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...]

Gunning the Throttle for the Llano Estacado: The Epistemic Amarillo

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The academic life is an itinerant one, and sometimes you find yourself moving to a place you never anticipated. This July I found myself packing up my stuff, for the fourth time since finishing my doctorate in mythical pre-crash 2008, getting ready for a 968-mile move to Amarillo, Texas. Unofficial capital of the Texas Panhandle—that West Virginia-sized protrusion on the northwest tip of the Lone Star State—the city takes its name from Amarillo Creek, which in turn borrows its name from the Spanish word for yellow. Originally spoken in a more Iberian way when the city was founded in the 1880s, the pronunciation has been phonetically Anglicized such that it rhymes with the English words … [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...]

Can the Parking Lot Speak? Uncovering Untold Histories of Parking in America

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Lots of Parking: Land Use in a Car Culture is in some ways a ground-breaking book. Prior to its publication in 2004, there were no books devoted to the history of parking in the United States. Countless books existed about the moving automobile; virtually none about the parked car. A few brief accounts had appeared, usually in the form of articles, but these were limited primarily to parking in individual cities and, curiously, universities. Richard Longstreth is the exception, as he recounted aspects of parking history in his City Center to Regional Mall (1997) and The Buildings of Main Street (2000), but parking was not the focus of either. John A. Jakle, professor of geography and … [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...]

A Clear Blue Vision: L.A. Light Rail and Twenty Five Years of the Blue Line

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In a 2012 interview with transit scholar Ethan Elkind, Richard Stanger, former Los Angeles County Transit Commission rail development director, credited the 1988 film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" for popularizing the theory that "car companies had deliberately destroyed the once great Los Angeles Streetcar system," thereby setting in motion a strain of nostalgia for the defunct Pacific Electric/Los Angeles Railway (P.E./L.A.R.) that led to greater public support for rail transit. 1 Set in 1947 Los Angeles, the movie, as the Thom Anderson-directed documentary "L.A. Plays Itself" notes, "offers itself as a cartoon version of 'Chinatown'," swapping water controversies of the latter with the … [Read more...]

From Small Farming to Urban Agriculture: El Monte and Subsistence Homesteading

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"People want to get outdoors ... and the small farms home gives them that opportunity," Ross H. Gast told an audience of San Diegans in 1933. "It is a good home in good and bad times and a place to save earnings with an incidental production of food supply." The writer--an editor at the Los Angeles Times' Farm and Garden Magazine and El Monte resident--had long advocated for the "small farm lifestyle," a return-to-the-land movement that stretched back to the turn of the century. "The way I see it, the small farm home is not just a piece of property but a mode of living, one that is being adopted generally in Southern California," he noted. Through Gast and others, the Los Angeles Times had … [Read more...]

“Brick Mansions: it’s so dangerous, we built a wall around it.”

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Warning: This post is full of spoilers. Thankfully, Brick Mansions isn’t the kind of movie you watch for the plot. Brick Mansions is the American remake of the French film District B13 (not to be confused with District 9, the Academy Award-nominated South African film from 2009). Brick Mansions tells the story of a housing project in 2018 Detroit – a project so dangerous the city literally built a 40-foot wall around it, with police checkpoints at all entrances and exits. David Belle plays Lino, a resident of the projects who uses his parkour skills to steal drugs from the dealers and then destroy them. The plot really takes off when cop Damien (played by Paul Walker in one of his final … [Read more...]

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