking about a vibrant downtown arts district. Nothing new here and how lucky he was to be there, not mentioning his ignominious departure from MOCA.
But he did adroitly avoid answering a question about the egregious plans for a new LACMA and how it might negatively affect the city’s future cultural scene, but not its director’s edifice complex.
Particularly discursive was a panel discussion on how L.A.’s housing shortage and homeless problem might be solved, weighed down by a wordy and distracted moderator.
The only nugget came from was Tanya Tull of Partnering for Change, who declared the answer to homelessness, is a house, but stopped there.
Their was no real reaction from the architects on the panels, Michael Maltzan and Brian Lane, who did not seem especially inspired to lend a design perspective. Good architects do not necessarily make for good visionaries.
A cautious architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, did not press the issue, other than to comment, as he has in the past, that Los Angeles would have to face up to the challenge of a growing and changing population. As my annoying Green Amazon parrot squawks. having perched for years in a newsroom, “Stop the presses!”
The depth of discussion was like the paper these days: thin.
And so it went, prompting of the audience in this new age of communications to turn their attention from the stage to their I phones, for whatever.
Though if indeed you are interested in the future of cities, I found some excellent informed presentations on a TED playlist. Check it out.