(No) more illusion. Veiligheid in LA / (No) more illusion, Safety in LA

The domestic waste dumps within Los Angeles were full by the beginning of the nineties, with the result that thousands of trucks now drive out to deposit their loads in the desert. You are lost without a car in Los Angeles; the average inhabitant spends 5 hours in his or her vehicle every day. Once there was a comprehensive network of small railways reaching to every outlying district. But the big car manufacturers bought the whole system up during the thirties and did away with it.

Thirty years of war on air pollution has not helped in the least. The benefits of mandatory smog control measures have been completely cancelled out by population growth and the rising density of car ownership. Moreover, the increasing area occupied by parking lots and roads and the associated impoverishment [?of inner city districts] has driven many inhabitants out of the city.
Los Angeles is one of the fastest growing metropolises in the United States. It exerts an enormous attraction on Mexicans, Taiwanese, Hong Kong Chinese and countless other foreign nationals. At least 88 different languages are spoken in Los Angeles today and the great majority of ethnic groups are barely represented politically. The only theoretical alternative for the allure and expansion of Los Angeles would be hermetic sealing of the borders plus measures to stimulate birth control and family planning. On top of that Hollywood would have to be closed down, for its output of films, videos and television series is chiefly responsible for the international promotion of Los Angeles. And, to cap it all, real-estate developers would have to stop building dream worlds that entice hundreds of thousands of home-seekers to the outskirts of the conurbation with their promise of safe living in rural surroundings.
Since this approach is not viewed as a realistic option politically, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) drew up an Air Quality Management Plan in May 1988. For a trial period of 9 months, the most restrictive growth control regimen since the Second World War held sway; it was the first time the authorities had ever taken official measures to combat unbridled economic expansion. Against a background of a federal ultimatum, the AQMD board of governors has now adopted a twenty-year plan to achieve clean air in the Los Angeles basin by 2007. Now there are proposals to tackle air pollution sources ranging from refinery smoke to deodorants. Environmental impact reports are now systematically demanded from all large-scale new developments.


The trend in district and neighbourhood design towards an emphasis on community development dates from the forties and early fifties. The `community’ and the `village’ are still seen by almost all concerned as the definitive answer to the alienation and deracination brought about by modern technology. Linked to the idea of community, there is `identity’ or what property developers term `lifestyle’. A PR official in Irvine made the unforgettable remark that whoever buys a house in Irvine `buys himself into a recreation oriented lifestyle’! Heed well, it makes little difference whether we are talking about a property developer’s project or (for instance) a `Gehry’. The style in both cases is intended to have a selecting effect and thus to keep some people out; both avail themselves of media myths, although a property developer’s project is more apt to reinforce prejudices than an early Gehry. However, since the latter is more and more in demand with clients who wish to market themselves by means of a Gehry, the difference between them is diminishing all the time: the underclass of Los Angeles culture is equally good for 60 years or more of steady income.
The community hype of recent years has been tending more and more to produce xenophobic mini-utopias in which early twentieth-century ideals of outdoor living, the good country life, the American dream and the more recent `recreation oriented lifestyle’ have become interwoven with concepts of the neighbourhood watch and armed response. The notorious dullness of such suburbs is counterbalanced by the fastest growing branch of the world economy, entertainment. While the anxiety and dread of violence increase day by day, fed by intensive media coverage of anything that can possibly reinforce prejudices about safety and danger, the market for horror movies takes on gigantic proportions. Music, video, Disney and Las Vegas are the chief substitute experiences for safe living and safe sex. At the same time, travel to far off, exotic places is heavily promoted by the tourism business.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of those teenagers who have grown up in golden cages hanker after the `real life’ of the gangs of South Central, which they know mainly from TV. Drugs and submachine guns are gaining unprecedented popularity; there are now gangs even in idyllic suburbs like Irvine with its golf courses and tennis courts, even though these districts or communities are 100% white and the houses cost at least half a million dollars each.

Not In My Back Yard

Worried about the declining property values and unsafety, homeowners’ associations fight tooth and nail against the construction of apartment buildings and the advent of public transport. For the same reasons, they combat plans by property developers to start new projects in districts adjoining their own. Between North San Diego and the Orange Counties in the south, 95% of the official population is white, very rich and opposed to the advent of apartments and public transport. This represents a distance of 150 kilometres where Mexicans and other foreigners can find nowhere to live and are forced to seek overnight shelter with their families in dugouts [caves?] and the underbrush while the lifestyle of the white population depends on the availability of cheap day labourers.
The White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) are highly organized in their fight against the urbanization of Suburbia, even though the crisis in the supply of lower-cost housing causes huge traffic jams as hundreds of thousands of workers are forced to commute over incredible distances. The NIMBYs have meanwhile formed organized fronts against all kinds of threats. For example there is the All Valley Transit Coalition of San Fernando Valley which has successfully blocked the construction of tram lines `through any back yard, including ours’. RAMP (the Residents Association of Monterey Park) was founded to prevent Chinese real-estate developers from constructing commercial premises and apartment buildings for Vietnamese, Koreans and the like. San Marino has adopted a bedroom ordinance in its bye-lays which effectively keeps out wealthy but large Asian families.
The environment and the ghettos of South Central are direct victims of the inability of politics to get to grips with the power of the NIMBYs and the real-estate developers during the seventies and eighties. The main battle ground during that period was between the real-estate developers and the NIMBY homeowners’ associations. This meant that every decision was devolved onto parties not present at the discussion table. Since the environmental problems have now become clear in all their enormity, the term `growth management’ has been invented. A few powerful organizations such as Cal Trans and AQMD made some effort to puncture the decentralized indecisiveness. It is becoming clear, at the same time, that the 183-billion dollar investment for infrastructure is to be largely devoted to enlargement of the metropolitan railway network. Because of the increasing opposition from homeowners’ associations and the ever increasing environmental constraints placed on major road building projects, the cost of building new freeways has become de facto prohibitive. The bizarre thing about the metro system is that it will run for by far the greatest part through Suburbia. Thus to make sure that there will be enough users, there must be an increase in density. Plans exist to develop downtown-like urban concentrations especially in the vicinity of stations.
Los Angeles and its environs are so vast that the `city boundary’ and the ‘outside’ have lost all meaning. Each community creates its own outside on the coccooning principle. `Outside’ stands for danger – for foreigners, viruses and gangs. The car and the road network fulfil the role of a safety circuit, an air-conditioned plug that links the idealized work and shopping environment to the idealized world of habitation. The gangs are not the pedestrian’s revenge but simply a non-politicized method of constructing an outside for their members: gangs, too, are a form of community (albeit an extreme one).
However, the physical absence of an outside in the ecological sense is leading to fascinating changes. Possible future lawsuits for damages on environmental grounds, the riots of South Central and the January 1994 earthquake have resulted in an extreme backlash to the Reagan era and its Hollywood mentality. For the moment this does not go much further than a few furious attempts to cleave a way though the suffocating consumer pulp with raw-edged fragments of reality. Gangster Rap, Helter Skelter Art and broad sections of the population are seeking a new way to deal with everyday experience. A much-heard cry nowadays is `no more illusion’. In this context, the construction of the metro seems to be connected with a cultural metamorphosis. The mass transport system will shake the foundations not only of the communities but of the coccooning culture.

LA: de bandstad van de continue produktie / LA: strip city of continuous production