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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.

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The American experience of shopping has evolved through the years, changing as developers come up with new ways to attract shoppers. One shopping center that has gained countless hype and controversy before its opening is The Americana at Brand in Glendale, CA. Not only is it situated along Brand Blvd., which is historically one of the busiest and most popular shopping districts in the San Fernando Valley area, but it utilizes a system or typology that is quickly becoming the accepted standard when it comes to shopping centers. The best way to describe it is Caruso-like, after the developer. Caruso is responsible for developing many of today’s most popular shopping centers including The Grove in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles.

This typology is one part shopping corridor-like layout, with the stores side by side along a “street”, and one part indoor mall-like layout, where there is a few central entrances to an enclosed area (although it’s open-air instead of having a high-domed ceiling). Mix in multilevel parking and you get The Americana at Brand. It includes housing, high end retail stores, a movie theater, a playground with high-tech water fountains, and restaurants. It is suppose to function as an open-air “community” and regional retail “environment” that serves as a “fashionable” local gathering place. The Americana’s design should be noted as well. The architectural style of the Americana is meant to reflect an industrial European city, including a massive elevator shaft with exposed steel beams.

Ultimately, it is designed to appear “like” a public space, but in actuality it is mainly private property. This is done in order to allow consumers to think of it as an inviting place where they would feel comfortable to visit and spend time. To sum up in a few words, The Americana is an inward-facing commercial establishment, which gets mainly accessed from underground parking garage. However it does connect to Brand Blvd. This is where the two typologies meet. The outdoor arena-like mall meets the main street, which ultimately leads to the town square, Brand Blvd.

Americana at Brand in the making

Americana at Brand in the making

Americana at Brand in the making
Americana at Brand

Americana at Brand

In contrast to the shopping environment created by the Americana at Brand are the mobile taco trucks, fruit stands, ice cream carts/push carts, etc. that are an L.A./SFV staple. These stands are some of the few places you can see a gathering of people from any race, any class, from any age group at 3 in the morning-creating an impromptu restaurant environment. Taco trucks not only feed a craving, but also bring people together. It’s what defines us as Los Angelenos; New York has pizza, Chicago has hot dogs and we have tacos. All these cart pushers are cultural icons, they represent the sensibilities of hard working Angelenos. From a strictly culinary point of view, these vendors provide food not found elsewhere–this is food from the little-known towns and regions. It is the opposite of the type of food and vending represented at the Americana at Brand. Through local taco trucks I’ve eaten dishes from all over Mexico, most in the $2 price range. It has been a culinary education that I would not have even been able to dream up on my own.

tacotaco2

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Sprawl is an issue that is frequently debated amongst everyone from regular citizens to architects and city planners. The word itself has inherited a negative connotation, often used subjectively to describe city development and growth. Also, most see sprawl as a quite recent “disease” created in America because of the desire to own property. However, what we see and label as sprawl today is a result of a long history of events that began long before our time in ancient worlds such as Rome and England and continue to affect our lives today. The expansion of Paris outward.

In ancient times, cities were initially situated and oriented in militarily strategic areas for protection. Often, these cities were enclosed by walls, containing almost everything needed to keep the city running within. However, being enclosed by walls meant there would be limitations on the city. Space became limited, usually consumed by large factories, governmental buildings and royal palaces. Small farms, burial sites, and pottery works were naturally pushed out of the walls to release the congestion. The limitations of the wall and the constant push to extend out of the walls were evidence that as cities develop and economies mature and prosper they tend to expand outward.

Soon, wealthy families began to purchase land initially to run them as farms, but quickly turned them into villa-style vacation homes, leading to the next step of the outward movement into suburbia. Initially, only a few people could move out of the city, because it was too expensive to move and the city center was where all the jobs were. Consequently, the wealthy moved out of the city center into single family lots of land to escape the congestion and bad sanitary conditions of the city. As a result, the poor began to move into the city due to the proximity of jobs and abandoned units, now at very low prices.

The city center soon grew extremely unsanitary with old irrigation and sewer systems, and the constant air pollution from factory by-products. The aged buildings had become very undesirable, and factories needed to upgrade their facilities to keep up with new technologies. To avoid high costs of remodeling, factories moved to the outskirts near the suburbs where land was very abundant and cheap. As jobs moved out, the working-class soon followed. This large migration out of the city center by industries and the working-class became the major factor of suburban sprawl.

Suburbia

Suburbia

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Public transit in the San Fernando Valley started with the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe rail lines in the 1870’s. Competitive prices caused a “Fare War” bringing prices down from just over 100 dollars per fare to 1 dollar per fare in only a day’s time. The result was a population boom in Southern California. The San Fernando Valley grew significantly in population by 1890. Initially, developers attempted to meet the transportation needs of these residents through new methods of transportation. Private investors started replacing horse car lines with steam, cable, and electric traction street railways.

The steady but late timing of population growth in the SFV resulted in a different pattern of transportation as was seen in different larger cities like New York, Boston, or Philadelphia. Instead of growing “up” into skyscrapers, Los Angeles grew horizontally reaching through the mountain ranges into Burbank, Glendale, and other parts of the SFV. Henry Huntington answered the population boom’s transportation needs with his Pacific Electric “Red Car” system in 1923. With over 1,164 miles of track extending over 100 miles from end to end, the Pacific Electric became the largest operator of interurban electric railway in the world. For some, Henry Huntington was seen as a savior for his response to the need of transportation.

The rail system began losing widespread popularity to the car in the mid 1920’s. The car’s promises of freedom to drive to any location and not be confined to the route of the track appealed to those who could afford it. Much publicity was also given to buses by transit officials, which aided in the massive decline of public rail transit. Many environmentalists and activists these days frown on those events and believe General Motors to be the villain that hindered public transit. However, the circumstances of the Electric “Red Car” system in the 1920’s are described as being filthy, always running late, the drivers were insolent and sometimes drunk, and the owners were tyrants and monopolists. At the time, General Motors was looked upon as a savior to the poor conditions of the streetcar and Henry Huntington-type capitalists were seen as money-hungry villains. The public’s hatred for the Red Car system ended with the removal of most of the Red Cars in the late 1950’s.

Today, the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles spend millions of dollars each year maintaining and encouraging the use of the public transit systems. These include the Metrolink, Bus lines, Metro Rapid Buses, Subway and Light Rail lines. With the amount of traffic clogging the arteries of the San Fernando Valley, multiple forms of public transit seems to be the answer to the public’s transit needs.
san_fernando_valley_bus_rapid_transit1_webcanogaparkroute1

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In the beginning of the 20th century, William Levitt re-looked at the concept of subdivisions and took them to a new level. This new concept, which would cut construction costs by means of mass producing and standardization, introduced Levittowns. These new homes were intended to provide middle class families the opportunity to purchase single family residences. However, according to anti-sprawl critics, these new developments  would “threaten to destroy open space, consume agricultural land, drive up utility costs, undermine social urban life, heighten inequalities, deplete natural resources, and damage the environment” (Bruegmann 3). Although the suburbs were heavily criticized, people still left cities by the thousands and headed over to the suburbs. After WWII, Los Angeles witnessed its population increase from four to eight million people. Since then, the size of houses and residential subdivisions have grown exponentially.

Due to heavy criticism of suburban layouts, developers are now trying to improve the social and environmental conditions of the suburbs by creating a sense of community using different methods. One method commonly used is restoring or creating a city center. These city centers allow for specialized shops that include exterior circulation in order to give it the feeling of an urban environment. Another method that is becoming popular is the revitalization of green space. Although suburban sprawl has been most notorious for the land it ‘destroys’, these new developments allow for protected rural and natural areas. These new ideas might not recreate the suburbs, but could revitalize them, turning them into what they have continually contradicted: individual city centers.

References:

Sprawl: A Compact History- Robert Bruegmann

The New Suburbanism- Joel Kotkin

Square Footage Growth

Square Footage Growth

Suburban Green Revitalization

Suburban Green Revitalization

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The population in Los Angeles is expected to increase by 2 million by 2012, and since Los Angeles residents are already in need of open space and recreational areas in high density, low-income neighborhoods, there is no way to accommodate the expected growth unless action is taken. This is why the Trust for Public land is launching its first major metropolitan Greenprinting initiative in Los Angeles. The TPL stated that “Greenprinting is a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to land conservation through which park making and community renewal can measurably improve the quality of life for residents in urban neighborhoods underserved by parks and recreation opportunities.”

Most of the city’s parks and open spaces are located in the group of city, regional, state, and national parks in the mountains separating the Los Angeles basin from the San Fernando Valley, mostly inaccessible to a large percentage of L.A. residents. Los Angeles is more than 50% below the parks-to-people ratio of 10 acres per thousand residents recommended by the National Recreation and Park Association. Although overall Los Angeles has 4.2 acres per thousand residents (the national average for high-density cities), in neighborhoods where a majority of the population has a household income less than $25,000 or for which a majority of the population is non-white, the density of parkland falls to as low as 0.3 acres per thousand. The issue is one of equity since all residents want and need access to parks.

The TPL claims that Greenprinting addresses open space and broader “quality of life” needs for a community such and education, leverages funds from public sources with new sources of funding including private philanthropy, corporate funding, and foundation support, utilizes “best practice” case studies from around the nation, highlighting cost-efficient, successful park programs that involve local input, engages a diverse group of community leaders, activists, and residents in designing and developing playgrounds and open spaces, and involves community members in becoming stewards of their parks and by extension in issues affecting quality of life in their neighborhoods. The Trust for Public Land secured $36 million in California State funding in 2002 to launch the Greenprinting Los Angeles Program. The ultimate goal of the Trust for Public Land is to provide the citizens of Los Angeles with a park within a ten-minute walk of their residence.

 

 

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