LA FORUM NEWSLETTER ︎ LIVING IN LOS ANGELES
Among designers, architects, and urban planners, there exists a pervasive and long-running notion that social ills can be designed away, that if only the right design solution could be found, some of our most pressing societal problems – housing unaffordability and homelessness; income inequality and material poverty; political subjugation and spatial injustice – could be neatly resolved. This solutions-oriented paradigm avoids the lengthy and well documented histories tying design to the perpetuation of injustice and ignores the social formations and systems of control that have wielded design to subjugate and erase vulnerable communities precisely through new manifestations of design.
In Los Angeles, perhaps as nowhere else, the inherent and violent conflicts between these opposing motivations are simultaneously clear and confoundingly obscured by the nature of the city itself. Multiple families cram into single houses while soaring towers sit empty; New train lines are fed by parking garages while freeway off ramps shelter encampments; Crises in the street are met with batons and bullets in a land where jail cells are more accessible than housing; Smog, smoke, and disease fill the sky, and our bodies. Try as it may, design offers little to remedy these situations outside larger, fundamental transformations.
Living in Los Angeles represents an initial attempt at unsettling the notion that design – and architects – can solve problems. Instead of searching for the most efficient design proposals or the most clever interpretations of the zoning code, this text seeks to zoom out and look backward to illuminate episodes where the irreconcilable social situations run up against the concrete realities of the built environment. The hope is that in delving into these moments we can learn more about what it has meant to live in this volatile, fraught place over time, and that this process can perhaps lead to better ways of understanding what it means to live here today. These episodes are all around us and encompass a multitude of experiences, populations, and subjectivities that solutions-oriented design ideologies are incapable of accounting for; We have collected a modest sampling of some of these moments here with the simple goal of turning the conversation surrounding the built environment and our role within it upside down.
In this newsletter, you will find: a photo essay depicting the street scenes of South Los Angeles from architect Demar Matthews and the photographer Racheal Weathers, a scholarly investigation of the San Fernando Swap Meet as a site of cultural citizenship for the Latinx community from Barbara Velasco, an interview with the photographer Janna Ireland discussing her photographs of the work of architect Paul Revere Williams, a discussion with the historian Pollyanna Rhee uncovering the contradictory roots of white affluent environmentalism in Santa Barbara, as well as several other contributions that touch on equally compelling legacies. The goal is to bring together peoples, geographies, events, processes, movements, and reconciliations in ways that pry open established ideas of what life in Los Angeles is like. But here, I offer a disclaimer: This collection is necessarily incomplete. Though an attempt has been made to share a broad selection of stories and forms of expression from a range of authors, the published collection falls far short of our initial ambitions for the project, though we hope that the scope of this endeavor will continue to grow as more time and resources become available. Rather than being taken as representative of the messy, complex whole that is Los Angeles, the few episodes collected here should instead be seen as a gateway to more refined investigations, as paths that lead toward areas of inquiry that demand more attention, and as frames for beginning to understand how historical-social experiences overlap with one another and the built environment. I hope that inevitable gaps left between these investigations will prompt additional inquiries that aim to fill and build upon these voids.
-- Antonio Pacheco