The End of Public Space in Los Angeles?

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The End of Public Space in
Los Angeles?

I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighbourhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I do too; have affection for big cities, although maybe in a different context than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I enjoy the multiplicity of cities and their way of blending it all together. Until now, I have only been to Berlin, London and, the only American city, New York City. Each time I visited one of those cities, I feel in love with it. I like absorbing the city, watching its liveliness and being part of it. Places that enable those experiences are the places that I still remember like Central Park in New York or Covent Garden in London, to name only the English speaking cities.

Participating in the seminar Reading American Cities, we also discussed the depiction of Los Angeles, California, as the counterpart to New York City. But watching movies like Mulholland Drive (2001) or Crash (2004), I realise that I’m not a big fan of Los Angeles. I might even say that I would not like the city or more explicitly that I would not like being in Los Angeles. After becoming aware of that fact, I started asking myself why that is. What distinguishes Los Angeles from these other cities? What makes it so different? So far, I believe that two different suggested characteristics of Los Angeles could be responsible for my disapproval of Los Angeles. Perhaps the decentralization and consequently the dependence on the car as argued by Davidson and Entrikin (Davidson, et al., 2005 p. 578) could trigger this emotion. However, this proposition did not entirely satisfy my need for a possible explanation. Considering what I appreciate most in cities – the space to participate in the life of a city – I favour the following theory. Most of the scholars who partake in the on-going public space discourse agree that Los Angeles lacks

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“real” public space1. This means that the city does not offer the opportunity for the whole public including the poor, homeless people and other outcasts to join and intermingle with the community in those places actually build for the public. Michael Sorkin, to name only one of the proponents of this theory, edited the book “Variations on a theme park: the new American City and the end of public space.” This is a very radical phrasing of the problem, which I would like to challenge in the case of Los Angeles. Has Los Angeles lost its public space already?

Among other things, this paper is going to examine the contemporary level of architectural and human geographic discussion concerning the public discourse in general and in the special case of Los Angeles. Beforehand, I will try to define public space and mention the different kinds of public places that exist in cities. Additionally, there will be a brief consideration of the difference between public and civic space. Furthermore, this part will include some functions of public space in cities and the consequent necessity of public space in cities.

Besides all the features that I may not like and because I come from the seaside, I think the best thing about Los Angeles for me would be the proximity to the beach. There is always something special about the life by the seashore. This is one of the reasons, that this paper pays particular attention to the beach and the coastal area in its second part after dealing with the term of public space. The beach will be seen from the angle of the public space discourse and from the angle of the literary depiction. I will look closely at how far the coast can be counted as a public place and what those reflections contribute to the Los Angeles’ public space discourse. The beach has not only been the focus in scientific discourses but in literary discourses as well. To show only a selection of this broad spectrum, I chose the movie Blow (2001) and the popular mural “The people of Venice 1

Some literature uses...
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