Los Angeles Urbanism and Urban Landscape Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 30 November 2016

Los Angeles Urbanism and Urban Landscape

Development and population movements begin and end in the city centers. It is in the city centers that various activities and concentrations of high degrees of social and economic communications and interactions converge. In fact, the city center is often a city’s historical core, susceptible to a series of major transformations in the process development. This space in the city symbolizes the dynamic and intensive congregation of diverse people interacting to satisfy varying needs and demands.

However, the city center exists as an integral part of a broader urban system, which provides a context in understanding the characteristics and changes in the city center. At the same time the city center, as the hub of new ideas, influence developments in the broader urban system. Through the processes and systems of the city center, it can significantly influence urban structures and development perspectives. The transformation of a city starts and builds momentum in its city center because it is at the core of the city that changes often emerge to spread throughout the city’s periphery.

Studying the urbanism and urban landscape of cities would reflect the manner and extent that city centers influenced the development of the cities of today. Los Angeles is a non-conventional city because it has more than one city center. This makes the exploration of the impact of city centers on the development of a city of significant interest. While a city center highly influences the urban landscape of a city, the existence of a number of city centers would mean greater diverse intersecting influences on the city’s urban landscape.

The discussion focuses on the urbanism of Los Angeles as expressed through the periods of change in its urban landscape, based on the interrelationships of history, people, economy, and politics; and expressed through development, planning and structures, culminating into how Los Angeles looks and feels today. Periods of Urbanism & Changes in the Urban Landscape of Los Angeles Los Angeles, as it is today, is the result of a series of historical, socio-economic and political developments expressed through structures as artifacts of the resulting urban landscape.

There are five distinct periods in the urbanization of Los Angeles. The distinguishing factors of these periods are the key changes in the patterns of social life and key developments in the structural landscape of the city centers and the city itself. Development Period (1870-1900) The pattern of growth of Los Angeles was not from the creation and spread of a city center but through the simultaneous developments of different ranch communities.

After California became an American state and Los Angeles incorporated as a city in 1850, massive migration occurred from the Midwest to make Los Angeles a majority Anglo territory, albeit there were Mexicans, American Indians, and even Chinese already forming part of the multicultural population . Economic activity revolved around the ranches that sprouted in three areas defined by the geographic landscape, which are beach areas, foothills and mountain ranges, and the plains .

These geographic landscapes determined the varying development of these areas since the beach areas meant reliance on fishing and other water-based industries, the rich plains meant strong agricultural outputs, and the mountain ranges supported cattle herding, logging, and mining. The rise and fall of these economic bases depending on factors such as weather, socio-cultural issues, economic conditions, and political situations determined the direction and pace of development of these areas on which the city centers of Los Angeles formed.

Economic opportunities in Los Angeles led to the massive migration of Chinese, Japanese and Mexican laborers into the city. The population grew from 20,000 in 1870 to 230,000 in just a decade. The great number of Chinese immigrants led to the establishment of China Towns contiguous the major ranches, which became the economic centers. The interaction of different cultures due to close proximity resulted in racial conflicts as exemplified by the massacre of twenty Chinese individuals in 1871. Competition for work and threat of encroachment into an urban space that is becoming smaller through the influx of people caused racial issues.

There was need for development to keep up and accommodate the needs of the growing population. The surge in urbanization of these areas commenced during the 1880s and continued for two decades when the federal government subsidized the development of the ports in Los Angeles, railroads, roads, aqueducts and reservoirs, and other key facilities such as schools and hospitals. Prior to and during these periods, the federal government with the help of city officials also continued surveying lands and allocated these for public and private use.

The allocation of land to the private sector established close public-private partnership that directed the areas for development and provided the local support for the various infrastructure projects that would serve both the private and public sector. The federal government then played an important role in spurring the urban development of Los Angeles. During these two decades, the structural landscape of Los Angeles involved the establishment of households around the key facilities such as roads and railroad or along the waterways. There were buildings for school and hospitals.

Business was also thriving due to economic growth resulting to the establishment of structures for commerce and leisure. The emerging communities were also organized according to racial background as with the China Town for the Chinese and the Latino communities for the Mexicans. However, these structural changes were happening at the different city centers independently and these city centers do not necessarily have close ties. As such, this period expressed fragmentation. Progressive Era & Roaring Twenties (1900-1920s) The end of the period of development came about in the mid-1890s due to the economic depression.

This led to the realization that relying primarily on agriculture and real estate development as the major economic activities was not sufficient to support continuous urban development. Promoters or prospectors of Los Angeles from the government and the private sector looked at industrialization, with manufacturing as the more sustainable economic base. It was during the 1920s that Los Angeles experienced growth from its manufacturing sector . During this time, the petroleum industry experienced major breakthroughs in search of black gold.

Rise in production led to the growth of petroleum processing firms or refineries. The petroleum industry financed motion pictures leading to the establishment of Los Angeles as the leader in the production of movies. Hollywood developed as early as 1910 but it was during the 1920s that motion production rapidly increased and eighty percent of motion pictures shown worldwide came from Hollywood . In addition to petroleum production, other manufacturing industries also emerged in Los Angeles. The aircraft manufacturing industry developed through the pioneering efforts of the Lockheed brothers and Donald Douglas.

Expansions of the ports in Long Beach and San Pedro also supported the growth in commerce and trade with products coming in and going out of Los Angeles. These economic developments paved the way for further changes in the urban landscape of Los Angeles. The renewed economic growth led to the further migration of Mexican laborers into Los Angeles together with Chinese and Japanese immigrants. The massive flow of workers made Mexicans the largest non-Anglo group in Los Angeles. The larger population of non-Anglo groups in Los Angeles made the city more culturally and racially diverse than other cities in other regions of America.

At this time, the population reached 1. 24 million . Diverse cultural influences affected the development planning and structures of Los Angeles. The factor that truly incorporated Los Angeles was the boom in automobile use , with massive consumption supported by the petroleum and other industries. During the 1920s, Los Angeles was the top city in terms of car ownership and registration. The development of roads interlinked the various city centers within Los Angeles, which at this time already numbered forty. The new city centers were formerly small communities that developed from the discovery of petroleum reserves.

Concurrent, with the integration of Los Angeles as a city, its massive thirty-two story city hall was erected in 1928. It symbolized the integration of the different city centers as key contributors to the development of Los Angeles. Urban planning revolved around the city hall as the hub. Nevertheless, the different city centers continued to pursue different paths of development expressing the persistence of fragmentation . Concurrently, Los Angeles started to experience problems in traffic and parking. The influx of people also created the problem of urban space resulting to the expansion of land development outward.

This led to the development of communities in San Fernando Valley towards the north and lands near San Pedro port towards the south. In the city centers, development looked upwards to create space leading to the construction of taller buildings for residential and business purposes. Emerging social problems also spurred the rise in leftist politics that challenged the current direction of development. The challenges were intensified by the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. Period of Renewed Metropolitan Development (1930s-1950s)

The developments during this period were in response to the Great Depression as well as the accumulating problems experienced by Los Angeles, particularly traffic and parking with more cars bought and population congestion with massive influx of people even during the economic downturn, although at a lower rate than during the roaring twenties. The solution to the Great Depression was to boost further industrialization via incentives for business growth. During the 1930s, the local government set out to develop and control its own electric and water companies. The price of electricity was relatively lower when compared to other major cities.

The development of the city’s own water supply also eased the difficulties experienced by the labor force, resulting to a less leftist relationship with companies. These incentives led to the establishment of other industries such as rubber and tire manufacturing and iron and steel production in the 1940s, also partly in response to the demands of the Second World War. The aviation industry also experienced further growth. Many manufacturing plants were built in the city centers and fringes of Los Angeles as 479 new manufacturing plants were added to the already one thousand existing ones.

The rise in new industries alleviated the declining socio-economic conditions of the growing population of workers. The solution to population congestion in the city centers was to build outwards and upwards. During the 1930s, there remained enough land space, comprising fifty percent of surveyed jurisdiction of Los Angeles but these lands were in the fringes and undeveloped. Residential areas were built in the eastern and southern areas of Los Angeles primarily to cater to the working class. Communities such as Beldevere, Maywood and South Gate emerged.

The houses were usually one to two stories with large lawns and steep inclines relative to road built on mountainous areas. In the city centers, residential buildings, which are modest in height, also emerged; but scattered across different areas unlike the rows of apartment building that emerged in other major cities. These parallel developments led to different directions of development in downtown Los Angeles and the primarily residential suburbs. The solution to traffic and parking was initially the regulation of parking areas and time but this did not alleviate the problem .

The private sector was left to provide solutions to this problem, which resulted in scattered and piecemeal responses from the business sector. Surface parking lots emerged by demolishing small and old buildings. Then multi-story parking lots also emerged. Basement parking garage of department stores accessible directly through the elevators also formed part of the solution. More and more, the perks of buildings and competitiveness of establishments were in response to the demand for parking, particularly the contiguous location to parking amenities.

In the case of department stores, hotels and other business establishments, there were frequent movements to new locations, further away from downtown, in response to the traffic and parking problems since customers prefer stores close or with parking spaces. As such, the business and commercial center stretched to cover a wide area unlike the closely packed business and commercial center in other cities. Restructuring Era (1960s-1990s) Economic growth in the manufacturing sector continued in the 1960s up to the late 1980s.

The growth in manufacturing was due to the inflow of military or security related contracts due to the Cold War. Aviation, tire manufacturing, and car production industries remained key industries. In addition, new industries, particularly garments manufacturing also emerged with the flow of overseas, mainly Asian capital into Los Angeles. The ports of Los Angeles also comprised a convenient incentive for merchants or traders. In comparison, while the economies of Chicago and New York de-industrialized in the 1970s, the economy of Los Angeles continued to grow.

The economic growth led to the further growth in population, which now reached 8. 5 million in the 1980s. However, towards the end of the 1980s, manufacturing slowed down due to the withdrawal of security-related contracts with the end of the Cold War. Federal spending on security decreased or shifted to other priorities. This led to the significant rise in unemployment. In 1992, the extent of the problem found expression in the riots of laborers, since the fragmentation of manufacturing opportunities also weakened unionization.

Nevertheless, the services sector providing white-collar jobs remained strong. This led to the socio-economic divide with racial underpinnings. Most of the laborers were Mexicans, Asians and Blacks while most of the white-collar workers were Whites. The urbanization of Los Angeles involved two aspects, one is continued economic growth and the other is fragmentation of socio-economic class. This led to the restructuring of the city. The rise in the services sector and the development of the technology-based industries led to a different path in urban landscape.

More architectural infrastructures emerged displaying advancements in both art and technology while the restoration of old architectural works expressed the developments in urbanization of Los Angeles . However, fragmentation was apparent in the development that centered only on certain areas such as the business and commercial centers while the residential areas surrounding these developed areas, which minority groups primarily populate, remained unchanged and continued to deteriorate. In the suburban areas, two streams of development emerged.

On one hand, the established residential communities retained the historical look of low buildings with wide lawns and the white picket fences. On the other hand, newly established communities expressed the new trends in artistic and architectural designs to express a diverse visualization of structures captured in the term edge city . Modern Period (2000-Present) The modern Los Angeles is a diverse and fragmented metropolis. While the urban landscape has changed, diversity and fragmentation remained the static characteristics of Los Angeles.

Diversity finds expression from the fusion of different cultures starker in the city than in other major cities. The interaction between cultures affects the psyche of urban society and finds reflection in the fragmentation of its urban landscape. In addition, the diversification of economic base of Los Angeles from agriculture to manufacturing to services has an impact on the diversification of the activities and movements of people reflected in structures. Even fragmentation is diverse and multi-tiered. One reflection of fragmentation is the layering of the population of Los Angeles based on socio-economic class, which continues to widen.

Another reflection of fragmentation is the classification of Los Angeles into four distinct ecologies, each representing different social networks and diverse infrastructures. The first ecology is surfurbia, which refers to the beach areas expressing the more laidback aspect of Los Angeles. The beaches developed into high-end communities of private residences and exclusive resorts as well as open beaches linked to hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, and other commercial shops catering to both locals and tourists.

The second ecology is the foothills, primarily consisting of residential areas reflecting the fragmentation into traditional and modern structures. On one hand, the older communities in the foothills reflected the traditional monotony of similar looking houses. On the other hand, the new communities reflected variances in architectural design. The third ecology is the plains of id, comprised of residential areas also reflecting the fragmentation between the old and the new, patches of agricultural land, and some remnants of the manufacturing factories.

The fourth ecology is the autopia characterized by the mechanized features of the city including its interconnected roads and freeways. However, fragmentation is not only in terms of ecological space but also of the perspectives of the residents of Los Angeles, explained through the concept of social fragmentation and the widening cultural gap. In addition, the common experience of fragmentation and changes in economic structure created networked co-dependence among these four ecosystems with employment centered in the sufurbia, plains and autopia but expansion in real estate concentrated in the plains and foothills.

The intersection of people between these ecologies increased. As such, the building of infrastructures no longer sufficed as catalysts of development because of the need to consider the impact on other ecologies and the need to address the deeper issues of socio-economic fragmentation and cultural gap. The focus of urban planning started to move from decentralization dependent on the private sector to centralization, under the management of the local government. Conclusion The urbanism of Los Angeles shows the manner that four city centers evolved into distinct ecologies to create the diversification and fragmentation of Los Angeles.

These city centers also dramatically transformed the urban landscape of Los Angeles in a manner that maintained diversity and fragmentation. The moving force of these city centers are the changing activities and dynamics of people in response to natural and manmade challenges. However, Los Angeles never ceased to change and it continues to experience rapid change, particularly moving towards the growing co-dependence between the city centers due to socio-cultural, economic, political and environmental challenges requiring greater centralization in urban planning. With this current trend, Los Angeles would experience another period of urban renewal and restructuring in the future.


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Edge City: Life on the New Frontier. New York: Random House, Inc. , 1992. Gottlieb, Robert, Mark Vallianatos, Regina Freer and Peter Dreier. The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2005. Longstreth, Richard. City Center to Regional Mall: Architecture, the Automobile, and Retailing in Los Angeles, 1920-1950. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997. Mitkovic, Petar and Milena Dinic. “City Center Organization and its Influence on the City Structure. ” Architecture and Civil Engineering 3(2004): 41-56. Scott, Allen.

“Resurgent Metropolis: Economy, Society and Urbanization in an Interconnected World. ” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 32(2008):548-564. Scott, Allen and Edward Soja. The City: Los Angeles and Urban Theory at the End of the Twentieth Century. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1998. Sitton, Tom and William Deverell. Metropolis in the Making: Los Angeles in the 1920s. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2001. Varnelis, Kazys. The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles. New York: Actar, 2008.

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