Conjuring A City
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Conjuring a City <br> By Marc Porter Zasada <p> Every now and then, the Urban Man takes a walk in Downtown Los Angeles to see if a genuine city has yet been conjured there. I mean, not just a random convergence of large glass and steel buildings, tangled off-ramps and isolated concert halls; not just a scatter of rooftop bars and beat flophouses, wholesale districts and parking lots -- but a genuine city. <p> In the same way scientists say life arose on the primal earth a billion years ago, I figure cityhood will occur spontaneously on some crowded corner, exactly at noon on a windy weekday. Three men in overcoats will emerge from a narrow restaurant, tuck newspapers under their arms and attempt to hail the same taxi. A strain of Gershwin will fill the air, and Downtown will have arrived. <p> This afternoon I put on my fedora and go haunt the most likely spots along Seventh Street. Like a diligent scientist, I count the men in ties waiting to cross at Sixth and Olive. I check the health of newspaper vendors and cheap electronics marts down Broadway. I time the click click of sharp-heeled women moving in pastel waves up Flower. Later I loiter fearlessly in bleak corporate plazas, stroll in the Biltmore lobby and study the small shady path in Maguire Gardens, where I hope a saxophone will come to serenade unwary diners in the tiny outdoor cafe. <p> And yes, occasionally, when I catch a snatch of sophisticated laughter along Spring, or the stares of schoolchildren in Little Tokyo, I indulge the fantasy that cityhood has happened already. In the entryways of the new, fortress-like condos, I look for a doorman with white gloves, a delivery boy with grocery bags, or a maid walking a poodle. <p> And then night falls, the illusion dissolves, and I am in L.A. once again. Not unhappy, but not... satisfied. <p> A few months ago, urbanologist Joel Kotkin wrote an article saying we did not really need a Downtown. He said all that redevelopment and planning was fruitless. He laughed at the proposed Grand Avenue project and the influx of sturdy residential pioneers. He said we should stop complaining and understand that our special civic greatness comes from noisy ports, long cluttered boulevards and large suburban backyards. He said we should forget about London or Manhattan or Paris. <p> No doubt his logic was flawless, his traffic analysis accurate, and his economics sound. But like most people here, the Urban Man prefers not to parlay with logic. <p> I want a Bryant Park or a Leicester Square. I want a Soho or a Place St. Michel. I want L.A. to achieve that alchemy found only on the crowded, insistent sidewalks of great cities. And for all my love of palm leaves and well-sprinklered landscaping, I will never be completely content to live in a mere crowd of suburbs, stroll in mere outdoor shopping malls, or dine in "regional clusters." <p> No, I've seen those black and white photos of Downtown, back when men in Fedoras leapt from packed streetcars and swarms of women holding down their flapper hats poured into the Orpheum. Surely those photos prove it's possible to perform alchemy, even here in this big, sunny, and unrepentant sprawl. <p> Now it's late afternoon, and the Urban Man sits outside a tiny sandwich shop below Bunker Hill. They're closing up, and it's just me, a woman tapping on her laptop, and a young broker shouting at his cell phone. A taxi slows and suddenly, it seems all three of us have risen to wave it down. For a moment, I think I do hear Gershwin. But no, the broker only wants better reception. The woman is just packing up her bag. And the Urban Man goes running after the bright yellow cab alone. <p> Copyright - 2005 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved. <p>
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