Birthing Mass Transit in the DMV: WMATA and the Difficulties of Multi-Jurisdictional Transportation Systems

Carol M. Highsmith, Red Line Metro subway train going one way arrives to join a train about to head the other direction at Metro Center Station, Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress

“It’s a system that’s maybe safe, somewhat unreliable, and that is being complained about by everybody,” - Jack Evans, WMATA Chairman and District of Columbia Council Member[1] The subway that serves the Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area, known locally as “the metro,” is running through hard times these days. On January 12, 2015 one passenger died after a train car filled with smoke, and on March 16th, 2016 the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the body in charge of the metro, announced a complete service shutdown for one full day while repairmen could run safety checks on all lines. Shortly after the announcement the Washington Post editorial board posted an … [Read more...]

New South Cocktail: The Terroir of the Jack and Coke

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Some call it a Jack & Coke. I like to think of it as a “Chattanooga.” Chattanooga sits at a gap in the Appalachians on Interstate 24, just southeast of the Cumberland Plateau. Balanced on the Georgia-Tennessee border, Chattanooga was once known as Ross’s Landing, a site where Cherokee Chief John Ross operated a ferry across a turbulent spot on the pre-TVA Tennessee River. A railroad and manufacturing city, Chattanooga was located at a crucial spot in the Dixie Highway. The Dixie Highway was a North-South transcontinental highway network built by early-1900s good-roads proponents who wanted to give northern tourists greater access to the South. Flanked by fading “See Rock City” barns, … [Read more...]

The Lakewood Plan: Homeownership, Taxes, and Diversity in Postwar Suburbia

Lakewood: Times Change, Values Don't | Photo: Laurie Avocado/Flickr/Creative Commons

If you're driving about 15 or 20 miles south of Central Chennai in Bali, don't be surprised if you find yourself in a pseudo Golden State. Sure the "road buckles and heaves" and you'll pass farmers in "Madras-checked dhoties" resting outside their palm tree roofed huts; goats might even meander about without molestation. But then, noted the Economist in an essay on international suburbanization, one turns a corner and "arrives in California." Not just any part of the state either, but specifically Lakewood Enclave, a Balinese subdivision named after its pioneering namesake from Southern California.1 Lakewood and other Southern California suburbs like those in Orange County have asserted an … [Read more...]

Ciudad de Oro y Plata: Impressions of Mexico City

Ninfomana

I am not exactly the world's most cosmopolitan traveler. I never got on a plane until I was twenty years old, and I've only really visited a handful of countries.  When my wife and I decided to go to Mexico City for a week this Fall, we went into it with some unwarranted assumptions.  The biggest city in the Western hemisphere, we thought, would likely be a dense, chaotic metropolis akin to Karachi or Bangkok. The stereotype of the overcrowded and congested Third World city loomed large in our minds, and Mexico City seemed like it would fit that pattern. Evidently, we were not alone in our assumptions. As journalist David Lida recalled in his 2008 book First Stop in the New World: Mexico … [Read more...]

From South Gate to L.A. Live: Demographic Change, Homeowner Ethos and Redevelopment in Southeastern Los Angeles

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When Becky Nicolaides chairs or comments on a panel, people show up. The author of the now seminal My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working Class Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920-1965 always draws a crowd. As her book has assumed a sort of Crabgrass Nation status, the suburb at the heart of it, South Gate, has become an ur-text for Southeast Los Angeles more broadly. Nicolaides ended her study in 1965 but in her epilogue noted that twenty-first-century South Gate now served as a predominantly working-class Latino American suburb, representative of larger structural shifts in economics, demographics, and perhaps even immigration (though commentator Philip Ethington might differ on this … [Read more...]

Housing, Homeless, and Freeways: Kicking Off SACRPH 2015 with a History of L.A. Social Justice

Brass Band, Walk the Talk

When you look up the word "plenary," the dictionary provides the following definition: “(of a meeting) to be attended by all participants at a conference or assembly, who otherwise meet in smaller groups.” Plenaries when scheduled at the beginning of a conference are meant to set the tone, and the opening session at this year’s Society of American City and Regional Planning History (SACRPH), “Social Justice through a Historical Lens,” did just that. In a nation that has just witnessed protests at the University of Missouri that led to the resignation of the school’s president and the Ferguson uprising of 2014 that helped spark the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the plenary provided a loose … [Read more...]

Beyond the Valley: Demography, Failed Secession and Urban Politics in San Fernando Valley

Map of proposed San Fernando Valley Secession | Image: LA Almanac/Valley VOTE

When one thinks of San Fernando Valley, visions of ranch home subdivisions, shopping malls, and valley girls bound about the mind. In the second episode of season three of Entourage, "A Day in the Valley", Vince and his idiot chorus get trapped in SFV during a debilitating heat wave that threatens to undermine the success of his big action feature "Aquaman." The tone of despair present in the crew's intonation of "the Valley" says it all. More recently, the Comedy Central series "Workaholics" depicted the travails of three white stoners devoid of ambition, but not bong hits. Does anyone even remember the dizzy, faux documentary stylings of the 1990s Showtime series "Sherman Oaks"? In … [Read more...]

Floridian America Redux?: Wicker Park, Hipsterdom, and Neo-Bohemia

"Turn on the bright lights" the WP after dark

“Creative people have always gravitated to certain kinds of communities such as the Left Bank in Paris or New York’s Greenwich Village,” wrote Richard Florida in his ubiquitously referenced The Rise of the Creative Class. “Such communities provide the stimulation, diversity, and richness of experiences that are the wellsprings of creativity. Now more of us are looking for the same thing.”[1] With his 2002 work, Florida staked his claim as an iconic New Economy urbanist and laid out a vision for urban growth in the new century that if not completely accurate rings true in many ways.  In general, more jobs would be based on “creative” or intellectual, knowledge-based skills rather than the … [Read more...]

Redefining Asian America: Japanese Americans, Gardena, and the Making of a Transnational Suburb

Kashu Realty had branches in Crenshaw, Wilshire, Los Feliz, and Monterey Park | Google Street View

Naomi Hirahara never "got" Raymond Chandler. The dark, mistrustful view of Los Angeles that Chandler's work so embodied seemed foreign to the award-winning mystery writer. "He has set a tone for stories about the darkness under L.A.'s glitz for 80 years, but I can't relate to the paranoid view Chandler had of my Los Angeles, or his fear of 'the other,' or how his loner detective Philip Marlowe navigated his investigative cases without the weight of family or community," she confessed in a recent article. Rather the Pasadena-born Japanese American writer knew a life of family and strong immigrant networks. L.A.'s sense of reinvention, not alienation, she confided to readers, was its real … [Read more...]

Surfing for Freedom: Black Surfers and Reclaiming Cultural History in Los Angeles

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In 1991's surfing bromance "Point Break," former Big Ten quarterback and F.B.I. agent Johnny Utah infiltrates a notorious ring of "surfing bank robbers" led by the late great Patrick Swayze's Bodhi (short for Buddhavista of course). They play beach football, go night surfing, and eventually end their relationship in a confrontation on an Australian beach as 100 foot waves from a fifty year storm crash on the beach. "Point Break's" ridiculousness has long been acknowledged, from Keanu Reaves performance -- "I am an F.B.I. agent!" -- to Swayze's mix of extreme sports and white Eastern mysticism; yet the film, and others like it, also perpetuate a problematic vision of surfing and a form of … [Read more...]

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