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It’s Happening in Los Angeles!

I had a great visit to Los Angeles Feb. 5-9—it overfulfilled my best expectations. Ever since a number of friends moved to LA after the Dotcom bust drove so many people out of San Francisco, I’ve had the feeling that Los Angeles is a far more interesting place than it used to be. I suppose I would have to credit Mike Davis and his City of Quartz” back in 1990 for starting my own northern California snobbish re-examination of our long disdained southern California brethren. By now, I think a lot of folks in LA are sure they’re way “ahead” of us, partly through sheer size and scale, and partly because there’s an openness and joie de vivre and camaraderie amongst Angelenos that we really don’t approach up here, where everyone is jaded, everyone already knows what the other people are going to say, etc. There’s a certain “stuckness” sometimes in the Bay Area and the people I met in Los Angeles are up against such an overwhelmingly hostile megalopolis, in terms of design, values, and expectations, that those who are in the dissident subcultures are quick to connect with each other. It probably also means that there’s less judgementalness when you meet folks who are in some way standing up for life in a culture so fixated on death.

Like our monuments in SF, Los Angelenos also celebrate the genocidal war against the Philippines (we ignorantly still refer to it as the "Spanish-American War") in 1898-1903.

Like our monuments in SF, Los Angelenos also celebrate the genocidal war against the Philippines (we ignorantly still refer to it as the "Spanish-American War") in 1898-1903.

Close-up on the sign on the monument above.

Close-up on the sign on the monument above.

I took those shots from my rental car, an oddly LA experience of driving around in a convertible! First time I ever did that!

I got to Los Angeles after six flight legs over 2 days and it was a whirlwind. I did three Nowtopia Talks in the first two days, a Google lunchtime author series on Thursday, and then Friday Feb. 6 at FarmLab at midday, and the Los Angeles Ecovillage at night. The Googlers were funny–at least half of the 25 attendees tapping away at their laptops while I spoke. They asked some good questions and I think it went over quite well. They also videotaped it, simulcasting to Mountain View, but there was no audience feedback from there. On Saturday morning I went into the studio of Killradio.org (my browser says their website will damage my computer! But you can find their shows as podcasts at kpfk.org) and had a rollickin’ good two hours on the air with an ever-changing assortment of bicyclists and even a motocross champion! That night I spoke at BookSoup in West Hollywood to a small crowd, and then on Monday morning I finished my Nowtopia mini-tour at California Institute for the Arts in Valencia, speaking to Andrea Bowers’ class “Lead, Follow, or Get out of the Way! Art, Activism, and Dissent”.

 

Los Angeles Ecovillage on Bimini Place, my home away from home!

Los Angeles Ecovillage on Bimini Place, my home away from home!

The FarmLab is such a cool place! There’s a certain amount of local grumbling about it because it’s so well-funded, being the main project of Lauren Bon, an Annenberg Foundation trustee and descendent of that uppercrust family. But the conversion of the sprawling warehouses into gallery and meeting and performance space is beautiful, and by all accounts, they do a lot of great stuff there. I presented to about 50 people sitting in a big semicircle on upholstered benches, near a kitchen where a yummy chicken and salad lunch was served to all. Outside an historic viaduct rises to cross the LA river, shadowing weird art pieces, junker cars full of plants, and ironic juxtapositions of many sorts. Jeremy Rosenberg gave me a mini-tour explaining the multiyear experience he was still having (to his own surprise), including the seminal effort called “Not A Cornfield” –a huge adjacent parkland, once an abandoned island amidst freeways and warehouses (not far from Chavez Ravine) where Lauren Bon put in a 32-acre cornfield as an art project. Jeremy gave me a beautiful 2-volume book on it, one full of essays and analyses, the other photos and artistic representations, the books themselves quite elegant artifacts. I’d not heard of the Cornfield project but it was well known to my hosts at the LA Ecovillage, who are in a broad network of like-minded transformative efforts percolating here in LA.

 

The former "Not A Cornfield" site outside FarmLab.

The former "Not A Cornfield" site outside FarmLab.

Inside the FarmLab... cool neon signs!

Inside the FarmLab... cool neon signs!

 

FarmLab courtyard just after some heavy rains.

FarmLab courtyard just after some heavy rains.

Under the Pasadena Viaduct at FarmLab.

Under the North Spring Street Bridge at FarmLab.

Permaculture rain harvesting at FarmLab.

Permaculture rain harvesting at FarmLab.

 

FarmLab under the viaduct.

FarmLab under the bridge.

The historic Pasadena Viaduct soars over the FarmLab and the Los Angeles River.

The North Spring Street Bridge soars over the FarmLab and the Los Angeles River.

FarmLab, where art is everywhere!

FarmLab, where art is everywhere!

The right side of the presentation area in FarmLab.

The right side of the presentation area in FarmLab.

Lois Arkin, Joe Linton, Andrea, Laura, Maeve and Hunter, Achá, Adonia, Michelle, and a coupla dozen more all gave me a great welcome and warm hospitality at the LA Ecovillage. I’d met Ava Bromberg by email and had the pleasure of spending an afternoon walking and talking. She’s a delight, and though not working with the Ecovillage now, has her own wild ideas of a converted LA mini-strip mall, turned into some kind of green/alt social center!

 

The new art-bike fence at LA Ecovillage.

The new art-bike fence at LA Ecovillage.

Andrea and Lois, my charming hosts at the Ecovillage!

Andrea and Lois, my charming hosts at the Ecovillage!

The LA Ecovillage has big plans for transforming their entire neighborhood. This lizard bench helps reinhabit the sidewalk in front of their buildings.

The LA Ecovillage has big plans for transforming their entire neighborhood. This lizard bench helps reinhabit the sidewalk in front of their buildings.

The backyard was pretty wet, heavy rains falling throughout my visit.

The backyard was pretty wet, heavy rains falling throughout my visit.

Ecovillage back yard.

Ecovillage back yard.

117 Bimini Place near Vermont and 1st Avenue in LA... go visit!

117 Bimini Place near Vermont and 1st Avenue in LA... go visit!

I’d visited LA Ecovillage in 2003 when I was hunting for the Bike Kitchen which started (appropriately) in their kitchen! It’s since moved to Hel-Mel (Melrose and Heliotrope), a small hipster enclave about 12 blocks away. The Bike Kitchen is going strong, and has been joined in the area by the Bike Oven and the Bikrowave”¦

la-bike-kitchen-sign_7170

 

Everyone helping each other over a recalcitrant mechanical problem.

Everyone helping each other over a recalcitrant mechanical problem.

bike-oven-sign_7245

 

Inside the Bike Oven, where the cooking never stops!

Inside the Bike Oven, where the cooking never stops!

Every DIY bike shop has its own philosophy and "rules."

Every DIY bike shop has its own philosophy and "rules."

On Saturday morning I went to Killradio.org’s studios:

 

Lisa on the air, Larry Hoffman of the Bicycle Advisory Council sitting at right.

Lisa on the air, Larry Hoffman of the Bicycle Advisory Council sitting at right.

Larry took this shot of me with my camera... thanks Larry!

Larry took this shot of me with my camera... thanks Larry!

One my favorite spots in Los Angeles, best visited on a blustery clear day in winter as it was on Saturday, is Runyan Canyon. Here are some shots, visiting it with my good friends from Sao Paolo (who are teaching at UCLA for a couple of months) Nani and Fernando. Once you climb to the hilltop above Hollywood you can see all the way to Long Beach in the south, Santa Monica in the west (we could even see Catalina Island!) and rugged mountains to the east. When you see Los Angeles in this clear air, it’s not difficult to see why so many people have moved here, and delightful to imagine what it must’ve been like before mass urban development and the overwhelming expansion of roads and private cars.

 

View down Runyan Canyon.

View down Runyan Canyon.

View of Downtown Los Angeles from Runyan Canyon, rainbow in distance.

View of eastern Los Angeles from Runyan Canyon, rainbow in distance.

Downtown LA from Runyan Canyon.

Downtown LA from Runyan Canyon.

Rain moves across LA basin, southerly view from Runyan Canyon.

Rain moves across LA basin, southerly view from Runyan Canyon.

Nani and Fernando on a brisk Saturday afternoon overlooking LA.

Nani and Fernando on a brisk Saturday afternoon overlooking LA.

I came upon this community garden while walking back from Heliotrope-Melrose to the LA Ecovillage, further proof that it’s Happening in Los Angeles!

Community Gardens are everywhere these days.

Community Gardens are everywhere these days.

On Sunday afternoon I enjoyed a walk around Echo Park with Marc Herbst and Christina Ulke of the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest. We talked about a lot, from my long and tangled history with Processed World and the origins of Shaping San Francisco, Critical Mass and the antecedents to Nowtopia, to an interesting conversation about the panopticon commercialized social networking software that most of us use these days (Facebook) vs. the idea of nonprofit software… Christina was pretty adamant that she didn’t like Facebook but especially couldn’t understand why people were so willing to hand over their profiles and data to a commercial entity that is clearly profiting enormously from this blind compliance. I understand all that (I recommend listening to Harry Lewis on Democracy Now this morning… he explains quite well just how much our personal privacy is being completely overwhelmed by Facebook, cell phones, et al, much the same as I suggested in discussion with Christina)… Ultimately I have to admit that Facebook is not (for me and many folks I know) about “social networking” in terms of friends and family, but is a straight-up marketing tool. In this world where we are all forced to sell ourselves 24/7, like it or not, Facebook proves to be remarkably effective at helping connect to people who want to know about your work. The fact that there are vast data profiles being built on all this is the unfortunate tradeoff for the convenience and reach it provides. I’ve no illusions about it. I’m a product in the marketplace and my works are what I’m selling, and Facebook helps that happen by expanding awareness of my writing and appearances… It’s fine that old friends can find me too, and that sometimes new friends can further the connection with me by using it… it is a different set of tools than this blog, or plain email, and as far as I can tell, no other sites have matched it for its ease of use or ability to meet those connection needs… WiserEarth, e.g., which is a kind of lefty social networking site for organizers and groups and activists, is relatively moribund compared to Facebook, though I give them credit for continuing to try to animate the site, which does have hundreds of organizations and projects trying to use it too…

p.s. I wanted to flag a great article in the new Journal of Aesthetics & Protest that properly contradicted one my most common arguments in my Nowtopia presentations: Lisa Ann Auerbach (who came to the LA Ecovillage Talk and said hello) writes a piece called D.D.I.Y. Don’t Do It Yourself… critiquing the many ways that capitalism has thoroughly co-opted the whole DIY phenomenon. I think I covered this in the book, but don’t always do a good job of debunking this in my talks, so her piece is a welcome contribution. Someone mentioned it to me first as D.I.T. or Do It Together, as an antidote to the atomized DIY phenomenon… Auerbach has a number of wonderful sentences in her short essay, starting with “A plague veiled in the ideal of empowerment is sweeping our nation, leaving in its wake neighborhoods scarred by crappy home improvement, families destroyed by badly cooked gourmet meals, and scores and heaps of barely used tools, leftover supplies, and unfinished projects.” After a brief series of examples of how we’re being sold a package of goods, flattered and cajoled by marketers, she mimics the marketers,  “We are underachievers, and by buying and consuming more and more how-to books, kits, lumber, tile, yarn, drywall, and specialty tools, we will unleash our inner artisans.”

“Don’t Do It Yourself!” is our new battle cry. D.D.I.Y. means working with friends, hiring a professional, consuming wisely and conscientiously, and providing for ourselves while working with others. We do what we do best, do what we know how to do, while allowing others to help us with what we are not equipped for. D.D.I.Y. alows us to admit that we might not be able to do everything ourselves, that we can’t be a specialist in all fields. D.D.I.Y. says we don’t need to purchase all the tools necessary for a minor repair, especially when the neighbor has a toolbox covered in cobwebs in the back shed. It is pointless for us to learn electrical wiring in order to fix one chandelier; we don’t need to invest in a table saw to build a birdhouse… Imagine a world where everyone has mountains of supplies but no idea of how to use them—not pretty… Employ those who know what they are doing [which] need not always entail a monetary exchange (though sometimes there is no choice)…

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3 Responses to “It’s Happening in Los Angeles!”

  1. 1
    dustin:

    Hello Chris,

    We met at Farmlab and then I came to LA Eco-village talk to “get some more” as you put it… I’m glad you managed to see the nice side of LA. Many people never seem to find it, even the people that live here. Your talk inspired me to start read Marx’s Capital. We’re doing a reading group and following David Harvey’s lectures.

    I was following your links and they remained framed by the nowtopian url. For your outgoing links if you use URL NAME they will open in a new window making their url available.

    Something that never came up in conversation are the “art & social practice” folks in Portland. This is a graduate program started by Harrell Fletcher, they are doing very interesting things. http://socialpractices.blogspot.com/

    Have a nice day,

    Dustin

    dustinohara.com

  2. 2
    Fhar:

    I was myself very much surprised to discover this side of LA a few years ago, particularly when it comes to cycling-related stuff. And I’m with you on the issue of Facebook, although I use it more for long-distance organizing and exposing my disparate groups of friends to new ideas than for making money. I have to say, upon first glance, I find WiseEarth to be a rather poor replacement, not so much because it is moribund as you say, but because it makes me feel as though I should consider myself less of a person if I don’t have a foundation grant. I think it’s a stretch to call it “lefty”, it’s more “nature-y”, sort of like Whole Foods and Toyota. I’m happy to be proven wrong, though. There is, however, a project called “Crabgrass” that I think deserves some attention in this area. It is still very much under development, and its current user base, aside from the developers themselves, is orders of magnitude more moribund than either Facebook or WiseEarth. I believe it has some potential, though. Check it out at https://we.riseup.net/

  3. 3
    A decade in links | Los Angeles Eco-Village:

    […] 2009: Chris Carlsson visits Los Angeles and this is a great post that highlights the people and places that he visited. This would be a good read if you are planning on coming to L.A. and would like to see the other side of the coin. http://www.nowtopians.com/my-w.....os-angeles […]

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