MAK Center for Art and Architecture-Urban Future Initiative Fellowship, Los Angeles.

Public Presentation, June 4, 2008, at the Schindler House, North Kings Road, Los Angeles.

By Marco Kusumawijaya

(Fellow, April 4 – June 4, 2008)

I want to thank MAK Center for this event and the whole process of my fellowship and residency.

I would like to thank Peter Noever (Director of MAK Museum of Aplied Arts/Contemporary Architecture, Vienna) and Kimberli Meyer (Director of MAK Center, LA) (I will always remember the nice welcoming letter and books that I received on my arrival day, sent directly from Vienn). (I will always remember Kimberli Meyer’s generous leardeship to make the most benefits available to me and other fellows.)

I want to thank the jury that selected me for the fellowship. I thank also all MAK’s staff: Alaine Azcona, Suzy Halajian, Mary Moore, Amy Brett, Angelica Fuentes, and OmarVelazquez. Without their helps, I could not have possibly enjoyed the fellowship and LA. I have seen they worked with amazing integrity and dedication. I really salute them.

I am very grateful for the exciting, lively meetings witth scholars, artists, neighbours and activists that MAK center and its staff and friends have miraculously put together by the 7 magnificent persons in MAK Center. (They really work like Seven Samurai’s)

(We have 17 persons in Jakarta Arts Council. But we might do only 17 % of what you guys are doing here with the 7 of you at Mak Center. We will see, regretfully, that actually energy-intensity in the economies of most developing countries are actually higher than those of developed countries. Indonesian Energy Intensity is four times the Japanese. Being poor makes us frugal, by necessity, but not necessarily effcient!)

Special thanks must go to Russ Leland, for making the Fitzpatrick-Leland House a home for me and other fellows.

And thanks to my neighbours up there on the hill: Mary Margaret, the Fairchilds, Leslie, Mark, and others.

For a full two months I have met so many inspiring people, the creative constituents of LA : artists, activists, scholars, writers,  and neighbours! Most of them, you, are here. I am honored by your presence and find it so endearing. I wish we could meet at least twice as much and many times than we have had.The way I see it, you are Los Angeles. You live and enliven the city.. In James Rojas of Latino Urban Forum’s words, you enact the city.  You CREATE the place, out of the city. It is the meetings with you that have shaped the very core of my fellowship, and it is the meetings with you that shaped my concluding belief that CHANGE towards sustainability is possible and simply there. With your inspiration, we actually have the ideas for ways, will, knowledge and know-how,  and that belief  is a very important take-home for me. I want to thank you all without mentioning your name one by one for obvious reason of space and time.

I really need, to mention two persons, though. Linda Pollack has practically adopted me into LA, driving all over the places. And Prof. Victoria Beard, who speaks excellent Indonesian with even less accent than I have (as I grew up in the Malay World, whose language is not exactly the official Indonesian, while she learned Indonesian language in Jogjakarta city in central Java, the unofficial center of Indonesia. I have had to go to the same city in Java, only to do my highschool education, coming from an island, just one among the 17,000 islands in the margin,  reflecting the centripetal  relationhip to the center in Indonesian social cultural and political geography. We had just freed ourself from the centrialistic regime, but much still to be done to really appreciate and develop the full potential of Indonesian diversity. )I mentioned this because it pertains to my not-so-good feeling about “center”, be it in the form of downtown or mainstream culture, or other centralistic forces. Helene Cixous, the french feminist specialising in the critique of languages, implies that even the bipolar language –such as center and periphery- reflects a way of seeing the world that is male-centrist, that has made us miss many shades other than black and white, many dots and fields other than center and periphery, etc, in our human conditions and creations., in our cities.

When I told people that I was going to LA to study sustainability and urbanism, most of  them frowned at me. Some of them were Los Angelinos themselves. Their faces were (like) saying, “There is nothing to learn from LA,” just like an architect from Luxemburg long time ago said about Las Vegas,  “There is nothing to learn from Las Vegas,” referring to Robert Venturi’s book “Learning from Las Vegas”.   That only confirmed the stereotype that people have about LA.

But many cities in developing countries, despite their very old and sometimes ancient heritage, have developed, expanded, sprawled if you like, in a hurry in the last century, after the Second World War. They are “young” as LA. At least major parts of those cities are the product of the last 5, or even 3, decades. They are the product of late capitalism and globalised exchanges, in economy as well as in pop culture. They are very much LA. They are born with cars as their umbilici.  Their rising middle class wants to copy everything from LA’s comsumption pattern, but not the American productivity. For many years I could not really understand Indonesian architecture in the middle class suburbs of its major cities such as Jakarta, until Yesterday. Yesterday, Omar Velazquez of MAK Center drove me around Beverley Hills and Bell Air.  And they struck me because they look really like the better originals of their smaller copies in Indonesia. I know some Indonesians actually do have mansions in Beverley Hills (or is it Bell Air? Whatever..what’s the difference…)

The feel of LA as ever developing, unfinished urbanity as compared to the finished, finite and complete urbanity of European cities, attract people not only to pursue the American dream, but because here there are the fluid spaces to navigate, and eventually to positively contribute to their shaping and reshaping. Indonesian immigrants would feel intimidated in European cities. Indonesians immigrant in LA have enjoyed the space that they can navigate freely and shape as they like when they can. I think this reality is very important because it is both an opportunity and a challenge to shape not only LA as a habitat but also its collective habitus: an open urbanism, a structure/matrix/mélange for differences, not just of differences. LA is not just ever changing like any other city, because it is its nature, but also ever opening itself. And I think we can face the challenge to change –which is the topic of our talk tonight—only when we first of all accept a city as it is, and develop ways to change from that acceptance, not to have an illusion that a city can copy any other or even aspire to be like any other. LA has been so fascinating exactly because it defies any known urbanistic formal norm. It is the product of this age.

The proof for that is the fact that LA is the second most multicultural city in the US.

That brings us to my second element in my reply to those who frowned at my visit to LA.

I have anticipated that the city is much more in its people, rather than in the media and books, or worse, films. While it is true that cities have always been multicultural,  it is observable that multiculturality is indeed an increasing trend in the age of intensified exchanges, with cities definitely becoming their hubs. Last year the world passed the threshold of 50 % urban population.

I have noted Norman Klein comments in a conversation. He said, if LA can really manage the multicultures not just as separate fragments, but as a true melange, in the sense that each would add to others in a process of continuous take and give, and free, healthy and creative  flow of exchanges, LA will produce a very unique city, the richest of all. We talked about this in the context of the discussing the downown as an urbanstic (not jst urban design) project, which we will dicuss more later.

I want to first say that indeed what  excited me most is that I have met so many active, creative, and engaged citizen groups in LA.  I have maybe met more artists groups than other civic groups, because of my own request to MAK Center. And I am so overwhelmed by so many artists working on environmental and urban issues, or both of them. I will tak more about the role of artists in the change that we require towards sustainability. But I am sure there are much more out there that I haven’t met. I have also red about some more. To mention a few: Rick Lowe, Fritz Haeg, FarmLab, The Leaque of Imaginary Scientists, the Islands of LA, Southern California Caucus of Women Artists, etc….I must say, really, there are enough creative power there.  And City of Santa Monica has a conscious policy to maintain its high proportion of artists among its residents, the highest in the US, and to bring them into the process of changes towards sustainability. Its Cultural Affairs Department is working together with its Environmental Agency.


 LA has also a long  history of socially engaged artists, perhaps as long as the history of social movements in the city. Robert Gottliebs book, The Next LA, puts a very high hope on citizens, social movements from the grasst root, on the possible changes the city.

The governments are doing something, albeit slow as always. I know, most people have complains about their governments, even here. But if you are familiar with how developing countries government work, you will understand my appreciation of what your governments—and by extention your democratic system—are doing here.

I have learnt that there is a “Green Cities California”, which is an alliance of nine cities an 1 county in California to develop and implement ways to become more sustainable. The members are so far Berkerley, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Marin County. This alliance is only one year old, but it has done a lot: adoption of local sustainability plan, adoption of UN Urban Enviornmental Accords, built 210 green buildings (6,500,000 sqft), installed 20 Mwh solar electricity and bought 4,700 hybrid cars. Their next year programme is: 100 % recycled paper for all government operations (equal to saving 67,000 trees per year, or 8,600,000 lbs of CO2 emission), no plastic bottled water (saving 19,600,000 gallons bottled water per year, equal to 11,500,000 kilowatt hour electricity)

Now let’s touch a bit about the title of this evening: Change

Do we really need to change? What is the scale of this change? Are we equipped to do it? Change to what?

By now, I think we no longer need to discuss the urgency to change, except perhaps for a few ignorants.  The motivation is already there. To some degree, also political will in many, if not the majority of the world, albeit in different degrees. Neither could I really envision what cities will be 20 or 100 years from now.

What I am convinced is just that humankind are now in fact equipped to change, as compared to at least two desperate moments in our very long past. I should request you to join me into a geological time frame. We could not have done anything about the last glacial age, 74,000-75,000 years ago, or the last global warming, around 11,000 years ago.

Indonesia is related to the both events. The first took place because a gigantic mountain in Sumatera erupted, and created the now high-land Toba lake, which is really a caldera, 60 miles long and 20 miles wide. The eruption is so huge that it sent dust that darkened the earth for many years, causing it to cool off into glacial age. It killed most of humans, leaving only about 10,000 of them, including only 1,000 pairs that became the ancestors of us all. The second one is really the last global warming that took place about 11,000 years ago, causing icebergs to melt and sea water to rise, separating the higher lands in South East Asia one from others, that became the more than 17,000 islands of current Indonesia Archipelago. If I was to mention the 2004 tsunami, I would say that the earthquake that caused it had actually stopped the rotation of the earth for a tiny fraction of a second, and tilted down the northern part of Sumatera to the east, causing some villages changed their coordinate in the map.

These were practically the ends of the world, twice!; but humanity as a whole, if not individual humans, reincarnated. So did the world.

These are all beyond our human deeds; it is completely natural, with really insignificant impact from human activities. Some may say, then, what is the point of trying to be green, to reduce our human impact on the earth, if the past catastrophes had actually happened beyond our control, and that the next one might still happen beyond our control? I think the only answer to that is only our human instinct to delay our ending, like we delay our individual demish, even when knowing that it will eventually happen. We cannt just wait and do nothing until it happen.

And since we know that the next climate change has to do with our own activities, we just want to do it as part of our wish to exist longer, until the time we cannot predict.

Besides those two global scale desperate moments, there had also been many other catastrophes that Jared Diamond meticulously studied in his book “Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”. We were not equipped then, either with knowledge and know-how or enough large scale global concensus.

Now we do. Globally. And The US has  a big role to play in it. Remember the dramatic ending of the Earth Summit in Bali last year. Al Gore flew in the last day, direct from Stockholm after he received the Nobel Prize. He gave a last minute appealing speech, and the US delegates eventually supported the collective accord, after the rest of the word expressed their frustration towards the US delegates, and that they would move forward without the US if that was the way it had to be.

But actions need to be made down on earth now, and a big deal of this means on the cities, which are becoming more and more definitely the centers of human impacts.  By the city we mean it as the habitat and the collective character of its inhabitnats,  its habitus. The relationship of habitat and habitus is of course complex. One reproduces each other. But to change, I don’t think we need to debate which one first in a sequential way. We could, and simply should start with both, simultaneously.

Change, however, would have some elements of irony and nostalgia, while seemingly progressing.

Change might require us to revert to old practices, and even rebuild what have been replaced before. Two most tragic losses of LA, for example, are the river and the track (the red street car). Now, to some extend, there is a will and efforts to revitalize and rebuild them.

LA might really succeed in revitalising its river. This  means partly to restore some segments of it into more natural state. There is also a plan now for LA to have the longest rail system in the US  cities as a transit system. And most of these will be built on the routes where the old rails were once before. Parts have been implemented. LA Union station is still one of the most beautiful building in the city. At least better than the airport. But how little used it is.

This story of fundamental loss is not unique to LA alone. Many cities in the world have experienced similarly tragic losses. Some are in the process.

Jakarta lost most of its rails during the Japanese occupation. And it built its first freeways in early 1960’s after a masterplan, sponsored by UN and American planners. Rumours were that an American  car maker company offered to build freeways in Indonesia for free if they were given monopoly right to sell cars.

And with regards to river: most Jakartans do not know where its main river is, as it is so hidden behind buildings. Very few people actually see the river consciously in their routine. The fact is that people have inhabited the banks of Ciliwung river in Jakarta, equivalent to LA river for LA, for more than 6,000 years. Jakarta, too, is now strugling with ideas to revive and reclaim the river and the track.

A lot of talks about change towards sustainability is about re-learning old practices or resurrecting old existences, such as high density and downtown life, self farming, no-waste, also composting that has become so mainstreamed now, revitalising rivers and other natural water bodies, rebuilding rail tracks, etc. But those we have replaced with something we have done so to serve some purpose. Before the paving of most of the 50 miles of the length of LA River, other measures to control flood had failed. And indeed after the paving, no flood ever happened again. When we revitalise it, we still have to make sure that flood control does not get washed down. Of course there are more sustainable ways. Santa Monica has for example issued zero-run off ordinance called “Santa Monica Excess Water Use Ordinance” (SMCC 7.16.020) for private plots, while the government collect all run-off from public spaces to recycle it. The basic principle is that we need to get the water into the ground again. Because if we keep channeling water and expanding our buildings footprints all the time, the water will be more every year.

John Maynard Keynes once said that the problem is not in grabbing new ideas, but in freeing oneselves from old ideas. Now, what about getting used to new practice of old  ideas?

Some of that change may sound like “re-learning” some old, abandoned practices. But in fact we cannot re-do exactly the old habits or things exactly as they were, because it is impossible, as context changes, and because we might do it in better ways now or in the future.

Density, an old fundamental fact about cities tht is recently prescribed again by many urban planners and architects, is of course always good in principle. But there is limits as in the case of Hongkong, and look carefully at California use of energy. California use a lot more energy per capita for mobility than other states. But its total use of energy per capita is not the highest in the US. Texas’s is. The reason for this is that California use much less energy to warm or cool its homes. Increasing density, for example by volume alone by putting more buildings closer together, might impede the flow of air and hence the interior temperature of the houses.  It is an interesting challenge for LA to lower its use of per capita energy for mobility while at the same time not increasing residential energ usage. There is a need for much more research to design an optimum density for the city, as well as for any other city. Honk Kong has found that its density has somehow surpassed the optimum in many ways and areas within it, with the consequence of rapid and frequent airborne disease spreading; and ever increasing indoor and outdoor temperature. While it is now the most energy efficient city in the world, it may require more and more energy in mechanically circulating, recycling and cooling air, and spent already a high amount of fund for health.

We should not therefore just resurrect old habitat or habitus, but reincarnate them, and ourselves.

This view of time as spiral is common in oriental philosophies. Time is not linear as in abrahamic monotheism. In the oriental spiritualism there is a practical vision that human exstence is perpetual, wth the unlimited ability to improve its existence to ever higher planes. We just need to have the courage to be there.

Another problem with change is that it requires collective actions. One would not like to change efectively if the system does not support it, and if he/she thought that others would not change along. That is why Mahatma Gandhi words are so precise about this situation: “You must be the change you wish to see in this world”

Maybe this time, with climate change as our common challenge, we need and will be able to change radically, massively and systemically, together. AND THE RISE IN FUEL PRICE could do us the alarm.



Social movements, arts, cultures and communities

Change requires creativity, because change means breaking the current pattern, and developing new ones. When we say sustainable change we do not mean to sustain the current practices and systems, but to sustain new patterns that is yet to be invented and created.

Arts could therefore certainly play a role in the change. Arts could join the social movement, but as Rick Lowe rightly puts it, it should not worry about sustainability in the first place (that is the concern of community activists/organisers), because the core of arts is to provide  creativity and innovation to see different ways are possible, to break the current pattern. “If there is no change or innovation, what to sustain?,” he asked.

Creativity indeed should precede productivity. Productivity without creativity is just replication and repetition. And that is not what we want right now. One can argue the reverse, of course, that creativity without productivity is not creating at all.

Therefore, helping communities with productivity without creativity will not be sustainable. It will not change the pattern that has reproduced the communities as they are. And changes towards urban, environmental sustainability is about breaking the patterns of production and consumption.

 Another important thing I feel in LA is that there are alliances being forged between artists and communities. Artists are also engaging other disciplines, both humanities and sciences. 

 My own context is not very different. In Indonesian modern history, during the struggle for independence, and through Suharto’s regime, arts and artists often voiced popular grievances and received violences from ruling elites.

Some artists communities do organise or at least participate in social movements larger than artistic interests. The Jakarta Arts Council has always been a respected place for free speech. Artists are often precursors of larger movements. During difficult time, people took refuge in its facilities. Some stayed there for days to escape and to launch protests during the riot that led to the fall of Suharto.

From the artists I have learned that inventive, creative and more spaces for dialogue is possible. What is the significance of this? It helps facilitating more people contribute to the new habitat and habitus that we need. I see artists playing important role in at least  1)deconstructing the aesthetics, 2)democratising and deepening the process of change.

We do need some kind of new aesthetics and ethics with regards to the change that we are bound to embark on, because the change will require nothing less than a new sense of ethics and aesthetics. Fritz Haeg has started to deconstruct the aesthetics of lawns. Soon we might have to have clothes line hanging between our appartment buildings. We will have to develop a new sense of aesthetics about this. With them we also need to rethink our ethics, both at personal and social levels. Architect Bill Reed proposes to go beyond zero impact, to go into restoration and regeneration. This is a totally new vision and ethics with challenging consequences in architecture and other creative areas. After at least 300 years of radical exploitation and damage to the earth, and almost with nothing left to damage, now humans need to actively help other species to restore, at least theirs and our common habitat. It is no longer enough for us to survive as the fittest, but to lead and survive together.

The change that we need must obviously be systemic and radical. First there is a need for big, collective push to change. Lessons and techniques are plenty. But apparently learning lessons do not automatically lead to changing. And change we need to do together. Initiatives are all over the world now. We need more and accelerated exchanges. And we can do that. One good reason to be optimist that this is now the time  is that now it is very different from the time of the beginning of the environmental movement, say in 1983, when Bruntland Report was published. We have much more democratic technology. We have gone beyond cold war. We have much more organisations, researches an discoveries geared towards sustainability. However, this is not to say that no more obstacle will be in our way. We still have tremendous consensus to achieve. We have many infrastructures and institutions for changes—universities and research institutes, UN branches and agencies, etc., but we need to develop effective networking to accelerate exchanges. Many habits that we want to re-acquire  are actually old habits that have been abandoned or deemed “un-modern” or “un-american” or “un-Indonesian” for some matters. We need to regenerate that knowledge again and infuse them into our personal and  social bodies as know-how. And this cannot be done by a few elites, but by all.

When we think about collective actions by all, we have to touch the common values. Without common values there could be no common actions. Arts are supposed to work at this level: identifying them, investigating them, creatively deconstruct them when necessary. Arts are also instrumental to see emerging phenomena early, and to share them with the public at value level. They have methods.

The collective has a rhythm, which is not unlike that of “nature.” It may appear to limit individual human freedom to some extent. However, it regulate a more efficient use of resources.

Collectivity is a fundamental element of (human) culture and civilisation. It is close to nature, because nature flows together also in a collective rhythm with, however, each species develops uniquely. The basis of this rhythm is its source of energy: the sun. To some extent, remaining human collective rhythm still has to do with the sun. We generally work during day time and sleep at night. Our synchronised rhythm with nature, with the sun, broke exactly when we use non-solar based energy.

One reason why not every body likes to ride a public bus is that it has its own rhythm. There is actually a working public ransport system in LA. But it has a rhythm of its own, just like the nature, that requires individuals to do more planning to allign themselves with it. I like the bus. It is so “colourful” in all senses: from white to darkest skin, from baby to really old ones, from very athletic young to diffables. They are from all neighbourhoods, as Santa Monica Blvd really cuts through a number of very different neighbourhoods and landscapes, too.

Our anxiety about productivity, too, has broke us away from the sun and the moon. 24 hours banking, 24 hours Internet connection, and 3-shift factories are already a norm in many metropolises. There are those unfortunate that have to toil during the odd shifts, against the rhythm of the solar energy. Most often, they are the weakest among our society, least fortunate in terms of education and acquired skills, often young single mothers and recent immigrants.

In many existing cultures, unfortunately less and less practiced,  there are ways that are more sustainable. Latino Urbanism, such as advocated by Mr. James Rojas, for example,  promote the use of streets by people, instead of cars. At this point I want to take as an example from my own heritage, the clothing tradition of Indonesia. I just think it is appropriate here because in September LACMA will open a one yearlong exhibition of Indonesian textiles, called “Five Centuries of Splendor: The Arts of  Textiles rom Indonesia, from the collection of Mary Hunt Kahlenberg.” You will see, for example, authentic batiks cloth from  the15th century.

In Indonesian tradition, we do not develop cutting and tailoring. We do only warpping our bodies, in different ways according to different occasions and time. Therefore, every piece of cloth is crafted (woven and patterned, so to speak) as single, finished cloth. The weaving and patterns are designed accordingly to the ways the cloth will be worn, or, to be more accurate, wrapped and folded around the body.

A cultural evolutionist perspective would argue that this is because we have not yet developed the cutting and tailoring, as if this was more “advanced” culturally. But if you look at Japan and India as well, their clothing traditions also developed along the similar principles of wrapping and folding.  This wrapping and folding are very sophisticated and complicated in their own right, as different wrappings and foldings serve different purposes, including rituals.

It is true, though, that change looks very distant when we look at current figures, especially when it concerns the use of energy in our habitats by excellence, cities.

There are over 6 millions car in LA county (population: c.9 milions) (p. 105, Gottlieb’s, 1998).

In Jakarta: 1.5 millions car for 12 millons population. That make change sounds a really daunting task.

In 2006: of 1,886,686 workers 16 years and over in households, only 121,158 have no access to vehicle availability. 491,042 have 1 vehicle available, 713,777 two vehicles, and 560,709 three or more. 1,303,969 drove alone. 193,032 use public transport (excluding taxicabs)

Biker comuters in LA actually increased in number, but very lightly from 0.61 % 1990 to 0.63 % in 2000, while population raised from 3,485,398 in 1990 to 3,694,834 in 2000, a 6 % rise, a major part of it by migration.

LA city carbon emission is 2.4 % of the US total, almost twice its perentage of population (1.3%) of the US.  A city with 3.8 million population has a CO2 footprint that equals that of Sweden, a country with  9 million population. The CO2 footprint, of which 50% is from vehicle, is the largest in the US.

But, while California ranks the second after Texas in total energy consumption and in residential energy consumption, it ranks the first in transportation energy consumption. California spent 39.3 % of its energy consumption on transportation, while Texas 23.6 % and New York 25.6 %. (US average is 11.6 %)

While Texas spent 13.9 % of its total energy consumption on residential sector, California spent  18.1 %, despite the “nice” weather. New York understandably spent much higher percentage, 30.3 %, mostly for heating.[1] US avarage for residential energy consumption is 7 %.[2]

Is efficiency an answer? Herman Daly (“Ecological Economics”) wrote that we might be increasing our efficiency, but not our frugality. It is as if we increase our milleage by twice, but also drive twice as much because we think we have been efficient.

This makes us think, that if Californians lived in higher density, more energy for cooling might have to be spent.  That is why I think we have to be careful in proposing higher density.

California does not have the highest percentage of single family housing units: 64.22 %. This is below US total (80 %), Florida (73.0 %) and Texas (72.72 %). NY has 43.65 % .

For urban planning and design, it is quite a challlenge for architects to strike the right optimum density for LA, beyond just general principles of new urbanism. It will have to consider the total energy (residential, transportation, and other uses), and integrate different levels of design, from city-region planning, urban design, architecture, and interior design.

The general and basic take-home for me after two months here is a feeling of optimism. Despite feeling of frustration about how little progress has been made, the fact is THERE IS PROGRESS BEING MADE!


Revisiting the Third World, Environmentally.

Nawal El Sadawi, an Egyptian feminist, once said that “We all live in One World, not three world”, refering to the degrading use of the term “third world”. While we must agree to her that as a vision we must see the world as one, for analytical purpose seeing the world in three or even more, is still useful.  World Bank might say the same. The neo-liberal capitalists might say the same.

The fact is that, although the total carbon emission of the third world is so low compared to the first world,  carbon intensity per capita or per unit product in the third world is higer than the first world, and twice the world average. That of the industrialised countries, including the US, is lower than the world average.

Indonesian energy intensity in its economy is four times that of Japan, and more than twice that of other economies within the Japanese development cooperation  framework.

Developing countries must therefore admit that they are not efficient; but at the same time also rejoice that they have the advantage of the opportunity to change early, which is better, and with that will actually boost their economic productivity. I meant to say that changing towards sustainability for developing countries is not an additional burden, but a riddance of fats in their economy. However, this is easier said than done. Poverty and inequality are major problems. Infrastructure problem in the developing countries are not just about shortage of quantity, but also about the shortage of available quality, sustainability options, which are often beyond their reach. Thinking off and out of the grid is as difficult as thinking out of the box, given the competing models that require big “economies of scale”, while sustainable options are still too expensive for developing countries to compete with the developed economies.


It became apparent that the debate on the design of the civic park cannot be separated from the discussion on the downtown as a social-cultural concept, not just as an economic and urban design, and a discussion of downtown always touches upon the very deep psyche of Los Angeles city, involving all other symptoms of its unique urbanity which is degradatory for some people: the surburbia, the car dependence, racism, the nature of public space and space for the nature, if any.

I did not find much debate on the Civic Park at Grand Avenue with regards to the deeper idea of downtown itself. Maybe I have missed something.

But I want to say that this downtown redevelopment is a very important opportunity for LA to develop its own urbanity and urbanism. It can also be enlarge to include discussions and subsequent ideas about pluralism, suburbanisation and mobility in the city. These fundamental issues, within sustainability framework that must be realised as encompassing more than just the technically green and local solutions like more trees and water conservation, must be debated down to their material manifestation in space. And it is here that I did not see  much realisation. Look also at South Central Farm. I know it is frustrating to go through that battle. But, if looked carefully, it is clear how impossible it is to maintain it in the old space as it is technically and economically so out of context, and politically so fragmented. It is when trying to mainstream sustainability in actual space that we face the challenge of systemic change. Without changes in values and system, it is very diffcult to support an “island” of green space.

Downtwon is about urbanity and urbanism. It is at the crux of the question about what kind of urban life one should imagine for the city. Does it have to be one one in the center, or can there be many in different fabrics of the city? Does it have to be one in the form of a “dot”, and not “linear”? Does it have to be for every body? Norman Klein thinks that a downtown should just serve 1 million population. LA, with more than 3 million population, should have at least three downtowns.

Further more, it is important to make a distinction between the locus of urbanity and the content of the urbanity itself. On the locus, there is the capital’s interest in the production of space as commodity with ever increasing, unlimited value, and within this operational mode, there is no surprise that it wants something centralised and singular.  Park, open space is only instrumental in this larger and more fundamental interest of the capital. It wants to create a center, a place of animated activities. The idea of singular center itself has also a real value in itself. Being singular, centralised and “the only one”, create a stronger monopoly of value. Space, as commodity, despite the fact that the capital always tries to make it uniform and standardised, such as in suburban housing units and shops in the mall, is nevertheless never really the same one with another. Every parcel of space is particular and unique because of its location. A space in the only center strengthens this unique value, and can therefore be unlimited in value, because it does not have any competition. But here it is not surprising to see the contradiction: of trying to create a unique singular space but for the plural everybody and the whole city.

Its structure of implementation (with a developer given a consession to build commercial plots, to pre-finance the park) is of course justified to create certain integration into the market. Programming is a tool to make that integration happens. It is meant to create activities and encourage users that will not be there naturally without persuasion. This persuasion will make sure (but not necessarily sustainabel) that there will be the presence of different users of different social-economic and cultural groups. This dependence on programming will be very important, because very clearly without it the space will fall again into less diversity dictated by the capitalistic values that the property business wants to impose on it.

Does it really worthwhile for the less fortunate to fight to get a place in this central space? Why should they? Cann’t they have, instead, open spaces at neighbourhood level?

And, isn’t it that many middle to upper class angelinos have their private yards as open space? Would they be atrracted by the programmed fabrication of urbanity in the park? The working class latino’s might be attracted to the park for its sense of being in the center (of the rich and powerful), if enough cheap eateries are available nearby or in the park.

In the mean time, the “other” urbanity is already there. In close proximity to the civic park, the area surrounding the Union Station is vibrant with different culural expressions, each dense and at close proximity to each other, too. But they are demarcated from the “downtown” by Santa Ana Freeway. The free way cannot be a better example of a linear space that connects destinations at its ends, while at te same time disconnect spaces along its both sides.

For many cities and nations, it is indeed the saddest thing when economic classes are identified with the colours of their skins, that for years and years the statistical bureau have no choice but to conduct their surveys according to those categories. It is true that racial enclaves have provided many benefits to first-generations imigrants, as well as to those who have strong attachment to their heritages. And American tradition seemed to have developed high respect towards migrant heritage, to the degree that it sees it as possitive and a basic democratic right for people of the same race to flock together, to live wherever they like. Coming from my own background and heritage, it is always frightening for me to see how citizens are identified politically with their races, heritage and their places of residence. I hope American law and order would work forever well in protecting every single individual from violence, which is not the case in Indonesia.

Should not the idea of a downtown really be such a space?

It is true that LA has a great diversity of cultures (races!). It is the second most multicultural city in  the US after New York. But, as Norman Klein puts it in one conversation, the issue is whether or not this many cultures are facilitated to mingle, to interact to each other, to creat new fusions. LA should be more than multicultural, it should be inter-cultural. Imagine, said Norman Klein, what will become of this city, if all those different cultures were brought closer together, minggle, and spark new fusions?  This should have repercussions in the city’s debate about downtown and other spaces, because, as James Rojas said, it is the people who make space a place.

I have heard a lot from many people about the lack of public spaces in LA.  I hope I do not offend you when I quote some one who was born and growing up a news yorker, who relate this problem with the fragmented urban population of LA by quoting Jack Leno when describing Millenium Celebration in LA 8 years ago: While Sydney, Paris, London and other world cities celebrated it with huge gathering of people, in LA there are only “Six people running around with torches”, refelcting the lack of a central public space where a majority of angelinos could gather and feel belonging to the same club. For New Yorkr this would be the Times Square. In LA, can it be the beach? The west-siders of the city would come; but the east-siders might not?

I am sure that actually a myriad of different groups had celebrated the millenium night separately in different places. The complain is more about the lack of  a one single space where most Angelinos from different places in the city would come and mingle. But, then we may be curious, if that happened, where could be the space that have enough parking space for their cars? Mind you, that when even a car has 4 or 5 passengers each, it still will require more parking space than all its 5 passengers.

LA have spreaded too thinly. It might be too late to think about one central pubic space. It has half the density of Jakarta. It has tremendous problem of mobility because of this. And I even think the mobility is not even the fundamental issue. The fundamental issue is the feeling of interconnectedness between fellow urban citizens. In a way LA is a unique 20th century creation due to its spreading out and its economic basis, that one could understandably be tempted to think free of old european kind of urbanity and develops its own urbanism. But we need to think about this urbanism now in terms of sustainability. We can consolidate existing suburbs, but should not allow more to spring up. Suburbs can be consolidated in different ways: increasing their density and interculturalism by zoning ordinance and install some complementary public facilities, for example.

The civic Park in downtown at Grand Avenue brought competition for space to even a higher level.

It is a competition about the idea of a downtown itself. With the huge amount of capital already invested in it, it would be interesting to follow its development. Will it open up enough and deep urbanistically cultural debates about the idea of dowtown, or will it just be framed within the pragmatic programming of the capital to maintain and increase profits in the central properties? It will also put the racial relationship, the plurality of LA , into a test. Will LA’s social political framework large and open enough to take up that challenge, with a price that is actually not small, which is an opportunity  to spark the process of “colouring” LA as a result of creative dynamics of interculturalism. But we now that differet cultures do not have the same opportunities, chances, and powers to contribute equally to the new, emerging cultures.

South Central Farm:  As a large-scale experiment in urban agriculture, the South Central Farm was a model of sustainability. It transformed a brownfield into an organic farm that provided fresh food and medicinal herbs for 350 low-income families. Its demise is also emblematic of the obstacles in creating more sustainable cities, particularly of the competition for urban space that sustainabble practices must eventually face.  Urban agriculture, of all important practices towards sustainable city, could be the most dependent on concrete space and soil. The case of South Central Farm reveals many conflicts that are basic to urban politics: between those who own and those who toils the soil, between different factions within a community with different priorities, between different possible land-uses with different profitabilities, and needs of different segments of the surrounding communities of residents and farmers. But it is also symptomatic of uniquely “green” conflicts: between emerging sustainable practices and outdated urban (spatial) economics an politics, between different levels of understanding the importance of urban agriculture (and sustainability as a whole), and fundamentally between different ideas about what is urban and rural. The fact that South Central Farm involves certain economic class that is identified with certain cultural heritage brings forward also an important requirement for urban sustainabiity: justice.


[1] Total energy consumption:

Texas: 11,558.3

California: 8,359.8

NY: 4,179.5

Transportation energy consumption:

CA: 3,290.7 (more than three times NY, while total consump is less than twice NY)

TX: 2,729.5

NY: 1,071.0

Residential energy consumption:

TX: 1,617.7

CA: 1,516.3

NY: 1,266.2 (almost the same with CA, while total consumption is only half of CA)

[2] Energy use per sector in % to US total

Residential: 7 %

Industry: 6.2 %

Commercial: 8.6 %

Transportation: 11.6 %

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