128 Flipping the Future of Architecture

Image: UXO Architects

A few weeks ago I retweeted an article about a nightmarish Victorian house flip that touched off a minor architectural tweet storm. That prompted an email from James Heard and Ashton Hamm of UXO Architects who had some opinions about this flip and about architecture and city design in general. So I asked them to join us on the podcast. During the conversation Ashton and James mention:

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

GM and the Red Cars

A brief post this morning as I’m obsessed with completing the Stickley #336 reproduction I’m working on in the garage, a project that has narrowly avoided firewood status at a few points.

My post on Lyft, prompted an email from a friend from grad school, Nic Sammond to note that I should have mentioned General Motor’s alleged destruction of the street cars in Los Angeles and other American cities in the mid 20th century. Not being a historian, I’m not going to delve into the complex story of GM’s disruption of the streetcar business. But Nic makes a good point about noting the connections between Silicon Valley’s technological forays into transportation and GM’s role in wrecking those streetcars.

It reminds me of Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, a book that haunts me every day. In it Fisher describes describes how we all seem to be unable to imagine a future that’s not some dystopian, privatized nightmare of the sort imagined in the 2006 film Children of Men. When I see charts like the one above, taken from a Los Angeles Department of Transportation report, I can’t help but think of Fisher’s book and what Nic suggested, that we might be repeating the mistakes of the past and selling our future to short term corporate interests. We would do well to work on changing this trajectory.

Saturday Tweets: Lost in Translation

Thinking Local

If ever there was an example of how we can’t seem to all get along these days it would be our infamous Silver Lake Neighborhood Council. Considering the organization is only advisory, has no power and a tiny budget, it’s remarkable how deep its potentates have gone into Machiavellian maneuvers and the minutia of Robert’s Rules of Order. The Council’s drama has involved everything from threats of physical violence to false flag operations to virtuosic Orwellian double speak. If you’d like to see just how bad and petty things can get at a meeting of an organization with no actual power just take a look at this or these stunning meeting minutes. If I didn’t have better things to do I’d leverage my music degree to write a five hour opera about the council, mostly recitative, mostly from text from the afore mentioned Robert’s Rules of Order. Even less would happen than in the first part of Das Rheingold–my Silver Lake opera would just be endless meetings.

For the locals that read this blog I urge you to come out and vote tomorrow, Saturday April 6th from 12 to 6pm at St. Francis of Assissi 1523 Golden Gate Ave. Anyone who lives, works or belongs to an organization in Silver Lake is eligible to vote and I urge you to vote for the new Progressive Slate of candidates who promise to, so to speak, drain the reservoir of its current swamp creatures.

For those of you not in Silver Lake, the problems with our council, I think, are at least in part part of a general inability to work in groups, a byproduct of the triumph of individualism and consumerism. In the past most people belonged to some sort of community group such as a club, synagogue, church, lodge etc. In those groups we used to see each other socially outside the closed domains of our homes, making the kind of meanness and dissension we’ve seen here in Silver Lake less likely to happen. This is not to say that things were perfect when we had more affiliations. You could also get groups like the KKK. And the demands of households where both partners must work means that we have less time to gather in the evening. But these are not a reasons to live lives of lonely desperation playing video games and waiting for the next Amazon package to arrive. If we’re to get out of the mess we’re in here in Silver Lake and everywhere else in the world it’s going to be a team effort.

The Institute of the Present

Eric Garcetti at a Lyft party via Twitter.

I had planned an elaborate April Fools Day post for today involving the announcement of a new book entitled The Big Book of Anecdotes for Dentists. For, you know, those awkward times when the dentist has to do a monologue while your mouth is full of dental tools. But then I asked myself why am I making fun of people who work with their hands and minds for long hours in order to alleviate suffering? If anyone deserves good pay and days off to golf, it should be dentists.

Instead I thought I’d discuss what should be an April Fools Day joke but isn’t. And that is Los Angeles’ mayor Eric Garcetti’s appearance at a party last week with Lyft executives to celebrate their initial public offering on Friday. He tweeted, “L.A. is leading America’s transportation revolution, and @Lyft is a part of that promising future. Their spirit of corporate responsibility will guide the future of public-private partnerships that benefit residents first.” Keep in mind this tweet was sent out at the same time as Uber and Lyft drivers were on strike, asking for decent wages. He later tried to excuse his presence at this party saying that he was there to acknowledge an initiative of Lyft’s to donate $5 million towards transportation programs in Los Angeles.  Of course any sober economic analysis of Lyft’s impact on the city would, I’m certain, show that it costs us taxpayers way more than $5 million a year in terms of increased traffic and the cost of health care that the company doesn’t provide its “independent contractor” drivers.

Sadly, Eric Garcetti and many others in this city, instead of doing the unglamorous and often politically unpopular task of installing things like dedicated bus lanes and improvements to bike and pedestrian safety, are betting that somehow, someday technology will save us from the already unusable, congested streets of Los Angeles. This city made a bad bet back in the early 20th century on the automobile. Sadly, it’s making another bad bet now on a hoped for future of self driving cars which Lyft and Uber’s business models depend on. I had thought, ten years ago, that Los Angeles’ elected officials were beginning to imagine a future not dependent on cars but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I’m going to stick my neck out and make a few predictions. Self driving cars won’t work unless they have dedicated lanes. Those dedicated lanes will quickly fill to capacity and we’ll be right back where we started. The artificial intelligence self driving cars depend on is a just a deceptive term for a branch of predictive statistics which may prove useful but should not be compared to human intelligence. The hoped for future that Eric Garcetti is is betting on will never arrive. Meanwhile the changes we need to make right now won’t happen and the city will continue to be congested, dysfunctional and corrupt.

Proposed Institute of the Present headquarters at the Silver Lake Reservoir.

Which leads me in this rambling post to suggest the need for the formation of an Institute of the Present. What if, instead of hoping for self-flying pie in the sky we focused on the things we could do now to make our cities more equitable, livable and, in the process, mitigate the damage of climate change? That’s where the Institute of the Present comes in. Consider the Institute of the Present as the think tank version of flossing your teeth: unpopular and unglamorous but eminently practical, preventative and forward thinking by, paradoxically, being grounded in the present moment. Think trees, affordable housing, bus lanes, trains and a lot of bikes. Our slogan? Be present!