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Is There a Demand for This?

Is There a Demand for This?

Read the full article in the New York Times Room for Debate.

Is There A Demand for This?Dirty Spider-Man, angry Batgirl, drunk Wolverine — these are the people in my neighborhood. Hollywood is a wonderfully weird mash-up of idle superheroes, midcentury apartment buildings, empty lots, magic shops, the Magic Castle, office towers and the home of Scientology. We’ve got diversity in spades. Know what else we have? Vacancies.

Skyscrapers won’t destroy the character of Hollywood — after all, Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound on his way to panhandling — but rows of dark, empty towers will. I see no demand for this kind of dense vertical housing. If you move to Hollywood today, rentals are here for the taking, spacious places with pools, balconies and even fruit trees. Commercial and residential spaces will be carpeted, however. How else will we keep the New Yorkers at bay?

If you want to live vertical, downtown L.A. already has a burgeoning scene of creative professionals, easy access to mass transit … and vacancies. In this city, it’s easier to find an apartment than a TAP card (our version of a Metrocard). I had to buy mine in a liquor store on Hollywood Boulevard, since it’s not sold in subway stations.

Overdeveloping Hollywood so that residents take public transport is truly putting the cart before the horse. Develop our mass transit system so that it goes where many Angelenos need to go, like the west side or the airport, for goodness’ sake. We need more dedicated bus and bike lanes. Otherwise, this new influx of residents will just bring more cars, Capitol Records will become a stylish parking garage, and we’ll all sit in gridlock as the costumed characters stroll by on the sidewalk with it all figured out.

Perhaps the secret plan behind rezoning Hollywood is to fill the skyscrapers with all our disgruntled New York transplants and hope the steel and glass quell them. While native Angelenos adore New York, expats living here have difficulty embracing L.A. I should know; I was one of them. Though my cell number still begins with 917, my heart now bleeds 323. Once I stopped expecting L.A. to be like New York, I began to love what was unique about the quirky city I live in.

After five years of living here, I was looking for a way to lay claim to my adopted hometown, a way to announce that I had finally let go of New York. One lazy afternoon it came to me: I dressed up as Princess Leia, just for kicks, and took my place among my peers on the streets of Hollywood. I never felt more like an Angeleno.


Edgar Payne The Scenic Journey at PMCA

Edgar Payne The Scenic Journey at PMCA

My favorite California story also happens to be my weakest California story. The details are hazy: I was listening to an interview on the radio- or maybe I read it? An artist was talking about leaving So-Cal after living here for years. From his new home, the artist watched the infamous live telecast of OJ Simpson’s white Bronco ambling up the 405 and cried. Was he crying for the victims, for the fallen superstar, or the Knicks game being interrupted? No. He was crying for the light. The artist saw the golden rays alighting on that Bronco, a gentle light that is so specific to California, and was overcome by it’s beauty.

Plein-air painter Edgar Payne was similarly stricken by the California light on his first visit here in 1909. Though a native of Missouri, Payne set up a little framing shop in Laguna Beach and spent his free time painting the California coast. This body of work would become the cornerstone of California Impressionism. The Pasadena Museum of California Art is currently exhibiting a gorgeous retrospective, Edgar Payne The Scenic Journey through October 14th, 2012. Admission is free this Saturday along with a party celebrating the museum’s ten-year anniversary.

And now since you’ve indulged me with the OJ story, perhaps you’ll allow me a further divulgence: my father is a plein-air painter and he’s been talking about this show for weeks. Sadly he won’t get to see it as his terrain is the craggy rocks of New England. We can never take his car because the back is permanently crammed with an easel, palettes and still-wet canvases. There isn’t a dilapidated barn or beached tug boat that lost it’s tug that escapes my father’s quick eye. If a setting strikes him he’ll pull off the road, throw up the easel and and just sketch away.

I write all this to honor a beautiful art tradition that is fading in popularity though not in power. Impressionism is obviously associated with the French, but what could be more American than getting out into the land, being open to all the elements, and capturing the beauty of the pastoral landscape with canvas and brush? Tonight as I watch the golden light set on the thicket of trees outside my window I’ll think of a little of Payne, and probably my father, and I’ll likely tear up, as I have before, so grateful for the simple gifts of living here.

Read the full story over at Los Angeles, I’m Yours

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