The Architecture and Design Museum on Wilshire at Fairfax is hosting a fascinating exhibit ending Oct. 13, 2013. The exhibit is called Never Built: Los Angeles, and displays various proposals, big and small, which never made it past a sketch or model.
A Wilshire Blvd. promenade, stretching from MacArthur Park to Santa Monica.
With a title like that, it would seem like the exhibit would be a big whine-fest, spiraling down a path of the usual LA bashing and dystopian jargon. ”Why can’t we be a city more like New York or San Francisco?” But for me, I found the exhibit to be the exact opposite. The unbuilt projects spoke much more about the creative and optimistic spirit that LA - of past and present - helped to nurture and cultivate, particularly when the views of cities and infrastructure tend to be stagnant and predictable. The exhibit was less about the failure of the projects, and more a celebration of what could and could’ve been.
And then I stepped outside to take a bus to Downtown LA.
I suppose the euphoria I was feeling while walking through the exhibit heightened my sense of emptiness once I started to engage with the city again. The drop was that much more dramatic. And scenes that I see everyday in LA became more blatantly depressing to me.
Like the 720 Rapid bus which took me from LACMA all the way to Downtown LA in 20 minutes. It was empty.
Or Pershing Square, once a celebrated ‘central park’ for dowtown users. It was empty.
Or the pedestrian park on Hill St., next to Angel’s Flight. It was gated off and empty.
Or Angel’s Flight. It was empty - because it had derailed off its tracks the week before.
Or the renovated Grand Central Market. It was pretty empty. Mostly because it closes at 6pm, on a Saturday.
So the highs and lows I felt that day - thanks mostly to the visionary exhibit - highlighted the great potential that the city has yet to explore. In other cities where they are already resorting to re-purposing and re-imagining (cue images of the High Line), LA is an urban city still very much in its nascent stages, still trying to ‘figure it out’. Most critics judge cities by a benchmark of what it is. I judge it by what it can be. And I guess that’s why I’m still here.