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Essay On Los Angeles


As far as polarizing subjects in Los Angeles go, freeways have long ranked near the top, perhaps trailing only Shaq-Kobe and the question of where the Eastside really begins.

Most of us love to complain about our freeways -- about the bad air and gridlock they produce, mostly, and to a lesser extent about the way they cleave neighborhoods in two. Others -- a smaller group, admittedly -- have praised the freedom they enable and even the beauty of their form as monumental urban objects.

But rarely has a writer looked at them in as much depth, and with as much clear-eyed restraint, as David Brodsly does in "L.A. Freeway: An Appreciative Essay," his 1981 book and the ninth title in our yearlong "Reading L.A." series.

As Brodsly puts it in his prologue, which is titled, after Wallace Stevens, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Freeway," the book "is neither a diatribe nor a paean. Sometimes I hate freeways and sometimes I actually love them, but that is not the point. The point here is simply to spend some time thinking about a subject that most of us take for granted. ... My hope was to understand the freeways, not to judge them."

For Brodsly, Joan Didion's famous observation that driving on the freeway ranks as "the only secular communion Los Angeles has" doesn't go quite far enough. He calls the Southern California freeway "the cathedral of its time and place." And he spends a large portion of the book exploring the details of that cathedral as an architectural historian might, tracing the development of seemingly every major freeway, extension and spur. He also explores the symbolic, communitarian and political importance of the freeway in diffuse, ever-changing Los Angeles.

"The freeway system supplies Los Angeles with one of its principal metaphors," Brodsly writes. "Employed to represent the totality of metropolitan Los Angeles, it is the city's great synecdoche, one of the few parts capable of standing for the whole."

He quotes the architect Charles Moore: "It is interesting ... to consider where one would go in Los Angeles to have an effective revolution of the Latin American sort. Presumably, the place would be in the heart of the city. If one took over some public square, some urban open space in Los Angeles, who would know? ... The only hope would seem to be to take over the freeways."

Brodsly, who grew up in San Pedro, the son of parents who "would religiously listen to SigAlerts at breakfast," began the research for "L.A. Freeway" as part of his undergraduate thesis at UC Santa Cruz. It was published by UC Press when Brodsly was in his mid-20s. He went on to work for the city of Los Angeles, and later moved to the Bay Area, where he works in public finance. He never wrote another book.

For most of "L.A. Freeway," Brodsly maintains a scholarly detachment in examining how various freeways were planned and paid for. But occasionally he drifts into Banhamesque reverie. ("Driving the freeway can create a rare, and distinctly urban, moment of joy when the car drives well, the freeway is uncrowded, and there is a good song on the radio.") And at several points he directly takes on the relationship between freeways and L.A.'s civic character.


Brodsly argues that the freeway system has radically "democratized transportation" in Southern California. He quotes an essay from the New York Times magazine making the case that in Los Angeles "the freeway allows you to create your own life. Your community is formed not by geography or community but by common interests."

At the same time, Brodsly acknowledges the way that the freeway keeps us cocooned in our cars, within sight of but apart from our fellow citizens. And he links that separation to the one produced by zoning and the popularity of the single-family house. "Protected by the detached single-family home and the detached private automobile," he writes, "the Angeleno can maintain his daily life remarkably free of intrusion. Thus Los Angeles is able to maintain its facade of a garden patch of urban villages, a metropolitan small town, without ever compromising the anonymity that is a hallmark of city life."

Elsewhere Brodsly suggests that the freeway ranks as an even more separate and detached sphere than the house. "More than any other ecology in Los Angeles," he writes, "more than any single comprehensible place, the freeway is a private space."

Brodsly's research for the book in the late 1970s and early 1980s came at a fascinating historical moment for Los Angeles, as the growth of the freeway system began to slow, and as the region took on the task of building a comprehensive public transit system, including its first subway. The subway, of course, proved politically controversial, even explosive, and its construction was largely put off -- and we wound up increasing our reliance on the freeways rather than starting the process of weaning ourselves from them.

Today we've arrived at a similar crossroads -- or maybe it's the very same crossroads, one we've been idling in front of for three decades. We are no longer building new freeways; the freeway system as a whole now qualifies as both crucial infrastructure and historical artifact; and we continue to struggle to build and pay for a subway. Even as we grasp intellectually that a city arranged around freeways is an outmoded city, hardly a model in any sense for future urban development, we can hardly fathom giving up our practical and emotional relationship with private mobility, especially given how accustomed we've grown to covering huge swaths of Southern California on a daily basis.

The result is that much of Brodsly's text reads as if it were pulled from a fortune cookie inside a time capsule.


Reading L.A.: Richard Meltzer tracks down the ugly

Reading L.A.: A Reyner Banham classic turns 40

Reading L.A.: An update and a leap from 25 to 27

-- Christopher Hawthorne

Upper photo: An L.A. freeway interchange from above. Credit: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times

Middle photo: The 110 Freeway. Credit: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times

Lower photo: An interchange at night. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

The City Of Los Angeles Essay

Los Angeles is a city with a large population which consists of a substantial number of immigrants. A wide range of immigrants from around the world have settled in Los Angeles making it one of the most diverse cities in this country. Many citizens of Los Angeles have strong arguments on whether or not an immigration reform is beneficial or if it is going to harm the city and its residents. The topic of immigration is of great importance because it is an issue that Los Angeles has experience for several of years and will continue in many more to come if action is not taken. Any changes made in regards to immigration are going to affect people in Los Angeles one way or another regardless of the perspective they might sustain about the subject because money and the community are involved in case of any modification. The city of Los Angeles is no stranger to the issue of immigration, which requires a solution through the process of an immigration reform to enforce constitutional value through the process of establishment of citizenship and amnesty. Immigration reforms will develop a political policy that is going to improve, modify and change our current immigration policy. It is essential and beneficial for the city of Los Angeles to obtain an immigration reform which will benefit families by offering broader, equal and fair opportunities as it will provide the city with economic growth.
There is an estimated count of “about 1 million unauthorized immigrants in Los Angeles” (Capp and Fortuny) out of a population of nine million reside in the city (US Census Bureau). Immigrants from all over the world move to Los Angeles because of the wide opportunities the city provides through the numerous schools and various employment occupations. In the novel Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita we are introduce to Bobby Ngu’s and his story which subsidizes the reason to immigrate. Ngu from Singapore experienced some tough times back home with his family and his father tells him, “you gotta have a future? Better go to America. Better start out something new. For the family…you start a future all new” (Yamashita, 17) and when he comes to American he goes to Los Angeles. All the people arriving to the city contribute to the diverse cultures we are exposed to which allow us to learn from their art, music, food and style. Immigrants contribute to our economy by means of their expenses for their essential needs in Los Angeles businesses. Various business owners or employees benefit from these people through low wages and employing them to occupations that American citizens do not apply for employment. These contributions by immigrants are profits that benefit the city which are taken pleasure in and also have influence on the reputation of Los Angeles as a diverse, entertaining and tourist city. They impact the city greatly in many different ways but; these people are not being provided with the same rights and opportunities and protection as everyone else. As...

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