Income & Employment / 2013

Narrative Replacement Therapy: Reimagining the Heart of Los Angeles

Narrative Replacement Therapy: Reimagining the Heart of Los Angeles

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Urban Macrosystems

The story of a city is a narrative that links events to the place itself. It also serves as a touchstone for citizens to reference when considering changes to the urban fabric. But what happens when the story is no longer agreed upon let alone understood? How can a city evolve without a clear sense of what it wants to be? La Placita Nueva proposes to reestablish the historic core of LA as the center of the city, both mythologically as well as economically. It would begin with an analysis of the area within a one-kilometer diameter of the Plaza out of which a narrative would be developed – one that builds on the story of the city’s founding to include a larger story encompassing the more recent past, the present, as well as its future. This narrative would then stimulate project proposals for the area, drawing from the findings of the initial analysis to provide a common framework for decision-making & a vision for the future.

The analysis by Urban Macrosystems would look beyond the surface of the city to the web of confrontations & connections beneath. Urban Macrosystems views cities as ecosystems – more, as a system of systems whose myriad complex & unpredictable interactions shape the city. Urban Macrosystems would reveal, for instance just how much territory is given over to asphalt & concrete in service of the automobile; it would expose the amount of acreage that the criminal justice system requires for a city this size; it would enumerate the religious & cultural institutions in the subject area, the retail establishments, the square-footage of office space, industrial, & manufacturing warehouses as well as open space. More importantly it would attempt to record how these systems interact – or not; which imbalances are apparent & which are not; & finally, which parts of the economy are working & which are not.

Urban Macrosystems draws inspiration from David George Haskell’s book, The Forest Unseen, in which the biologist studies a forest ecosystem by spending a year looking past the visible plant & animal species to the microbial microcosm within a specific one-meter diameter circle in a forest. Thus the analysis of the area surrounding La Placita can be thought of as The City Unseen, in which Urban Macrosystems jumps scales, trading the study of the microcosm for the macrocosm: while the evolution of a forest is determined in large part due to signaling & exchange at the microbial level, evolution of a city is the result of unknown millions of interactions of its inhabitants, most of which go unnoticed, unrecorded, even unremembered. Nevertheless, a city might be seen as an archive of successive interactions between citizens – with the buildings & associated infrastructure as the physical byproduct of these interactions.

Urban Macrosystems will assess how the systems themselves interact with each other – is it at the level of the system or the individual? Is the interaction one-on one, or are multiple players/systems involved? Undoubtedly, it would emerge as a complex mix of all this & other contingencies yet to be discovered; but the crucial ingredient we would look for is a perceived imbalance in any interaction – an injustice, an economic dissonance, even a passionately argued difference of opinion – to provide a locus for intervention.

Even a cursory look at the subject area reveals obvious disparities: the lack of shelter for the homeless around the Plaza, the sea of asphalt paving the blocks north of the Plaza; further out there is the 101 Freeway shearing the historic city center from the contemporary one, the massive buildings housing the criminal justice system, the fantastic new Grand Park that – though activated during the day – sits empty at night, bereft of local residential users; even further is the area around the LA River, once the source of water & food for the city, now paved in concrete. These are the obvious imbalances; a more in-depth study by Urban Macrosystems will surely uncover many more.

Once the imbalances have been identified, Urban Macrosystems will develop a new narrative that takes the received history but then augments it, drawing from its analysis to formulate a vision for the future. If the story of a city is the narrative linking specific event – interactions, really – to a place, the new narrative might incorporate previously unknown interactions uncovered during analysis – or dreams of future ones. From this Urban Macrosystems will layout a comprehensive plan, attempting to reconcile imbalance throughout the subject area & implement a deeper sustainability with a few simple & bold proposals that hope to bring energy, excitement – & jobs – to the vital yet neglected heart of LA. The goal would to be to have a strong enough vision to attract the right blend of curious & enterprising minds to create the next great economy for this city, right here, in the heart of Los Angeles.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

Urban Macrosystems’ partners have collaborated on several projects prior to its inception:

MultipliCity – A public art demonstration project for the Los Angeles County MTA, 2000-2003

Canal du Rhone au Rhin, a Masterplan for Art, Saint Symphorien, France, 2004

Mission Central Market, South Pasadena 2004

Bug Screen – A Sculpture in Celebrezze Plaza, Cleveland, 2007

After the city, this (is how we live). – A Pamphlet published by the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, 2008

Toluca Lake Executive Building, Burbank, 2009

Wind Thing – A Sculpture at the W-Hollywood, 2011

Woven Walk – A sculpture for LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal, 2013

Birds Words – A series of structures for the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan, San Diego 2014

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Tom Marble, Architect + Urbanist – Marbletecture

Pae White, Artist -- Pae White Studio

Jeff Chapman, Director – Los Angeles Audubon Urban Nature Center

Juliette Bellocq, Graphic Designer – Handbuilt Studios

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

La Placita Nueva will have a series of successes, milestones on the way to full implementation. The first milestone will be as the analysis is completed and the findings begin to appear on the Urban Macrosystems website; once the design is completed, the next milestone would be to present the proposals to both the Los Angeles City Council and the LA County Board of Supervisors. Once the design is embraced by civic leaders and the business community, the next major milestone would be when the next economy – whatever that might be – springs up directly from this context. The final success milestone will be when La Placita Nueva has truly become the vital, vibrant heart of the city once again.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Narrative Replacement Therapy for La Placita Nueva will benefit Los Angeles by restoring its historic core, both physically and emotionally. Building off renewed interest in Downtown LA, Grand Park, and the growing transit system based at Union Station, the one-kilometer circle that is the subject area will unite everything from the LA River up to the Music Center, from Little Tokyo to Chinatown through a comprehensive masterplan to draw tourists, new residents, and new economies to the vibrant heart of the city.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Success of La Placita Nueva in 2050 would be to have the story of Los Angeles legible in architecture and infrastructure, familiar to everyone and embraced by all – a new narrative in place having arisen directly from its context; a new economy firmly established; and La Placita Nueva restored as the heart of Los Angeles for all Angelenos.