New York Born and Ill bred: You gotta problem with this?

My latest commentary on “New York values” actually could have been a subject for my City Observed broadcasts, except that the issue was raised in the sadly comical Republican Presidential debates.

That puts in the classification of Entertainment, hence for me, an A&E Observed broadcast segment.

Of course, in disparaging New York, candidate Senator Ted Cruz could have slammed the city’s recent rash of high rise luxury residences scarring the skyline, the pressing need for affordable housing and the nagging homeless problem: Items in my critical realm.

But the Canadian-born, Texas transplant tea bag chose to criticize his equally repellent rival Donald Trump, for embodying “New York values.” Cruz further define these values as “socially liberal and pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage, “with a ”focus on money and the media.”

These traits broadly labeled “too New York” are usually a veiled aphorism for saying “too Jewish.”  And you don’t’ have to love Rye bread, be Jewish or a New Yorker, to consider the remark an anti Semitic slur. Whether Cruz meant it or not, it needs to be put down.

Yeah, I’m from New York.

It was where I was born and some people would say ill bred, and despite living in California for nearly 40 years, 20 in mythic Malibu, I still refer to New York as my hometown.

When asked why, I could reply as a tanned Californian by politely smiling, or as a New Yorker, with a snap back question. “you gotta problem with that?” Depends on my mood. and we are a moody breed on both coasts.

I guess the popular proverb applies here, that you can take the boy out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the boy, especially if he was born in a once mocked , outcast Brooklyn. Yeah, “Brruklin,” that now hipster heaven where craft beer has replaced egg creams.

Despite years on radio and television, a thousand voice overs, and countless corrections by friends, I like to think my diction has improved.

But apparently not my attitude, as I immodestly believe my years of being critic and these commentaries bear out.

I’m a New Yorker, opinionated, contentious, and quick on the offensive, and on the defensive.

And I love New York, its energy, drive, diversity, tolerance and, yes, toughness.

These are traits I frankly I feel Los Angeles, and every community, could use more of, including my liberal, libertarian, misanthropic Malibu.

“Gotta a problem with that?”

Hooray: Pritzker Prize to Chilean Architect for Social Housing

Today, on 97.5 KBU FM, and everywhere on radiomalibu.net and select websites, a departure from the usual touting of cultural attractions in and around Los Angeles, to comment on the recent awarding of the 2016 Pritzker Prize, the highest honor in architecture, to Alejandro Aravena.

Not only is the award noteworthy this year for tapping a relatively unknown designer in Chile, –most previous honorees have been from mainstream United States and western Europe – but for its focus on social housing.

This really sets Aravena apart, declared the Pritzker jury. which this year included the British Richard Rogers and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Beyer. The prize comes with a $100,000 award but perhaps more importantly is usually followed with a swarm of international commissions.

If so, it will hopefully lend additional attention to the groundswell here and broad for affordable, well designed, user-friendly housing, that also serves and involves the communities where located.

The 48 year old Aravena – that is relatively young for an accomplished architect,– is best know for his modestly inexpensive residential projects, and his commitment to create sustainable, affordable and resilent cities.

In the past, with a few exceptions, the focus of the designs of the architects honored have been on flashy forms and iconic buidings, stand out projects that generated media attention for its sponsors and celebrity status for its architects.

This increasingly high end bent in the profession was duly noted by this year’s intrepid Pritzker jury, which in a statement prefacing the award declared –quote:

The role of the architect is now being challenged to serve greater social and humanitarian needs, and Alejandro Aravena has clearly, generously and fully responded to this challenge. Unquote.

The statement and award frankly warms my heart, for in the years past as an urban affairs reporter for the New York Times ,and later as the architecture and urban design critic for the L.A. Times, I immodestly spotlighted social housing .

The definition I cited in my writings and teaching over the years was that first and foremost, architecture is a social art, used to create spaces and places for human endeavor.

I still believe that.  Thank you, Pritzker jury , for remind me of that

I’m Sam Hall Kaplan, and is the arts and entertainment observed, heard locally on 97.5 KBU, everywhere on radiomalibu.net, and read on cityobserved.com and discerning websites.

 

Misanthropic Malibu Ponders Legal Appeals

 

It’s a new year, but paramount before Malibu’s City Council is an issue that won’t go away: the fate of Measure R and with it the debate over the future of the Civic Center.

This is grist for my latest City Observed, penned on the Point, heard locally on 97.5 KBU Saturdays, everywhere on radiomalibu.net. and read on Nextdoor and select websites.

To bring readers up to speed, Measure R limiting citywide development and requiring voters approve of select new commercial projects has been ruled illegal.

Not incidentally this was predicted by several involved residents also concerned with the rapacious development of the civic center, myself included. Let me add, there is no comfort in hindsight.

The Measure R ruling also negates the subsequent rejection of Measure W, blocking the Whole Foods development. It is expected to now move ahead.

Meanwhile. the city has to decide whether to appeal the Superior Court ruling, at an estimated cost of $100,00 plus

Then there is the question whether the proponents of the original measure, principally Michele and Rob Reiner, want to join in the effort, and chip in some more big bucks.

And what could be expected from this effort, I ask, besides a windfall for lawyers and possibly another questionable measure going before a weary electorate, or simpler, a less controversial recasting of stringent land use regulations.

But actually Malibu has such regulations, guided by a preamble that clearly states an abiding commitment to a livable, sustainable, environment-friendly city.

It just needs to be energetically enforced, and that means no commercial variances or conditional uses, period. It is those loopholes developers and their crafty lawyers have been abusing, while taking advantage of a municipal government that is just too consumer friendly.

It is not that the city councils we have elected are criminally culpable, they have been just too affable.

They like being nice and liked; that is why they sought office, and why we have elected them. It is just unfortunate they have fallen pry to what I call a cult of amiability, and have become too friendly with special interests.

This unfortunately I feel has set a tone for city staff, which also has become too consumer friendly; more projects, more budget bucks. Of course, this makes it easier for the staff who lean a bit too heavily on others to do their work.

This has allowed the reps for the deep pocket applicants, be they lobbyists or lawyers, to script the requested decisions in the obscure legal language government wraps itself in, and the hell with the public.

So I immodestly suggest the council NOT bother appealing the Measure R ruling. It will be too costly, time consuming, and probably fail.

Instead, it should recognize the popular mandate Malibu residents have expressed in recent referendums, be more transparent and less defensive, and begin to act accordingly.

To that end, I of course have several suggestions, concerning the civic center and beyond in the new year. So stay tuned to KBU and Nextdoor,

 

 

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

 

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and Beyond

While combining pleasure and work surveying cultural tourism in Europe a few months ago, I could not help but wonder if there also were some lessons for my Malibu.

And indeed there was one in particular, a diverting arts and entertainment experience in Edinburgh that for years has been hyped by au courant friends and family.

The Scottish city, of course, is on a completely different scale, if not planet than Malibu, with a very successful history as arguably the world’s leading festival city.

Its International Festival was launched in the wake of World War Two, as a much needed celebration of the creative human spirit. It then flowered into a host of cultural happenings: music, dance, film, art, books, drama, you name it.

Most interesting for me, and harboring some ideas for Malibu, is Edinburgh’s aptly named Fringe Festival. Whatever engages and entertains, be it single performers or ensembles, is material for the decidedly democratic festival.

This year’s was a grand affair, hosting an amazing 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues across Edinburgh, in school halls, university auditoriums, a few aged theaters, churches, under tents, in public parks, private gardens, living rooms and on closed streets and dedicated sidewalks.

Everywhere you wandered in the ancient city there was a peek at a production. Nearly 2.3 million tickets were issued, at modest prices, half price near curtain time, and many free.

The challenge was what to see: an acclaimed company performing an act from a London bound play, a comedy team from Germany doing mime, a Korean dance troup, juggling ballet dancers, acrobatic office workers, standup comics, stand down story tellers,, and buskers everywhere, behind every bench and bush, and on sidewalks and streets, to be sure each spot dedicated and subject to scheduling

It was all doable, because performances were limited to an hour or so, and if you were alert to the buzz, you might score the best of the fest.

The result were wild and wonderful, in part made so because the festival amazingly is open all; absolutely anyone so inspired can stage a show or event, though helping would be having a producer and securing a venue and a time slot. There are no auditions, no second guessing by bureaucrats or politicians. It’s about having the hubris and hustling.

Can something like the fringe on a thumbnail scale work in Malibu?

There are certainly scattered spaces and places that can be transformed temporarily into performance sites, schools, churches, city hall, shopping plazas, parking lots, indeed Legacy, Bluff and Trancas parks. For sure not in the crowded summer, but anytime else, thanks to our weather.

Malibu already has the cache. All it needs is the creativity and flexibility.

If the Cultural Arts Commission can ease its bonds with the city’s innately conservative council and faint hearted city government, and tap its laudable commitment, become transparent, and inspire the city’s many talented incipient residents, it can happen.

Speaking as a former if briefly Disney Imagineer, needed is imagination. It is also what the ever candid Scots in Edinburgh would say.

 

 

A Community Garden as a Central Park for Malibu

Let’s face it, Malibu as the manifestation of a city, a town, a village, or however described, is a mess.

Of course, there is the ocean. There are concerns about water quality, access and views, but it perseveres.

The PCH is a perplexing problem, and will be forever as long as people drive.

The Civic Center is definitely not civic or centered, rather several disconnected shopping malls, and an isolated library and city hall.

And in the marrow of this mess is Legacy Park, my latest commentary heard on 97.5 KBU, and everywhere on radiomalibu.net

An anxious Cultural Arts Commission and entangled City Council are waiting for a team of consultants to come back with a detailed plan for revitalizing the 17 acre expanse. In the interest of accuracy the word should not be revitalizing, because the overgrown area of undergrowth has never been vital and not particularly friendly or frequented.

Less we forget, it is in fact the earthen roof of a city blessed water treatment plant serving the adjacent high-end stores and pricey residences, packaged by avaricious real estate interests and sold to an undiscerning city council. Some have labeled it perhaps more accurately as the leech field, and with derision, Lunacy Park because of the thinking by the city that hyped its approval.

It is most certainly a design challenge, worthy of the consultant team of Hodgetts and Fung with an assist by Calvin Abe landscape architects, which recently presented a rough draft plan to the commission.

Displayed and illustrated by select photographs was an array of sketchy alternatives. They included expanded water features, functional art works, and a web of pathways to the adjacent library, country mart, city hall and the proposed Santa Monica college extension.

It was very much a laundry list of features, which some felt were too art and urban oriented. Reiterated by several commissioners was that the park should be as natural as possible, consistent with an ecological theme appealing in particular to locals and children. The commission gave its preliminary approval, but directed the consultants to go back to the drawing boards, and return in a few weeks with a more focused plan.

This also gave me some time to walk the forlorn site, keeping in mind its constraints of no structures or ball fields, which had been negotiated away by a past council. The challenge is somehow craft it to be local and green, with a smattering of art.

As I wandered I recalled the sage advice of a landscape architect I once worked with, Dan Kiley, who said a site will tell you what it wants to be. Just pick up some soil, rub it, close your eyes and think how the site be used

The vision that appeared was a community garden, a collection of small plots tended by locals, producing an abundance of vegetables, fruits and flowers, for themselves and for sharing, connecting to the environment, and each other in a singular commonalty, sustaining the park with people and purpose.

As for the art the commission would like, it can mark the gateway to the garden, the seating, or lighting, things that can be used use and delight us. And given its size, there also could be room for a passive, wildlife friendly native landscape, and perhaps a dog park, hopefully better designed than the one at Trancas Canyon. Maybe also a multi use field, if the city could find a legal loophole through the constraints.

But the focus of Legacy I feel should be a community garden.

Think about it; envision it.

Art of Photography as Social Commentary

Family, friends and fans, a new arrow in my quiver. In addition to my planning and design commentary City Observed on 97.5 KBU FM heard Saturdays locally , and on radiomalibu.net everywhere, there is Arts and Entertainment Observed, a new broadcast feature heard Sundays. The first focused on the art of photography as social commentary. It follows:

At the Skirball Cultural Center off of the 405 a particular searing pictorial commentary on one of the more shameful, egregious –it is hard to find the appropriate word for it –outrages of World War Two. And sadly perpetrated by United States, replete with cloying rationale by President Roosevelt.

The incarceration of tens of thousand of United States citizens, men, women and children, –who happened to be of Japanese descent — in a barren dust bowl 220 miles northeast of Los Angeles for no other reasons other than they looked Japanese, was a flagrant violation of civil rights and the constitution.

No matter, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, they were ripped from their homes and possessions. Of local note this included several Malibu families who owned nurseries in the civic center area.

They lost their land that probably would have made them among the largest landowners in Malibu today, and we would no doubt have something very different than the crass clutter of shopping centers.

Lending particular note to the exhibit is that most of the photographs were taken by the already then renown Ansel Adams, best known for his stunning landscapes.

He was asked to document the outrage by no less then the camp director, a friend from the then and still progressive Sierra Club. The photographs are captivating, as are the artifacts documents and newspaper articles of the day, reflecting the prejudices and hysteria of the that prompted the incarceration, and the artifacts of coping within the camp.

Also shown are photographs by Dorothea Lange and Toyo Miyatake. A recognized and respected photographer, he had worked with Edwin Weston, and was nonetheless incarcerated.

Another incarcerated artist but at a camp in Utah was Mine’ Okubo. Her sketches and paintings from that trying time are shown in another gallery at the Skirball , and is entitled Citizen 13660.

That was her family’s assigned camp number, and the title of her subsequent book depicting the harsh life in the camp.

Okubo later participated in a redress action that extracted an apology and reparations from the U.S. government.

The exhibit at the Skirball runs to February 21st.

Coincidently, at the nearby Getty, also running to Feb. 21st, are the photographs of Ishiuchi Miyako, entitled Postwar Shadows.

Included are haunting images of objects that survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and despondent post war scenes of life under the American occupation.

Also at the Getty is an exhibit entitled The Younger Generation, Contemporary Japanese Photography.

All of the artists are women , which is interesting in respect to the subject matters, but also from the perspective that Japan is very much a male chauvinistic society. It is known there as “girl photography.”

 

11.15.15