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The Parable of Sower

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Octavia Butler’s sci-fi novel The Parable of the Sower is set in a chaotic and hostile environment just on the outskirt of Los Angeles. Its protagonist is Lauren, a fifteen-year-old girl who recalls her youth growing up in her gated community. These gated communities are the means for which it is possible to have the slightest chance of growing up in a relatively safe area. Throughout the novel, Lauren encounters many life-changing events that shape her experiences in this dystopian world that is not so far from that of impoverished developing countries.

The year is 2024; gated communities and neighborhood walls are nothing but a means of possibly having the opportunity of growing up in relatively safe environment. Not having a barrier and more importantly a community to belong to means the difference between life and death. Societal hierarchies are gauged by the safety of your wall. Due to the extreme situations and living conditions, traveling outside the gates require you to be armed and travel in groups like a pack. There is no telling what violent encounters one may be exposed to. But above all, when traveling you must appear dirty as not to call attention to yourself; the idea is not to seem as though you are well off when the rest of the world is at wits end. Natural resources such as gasoline are unfathomable to attain. The social elite are the only ones disposed to afford such a luxury. Water is yet another precious resource that the elite only seem to have an abundance of. The situation is so dire that people kill one another for a few gallons of clean water. Drought-like conditions have dried Los Angeles for the better part of seven years. Luck strikes Los Angeles one day in the form of a few rainstorms; this event is so unlike anything from the norm that even pious individuals skip a rainy day Sunday in order to fill up pots, pan, tubs, etc.

The Parable of Sower responds as a critique on the totally unproportioned and deterioration between the rich and the poor. The story dives on the political restructuring of the economy in order to get people to work. As a result, the newly elected president pushes for suspending minimum wage, environmental laws and work protection laws. Lauren’s response to the news is appalling. “And what about those suspended laws? Will it be legal to poison, mutilate, or infect people – as long as you provide them with food, water, and space to die?”

Images Courtesy of Flickr
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San Fernando Valley was “discovered” on August 5, 1769 by Don Gaspar de Portola and the members of the Spanish Expedition. Leaving the Los Angeles and Westwood area, they headed north towards the Santa Monica Mountains, following an Indian trail up Sepulveda Canyon. According to Father Juan Crespi’s diary on the expedition, they “saw a pleasant and spacious valley and descended to it. [They] stopped close to the watering place, which is a very large pool with a nearby village of heathen” (Robinson, 1). They named the land the “Valley of Santa Catalina de Bononia de los Encinos” (the valley of St. Catherine of Bononia of the oaks). The expedition stayed near the watering hole, still visible at Los Encinos park. “Here the ancient springs of water still gush forth and here old Indian village [land] until recent years has yield its relics.” (Robinson, 2)

On December 8, 1797, the San Fernando Mission was established in the Valley by the Spanish Padres. The San Fernando Mission completed a chain of missions that stretched from the San Diego Mission, founded in 1771, to San Buenaventura Mission, founded in 1782 and located in Ventura. Seeking good land, abundant water and Native Americans to serve as laborers, the missionary fathers chose a place in the upper half of the San Fernando Valley, formerly called Los Encinos Valley. “We found the place quite suitable for a mission,” Father De Santa Maria had reported, because it has much water” (Robinson, 3).

The friars wanted to capture the available, abundant water and bring it to the San Fernando Mission. They followed a trickle of water from the foothills and found a large swamp (cienega) with several natural springs about a league (an hour walking distance) from the mission site. The friars began their aqueduct by building a settling basin, “the intake,” to catch water from the natural springs. The basin was made of mission masonry, which consisted of burnt-brick and rock mortared with concrete and then covered with limestone. “The square-like basin, whose inner dimensions are 11 feet square and 5 feet deep, is in excellent condition today, considering its age” (Pauley, 203). A catchment inside the basin filtered mud and other sediments before water entered the aqueducts. The water flowed by gravity to a masonry dam. Pipelines then carried the water over the dam to the mission. The dam constructed in 1808 across the Cienega Wash, located half a mile northeast of the mission site, created Cienega Lake. “Smaller pipelines and zanjas (ditches or trenches) led the water to the orchards, the olive groves, the two vineyards, and the cellar” (Pauley, 204).

Reference:

Pauley, Carol and Pauley, Kenneth. San Fernando Rey De Espana. Spokane, WA: The Arthur Clark Company, 2005.

Robinson, W. W. The San Fernando Valley, A Calendar of Events. Los Angeles, CA: Title Insurance and Trust Company, 1951.

The San Fernando Mission's old water system.

The San Fernando Mission's old water system.

The filtering basin "the intake" of Mission San Fernando's water system.

The filtering basin "water intake" of Mission San Fernando's water supply system.

Seations of pipes that carried water from the wells to the mission.

Sections of pipes that carried water from the wells to the mission.

Image Reference:

Pauley, Carol and Pauley, Kenneth. San Fernando Rey De Espana. Spokane, WA: The Arthur Clark Company, 2005.


Car Culture Epicenter

The move of the auto industry to the Valley in 1945 made it one of the centers of auto production. Opening thousands of jobs and bringing San Fernando large amounts of income for years. With technological advances quickly taking place and land in the Valley becoming more expensive, production here was no longer as affordable. Factories began to move out, with GM officially closing its doors in 1992. Over 3,000 employees were displaced and had nowhere to go.

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This was not a complete shutdown of the auto industry in the Valley however. The auto industry understood that the Valley had a high concentration of key industries and research centers that it could benefit from. The aerospace and entertainment industries gave automakers a great reason to keep their ties with the San Fernando Valley.

Research on alternative fuels such as hydrogen fuel from Rocketdyne in Canoga Park offered automakers to create new greener, environmentally friendly cars. The aerospace industry offered its expertise on aerodynamics, pushing new and slick designs for cars. Also, the entertainment industry offered another reason to stay, because they helped with necessary ads that would be needed for new cars on the market.

Finally, a high concentration of design schools in the Valley and neighboring cities led to the auto industry’s concentration of research/design centers in the area. GM opened it research center known as General Motors Advanced Design Center in 2000, and went on to create an award winning design known as the PAD.

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The concentration of international automakers in the Valley created a love for cars. This love created new sub-industries that now offer one of the highest returns in income tax. Aftermarket products and tuner shops appeared everywhere, giving regular citizens the ability to turn their standard cars into sport cars feeding the “car culture”. Finally, auto dealerships and gas stations became the highest per acre income tax payers in the Valley.

Dams of the SFV

In 1914, a major flood covered the Valley ground. It caused $10 million in damages throughout the developing basin and brought attention to the possibility of recurrent flooding problems. The following year, the Los Angeles County Flood Control District was formed. Early flood control efforts included some channelization and support for reservoirs and dams. Taxpayers approved bond issues in 1917 and 1924 to build the initial major dams. However, taxpayers were not willing to provide enough funds for substantial infrastructure downstream of the dams. After two more destructive floods in the 1930s, Federal assistance was requested and the Army Corps of Engineers took a lead role in channelizing the River. Channelization began in 1938, and by 1960, the project was completed to form a fifty-one mile engineered waterway.

Before channelization of the L.A. River, flood control projects and utilization of the River as a source of water changed the system of streams, wetlands, and swamps of the natural lands. Channelization provided flood control for the increasingly developed region and a consistent path for the River course. Today, the banks of the River are almost fully lined along its entire length. Only three portions of the channel bottom remain unpaved: most of the Sepulveda Flood Control Basin in the San Fernando Valley, portions near Griffith Park through Elysian Valley where ground water levels prevent it from being paved, and at the River estuary in Long Beach where the River empties into the Pacific Ocean.

In 1940s, two major dams of the valley were built due to flood control, the Sepulveda Dam and the Hansen Dam. Both dams were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Hansen Dam is located near the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley on Tujunga Wash, about one mile below the Big Tujunga Wash and the Little Tujunga Wash. Hansen Dam, also known as Hansen Reservoir is earthen construction. Its height is 97 feet with a length of 10475 feet. Maximum discharge is 101000 cubic feet per second. Its capacity is 44990 acre feet. Normal storage is 1 acre feet. It drains an area of 152 square miles. In conjunction with Sepulveda Dam, it is vital for flood control protection of the lower portions of the San Fernando Valley and the City of Los Angeles.

Hansen Dam

Hansen Dam

Hansen Dam Downstream

Hansen Dam Downstream

Sepulveda Dam is also of earthen construction, built a year after the completion of Hansen Dam in 1940. Its height is 57 feet with a length of 15440 feet. Maximum discharge is 99540 cubic feet per second. Its capacity is 27563 acre feet. Normal storage is 1 acre feet. It drains an area of 152 square miles. The purpose of the project is to collect flood runoff from the uncontrolled drainage areas upstream, store it temporarily, and release it to the Los Angeles River at a rate that does not exceed the downstream channel capacity. The project has eight outlet passages, of which, only four have gates. Because the other four passages have no gates, Sepulveda Dam cannot shut off flow to the Los Angeles River. It is located approximately 8 miles east of the river’s official starting point in the San Fernando Valley. Behind the dam, the Sepulveda Dam is home to several large recreation areas and parks, a model-aircraft field, Japanese gardens, a wildlife refuge, a water reclamation plant and an armory.

Sepulveda Dam

Sepulveda Dam

Los Angeles River at the Sepulveda Dam

Los Angeles River at the Sepulveda Dam

Panorama City houses and curved street (Roderick 126)During World War II, the defense industry boomed in the San Fernando Valley. According to Greg Hise in his book Magnetic Los Angeles Planning the Twentieth Century Metropolis, the population of the San Fernando Valley grew 64% during the war. As a consequence, the housing industry also boomed. Private real estate developers transformed the landscape of the Valley into highly subdivided complete communities. For example, Kaiser Community Homes located its new project in Panorama City, by the Lockheed Airport. The choice of the site was mainly determined by the proximity of industry, such as General Motors, seen as potential employers of the future inhabitants. Kevin Roderick reveals in The San Fernando Valley America’s Suburb that the project of Panorama City was to build three thousand units of ready-to-move-in houses. The two bedroom dwellings came with a garage, a standardized floor plan and all the necessary fixtures for the price of $3,690.

 

Thus, contrary to popular belief, the Valley was not a bedroom community where all commuters were going back and forth from the Valley to their work place in Los Angeles. Promoters were determined to create a community for “living, work and play” (Hise 187). Housing was surrounded by school, recreational spaces, churches, commercial centers, and regional industries. “More than one hundred new industries within fifteen minutes”(Hise 187) was one of the most successful selling slogan of the Kaiser Community Homes.

 

The houses were typicallly one level ranch style tract homes. In comparison with pre-war housing, Kaiser Community Homes was maximizing floor plan flexibility. Promoters intended to create more spacious units with fewer small rooms. One of the main characteristics was the relocation of the kitchen into the rear part of the house to improve privacy and the ability of the housewives to watch their children play outdoors (Hise 201). Three bedrooms and duplexes were also available for a price range of $9,000 to $15,950 (Hise 201). The key to the Kaiser Community Homes project was the standardization of the floor plans and the parts. However, standardization was also their main disadvantage. Hence, to reduce monotony, the promoters curved the streets, varied the location of the garages, and used different façade paint colors (Roderick 126). In 1946, the Los Angeles Planning Commission joined the effort against the concept of a “bedroom suburb” in the Valley by creating a zoning ordinance to locate “self contained communities as nuclei for urbanization” (Hise 192). Since the intervention of Kaiser Community Homes in Panorama City, the desire to create complete communities in the San Fernando Valley has remained a constant preoccupation of developers.

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Source:

Picture 1:  Panorama City Houses and Curved Streets (Roderick 126)

Picture 2: Houses in Panorama city have similar features as the one on the previous picture. Today we recognize the structure of the houses built in the 40’s, and notice the signs of mass production.

 

Carey McWilliams book, Southern California an Island on the Land, charts the life of the Native Americans from before the arrival of the Spanish missionaries in the 1683 to the period when Anglos began moving in large numbers to Southern California. The chapter entitled, “The Indian in the Closet”, begins by describing the typical lifestyle of Native Americans in Southern California before this period. According to McWilliams, Native Americans lived in pockets across the region. They were separated by the mountainous topography and their diet consisted primarily of acorns. The arrival of the Spanish changed this. They set up missions, pueblos and presidios where Native Americans once lived. The San Fernando mission played an important role in upsetting Native lifestyle. The goal was to make Native Americans “civilized” by teaching them how to create settlements, converting them to Catholicism, and by giving and enforcing Spanish law. Native Americans began to associate missions with death because their numbers in California decreased from a total of 130,000 in 1769 to 1,250 by 1910. Some of the major factors of death were disease, forced labor, sexual practices, bad sanitation, and diet (they were fed just enough to live). Some Native Americans fled eastward and into the mountains. For those that stayed, they were forced into hard labor and were paid in beads. Many were whipped and all were forced to go to church. Some were allowed to escape their camps, but were followed and ultimately led the Spanish to capture more slaves. Along with being undernourished, they were kept ignorant to be more easily kept in subjection. After the Secularization Act in 1833, many lands were sold and Native Americans were freed, however, most became indentured servants on Ranchos where they remained for the rest of their lives.

Although housing projects have been associated in recent decades for housing low income, minority populations they were originally built, following FHA guidelines, to house primarily low income, Anglo populations. The San Fernando Gardens, built during WWII to house workers at the nearby Lockheed Plant, was one of the few exceptions to that rule. It was racially integrated from the start, housing the San Fernando Valley’s emerging African-American population among other groups.

Today it houses mostly low income Latinos who are primarily Mexican immigrants. The ‘Gardens’, as the residents call it, are meant to provide “safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities” according to House and Communities Government website. The projects is also home to something else, the Pacoima Project Boys. This gang consists of over an estimated 300 members and is the most violent street gang in the northeast region of the Valley. Analysts and critics point out that crime relates to social or economic status, so it might help to look at the conditions and hard realities that these families face on a daily basis.

Upon entering a project, one might get a feeling of unease or even a chill due to the existing conditions of these so called ‘homes’. Although public housing has been used to house the unfortunate over the past decades, it can often seem like a harsh environment. Public housing is usually a large building structure that has open space located in the middle acting as a backyard for these units. The front-back relationship is often two facades that are identical with walls that have very small openings for windows. These small windows are designed for security proposes but also affect the amount of lighting and ventilation that enters the room. Very much alike in concepts with gated communities, windows are often fenced off in order to keep out “unwanted” visitors. Since crime and gangs are such a big part of the projects even the landscaping is strategically placed around the exterior of the building for security reasons. Bushes and trees are placed by windows and entrances to try and secure the premises as best as possible. The building is usually painted with two tones of neutral colors to manipulate the façade into being more complex from what is really there. These types of homes work opposite of suburban communities, in which the densities of these buildings are very high and often located right next to strip malls and factories. While common homes average in size of 2000 square feet, the projects would have units as small as 750 square feet.

Falletta, Liz. “East Los Angeles Public Housing.” Delirious la. 2001. 10 Nov. 2008 <http://http://www.deliriousla.net/ar334/ar334tour-housing.pdf&gt;.

“HUD’s Public Housing Program.” Homes and Communities. 28 Nov. 2007. 10 Nov. 2008 <http://http://www.hud.gov/renting/phprog.cfm&gt;.

San Fernando Gardens exterior

San Fernando Gardens exterior