Cratchitville, on Wheels

The Affordable Solution
Affordable Housing, LA-style

As was inevitable, New Urbanism has come to Van Nuys.  The granny flat on a trailer.  Tidy. Well-ordered, aesthetic. Entry off the service alley, away from disapproving neighbors. A parallel Los Angeles blooming behind the ranch houses. An elf kingdom sliding rent checks under the door, and scurrying away, unseen.   It may be small-ish, but there is nothing cold or dismal about it.

When Mrs. UpintheValley decides the end of the hallway is not far enough, she can have this.    On second thought,  I’ll make it my Man Cave.

More Affordable
More Affordable

Such Cratchitville arrangements are not new, and exist de facto all over the city, without rental income involved.  We decry eyesores, but on what legal basis do we deny people the ability to park on an industrial street, set up a hibachi on the sidewalk, pull a lawn chair out of a dumpster and proclaim oneself at home? Provided they are not committing crime or polluting the neighborhood, what’s to argue?  The embrace of backyard trailer houses by city government will make it more difficult, politically and morally, to draw a firm line against the Shabby RV People.  The shrubbery of the San Fernando Valley is already well-watered with the urine of nephews living in the casita (read: HomeDepot toolshed) in the backyard.

Yes, someone fits inside here, nightly.
Yes, someone fits inside here, nightly.

If parking on someone’s property and paying rent is the basis of legitimacy, then the presence of wheels gives the City plausible deniability.  We are not codifying this, Los Angeles tells itself, we are giving the public a workaround from zoning law.   If there are problems, theoretically they can be rolled away.   Of course, this means any pushcart can now be recognized as an ‘housing alternative’.

There are people pushing carts all over the Valley. Or towing non-functioning vehicles from one parking location to another.  There seems to be a stark dividing line within the world of the dispossessed between those with wheeled shelter and those without. A beater car is preferable to a tent by the freeway. It means one retains aspirations of hanging on, however tenuously by his fingernails, to a place in the Social Contract.

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After the wheels are gone, there is the tent. Once the tent goes there is…the makeshift crackhead fort.

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After you are unable to cobble together a crackhead fort, you just roll yourself up like a burrito and imagine the passion of St. Francis under the stars.

The Forbidden River

If it's the Valley, the answer is NO
Shaded, sort of landscaped and off-limits

As a failure of civic will, the Los Angeles River is a thing of wonder.

Fifty-one miles of contiguous watercourse snaking through the one of the world’s great cities…linking mountains, canyons, the Valley, the Narrows, the Basin, with the Port of Long Beach…and pretty much all of it, with some notable exceptions, off-limits to the public. For a progressive city, Los Angeles has few developed public spaces. No greater resource is more undeveloped than the River itself.

There are scattershot plans to redevelop industrial fields near downtown. Artist renderings have been on the books for decades.  Should they come to fruition, there might be -yes, for half a mile!- a fully realized greenway, with enough eco-restoration and bio-swales to bring the New Urbanists to a state of ecstasy.  Conveniently tucked away in the least populated, most inaccessible location, cut off from the surrounding city by both railroad tracks and San Fernando Road, an Omaha Beach-like kill zone for bicyclists.  If the Taylor Yards Restoration happens it will, like most things which get done in Los Angeles, arrive through the pathway of least resistance. Meaning few people were opposed to it in the first place.  Because we’re speaking of orphaned ground, permanently disconnected from any other part of the river or any path network.

Fortunately, up in the Valley, we have miles and miles of shaded, landscaped river frontage, lined on both banks with walking and bike paths.  A suburban Champs Elysees where one communes with nature in the purple evening air….oh, wait.

Let's take another look
Let’s take another look

We sort of, kind of, have something like that.

Except no one is allowed to go there.

We can take its measure through the chain link fence, as we drive past on the boulevard.

We can imagine it.  Not difficult to do, when it’s 80% built already.

Or we can be scofflaws. In the name of civilization we can hop the fence (Giles and I have done this many times.  Only in the interest of blogging of course) and prowl about and think: wouldn’t it be cool?  And the corollary: what the hell is wrong with liberals in LA? 

Somehow cities with far fewer resources than Los Angeles, and I’ll just say it aloud, conservative politics, have managed to not only develop their urban rivers and abandoned railways but put them front and center.  Let’s take a tour:

San Antonio
San Antonio Riverwalk
Charlotte, NC
Sugar Creek Greenway,  Charlotte, NC
Beltline Trail, Atlanta
Beltline Trail, Atlanta
Beltline Trail, Atlanta
Beltline Trail, Atlanta
Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia
Paseo Santa Lucia, Monterrey, Mexico
Paseo Santa Lucia, Monterrey, Mexico

This one really annoys me.  Even the narco-state of Nuevo Leon, the Bagdad-on-the-Border, headless torsos stacked by the on-ramp, modern-day Dodge City that is Monterrey, Mexico, has managed to offer the Little People something which looks suspiciously like a pleasant place to walk.

The Olmstead Plan
The Olmstead Plan

Not for the first time, I feel obliged to say it doesn’t have to be this way. Particularly in a city as geographically blessed as LA.  Few us know today in 1930 the sons of Frederick Law Olmstead drew up a master plan for Los Angeles County designed entirely around creeks, rivers and greenways, connecting neighborhoods from Palmdale to Palos Verdes.

Just so we can feel really sorry for ourselves
One more,  so we can feel sorry for ourselves just to make you angry

Ralphs 2.0

Would you sit here in the cool evening air? Inquiring minds wish to know.
Would you sit here in the cool evening air? Inquiring minds wish to know.
Ralphs 2011
Ralphs 1970’s-2013

The redesigned Ralph’s on Hazeltine debuted last month, cool, bright and modernist.  Gone is the asphalt parking lot, banished from view below stairs.  The front doors are pushed right up the sidewalk, the better to scoop up the foot traffic in a manner befitting….West Hollywood. Will it?  The jury is still out. Despite a take-out cafe and on-site Starbucks and a cluster of shaded tables and benches out front which all but announce: hang out here, oh ye walkers of the neighborhood, oh ye cool people of Sherman Oaks, no one appeared to be taking the store up on its offer.  Begging the question, do the yentas walk in Sherman Oaks? Do the grandkids?  Does anyone? Is it that kind of neighborhood?

Andy Hurvitz at the HereinVanNuys blog has more:  Ralph’s Sherman Oaks.