This is an update of the previous post: “Space Shuttle Lands on 400 Trees”
Last weekend the space shuttle Endeavour made its way home from, well…space, to LAX, and ultimately, the California Science Center near downtown Los Angeles. It was a once in a lifetime event for Los Angeles residents to get an up-close view of an amazing feat of human ingenuity and science from their sidewalks. Angelenos are familiar with seeing feats of human ingenuity from their sidewalks, most including gridlock and fender benders, but this was different.
The “Victory Parade” for Endeavour was unique in a city accustomed to parades for sports championships. But unlike Lakers’/Kings’/Dodgers’ championship parades, this never-to-be-repeated event took up an astounding 80 horizontal feet and three stories of roadway and will have an impact on the community much longer than the good vibes of two days in October 2012.
The neighborhoods along the route are left with tree-less medians and parkways in their already depleted streetscapes. Long after visitors return to their habit of driving around these neighborhoods, residents are left with even less beauty than they started.
400 trees were to be removed from the parade route with no firm plans or formal commitments beyond lip service to planting replacements. Worse yet, notice of the tree removals became public only after they had begun, gaining the ire of community members. Following the event there is word that fewer than 400 trees were removed, but that’s little consolation for those living in the urban environments of South LA and Inglewood who are effected well beyond the day of arrival and transport of Endeavour.
The respected architectural critic of the LA Times, Christopher Hawthorne was moved enough to pen an emotional piece discussing the ability for Los Angeles to shake off perceived attitudes and come together as a community.
As Mr. Hawthorne points out, Los Angeles has significantly less public green space than comparable cities across the nation. What isn’t mentioned is in most parts
of LA wide street corridors are the primary open spaces of the neighborhood, specifically in urban areas far removed from the beaches and Griffith Park.
Streetscapes often provide the only connection to landscape within the highly congested city, while providing shade, reducing heat island effects and, almost as important to a water-starved environment such as Southern California, reducing storm water run off from adjacent concrete sidewalks and asphalt roadways.
Despite this, Mr. Hawthorne notes that the scale of Los Angeles streets make it possible for such amazing moments to happen, and that the massive scale of the road rights-of-ways is perfect for framing a behemoth structure such as a space shuttle. It’s as if the vast sections of tree-less roadways cutting through neighborhoods is a positive thing.
The article never mentions the removal of trees from neighborhoods but it does poetically describe scenes of the shuttle traveling through communities filled with gas stations and donut shops. The ironic contextual conditions of laundry mats and liquor stores juxtaposed against a vehicle designed to inhabit international space stations is uniquely Los Angeles. But the lack of attention paid to streetscapes, community respect and public process is surprising from such a well-respected student of architecture and urban design.
Swayed by the emotion of the day Mr. Hawthorne whimsically describes entering neighborhoods to witness the historic event, never discussing that most of the Endeavour spectators will likely never return to those neighborhoods while residents like the woman wearing hoop earrings carrying a parasol, her six year old daughter and the bullhorn preacher have to live daily within streetscapes lacking canopy trees to provide shade, mitigate pollution, or provide an improved aesthetic for the unrelenting asphalt.
If Mr. Hawthorne’s post has done anything it’s not reduce the perception of LA as a city unwilling to mingle during special events like the shuttle arrival or championship parades, but has reinforced the lack of vision and long-term benefits consistently denied the lower-income communities in Los Angeles.
The City of Los Angeles and the California Science Center missed a golden opportunity to make the arrival of Endeavour a community enhancing moment lasting long into the future, and one can hope the opportunity is not completely lost. Short-term thinking and emotional reactions have created many of the public space ills of Los Angeles, and we should be voicing the need to improve these conditions rather than writing a Disney ending.