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This week’s city reading: Habitat 67’s concrete, MacArthur Park’s non-gentrification, and the 2nd Ave. Subway’s Comfiness

Growing Up in a Concrete Masterpiece (Blake Gopnik, New York Times) “‘How do you live with all that cement,’ my schoolmates would ask. ‘With delight’ was the only answer. They understood once they visited.” This provides as good an opportunity any to quote (past Notebook on Cities and Culture guest) Jonathan Meades:

The destruction of Brutalist buildings is more than the destruction of a particular mode of architecture. It is like burning books. It’s a form of censorship of the past, a discomfiting past, by the present. It’s the revenge of a mediocre age on an age of epic grandeur. It’s the cutting down to size of a culture which committed the cardinal sin of getting above its station, of pushing God aside and challenging nature. It’s the destruction, too, of the embarrassing evidence of a determined optimism that made us more potent than we have become. We don’t measure up against those who took risks, who flew and plunged to find new ways of doing things, who were not scared to experiment, who lived lives of perpetual inquiry. Here was mankind at its mightiest. Brutalism has to go. For it is the built evidence of the fact that once upon a time, we were not scared to address the Earth in the knowledge that the Earth would not respond, could not respond.

Joining eastward march, Berggruen Institute plans second location in MacArthur Park (Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times) “Asked if he anticipated the sort of backlash from longtime residents that has greeted new galleries and cultural centers in Boyle Heights and other gentrifying areas of the city, Berggruen replied: ‘MacArthur Park is an area that will transform with us or without us. You might as well do it in a way that is productive and dignified.’” As it happens, Nicolas Berggruen, formerly known as the “homeless billionaire,” also invested a big chunk of money in Byline, where I’m gearing up to continue writing about Los Angeles myself soon.

Why doesn’t MacArthur Park gentrify? (Marissa Clifford, Curbed) “Because of its Metro station, park, and proximity to a rapidly gentrifying Downtown LA, MacArthur Park remains, in many ways, perfectly poised for gentrification. But despite increased interest in the area from people like my old landlord, the realities of everyday life in Westlake—overcrowded or poorly maintained housing and little to no functional access to the internet—stand in stark opposition to those advantages.” See also my own Los Angeles Primer excerpt on the neighborhood, one I always enjoyed visiting when I lived in the city.

Step into the Comfiness of NYC’s 2nd Ave. Subway (Sam Lubell, Wired) “Wide platforms, expansive views from the broad mezzanines, and arched ceilings create a sense of spaciousness and order. None of the stations have supporting columns, which presented a big engineering challenge but proved essential for keeping people moving efficiently.” But still no glass doors on the platforms, curiously.

John Mack Faragher’s Eternity Street traces the history of Los Angeles like no other book has (Emmett Rensin, Vox)  “These are encouraging signs for Los Angeles in the 21st century. But to wash out the stain of the past 50 years, the city must do more than make sense of its future. It must make new sense of its past. Like all California schoolchildren, I was taught a history of my state and city that began with the missions and skipped to the gold rush, with a brief mention of some war in between. We visited the old pueblo, sure, but without any sense of how a thousand square miles of city grew around it.” (Incidentally, I highly recommend this same writer’s piece on “the smug style in American liberalism.”)