The High Line

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The High Line. Definitely one of the memorable and enjoyable experiences from this trip.

For starters, imagine an old, elevated rail line (hence the name “High Line") situated amidst a dreary warehouse district. Then, imagine it repurposed into a park, skillfully decorated with beautiful contemporary landscaping and adorned with chic flowers and ornamentation that provides for a wild, unkempt look. Throw in bold, almost surreal contemporary architecture and voila! The result is a tranquil, almost idyllic city space for all.

The park, a lofty redevelopment of an abandoned rail line that once serviced the myriad meatpacking plants in the area, was executed almost flawlessly. In fact, the end-result is so good that I’d vouch it’s a “must-visit” for anybody visiting NYC. Impressive, to say the least, the crowded sideways where freight and cargo once rolled are now bedecked in beautifully-manicured grasses and fauna with ambient lights; sleek modernist benches on wheels; and futuristic, Blade Runner-esque violet underpass lighting.

Other cool features include cantilevered glass observation decks /amphitheater over 10th Ave and the seamless re-working and adaptation of the previous infrastructure into the finished product. Ridged cement and exotic fauna and flora, such as rare Amazonian woods, smoke trees, clump-forming grasses, various birches, and even preexisting weeds and plants all add to this effect. Furthermore, in a time where many city parks have fallen under the grip to unsightly and rude homeless beggars and have merely become places for dogs to relieve themselves (I’m talking to you, Pershing Square), the HL stands out for such is not only absent, but seemingly forbidden.

IMO, it’s not only one of the better public spaces, but is also an equally good juxtaposition between the natural and man-made realms. Nestled on the extreme west side of Manhattan, amongst a former meatpacking district (recently christened “MePa”) and one of the country’s most prominent gay ghettos, Chelsea, the park serves as an oasis in the concrete jungle by softening its harsh urban surroundings. This lovely interpretation of a derelict property leads me to believe that there really is some truth to the statement that at some point in time, “everything that is old becomes new again.” Seriously, who would have thought an old, abandoned elevated railroad would have survived the building demolition pogroms of the post-war era, let alone be redeveloped and given a new lease on life? (and into something nice, at that).

All hail to the High Line, for it is no doubt a grand matrimony between the old and the new, thus by default, also a triumph in 21st century urban planning. Yes indeed.

Reasons to love NY

Sunday, January 24, 2010

As of late, amidst a super demanding school-related schedule, there is one thing I’ve been finding time to do or at least trying to: travel. Though, as a result of both my sometimes overly ambitious – and frugal – nature, most are under some stage of dreaming and have yet to been realized, but that’s not to say a few slipped through the cracks and have actually been realized. Fortunately, the most recent example of the latter was only a few days ago: a 4-day trip to New York City.

Better known as the Da Rotten Apple to me, it’s the real deal and is the mother, be-all-and-end-all of American cities. It is without doubt the country’s culture and financial capital, and also its most vibrant city. Being the center of so many things, and through the wonders of popular mass media and entertainment, NYC has been permanently engrained into my DNA and fabric (and many others, I’m sure) as the rightful home of many things. Included are some of which I treasure and value dearly, like urban culture and planning, along with various dining and fashion trends. Much like LA, immortalization thanks to song and film (Friends, Sex and The City, Seinfeld, The Cosby Show, CSI & Law and Order, Gossip Girl, but also places like Broadway, and things like Mafias, to name a few) has resulted in a highly iconic city with an image and brand visible and influential the world over.

In complete honesty, it’s always been a place I’ve loved. As a self-professed connoisseur of fine urbanity, grit, mass transit, as well as an amateur sociologist, it’s uh, kind of hard not to be, to say the least. This is, afterall, the place that romanticized (now contemptuous) the name “The City.” The zenith, the King Kong of American urbanity, it is the standard to which others are held up to against. And even aside from the urban perspective, it’s a place where I have quite a few friends and contacts, something that alone makes it worth visiting.

Unsurprisingly I did there pretty much the same things I do here: document (or at least try to) through photography my unvarnished account of a fast-paced city that eludes and defies description. My primary subjects order include the hyper-diverse crowd of people, the opulence found in the architectural details all over the city and of course, the sometimes inarticulable “big-city” feel. Like anywhere else I go, this includes exploring the city’s many neighborhoods, for they are the true backbone of any one place.

In my opinion, in this country, NYC is the KING of neighborhoods in this country! Nobody even comes close, even if you go by in terms of sheer variety and number. What makes it special is that they are all different; legendary neighborhoods that have come to embody and stand for a variety of things. A few comes to mind: ghetto life in America (Harlem, Bed-Stuy and the South Bronx); gayborhoods and bastions of pride and advocacy (The Village and Chelsea); historically important immigrant hubs and centers for their literature and cultural lore, hipsterdom and fashion (the Lower East Side, Williamsburg, and SoHo, respectively). These places just ooze with character. And in short, these are the kind of places whose mere names are juicy enough to provoke discussion, and at the least, force you to hold some kind of opinion on them.

The only thing more important than the places where the people live is, of course, the people themselves, of which NYC has plenty of. And when I mean people, I literally mean it..and from any and every stripe and walk of life, too. To give one an example of the sheer breadth of diversity here, pick up a phone and call the city’s phone number, where you can ask when scheduled garbage pickup is, or request the hours for afterschool park programs are, in a whopping 176 different languages. Lest we forget that a zip-code in queens is the most diverse of such in the entire country.

In all seriousness, this city is the true definition of a melting pot. Aside from homogeneous, upper-class enclaves that occupy the bulk of middle and lower Manhattan, the city was, well, like the UN. Gritty-looking, working class Polish in Greenpoint; industrious, hard-working Mexicans in Bushwick, Sunset Park, East Harlem and Mott Haven; Chinese immigrants, of which many speak disparate languages, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, but also new ones in Brooklyn (Sunset Park) and Queens (Flushing); Afro-Latinos (Dominicans and Puerto Ricans) speaking fiery, rapid Spanish in Manhattan’s uptown, but also much of the South and West Bronx; Fresh off the boat, Orthodox Jewish Russians and Ukrainians in deep southern Brooklyn; and the Amish of NYC: non-inclusionary, reserved Hasidic Jews that can’t stand us filthy goys and aim to practice pure, “untainted” Orthodox Judaism. And if you thought that was dizzying, good luck, ‘cuz it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

For me, no trip there is complete without me having furthered my knowledge of the city’s quite significant and culinary world. Ahh, New York, the fabled land of hot dogs, pizza, kosher deli’s, steakhouses, bagels and cheesecake. With everything from street vendors hawking anything from hot dogs to Middle Eastern halal food, to haute fusion creations; to timeless no-frills pizzerias and deli’s; to perennially classy steakhouses; to a mind-blowing variety of ethnic eats; to super high-end, avant garde contemporary dining, NYC is a food lover’s dream come true.

How can one not love the culinary scene there? And if there is one place where diversity of the city truly shines, it’s in the sheer wealth of different ethnic foods available: Turkic-influenced Islamic Chinese eateries from the country’s interior west, Albanian-owned Italian pizzerias (which are DELICIOUS!); hearty Colombian arepas stuffed with potatoes, cheese and various ground meats; tantalizing East Village Moroccan restaurants whose interiors are done in relaxing hues of red & have sumptuous deep, carpet-esque rugs; juicy Dominican rotisserie chickens basted in and redolent of garlic and lime; face-melting Indian curries at Hindu Temples; and trendy, Senegalese-accented French bistro fare -- you name it, and chances are NY has it.

Furthermore, while I’m on the topic of cities, it’s worth mentioning that the city is home to a collage of architectural styles. While there I saw many styles, including several of which the city is undoubtedly the grand-daddy of: the 5-story walkup; the 4-family brownstone and carriage house; the immigrant tenement; towering, monolithic, drab, communist-esque public housing projects; and skyscrapers of art deco, beaux arts, modern, international and contemporary styles. Other parts, like where I stayed in Bushwick are characterized by hulking industrial warehouses and factories, many of which have been converted into lofts or artist work spaces. Lower Manhattan, for example, is awash in dramatic office towers and residences, donning all sorts of geometric forms and fragmented facades. While in Brooklyn, rows of brownstones scale many styles (including Victorian Gothic, Romanesque, and Italianate styles and influences) and sit on quiet, tree-lined streets devoid of the frenetic crowds found across the river.

There are also some other things there that I hope to compare and contrast with their counterparts here in Los Angeles. The neighborhoods, along with the types of people living there; the array of cuisines offered; and my favorite, the rampant gentrification. Additionally, I’ll write about my impressions on the transit, urban planning, but also what Los Angeles could learn from NYC. That’s all to come at a later date, though. Stay fly; I love you, NY.

South LA Intro

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

..South LA. Possibly the least understood and most stereotyped region of LA.

Home to several infamous neighborhoods, including, among others, Compton, “South Central,” Watts, and Crenshaw, it has come to be emblematic of American inner-city disarray. Paradoxically enough, I find the general area to be one of the city’s most fascinating and most overlooked. In order to get a better feel and to broaden my scope of the area, I’ve made numerous bike rides to the area over the course of the past few months. In doing so, I’ve found that if you’re willing to dig beneath, and eschew the overly-simplified and exaggerated generalizations of the area commonly portrayed by the media, you’ll find a highly underrated area, with killer architecture, real people and a vibe not found elsewhere.

Vastly maligned, the area is one of the city’s most important, with it not only hosting a large swath of the city’s population, but of the area proper. More importantly however, is it played a major role in LA’s cultural scene, having made fundamental contributions to the city’s image and popularity. A handful of things come to mind, most notably those of the “urban” genre, with gangsta culture and music being perhaps the most visible. Though, to me, South LA represents and stands for things altogether different.

Architecturally-wise, it’s more or less like the rest of the city: extremely hit or miss, with no real defined cohesion. Comprised mainly of low-slung, 1-story houses, in Modern and other, post-WW2 styles; these tend to appear in greater abundance to further south you work go (Slauson seems to be the big N/S dividing line). Conversely, significant quantities of bungalows in the form of Spanish and Craftsman styles, too, exist – especially the closer to the 10 you are (King and up is a lovely). The latter culminates in the jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring mansions found in places like
West Adams, which, built for oil barons, actors and railroad magnates, represented the ultimate in Angelino opulence.

Of particular interest to me is what might just be LA’s most underrated neighborhood. Leimert Park. Yup. I have no clue why it isn’t a citywide hotspot right now, though, to be honest, I’d actually like to keep it that way. For one, it has one of the best collections of architecture ANYWHERE in the city, with lovely, intact rows of 2-story 1920s Spanish Revival duplexes and Art-Deco Moderne/Streamline apartment blocks. Lots of lush, tree-lined streets (Google streetview Degnan, 42nd St, Leimert, 8th Ave and Stocker, to name a few), the result of its well though-out and executed 1930s Olmstead Brothers master planning. Additionally, It has wonderful appeal and charm, and thanks to its stable, middle class black population, is not only well-kept, but was spared “urban renewal.”

And what would a blog post on South LA be without the wonderful – even if decidedly unhealthy – grub to be found in the area? Master Burger, Johnny’s Pastrami, Harold and Belle’s, La Taquiza, the Jamaican place in Leimert (Ackee Bamboo),M&M’s Soul Food, and the many, myriad BBQ places found in the area (Woody’s, Phillips, etc) are all stellar. Beware of the BBQ places, as they charge ridiculous prices knowing their captive clientele will never leave them. The only downside is riding you bike down a street like Adams and ending up smelling like catfish due to the preponderance of fish fries/markets on the street!

If anything, I feel that the area is, unequivocally, the “realest” in LA, even if simply because most of the non-superficial coastal attributes and features associated with the city were born out of this area. The “most” LA, if you will. Going by aesthetics and appearance alone the palm-tree lined streets, wood-frame architecture, its unique holy trinity of storefront churches – auto body shops – liquor stores, the asphalt/freeways and endless donut/hamburger stands are, in my opinion, about as LA as it gets. As stated before, it’s often misunderstood, and to the first-time outsider, it can even be unwelcoming.

However, if you’re willing to look over its seedy reputation, and check it out for yourself – with your own 2 eyes – you’ll quickly find it out is, in this day in age, a true diamond in the rough. Hurry up, though..on the heels of several crafty neighborhoods name changes (to make the area more palatable to newcomers), and with the property-hungry USC on the move, a new rail line opening this year, and yuppies fleeing exorbitant the rents north of the 10, it might not stay this way for long.

80 Degrees

Monday, January 4, 2010

It's always sunny in Southern California.

Broadway Dec '09

Sunday, January 3, 2010