Friday, May 20, 2005

Tony V. and Noir City

Important readers at highwayscribery have upbraided the scribe for not writing more about the election of Antonio Villaraigosa as mayor. I did congratulate L.A. for electing its first progressive leader in many decades (“About Robert Sheckley” May 18), but the excitement hadn’t really touch the scribe’s soul.

It can be pretty discouraging voting in all these stolen elections preceded by crappy campaigns without ideas. the scribe has to admit he’d tuned out of the race this time, guarding his feelings, wary that Tony V. - as a scribe at the “L.A. Weekly” called him - would get ripped off in the end.

Mr. and Mrs. Scribe, usually conscientious voters, headed off to the polls at the last minute and without much passion. This morning Mr. Scribe said to Mrs. Scribe, “You know boo-boo, that’s the first time in years we voted for someone who actually one.”

Today’s press was worldwide and the election has turned out to be pretty darn momentous. Some are saying L.A., of all places, is now the heart and soul of progressive America, which only goes to show that, if you live long enough, you see just about everything.

After Jim Hahn beat Tony V. four years ago by insinuating he was a crack dealer (or something like that), the candidate went to work in the real world, decided he didn’t like it, and got himself elected to the L.A. City Council. Some guys have all the luck.

In an interview with a downtown publications called “L.A. Garment and Citizen,” put out by the inimitable J.L. Sullivan, Tony V. was a planner’s dream with his call for an “urban village” connected by mass transit, more residential units in the historic core, and more green spaces to soften the urban experience.

Among other things he said, “I want to put together a group of planners, architects, thinkers and really figure out what we could do along Broadway.”

the scribe responded by writing the new city councilman about his concept of Noir City. After being rejected for a series of fellowships to develop this idea, the scribe has begun to intermittently pen a book on the concept in the wee hours of morn and/or eve.

Here’s the letter. The idea has been refined with research and the introduction of more other, similar workings throughout the labor movement and progressive planning fields. The jist remains the same. Who knows. For a few weeks in L.A. perhaps anything will seem possible!

August 17, 2003 650 South Sweetzer Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90048

The Honorable Antonio Villaraigosa
City Councilman
200 N. Spring Street
Room 425
Los Angeles CA 90012

Dear Councilman Villaraigosa,

I read in J.L. Sullivan’s Los Angeles Garment & Citizen that you were looking for some urban thinkers to begin a process of making downtown the best it can possibly be.

I was managing editor of the L.A. Downtown News for a productive, if short, period and forwarded the concept of “Noir City” in an effort to combat some of the more sterile proposals floating around (I also wrote the prescient piece on the “Three Latinos”).

I’ve enclosed the primary essay, composed between myself and Jose Perez de Lama, an architecture professor at University of Seville. There are also some follow-up pieces demonstrating how we linked the concept/critique to different things going on downtown at the time.

I can summarize it as a polishing up of the old “noir” presence that was so much a part of early filmmaking and brand it, in a marketing sense, as the local style. This doesn’t give downtown a bastardized identity, it recuperates an authentic golden era lying beneath the grime. The building stock, the theaters, the gritty urban atmosphere are all there.

I later refined the concept politically to fit a proposition for future unionism in a book proposal to the New America Fellowship, but I understand Gregory Rodriguez got it.

The proposal involving unions fits nicely in your district because downtown has considerable productive capacity – more than most. My idea is encouraging unionization, creating a stable workforce and putting them in the buildings they help renovate or clean every night, rather than trying to lure 28 year-olds with the promise of a coffee shop.

The people that live downtown should stay there, work on and enjoy the improvement of their environment. This is popular politics that engages the base.

I understand you have a background in labor and not only the ability, but the willingness, to grasp a concept such as this. That’s why I voted twice for you back in 2001 and that’s why I’m writing you now. Mr. Perez de Lama lives in Spain, but assures me he would vote for you if the law permitted.

In exchange for the political help, the unions become primary community mechanisms committing to bookstores, schools, medical centers, distribution programs, radio stations so that their money is put into action instead of bureaucracy. It will be good for local unions and will strengthen the progressive base for a generation.

In exchange for the union presence, businesses are taxed when they leave and made welcome to stay with a simple, stable revenue code, some crisis loan funds, and seed money for those demonstrating growth potential. The geographical intimacy and constancy of a downtown revitalized would better define the community and make business people a part of something more cohesive than a simple work destination.

If this sounds like making downtown a 1930s city, well, it is a 1930s city, a neglected one.

We could make it a millennium city, but that would be like starting from zero and infinitely more costly. Noir City remembers the past, capitalizes on downtown’s growing cultural muscle, and harnesses the industrial core into a common project.

At the time of its propagation people responded with interest to the idea. We hoped Sue Laris would move into one of Tom Gilmore’s buildings and help launch a sweeping Noir City renaissance with challenges to downtown fashion designers, requests of its corporate denizens, and programs for its theater groups. Instead I got fired, which was to be expected, but the idea lives on and grows.

the highway scribe

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