This review was published in the Fall 2011 Constructs: a bi-annual news magazine highlighting activities and events at the Yale School of Architecture. A very big thank you to Nina Rapport for supporting the effort.
I was wasted/ I was a hippie/ I was a burnout/ I was a dropout/ you know I was out of my head/ I was a surfer/ I had a skateboard/ I was so heavy man/ I lived on the strand
-Wasted, Circle Jerks
No More Play, besides being beautifully designed by Julie Cho, is, at its most basic level, a series of conversations on the idea that Los Angeles is in a moment of dramatic change. The argument is delivered through a palimpsest of images and discussions. Michael Maltzan's questions are thoughtfully composed and metered, elucidating a view of the city as an open framework for exploration; a city that has reached psychological if not physical limits. The discussions describe communities, public gatherings, and new neighborhoods they reveal a city that is becoming denser rather than diffuse. Catherine Opie documents the radical outcomes of gentrification in Korea town, Matthew Coolidge develops a dialogue considering the delicate use of resources and Edward Soja opens the recent political landscape of the city. Throughout Iwan Baan delivers a visual essay of the changing landscape, its faces, its colors and its complexity. All of these short dialogues highlight how Los Angeles has experimented in urbanization, outsourced resources and generated global links.
Catherine Opie's is the most personal of the discussions. She describes living in a city of subcultures and subdivisions, saying at the end of the discussion "I'm afraid of fragmentation of the public space, that public space will no longer be able to hold a public” (p.55). Her photographs expose tears in the fabric of the city. Opie describes empty freeways as spaces that are for “the individual” and the collective (P.51). With Untitled #41 she depicts the empty interchange of the 105 and the 405. Opie’s description of the pyramids or monuments reminds us that these ruins of inhabitation are devoid of the public. Her newest work depicts formal gatherings in informal public spaces, and it is the juxtaposition of a political voice in the open fabric of Los Angeles that at first glance seems optimistic of activism, but upon reflection leaves one with her discussion of forces beyond the neighborhood, pulling communities apart or pushing them into new conflicting territories.
In the section Land Use Matt Coolidge conveys his first impression of Los Angeles by saying after the ’92 Riots, “Whoa, I didn’t know American cities were capable of this anymore” (P.94). He then goes on to describe the direct redistribution of wealth between the classes; the poor simply taking the things they couldn’t afford. The “economic correction” (P.94), in many defines Coolidge's foil for seeing the city itself. Los Angeles becomes a political economy of redistribution and conflicted wealth; immigrants manufacture cheap toy empires, Signal Hill still creates private wealth and resource management refers to the city's claim to Colorado’s water. Coolidge provides a unique and complex reworking of the Los Angeles region that redefines it in terms of a global and national reach.
Ed Soja describes what many Angeleno’s could not imagine, the political organization of transit riders to change the public transit system. In relaying the story of the Bus Riders Union, Soja reworks a city that has been known for its ability to provide private transportation into one that has a radical and active public ridership. Conversely, Soja describes Community Benefit Agreements as a strategically optimistic form of private enhancement of the public realm. In a reversal of the Public / Private Reagonite agenda, Soja describes a kind of Private / Public community centered deal, allowing organized communities to sidestep the often complex political system for direct benefit.
No More Play describes Los Angeles as a laboratory and Maltzan and Varner go to great lengths for a call and response that reinforces their assumptions. The city today is palpably vibrant. The Downtown is bustling with crowds on Thursday’s Art Walk. Boyle Heights is home to young design studios, artists, taquerias and an entrenched Latino population. With the rail expansion TOD’s have created Wilshire Blvd. like densities from Long Beach to Pasadena and out to Burbank. Reflecting on the books call for Los Angeles to be a laboratory for the future I come full circle to The Circle Jerks lyrics. For me they present the clearest description of the city of my birth: It’s been labeled many labels, but each one is wasted as soon as it’s uttered. Los Angeles is a moving target, take aim and see it a new for yourself.