David Simon, the creator-producer of the HBO series The Wire recently gave a speech in which he lamented what he saw as a two-tiered economic system in America, divided between haves and have-nots: “My country is a horror show.” After some rumination on the wisdom of Marx, and a lament on the impact of money in elections, he concluded, without irony, the time might be right for people to “pick up a brick”. At what or whom the bricks would be hurled was left unsaid. I thought of this as I was trying to park yesterday at Runyon Canyon.
Runyon Canyon, the most popular hiking trail in the city of Los Angeles, has no parking lot. Consider that for a moment. It also has no bus service. Unless one has the good fortune ($$$) to live nearby, one is obliged to arrive by car. Not so long ago one could park anywhere along Vista and Fuller, all the way up to the park gates. Then the folks in the big houses petitioned the city to eliminate all street parking in front of their homes. Not that they were impacted in any way directly vis-a-vis parking. Every house on those blocks has ample garage and driveway space. No, what the homeowners objected to was the use of their street by their fellow Angelenos, even though these were the only access points to the park. The purpose of the parking ban was to inhibit people from using the park at all. Effectively, to privatize public space. In practice this didn’t happen. Hikers parked in the available spots south of Franklin and hiked a few extra blocks, past angry signs like this one. We were inconvenienced, but we chalked it up to calories burned and made the best of it.
That arrangement is now a memory. The city has eliminated nearly all non-permit parking within range of the Runyon gates. Parking Enforcement Priuses silently trawl the neighborhood for tickets, assisted by confusing and at times contradictory signage. Which is to say, liberal Democratic Los Angeles has declared war on its people at the behest of the wealthy. The ticket revenue is now a de facto usage fee for what was formerly a public park. As a point of comparison imagine the residents of the Dakota Apartments cordoning off the crosswalk at 72nd and Central Park West and slapping a surcharge on the exit turnstiles at the subway station to limit visitors to Strawberry Fields. How long do you think New Yorkers would stand for that?
Is it not enough there is no equivalent to Central Park, or even Golden Gate Park, in Los Angeles? The City’s investment in recreative public space are a pair of gates, some garbage cans and an unmaintained dirt trail. It may not have been much, but it offered a grand view and a chance for folks from different tax brackets to admire one another. Even this widow’s mite is being withdrawn from the public commons bit by bit, first with the trail grab alongside the Pink Wedding Cake house on Solar Drive and now this….reverse Homestead Act for the Gentry. Obama signs were recently thick upon the ground here, but now only the stoop labor remains, toiling beneath the palm fronds. As for the rest of us? Well…when the Hour of the Brick comes round, I can think of a place to start.