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Tuesday, April 10, 2007


'Back To The Future: The 1970 Los Angeles 'Centers' Concept Plan', published in its entirely at Planetizen. The suggestion is that Los Angeles, despite long being held up as a model of planning without planning, actually had the same ideals as any other metropolitan centre in the late C20 - to 'alleviate traffic congestion', 'enhance the quality of the City's environment', 'make Los Angeles an attractive location for new industries and businesses', etc., etc., etc. By the 1970s, it was probably too late to do anything truly coherent in planning terms, other than sit back and watch the broad ribbons of tarmac spread across its heart and out into the endless suburbs.

Despite the city's many imperfections (see the work of Mike Davis, most notably) there's huge nostalgia for Los Angeles, something that translates well through cinema, naturally, but also in the now firmly established genre of retro-futurism that seems to clog particular sections of the internet - start with Googie and move on from there. The mall, drive-through, snout-house, post-Case Study Housing (Eichler, et al) all add up to create a hazy, elegaic view of modernism that lingers in a romantic fashion. The truth is certainly more prosaic, even pernicious (in the Davis view), a grid of isolated communities, sprawling uncontrolled and unloved. Lewis Baltz's photo-essay The new Industrial Parks near Irvine, California set off a new wave of nostalgia, for the honesty and simplicity of industrial blankness, influencing countless artists and photographers.

Nostalgia is mutable but also adaptable. Los Angeles might inadvertently present a new form of urban nostalgia, but it's certainly not seen as a desirable model for new communities. Instead, architects and planners are seeking to leapfrog decades of organic growth with what's being described as 'instant urbanism', ersatz neighbourhoods that give the impression they have arisen over time. The linked article describes a new development in Denver, Belmar, but it could equally apply to any number of modern developments around the world, from Thames Town in Shanghai to the Dubai Marina, all instant cities with, their creators hope, instant connections.

Instant urbanism is hardly a new planning concept. The City Beautiful movement was founded on the 'idea that beauty could be an effective social control device', and a beautiful city was a safe, prosperous city. Its aims can be seen in Daniel Burnham's 1905 Report on a Plan for San Francisco, which hoped to 'girdle the city with a boulevard' and liberate it from its grid, creating grand drives, vistas, parks and routes - the European classical ideal imposed on the American condition. Designed for the essentially pre-automobile age, Burnham's city was about perambulation and spectacle, not commuting: 'As the boulevards are created the heavy traffic should be restricted and on some of them not allowed at all.'

City Beautiful has been usurped in favour of City Functional, as the raw data is crunched and the lottery of chance encounters is flattened out in favour of carefully structured spaces that strive for a petri dish social mix. Into this one adds technology, the relentless dominance of the visual, and the questions posed by Societies and Cities in the Age of Instant Access. The problem is that technology can either work against nostalgia or with it; either you use your instant access to facilitate nostalgia (flickr, iTunes, weblogs such as this one) or you believe that technology is purely about looking forward, not back. The problem is, as the resurfaced LA plan makes clear, our awareness of the past is shaped by emerging technologies, forevermore impacting upon our relationship with cities.

*

Other things. Mapping Modernism / Postmodernism, simplified, but interesting. In that particular classification, the definition of 'goods and things' as modern, versus 'services and images' as post-modern, bears out the idea that our world is a construct of these images, and that the post-modern object - computer, mobile phone, mp3 player, what have you - simply serves as a portal to access 'services and images' / a house price hot spot map, via DDE. Also via dde is house price crash.co.uk, and a note about the GPS tracking functions of the Nokia N95.

historyworld.net has an abundance of timelines / historic postcards / the Mayoh Postal History site / the Wellcome Trust's Medical Photo Library / reincarnation and memory: 'People who believe they have lived past lives as, say, Indian princesses or battlefield commanders are more likely to make certain types of memory errors, according to a new study.', at further.

Project Gutenberg contains things like this 1920 edition of Punch (or the London Charivari) / luminous paintings by Gordon Seward - new Fauvism / Eating Bark, a weblog / Pulse, a book about 'the coming age of systems and machines inspired by living things' / an interview with architect Albert Frey, touching on his time spent working with Le Corbusier.