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Must we care?



Why is Roma such a good looking city even after 2,000 years and ours after barely 200 becoming such a pastiche of simulation and triteness?

It is ironic enough that in our own earlier days we drew from Rome for our own Coliseum and Forum--if anything, we drew well back then, and age itself has advanced these to Roma-like monument status in our weepy hearts. Now our Coliseum and Forum are mere curiosities as venues, and Dodger Stadium itself is quickly becoming one such, the second oldest park in the National League, the third oldest in baseball, and first and foremost among troubled venues in all the land.

Los Angeles in the past decade is so new to itself it barely recognizes itself, or any homespun legacy at all. There are still a few anchoring stakes in the ground, these stadia among them, that were here well before the big amorphous stucco retail tents went up. If the old only looks inconvenient to us now, it's not for want of service. But the new...looks...dreadful...

Back in the days when Los Angeles still looked like a city of the future, absorbing old forms rather than mimicking them--back when it was a place that decoded rather than a place that simulated other cities--back before the days of the likes of the Medici and the Orsini and the Grove and some "Spanish steps" and all the other Italian pastiches--we had a City Council still willing to say no to out-of-towners. In those days, we had a Library Tower, and the Library was our own; we had a Security National Bank, and the bank was our own; we had studios that weren't owned by Sony and hotels that weren't owned by islanders and newspapers that weren't owned by vulgar midwestern street-urchins, and nearly everything was our own.

We even had something of an architectural legacy--it was grown by expatriates from elsewhere, who came here and made an architectural laboratory of Los Feliz and Silver Lake, even as the institutions that grew this legacy took root right here. And we had fabricators like Malibu Tile and Franciscan pottery and Gladding McBean rounding out the roofs, niches, wainscot, edges. This was how we celebrated civic space...



Conversely, now we are looking for the right team to seal the deal on handing over to a junky bread-and-circuses developer a square mile of prime civic real estate downtown.

Yesterday, in defense of this madness, I heard Carol Schatz, the self-aggrandizing perma-boor who perpetually flogs the shadow chamber of commerce for downtown, the Central City Association, excitedly tell Larry Mantle that "two national restaurant chains" were interested to site restaurants downtown as a result of the prospect of Farmer's Field coming there.

Just think of it--two national restaurant chains! Coming right here to downtown Los Angeles! LA, hitherto a culinary capital, already with a vibrant enough restaurant scene from the Mayor's own beloved Mozza to Jonathan Gold's beloved food trucks that it is already the sensation of the US.

[To his credit, Mantle did read a letter reminding the audience regarding sobering stadium economics: in Anaheim it was found that even monster truck rallies were more profitable to the adjacent community than pro football was, and when this finding came, Anaheim began to hold the door open for the Rams to leave.]

Why is Roma such a good looking city and ours rapidly becoming such a pastiche of simulation and triteness? It is mainly because Rome, as any city worth the name, looked to itself--its own institutions, its own builders, its own Maguire Thomas Partners--and our city now rolls out the welcome mat for people who promise little more than "economic opportunity"--which we can, indeed must, certainly generate for ourselves, as we do in entertainment and apparel--and restaurants from elsewhere.

Because these days, nobody really looks at what Council is doing, no matter how we may urge them to.


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