Saturday, October 6, 2007

Behind Closed Doors

A couple years ago the Los Angeles Times had an article in its magazine section about how more and more self-centered Angeleno types were planting un-see-through-able shrubs around their houses, presumably to facilitate nude sunbathing or front-yard drug use. And the Times writer, as best I can recall, took the position that this was a bad thing, that this would tear down the fabric of street life and make us all strangers to each other.

(I think this is the article. This is along the same lines.)

I think about that article a lot, late at night when I'm walking through the streets of Los Angeles. Mostly, it kind of bothers me.

I hate that "it's the end of the world" attitude among Los Angeles architectural critics. They have in their heads, I think, some kind of monster created by the spawn of the Utne Reader and Sunset magazine, and when the city strays from that dual image and its pitchers of mojitos on the front porch of a green communal compound in the hills, they think it's all going to hell.

It's the kind of thing that it's easy to think here. Los Angeles is a weirdo city, giving the illusion of space and sun enough for all your most benign dreams. Buy property at the right moment and before you know it you're a guerilla filmmaker with a vintage car.

But at the end of the day it's just a city, and some of us wind up in the hills in our compounds and some of us wind up in the flatlands, and we're all happy and unhappy in our various ways and while I am a firm believer in the idea that architecture and space can affect your mood I don't want to take that too far.

I also kind of feel that these people are barking up the wrong tree. If the hedges make you feel so closed off in your own neighborhood, there are always shopping centers and carparks. There's the bus if you want to look your co-residents square in the face. Who doesn't dream off a life of porches and neighborhood gossip -- but it's not always available, like so many things that we dream of.

And then, finally, last but not least, I like walking through the city streets lined with hedges. You try to peer through; it feels menacing and glamorous; you don't know what's happening back there; you never will.

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