Typical Los Angeles “food desert” photo along Figueroa Corridor. Getty Images/David McNew

Walking through the Figueroa Corridor in South Central, Los Angeles, it is difficult to overlook the wave of urban developments. If you haven’t visited the area, you may have already seen it through popularized photos of fast food chains between Jefferson Blvd and Adams Blvd used as an icon for “food deserts.” These so-called deserts are short on healthy food options and high on fatty foods, and the commercial zoning of the Figueroa Corridor coupled by a large mix-used inner-city/university population has lead to a proliferation of prefabricated options. Though the restaurants are iconic of the area, due to a number of factors including the expansion of nearby University of Southern California, the re-emergence of Downtown LA as a cultural and economic center, and the relatively cheap land value of strip-malls, the northwest end of South Central is losing its fast food chains in favor of multi-story housing facilities. Re-enforcing the trend away from the strip-mall towards a more fashionable aesthetic is the style of the new developments: marble-looking columns meet archways at entrances, statues line the walkways, and brick is mixed with stucco.
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Downtown New York City Two Months After Zuccotti Park RaidNew York Stock Exchange, 15 January 2012

This is the third in a sequence of Public Spaces essays that I’ve been compiling here on NMDNet. The first essay began at New York’s Wall Street not long after the police there shut down Occupy Wall Street and noticed how the streets in downtown had become “dead space.” The second visited Florence Ave & Normandie Ave, reflecting on how the site of the start of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots is now a passthrough for cars and gas stations. This third essay gained inspiration from a 2010 blog post and a walk to a neighborhood bus stop. First, I was cruising some keywords in the blogsphere and stumbled on “Downtown Loses Its Cherry Street, Becomes ‘L.A. Live Way’” by blogdowntown‘s Eric Richardson. This was no surprise as Downtown LA, about a mile north from where I live, has seen a massive redevelopment named LA Live that includes the Staples Center arena. After reading the blogdowntown article I didn’t think much of Cherry Street until I walked to the nearby bus stop with a few minutes to spare.
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Florence Ave & Normandie Ave
LA Metro 206 bus at Florence Ave & Normandie Ave

Today is the 20th anniversary of the LA “Rodney King” Riots that began, visibly, on television news showing footage from helicopters of rioters attacking cars at the intersection of Florence Ave & Normandie Ave in South Los Angeles (at the time more commonly called South Central). Two weeks ago I visited the intersection to experience the location and reflect on the event, taking the LA Metro five miles South from where I live in West Adams. The intersection is a typical cross roads with franchise stores on the corners, about six lanes per street converging, and cars alternatively lining up as green lights turn to red. I tweeted the experience while sitting for a while on Downtown New York City Two Months After Zuccotti Park Raidthe Northwest side of the intersection, at a grassy plantern area that surrounds an AutoZone sign. I had meant the trip to be an isolated personal experience until Adam Liszkiewicz, who was following my tweets (and photos I was linking to), pointed out a relationship between the intersection and my last essay, here on NMDnet in January, 2012, about downtown New York City “dead spaces” that were created by police in response to Occupy Wall Street. This trip was now the second in a series.
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People look upon One World Trade Center under constructionPeople look upon One World Trade Center under construction (flickr)

On the first day of my visit to New York City last week — timed to attend the Occupy Wall Street events and actions on Martin Luther King Jr Day — I found myself in Downtown’s Financial District. I came out of the subway at the World Trade Center expecting to see the various WTC buildings under construction, but I didn’t know that construction had progressed significantly since my last visit and (as I learned from an architect friend) the WTC buildings are incorporating advanced glass technology that result in ultra-shiny, ultra-efficient exoskeletons. It is difficult to look away from the WTC buildings at this late stage in their development, marking them monuments as per the Port Authority’s intentions but also foreshadowing a collective gaze by future onlookers staring up at the offices of financiers, lawyers, and New York State employees.
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