East West Axis

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Earlier today, men in suits and hardhats held shovels and pretended to dig in dirt for the cameras.

These shovel-turning ceremonies used to occur all the time when LA was a fast growing city.

Now they're a lot rarer. But with the unemployment rate what it is, they're a reason to celebrate.

Today's media-op on the site of the old Sears garden and tire store in Santa Monica was good news for another reason.

It signified the ceremonial launch of the Expo Line extension west from Culver City.

This $1.5 billion project will bring rail transit to the beach side of the 405 for the first time since the Red Cars vanished, back before the freeway was built.

None of the new rail lines opening across LA do much on their own to ease traffic.

They're more about providing commuters with an alternative, taking pressure off the bus system, and keeping labor happy with some temporary construction jobs.

But the Expo Line could serve a valuable cultural function in LA -- by helping to close the gap between LA's east and west sides.

When the line opens in 2015, or later, Eastsiders will be able to take the train to their jobs in Santa Monica, to the 3rd Street Promenade or the beach.

Westsiders will have another option for going toward Downtown. The Expo Line will connect with the Gold Line to Pasadena or East Los Angeles.

Closing the physical distance between east and west is easier than bridging the culture gap.

Everyone in LA has their own personal map of where they go. An internal grid of borders and preferences.

Since Canter's Deli followed the Jewish community from Boyle Heights to the Fairfax area, and probably before, there's been cross-cultural tension between east and west.

Lately, I've lost count of all the media voices who make snarky comments about the Westside. The 405 shutdown in July really brought them out.

West of the 405, making fun of the Eastside and beyond never goes out of style.

More Angelenos actually live in the Valley or south of the 10 or in the great central swath from Downtown to Hollywood. But the east-west divide endures.

A much less expensive project I saw last week may do just as much as the Expo Line to close the gap.

Artist J. Michael Walker's 23-foot-long map of literary LA connects east to west, through authors such as Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries and the émigré writers of Pacific Palisades like Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood.

Walker intends his map to tie the city together, as his previous work did on all the LA streets that are named for saints.

The map is on display at the Hammer Museum, inside Libros Schmibros – a Westwood pop-up version of the Boyle Heights used bookstore and free library of the same name.

Author and book critic David Kipen opened Libros Schmibros when he moved to the Eastside and found it light on reading material for locals.

Now that Westwood doesn't have any bookstores either, he sees part of his mission as bringing the two spheres together through books. The store is open until October 9.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.