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Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Guide to Los Angeles

NCC Guide to Los Angeles small

Notebook on Cities and Culture has ended, but here’s a final guide, which indexes by theme all its interviews about the one and only Los Angeles.



  • Glen Creason, Los Angeles Public Library Map Librarian and author of Los Angeles in Maps
  • Nathan Masters, writer on the history of Los Angeles and representative of Los Angeles as Subject for KCET and Los Angeles magazine
  • D.J. Waldie, author of Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir and Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles, and for 34 years the City of Lakewood’s as Public Information Officer
  • Chris NicholsLos Angeles magazine associate editor
  • Charles Phoenix, “Ambassador of Americana,” curator of vintage midcentury slides, and author of books like Southern CalifornialandAmericana the Beautiful, and Southern California in the 50s
  • Lynn Garrett, proprietor of popular online community Hidden Los Angeles and fifth-generation Angeleno
  • Matt Novak, author of Paleofuture, the blog that looks into the future that never was

Planning and transit:

  • David C. Sloane, professor at the University of California’s Price School of Public Policy and editor of Planning Los Angeles
  • Donald Shoup, UCLA urban planning professor and author of The High Cost of Free Parking
  • Brigham Yen, Realtor and author of the urban renaissance blog DTLA Rising
  • Tim Halbur, Director of Communications at the Congress for the New Urbanism, and former Managing Editor at Planetizen
  • Doug Suisman, architect, urban designer, and author of Los Angeles Boulevard: Eight X-Rays of the Body Public
  • Ethan Elkind, attorney and researcher on environmental law and author of Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail System and the Future of the City
  • Edward Soja, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning at UCLA and author of Postmodern GeographiesThirdspace, and My Los Angeles: From Urban Restructuring to Regional Urbanization
  • Damien Newton, founder of Streetsblog Los Angeles

Architecture and design:

  • Alissa Walker, urbanism editor at Gizmodo and writer on urban design, architecture, and the cityscape — especially of Los Angeles
  • Christopher HawthorneLos Angeles Times architecture critic
  • Frances Anderton, host of KCRW’s Design and Architecture and Dwell magazine’s Los Angeles editor
  • Clive Piercy, founder and principal of design studio air-conditioned and author Pretty Vacant: The Los Angeles Dingbat Observed
  • Carren Jao, Manila- and Los Angeles-based writer on architecture, art, and design
  • Stephen Gee, senior producer at ITV Studios and author of Iconic Vision: John Parkinson, Architect of Los Angeles
  • James Steele, USC School of Architecture professor James and author of Los Angeles Architecture: The Contemporary Condition




  • Karina Longworth, film writer at the L.A. Weekly
  • Thom Andersen, professor at the California Institute of the Arts’ School of Film/Video and creator of the documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself


Neighborhoods and exploration:


Los Angeles Review of Books interviews:

  • Anna Stothard, author of the Venice-set novel The Pink Hotel
  • Josh Kun, professor in the USC Annenberg School and co-curator of the Central Library’s “Songs in the Key of Los Angeles”, and City Librarian John Szabo
  • Michael Krikorian, former Los Angeles Times crime reporter and author of the thematically related novel Southside
  • Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight, Bad Sex on Speed, and Happy Mutant Baby Pills
  • Sandra Tsing Loh, author of Depth Takes a Holiday and The Madwoman in the Volvo and host of The Loh Life on KPCC
  • David Grand, author of Mount Terminus, a novel of the birth of Los Angeles
  • Dana Goodyear, journalist, poet, and New Yorker staff writer

Marketplace of Ideas interviews:

  • David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times book writer and author of The Lost Art of Reading [first interview MP3] [second interview MP3]
  • Richard Florida, urban theorist and author of Who’s Your City? [MP3]
  • Michael Silverblatt, host of KCRW’s Bookworm [MP3]
  • John Rabe, host of KPCC’s Off-Ramp [MP3]
  • Luke Fischbeck, founder of Los Angeles experimental music group, art-creation unit, and engine of community Lucky Dragons [MP3]
  • Laurie Ochoa and Joe Donnelly, founding editors of the new Los Angeles literary journal Slake [MP3]
  • Alan Nakagawa, sound, visual, and installation artist, founding member of Los Angeles’ long-running, multi-disciplinary, multi-ethnic arts collective Collage Ensemble, Los Angeles Metro public art executive, and very serious eater indeed [MP3]

Supplementary material:

Guardian Cities: Subway-station toilets, the true measure of a city

The size of the economy, the quality of the architecture, the activity on the sidewalks, the cleanliness of the streets: we can evaluate a city in any number of ways. But in my travels through North America, Europe and Asia, I’ve found no more telling indicator – and at times, no more important one – than the state of its subway station toilets, the true measure of urban civilisation.

Of course, to use this marker at all presumes a certain degree of development: not only must the city in question have a subway system, but that system must have toilets. Los Angeles, where I live, just barely clears that first hurdle (its long-awaited and much-delayed “subway to the sea” having resumed construction last year) but crashes right into the second. The LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which presides over 80 overground and underground stations, maintains a grand total of three toilets – none of which I use if I can avoid it – and didn’t reply to a request for comment.

Still, by American standards, Los Angeles doesn’t lag as far behind as it may seem to. A US city can count itself lucky if it has rail transit at all, let alone proper facilities. Part of the reason has to do with the country’s deeply entrenched fear of public amenity, as reflected by the words of political humorist PJ O’Rourke: “Note the mental image evoked by the very word public: public school, public park, public health, public housing. To call something public is to define it as dirty, insufficient and hazardous. The ultimate paradigm of social spending is the public restroom.”

Read the whole thing at the Guardian.

Just 24 hours left to fund Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Year in Seattle on Kickstarter

As of this writing, just 24 hours remain in the Kickstarter drive to fund Notebook on Cities and Culture‘s sixth season, A Year in Seattle. But we still need to raise more than $3300 before the show can go on. If you haven’t backed the season yet, you still have an opportunity to help make it happen, get postcards from Seattle, get your project or message mentioned on an episode, or even get your project or message mentioned on all the episodes — but if you want that one, you’d better hurry, since it only has two slots left.

If you’d like a taste of the season before you pledge, have a listen to its special preview episode, an interview with Seattle-based comic artist Peter Bagge, creator of Hate and author of graphic novels like Apocalypse Nerd and Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story. There’s at least 51 more where that came from, but only if we can raise that $3300 or so over the next day. Thanks.

Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Year in Seattle Preview: The Young Cynic with Peter Bagge

This is a special preview episode of A Year in Seattle, Notebook on Cities and culture’s upcoming sixth season. Or rather, it will come as long as we raise its budget on Kickstarter by Saturday. Check out its Kickstarter page to find out how you can help make it happen. Thanks.

peter bagge drawingIn downtown Seattle, Colin talks with comic artist Peter Bagge, creator of the legendary alternative comic series Hate, contributing editor and cartoonist at Reason magazine, and author of such graphic novels as Apocalypse Nerd, Other LivesReset, and Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story. They discuss whether Seattle is still the place to be for the Buddy Bradleys of the world; the cheap “place to invent yourself” he first found there; the ever-increasing importance of place in his work, and its necessity in telling longer stories; how Seattle won out as a storytelling location versus the other “cities where hipsters gather”; what Seattle once looked like from his perspective in Manhattan; the feeling of a “pioneer town” then and now; how he found Seattleites who took the time to live elsewhere differed from Seattleites who’d never left, and what it has to do with the Seattle inferiority complex; the relationship between Seattle and the alternative comics scene; how he convinced his publisher Fantagraphics to come join him in Seattle, and how the town came subsequently to crawl with cartoonists; Buddy Bradley as a young cynic, and Seattle’s accommodation of the young cynic; what the fictional life of Buddy Bradley and the real life of Margaret Sanger have in common, beginning with their premises of “doing exactly what they want to do”; which of Sanger’s many accomplishments and battles (which she never fought on straight gender lines) he usually uses to explain her life; why Sanger’s achievements in birth-control legalization became so important to all society; our transition out of “the age of stuff”; the probable fate of bookstores, and how they might succeed through the social dimension; why conventions have become more important than ever to comics, and why cities have become more important than ever to life; the impossibility of the Spokane swinger; what his visit to the depleted city of Detroit taught him, especially about the ways the government itself holds back a potential revitalization; where he thinks Seattle goes too far, politically; why he prefers the monorail Seattle might have built to the light rail system it is building; whether governments just can’t build transit right, or whether specifically American governments just can’t do it right; what happens when anyone’s shovel hits an Indian artifact in Seattle; and how to win mayoral office by campaigning against the inevitable.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

The Notebook on Cities and Culture Guide to the Pacific Northwest

NCC Guide to the Pacific Northwest

The Notebook on Cities and Culture Guide to the Pacific Northwest indexes all the show’s Pacific Northwest city-recorded and Pacific Northwest city-related interviews. But 52 more Seattle interviews could appear over the next year if we successfully Kickstart season six, A Year in Seattle, before Saturday morning. Check out its Kickstarter page to find out how you can help make it happen.


  • Leslie Helm, former Tokyo correspondent for Business Week and the Los Angeles Times, editor of Seattle Business, and author of Yokohama Yankee: My Family’s Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan


  • Paul Delany, professor of English at Simon Fraser University and editor of Vancouver: Representing the Postmodern City
  • JJ Lee, menswear writer, broadcaster, and author of The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit
  • Gordon Price, Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University and former Councillor for the City of Vancouver
  • Dave Shumka, comedian and co-host of Stop Podcasting Yourself
  • Timothy Taylor, novelist, author of Stanley Park, Story HouseThe Blue Light Project, and the short story collection Silent Cruise


  • Camas Davis, food writer and founder of the Portland Meat Collective
  • Dan Halsted, head programmer at the Hollywood Theatre with Dan Halsted and founder of the 35mm Shaolin Archive
  • Jarrett Walker, public transit consultant and author of the book Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking About Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives
  • Kevin Sampsell, publisher of Future Tense Books, editor of Portland Noir, author of the memoir A Common Pornography, and employee of Powell’s Books
  • Carl Abbott, Portland State University professor of urban studies and planning and author of Portland in Three Centuries: The Place and the People
  • Matt Haughey, founder of Metafilter
  • Mia Birk, president of Alta Planning + Design and author of Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Future
  • Mike Russell, comic artist and film critic

Marketplace of Ideas interviews:

  • Peter Bagge, Seattle-based comic artist, creator of Hate [first interview MP3] [second interview MP3]
  • Dave Weich, director of marketing and development at Portland’s Powell’s Books [MP3]
  • Ethan Rose, Portland-based electro-acoustic musician who composed for Gus van Sant’s Paranoid Mark and recorded an album with the 1920s Wurlitzer in the city’s famous Oaks skating rink [MP3]
  • John Raymond, Portland-based author of the Portland-set short story collection Livability, two of whose stories served as bases for Kelly Reichardt’s films Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy [MP3]
  • Nicholas Sherman, director of Soundtracker, a documentary on Washington-based field recordist Gordon Hempton [MP3]
  • Aaron Katz, Portland-raised filmmaker, director of the Portland-set high-school drama Dance Party USA and “Portland noir” Cold Weather [MP3]

Supplementary material:

Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Year in Seattle Kickstarts Now!

As I announced last weekNotebook on Cities and Culture‘s sixth season will take place in Seattle — for an entire year. As we together explore the city of grunge, Microsoft, Amazon, the Space Needle, Buddy Bradley, Archie McPhee, sleeplessness, and Starbucks, we’ll discover how much there really is to it in at least 52 in-depth conversations with its novelists, journalists, comic artists, filmmakers, broadcasters, explorers, academics, architects, planners, cultural creators, internationalists, observers of the urban scene, and more.

The Kickstarter drive to make it all happen begins now. But wait: the season could easily bring you more than 52 episodes, depending on how the Kickstarting goes. Once we raise the full $6000 budget, the show will go on as planned. And for every $200 we raise over that $6000, the season will include an additional episode. In other words, if we raise $10,000 rather than $6000, you’ll get 72 Seattle interviews rather than 52.

Depending upon the amount you pledge to back Notebook on Cities and Culture‘s year in Seattle, you could get a mention at the end of each episode, you could get postcards from the city, you could get me talking about your project or message at the top of one episode and its associated post, or you could get me talking about your project or message at the top of all of them and their associated posts. But do note that we only have five days to raise the money, since nobody likes prolonged Kickstarting.

Before the drive ends on Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Pacific time, I’ll put up a special preview episode featuring a new interview with a favorite Seattle-based guest from whom, if you’ve followed my interviewing career for a long time indeed, you’ve heard a couple provocative and funny hours of conversation before. Stay tuned, and pledge at season six’s Kickstarter page if you feel so inclined. Thanks!

The History of Cities in 50 Buildings: The Home Insurance Building

I’m writing several architectural essays for the Guardian‘s History of Cities in 50 Buildings. My first, and the series’ ninth, deals with the world’s first skyscraper, William Le Baron Jenney’s Home Insurance Building in Chicago:

It won’t surprise anybody to learn that the very first skyscraper went up in the United States, but it will surprise some to learn that it went up in Chicago. While it didn’t take Manhattan long to claim the steel-framed high-rise as its own, the skyscraper boom began in the capital of the American Midwest in 1885 with William Le Baron Jenney’s Home Insurance Building, which rose to its then-impressive height of 10 storeys (and, after an 1890 addition, 12) by means of metal, rather than just masonry.

Legend has it that Jenney, an engineer by training and an École Centrale Paris classmate of Gustave Eiffel (designer of the eponymous tower), first suspected that an iron skeleton could hold up a building when he saw his wife place a heavy book atop a small birdcage, which easily supported its weight. This opened a new chapter in the history of towers, helped by the Great Chicago Fire (in which more than three square miles of the mostly wooden central city burned to the ground in 1871), and by Chicago’s surging 1880s economy.

For obvious reasons, when the New York Home Insurance Company wanted a new Chicago headquarters in the city’s cleared-out downtown, they wanted it fireproofed – but they also wanted it tall, accommodating “a maximum number of small offices above the bank floor”. Jenney’s metal-framed design won their open contest, not only thanks to the relative fire-resistance of its materials, but to the additional protection offered by its outer iron columns, covered in stone.

Read the whole thing at the Guardian.

And Notebook on Cities and Culture’s next destination is…

ncc season six logo med

Over its past five seasons, Notebook on Cities and Culture has taken you to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Vancouver, Osaka, Kyoto (see the show’s guide to Japan), Seoul, and Busan (see the just-completed Korea Tour), to name only a few extremely interesting Pacific Rim cities. Next season, the show has another one in its sights for its most in-depth exploration yet: A Year in Seattle.

Just think of that name, and you think of the city of rain, the city of grunge, the city of Microsoft and Amazon, the city of the Space Needle, the city of Buddy Bradley, the city of Archie McPhee, the city of sleeplessness — the city of Starbucks. But having spent my own adolescence hanging out there, I know Seattle as even more than that, and it’s only grown more interesting since I’ve grown up.

So it’s time to explore, the Notebook on Cities and Culture way — through a year of in-depth conversations with Seattle’s novelists, journalists, comic artists, filmmakers, broadcasters, explorers, academics, architects, planners, cultural creators, internationalists, observers of the urban scene, and more. We’ll Kickstart the season as usual a little later this week. I certainly won’t delay in letting you know when!

Los Angeles, the City in Cinema: Speed (Jan de Bont, 1994)

Speed, the quintessential Los Angeles action movie, actually comprises not one but three Los Angeles action movies, each a contest of wills between a SWAT hot-shot and an ex-LAPD mad bomber: the first high in a downtown office tower, the second in a bus careening across town on a freeway, and the third underground in an out-of-control subway train. No action movie before or since — and certainly no other so transit-oriented — has taken more advantage of Los Angeles’ mixture of horizontality and verticality as well as its vast size and seemingly perpetual incompleteness.

The video essays of “Los Angeles, the City in Cinema” examine the variety of Los Angeleses revealed in the films set there, both those new and old, mainstream and obscure, respectable and schlocky, appealing and unappealing — just like the city itself.

Presenting the Notebook on Cities and Culture Guide to Japan

ncc japan guide header

The Notebook on Cities and Culture Guide to Japan indexes all the show’s Japan-recorded and Japan-related interviews. Stay tuned for much more and about the Land of the Rising Sun.





  • Pico Iyer, author of Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, The Global Soul, and most recently The Man Within My Head
  • Christopher Olson, artist, critic, and teacher


  • Tim Olive, guitarist, improviser, and sound artist

Los Angeles:

  • Todd Shimoda, author of “philosophical mystery” novels with science, engineering, Japanese and Japanese-American themes (this interview covers Subduction)
  • Roland Kelts, visiting scholar and lecturer at the University of Tokyo, contributing editor to literary journals A Public Space and Japan’s Monkey Business International, and author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S
  • Leslie Helm, former Tokyo correspondent for Business Week and the Los Angeles Times and author of Yokohama Yankee: My Family’s Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan
  • Dan Kuramoto, founding member of the band Hiroshima
  • Eric Nakamura, founder of Asian-American aesthetic culture and lifestyle brand Giant Robot

Marketplace of Ideas interviews:

  • John Nathan, translator of Yukio Mishima and Kenzaburō Ōe, filmmaker, and author of the memoir Living Carelessly in Tokyo and Elsewhere [MP3] [MP3]
  • Ian Buruma, writer, documentarian, Henry R. Luce Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College, and author of The China Lover, a historical novel examining on life and career of Manchurian-born Japanese actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi [MP3]
  • Kim Richardson, executive producer at The Criterion Collection and producer of box set Pigs, Pimps and Prostitutes: Three Films by Shohei Imamura [MP3]
  • Nick Currie, a.k.a. Momus, musician, writer, artist, “avant-gardist,” and Osaka resident [MP3]
  • Todd Shimoda, author of “philosophical mystery” novels like 365 Views of Mt. Fuji, The Fourth Treasure and now Oh!: A Mystery of Mono No Aware [MP3]