There are a few treasured, dog-eared planning and urban design books I return to periodically for inspiration, and a little nostalgia, as I comment on public radio KBU and select websites.

Dating back to the 1960s when I was a metropolitan reporter for the New York Times during the day and a community activist in East Harlem at night, the books then and in the years following served as guides, generating both ideas and hope.

Yes, there was hope back then spurred by the emerging civil rights movement, urban consciousness and advocacy architecture, employing a host of innovative planning and development programs.

Good intentions prevailed, unlike now in the perverted programs proffered by a loathsome Trump and his stooges. They appear in lockstep, dead set to gut our democracy and the fragile efforts serving our cities and the less fortunate; indeed to only serve themselves and the obscene one percent.

And so we escape to books that remind us of their inherent good will. How insightful was Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City, awakening our awareness, and appreciation, of the cityscape.

Then there was William H. Whyte’s The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, which he called more of a manual than a book, exploring with a camera and insight what makes public plazas and streets work for, and don’t work, for pedestrians.

Enlightening also was Jan Gehl’s “Life Between the Buildings,” which I like for not being about touristy city centers and staged occasions for the leisure class, but about everyday people experiencing the public realm.

That is what I also like about Alexander Garvin’s recently published “What Makes a Great City.” Be the title taken as a declarative, or a question, Garvin declares in the preface it is the people and public spaces that makes a city great, not the architectural icons, beauty or function.

The well illustrated and accessible book, from the environmental advocate Island Press, goes on to identify several essential characteristics needed to make a city attractive to people, and noteworthy.

These include being open, inviting and offering something for everybody, sustaining a habitable environment and nurturing a civil society. And he notes where and how it is happening.

I was hoping that is what “People Cities” by Annie Matan and Peter Newman would also be so informative, published as a celebration of the life and legacy of Jan Gehl also by the resolute Island Press.

While touching upon a selection of city planning projects Gehl pursued, the book is more a parochial testimonial to the however deserving and inspired cityscaper.

I prefer reading Gehl’s old books, while looking ahead, beyond the Trump misadministration.



Recently published by local author and architect Cory Buckner is a richly illustrated book, focusing on the Lyman House, one of Malibu’s late and lamented landmarks. It is also a reminder when the community was an exurban outlier, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

The book entitled “The Lyman House and the Works of Frederick P. Lyman” is an estimable testament to a talented but relatively unheralded architect, and his singular project, an intellectually considered, crafted canyon house.

To be sure, Lyman was a Yale graduate, had worked in the office of the prestigious Richard Neutra, and in time was president of the local American Institute of Architects. He also was involved in the fledgling efforts for Malibu’s cityhood.

But he was never what you might call today, a star architect, a big name with a big ego, nailing big commission and big headlines.

Indeed, his reputation was based in large part on the Lyman House, a design of 1200 square feet he crafted for himself in Malibu, essentially as a bachelor pad. In the preface, renown architect Ray Kappe, a contemporary of Lyman’s, declares the house a masterpiece.

Built in 1960, apparently using no nails, the house was very much in the spirit and style of Japanese design, which he had studied. I would add he apparently was influenced by the vernacular dwelling known as the “Minka,” specifically of a modest mountain structure called a “sanka.”

It was eventually sold to another architect, and who in making what he considered improvements, naturally corrupted the design, and flipped it, reportedly at a hefty profit, which he enjoyed telling Lyman. So Malibu.

What was perhaps also indicative of Malibu, from an architectural historian’s view, the bastardized house mercifully was destroyed in the Las Flores fire of 1993. Perhaps there is such a thing as architectural karma.

And talk of karma, the house in 1969 caught the eye of a young art student, who stopped to sketch it. Emerging out of the house, Lyman asked the student whether she wanted a job. She did, and for the next ten years Cory Buckner worked as his apprentice, and in time became a recognized architect in her own right, and an author.

This of course lends the book a rare and welcome perspective, and the Lyman’s design of the house and the wealth of his illustrations the distinction that they deserve. Lyman mentored Buckner well, and she has most respectfully repaid him.          1.7.17


Monday night, January 9th,  at the Ahmanson Theatre downtown there will be a memorial for Gordon Davidson, who died last fall at the age of 83, one of the truly liked notables of the L.A.’s arts and entertainment community.
I will be attending as a friend dating from way, way back, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu. net and select websites everywhere.
The founding artistic director of the Center Theatre Group for 38 years – from 1967 to 2005 – Davidson guided the center and the city to unquestionably the crest of regional theatre across the country.
More than that, I feel, he established Los Angeles as a theatrical wellspring in its own right, separate from New York, though, to be sure, always looking respectfully and at time enviously at the Broadway of his home.
And Broadway looked back at Davidson also with respect. It awarded him a Tony in 1977 for his direction of “The Shadow Box,” a play by Michael Cristofer he brought to New York after polishing it in L.A. The same year the center’s centerpiece Taper was awarded \a Tony for outstanding regional theatre.
That recognition was followed in 1978 with the resounding success of “Zoot Suit,” as both a play and a social commentary , exposing the bitter injustices toward Mexican Americans in L.A. That also went on to New York to great acclaim.
Then there was also the landmark production of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” that explored the AIDS epidemic in two six hour epics. Staged at the Taper in 1992, it went on to win two Pulitzer Prizes.
Davidson was an unabashed liberal sensitive to the social and political issues of the day, for which I truly respected him, pursuing with an uncommon passion productions that challenged the status quo. He loved directing, but I feel his conscience compelled him to be a producer.
And on a personal note, he also had been an actor, in college, at Cornell University. That is where I first met him and, truth be told, where we were in several productions together, including Elmer Rice’s Street Scene and Bertold Brecht’s “Good Woman of Setuzan.”
Back then 60 years ago he was known as Gordy., and a causal friend then, and also through the years, in New York and L.A. And once, through the center, actually encouraged me to finish a play I was struggling with, and mercifully didn’t finish.
He was a good person, and a great stage producer. He will be missed. The memorial will be at 7.30, I intend to be there. on cue..