GEHRY WADES INTO THE L.A. RIVER

The water level of the Los Angeles River may be at a record low due to the drought in Southern California and this being the traditionally dry summer season.

But the words and promise of the 51 mile waterway that is not much more than a concrete scar across the cityscape continues to flood the region’s planning and politics trough.

Though having drank from that trough in my maverick past, my first article bemoaning the neglect of the river was nearly 40 years ago, I remain a persevering, yet conflicted, skeptic, as I comment on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net and other websites.

Over those four decades, in which I also have been involved in several site specific vainglorious proposals, the river has risen in prominence; an ambitious masterplan was approved and the waterway was included in President Obama’s so called Great Outdoors Initiative and the Urban Waters Federal program.

With an estimated price tag of $1.3 billion plus, the river’s restoration has attracted an army of advocates and sycophants, dedicated environments and urban grifters and gifted designers. Most notable: world renown home grown local architect Frank Gehry, who was retained to master plan the river nearly two years ago, at first secretly by L.A.’s star struck Mayor Garcetti, then publicly a year ago, to mixed reviews.

I had previously commented that Gehry’s involvement was disturbing for several reasons: he has had little design success beyond his iconic singular structures, which for all their publicity in turn have shown scant sensitivity to context, communities and climate.

In addition, he has displayed little flair for landscape architecture, in particular the profession’s increasing concerns for sustainability and public use.

But some river advocates urged Gehry be given a chance; that he could bring needed attention and prompt needed private funding; and he, or more likely the competent team he has assembled, might add something to the effort. So what if there is already an approved master plan, it can be improved.

That being true, I reluctantly agreed, especially if there is a chance it might benefit the river’s revitalization, my prime concern. I also thought a surprise from an earnest Gehry would be most welcome.

Now a year later a cautious Gehry sensitive to a skeptical public has disclosed, not a plan, but what I feel is an interesting process that may indeed prompt some interesting plans to serve the river and the city. It contains no fireworks for July 4th

Rather, it’s described as “an innovative and revolutionary new tool for planning and design,” that, for the first time centralizes in one place the “data, reports and findings relative to the river’s past, present and future along the river’s entirety.”

Like the river these days, the presentation is dry probably purposely so, with no indication of Gehry’s past propensity for flash and dance It can be labeled a primer, with comprehensive sections on flood risk management, water recharge, water quality, ecology, habitat and public space, public health and social equity, and transportation.

Said Gehry, Quote “we needed to invest in learning how to think about the river before we could begin to make recommendations, let alone design solutions.” Endquote. This included culling all data and past plan while listening to scores of movers and shaker with a history and interest in the river.

Whether it’s a planning, public relations or political tool is ambiguous, as is what specific projects it might generate, if any at all. Time will tell, hopefully not another 40 years.

 

 

If Words Were Water; Pronouncements Viable Projects…

If words were water the Los Angeles River would be overflowing its banks; if pronouncements were viable projects, a very green sustainable Southern California is in the offing.
 
There certainly were a lot of words and pronouncements at the recent industry heralded “FutureBuild” convocation in Los Angeles, staged by the venerable VerdeXchange with the Urban Land Institute.
 
Attending were an estimated 700 persons so-called marketmakers, including a large design and development crowd. This prompted me to put on my commentator’s hat to do blogs for the cityobserved.com, and the Architect’s Newspaper, http://blog.archpaper.com/2016/01/going-green-ulis-verdexchange, and broadcasts for KBU. FM and radiomalibu.net.
 
Of major interest was a keynote session entitled “A River Runs Through It: Reimagining L.A.’s Water Way,” with opening remarks by the city’s personable Mayor Eric Garcetti, to be followed by a widely promoted panel prominently featuring celebrity architect Frank Gehry.
 
Garcetti was his smooth self, reviewing the rise and fall of the river’s prominence through the city’s history, touting its present planned revitalization by a concerted community effort, and its critical importance to the future of the city. It was a variation on a speech the mayor has been delivering for several years,
 
However, it did not assuage the announcement that Gehry had bowed out at the last moment. His appearance had been anticipated as an opportunity for him to reply to the skepticism surrounding his appointment by the mayor’s L.A. River Revitalization Corp. to master plan the 51 mile waterway.
 
Instead of being viewed as a second coming, the selection roiled river advocates who had been involved in various long term and long suffering efforts, marked by team planning and transparency. They charged that Gehry with little landscape experience has come late to the party, attracted by the publicity it is generating and a $1.4 billion price tag.
 
Gehry has been sharply dismissive of any criticism, while his fans including the mayor and his minions have been hinting at the architect generating concepts that will catapult the city to prominence and also enhance its bid for the 2024 Olympics.
 
They will have to wait a little longer, according to Tensho Takemori, Gehry’s surrogate, who said the office was still gathering information while working on a 3 D model of the river. “We are not holding our breaths,” commented architect Gerhard Mayer.
 
Indeed, in addition to the one on the L.A. River, the sessions covering every shade of the rising “green” consciousness, from energy to infrastructure, were mostly standing room only. Said an architect trading candor for anonymity, “we’re here not for Frank, nor really for the presentations, but for the networking.”
 
Green is hot. That’s good.
 
 

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  …

L.A. River Continues to Roil

My latest commentary for 97.5 KBU, heard everywhere on radiomalibu.net. and can be read on cityobseerved.com:

The L.A. River continues to roil, as it has since several months ago when it was revealed the irrepressible and much honored Frank Gehry had been surreptitiously anointed to master plan the entire 51 mile expanse of the mostly raw water way.

Seemingly ignored by the powers that be – namely the city’s star struck Mayor Eric Garcetti and the LA. River Restoration Corp. ‘s cipher Omar Brownstein –that the celebrity architect had not been even remotely involved in the last 40 years of dogged grassroots efforts to improve the river, and is known primarily for his singular structures and definitely not city planning nor landscaping.

That the mayor mistakenly identified Gehry the Olmsted of L.A. –he is a legendary landscaper –even embarrassed the usually imperious Gehry, who recently was feted by the equally imperious Getty that once rejected him. How the wheel turns in a capricious L.A. of short memories.

Even as a critic of Frank’s past failures of form over function   –how buildings look rather than work – I warily welcomed him with the hope his involvement might bring needed attention, and funding, to the river.

And optimistically, perhaps he and his noteworthy team, including a famed Dutch hydrologist, might generate some interesting design iterations. Though instead of looking at computer models, I suggested maybe they should tour the river, that if it is to be revitalized, it will happen in a series of small, contextual site sensitive projects.

But Frank apparently just could not be content with the Getty honors, a cluttered of a warehouse of models  exhibited at LACMA, a career-crowning, celebrity studded book by the critic now fawning biographer Paul Goldberger, and the constant veneration of peers and the public.

He succumbed to that constant equation that for me explains much about our celebrity obsession, that personalities in the public eye are the sum of an equation of megalomania, divided by paranoia.

Agreeing to an interview by my alma mater, the ever august New York Times, the paper of record, Gehry proceeded to dismiss criticism of his involvement, and further denigrated its his critics, telling them to “grow up.” He also suggested that if they wanted to help the revitalization they should become worker bees, with the assumption he would be the queen bee.

Meanwhile, Gehry might happily have had a filter put on his mouth, but the diatribe unfortunately keeps echoing.

The long time river advocates no doubt he was referring to include I assume Lew McAdams, who selfless efforts have been absolutely vital to raising the awareness of the river. He is definitely not a jerk; vain maybe. Neither is Mia Lehrer, the river’s principle professional designer to date. She may be covetous, given the convoluted city politics. But not a jerk.

If Gehry needed to identify the jerks to date, let me suggest the vain glorious Mayor and his sycophants, an ever development and headline hungry pack of river rats. As if the revitalization of L.A.River did not have enough challenges.

10.31.15