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FROM Eric Avila

Design and Architecture

What will freeways look like in the future? Is the High Desert Corridor the last gasp for freeways? Or will they always be part of our lives? Seleta Reynolds heads LA’s Department of Transportation and says that as transportation changes -- with the advent of electric vehicles, driverless cars, and drone delivery -- we should change how we think about freeways and their costs. “If we don't figure out a way to optimize what we have, which is a huge massive capital maintenance burden, then I'm not sure I'd buy that freeways will be here in a hundred years, because we won't have the dollars to continue to invest in them and maintain them,” Reynolds said. She points to some projects that are re-envisioning the freeway structures, such as the Hollywood Park project to create a park and deck the freeway at the 101 in Hollywood. Another project would rework the stub of the 2 freeway in the Silver Lake and Echo Park area. Landscape architect Chris Reed worked with his students at Harvard on a concept to turn the spur of this unfinished freeway into an elevated park filled with plants, paths for cyclists and pedestrians, and a rainwater capture system. Stoss Landscape Urbanism's proposal for the 2 Freeway spur includes paths for pedestrians and bicyclists and a rain capture system. (Chris Reed / Stoss Landscape Urbanism) He says that in addition to separating communities and spewing pollutants, freeways also exacerbate storm water runoff. “It was an exciting speculation to say, look, let's just take a piece of infrastructure and turn it on its head and allow it to become this vibrant space for ecology, for culture, for people in ways that just aren't possible right now,” Reed said. But could interventions like this steer us away from freeways in the future? “It's hard to imagine L.A. without the automobile and without the freeways because L.A. is a 20th century city and the automobile is a 20th century invention,” said Eric Avila, author of “The Folklore of the Freeway.” “In so many ways the identity, the politics, the economics, the landscape, the environment of L.A. is based upon the automobile.” Bridges and Walls is supported in part by the California Arts Council , a state agency. And special thanks to NPR’s Story Lab. Follow this series at KCRW.com/BridgesandWalls

4 MIN, 49 SEC Mar 20, 2018

Design and Architecture

Freeways used to symbolize freedom. Not anymore. Freeways were originally conceived as part of a vision for a better tomorrow. The Futurama exhibition at the 1939 New York World’s Fair “opened people's eyes in an unprecedented way to the possibilities of what was believed to be the future at the time,” said Alexandra Szerlip, author of a biography of Futurama’s designer, Norman Bel Geddes. “Traffic was a huge problem,” Szerlip said. “I think more people died on the roads in America from vehicular accidents than had than American soldiers had died during World War One.” Los Angeles went crazy for freeways. They enabled people to drive until they reached land where they could buy an affordable house and a large yard and they were embraced for several decades. Some people even found them beautiful, like the British architecture critic Reyner Banham, who wrote about the “autopia” of Los Angeles. Banham’s book “Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies” came out in 1971. A decade later a young man named David Brodsly published a book called “LA Freeway: An Appreciative Essay.” He wrote that the "L.A. freeway is the cathedral of its time and place" and driving along it offers an almost spiritual experience. But by the time “LA Freeway” was published in 1981, many Angelenos were losing patience with the system. Pollution and congestion were rising and in 1985 construction began on the region’s first subway. In 1994 photographer Catherine Opie exhibited a series of freeway photos, taken in early morning weekend hours. “And for me it's literally an iconic landscape, as much as Egypt is in relationship to the pyramids,” Opie said. But other artists made work to register their protest. UCLA urban historian Eric Avila teaches Chicana and Chicano studies and wrote the book “The Folklore of the Freeway.” He took us to Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights, which was divided by the 5 freeway. David Botello, “Wedding Photos - Hollenbeck Park,” 1990. Avila described the painting “Wedding Photos-Hollenbeck Park” by David Botello, made in 1990 (see image above). It depicts a photographer setting up a wedding party in front of a willow tree in Hollenbeck Park. “But the photographer’s using that willow tree to block the image of the freeway. Because a wedding party does not want a freeway in its official wedding portrait. But the painter is making the freeway apparent, and its unsightliness in Hollenbeck Park, even though the photographer is not,” Avila said. As early as 1957, residents of Boyle Heights spoke out against the construction of the freeways, which now cover 10 percent of the neighborhood. “It was targeted for its racial and ethnic diversity. It was described by the federal government as hopelessly heterogeneous, and in this report by the Homeowners Loan Corporation, it said this would be an ideal location for a slum clearance project, and that slum clearance project was highway construction,” Avila said. Eric Avila has spent many years studying how communities deprived of political and economic resources and opportunities turn to culture -- visual art, performance, music -- to express resistance. And he says that’s why freeways started cropping up in Chicano art. “The inclusion of the freeway in Chicano art is a reflection of daily life. But it's also an effort to domesticate or to make oneself at home in this inhuman landscape, this toxic landscape of freeways, to imbue the freeways with color, the kind of color that that reflects traditional patterns of Mexican culture, which is a sharp contrast to the colorlessness of the concrete that the freeways are built of,” he said.

9 MIN, 24 SEC Mar 20, 2018



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