Walking in L.A.: Los Angeles Plays Itself Walking in L.A.: Los Angeles Plays Itself

Walking in L.A.: Los Angeles Plays Itself

by Ryan Bradley

May 22, 2010

Part three in Walking in L.A., a GOOD miniseries by Ryan Bradley on transportation in Los Angeles and what it's like to get across the entire city on foot.

Culver City is a company town, like Universal City or Century City (though unlike Culver, Universal City and Century City aren't incorporated—they're part of the City of Los Angeles) and the films they've been producing have often reflected the fraught role of mobility in people's lives here.

"The best films about Los Angeles are, at least partly, about modes of transportation," Encke King says. King is narrating Thom Andersen's film, Los Angeles Plays Itself. Made up of more than 200 film clips, many of the movies Anderson highlights deal with the frustrations of transit in Los Angeles. If not for that hellish traffic jam that begins Falling Down, would Michael Douglas's character have gone postal and marched across the city with an uzi? If Joe Gillis' car hadn't busted a flat, would he ever have ended up in Norma Desmond's driveway in Sunset Boulevard? Perhaps the best example Anderson uses is Chinatown:
What gives Chinatown its special significance is its subsidiary theme: the struggle to get around Los Angeles without a car. Jack Giddes [played by Jack Nicholson] loses his wheels halfway through the film... and for the second half of the movie, he's dependent on others. His sense of mastery disappears. He's always one or two steps behind and he never catches up...The loss of the car is a form of symbolic castration, both in the movies, and in life.

In Culver's case, the Sony studio's presence has had a tangible effect on city planning. Up on the other side of the hill that separates Hollywood and the rest of Los Angeles from the San Fernando Valley, Universal City's Evolution development is upping the ante. Universal City is 391 acres of Los Angeles owned by NBC Universal. "Evolution" is NBC Universal's gargantuan, $3 billion dollar, 20-year long development project for their "city." Along with 2,900 new apartments and 35-acres of open space, NBC Universal plans to pour in $100 million to improve traffic flow, which will, according to a company spokesperson, "serve as a catalyst to accelerate local ... improvements in the Valley."

Things are changing in American cities today. Ten years ago, people wanted to live in large-lot suburbs. Now, walkable urban neighborhoods typically have the highest property values, and keep them. High-density homes and apartments with access to good public transit have proven themselves recession-proof, while many of the McMansions in America's suburban sprawl are now worth less than their raw materials. So NBC Universal isn't putting a lot of money into urban renewal because it's the right thing to do. NBC Universal is putting a lot of money down because, through walking-friendly redevelopment, it stands to make even more. On the blog LAist, a commenter with the handle "LABornAndRaised" explains what a high-density, walking friendly urban center like Evolution might mean: "...it will be a huge plus for my property values."

Out of Culver City Jefferson Boulevard zig-zags before it heads east off of National Boulevard and Exposition Boulevard. I hang on a chain link fence on Exposition and stare down two lines of railroad tracks, east to west, heading from downtown Culver City all the way into downtown Los Angeles.

I've lingered here too long, but the promise of this railway's completion hangs heavy in the afternoon air. This new Expo-line will only improve Culver's booming downtown, and much of the city's plans for 2010 center around its completion. Culver must know by now, as well as anyplace in Los Angeles, that transportation drives development.

Next up: Downtown is a petri dish.

Photos by Ryan Bradley.

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Walking in L.A.: Los Angeles Plays Itself