Matt Jalbert on North Hollywood and the Toxic Arrangements of Streets


North Hollywood.

Matt Jalbert writes:

“I recently spent a short time in “NoHo,” aka North Hollywood (around Lankershim and Magnolia) where I was reminded of how utterly hopeless the sprawling project of Los Angeles is. There, in a “neighborhood” marketed to a new round of real estate suckers as an “arts district,” my overriding sense was of endless pavement, aggressive drivers, frightened and forlorn pedestrians, mostly lousy food choices, and a huge oversupply of commercial space. The same holds true for much of the San Fernando Valley.

Whatever promises were made to the American middle class by the developers of such living arrangements have been proven to be outright frauds. The L.A. pattern of car-centric living, especially in the post-WWII San Fernando Valley, is a cancer on society, evident on most of the citizenry, even some of those who profit from this arrangement.

North Hollywood in 2010 is yet another example of the failure of automobile-suburbs to result in healthy communities. Unfortunately, a few pretty buildings do not save this area, like the rest of the San Fernando Valley, from the toxic arrangements of streets designed for one mode only: vast flows of automobiles. That these areas are only a few generations old, yet are well advanced in their decay and social dysfunction, is all the proof any of us should need to recognize that the great experiment has failed and it’s time to make other arrangements now.

My sense is that people are starting to wake up to the lie they’ve been fed through the mass media — the lie that their car would set them free. (Stimulated by endless AM radio advertisements for leased Mercedes that would somehow make driving more bearable?)

Drivers are frustrated and angry, because no matter how rich they are, no matter how fat their asses grow, no matter how black and shiny their car is, no matter how witty the texts they write while negotiating the racecourse that is Lankershim Boulevard — they are imprisoned in a mobile prison cell, living an attenuated existence where every action they take is bludgeoned on both ends by a soul-killing automobile trip.

Better to rip the whole place down and rebuild it in a smaller, denser space. Keep a few of those fine old buildings, but otherwise, start from scratch, because what’s left on the ground for us all at this moment is simply not worth keeping.

God help Los Angeles. 26 years into my California experience and I’m finally understanding just how truly awful that place has been handled by the hands of man — in the service of automobiles. “

13 thoughts on “Matt Jalbert on North Hollywood and the Toxic Arrangements of Streets

  1. Andy, it’s not about “in the service of automobile” as Matt Jalbert stated. It’s much more complicated. Every armchair LA critic should read this 2005 research paper (link below). It’s got a lot of stuff in it, but dispels some common myths. One of them being LA is a sprawl. LA is actually one of the most dense urban environment.

    I’ve stated before that I think density creates more traffic problem if it’s not tackled properly. Look at Manilla or countless other large cities in Asia.

    The paper’s authors do not offer any easy solution, although they advocated getting rid of off-street parking.

    http://shoup.bol.ucla.edu/People,Parking,CitiesJUPD.pdf

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    1. Andrew,

      Yes, people seem to erroneously spout forth this idea that LA is “low density” though it is not.

      According to Wikipedia:

      In the fall of 2008 the city’s population exceeded 4,000,000 according to the California Department of Finance.[91] The 2000 census[92] recorded 3,694,820 people, 1,275,412 households, and 798,719 families residing in the city, with a population density of 7,876.8 people per square mile (3,041.3/km2).

      And who imagines that the so-called census count of 4 million is accurate?

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  2. the reason he’s writing about this area is because it still, even though it has some newer stuff around, SUCKS and still has that bare, valley deathfeel to it

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  3. Your critiques of street design seem fair (except for the bike lane on Chandler). However, I find it strange that you chose the area around Lankershiem and Magnolia to pick on. This is just south of the Red Line North Hollywood stop, where it intersects with the Orange Line. Just to the east of this stop, a bunch of medium density housing has recently gone up in close proximity to a grocery store and several restaurants (good for walkability). It’s also close to a pretty nice park, just to the west.

    If there’s one place in the San Fernando Valley I would hold up as an example of positive change, for the most part, it would be that area.

    Much of the rest of the valley has a serious sprawl problem though. And yes, suburbia is a problem because it makes it hard to walk/bike to things and doesn’t support frequent transit service (among other reasons).

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  4. I think your characterization of North Hollywoodʻs streets, culture, transportation systems, and eating establishments is way off the mark.
    With a plethora of unique, tasty, and, more frequently, healthy eating establishments, the red line subway, orange line busway, bike paths, pedestrian paths, parks, and bringing it all together, a young, hip community of “aware” individuals makes this one of the cityʻs beacons of hope rather than an easy scapegoat for your diatribe.

    abh says it perfectly,
    “What is even stranger about Mr. Jalbert’s rant, is that he has picked the one predominant location in the San Fernando Valley where there is an ongoing experiment in urban density, involving subway, bus, and pedestrian-oriented development. To a degree unimaginable five years ago, North Hollywood now is home to many theaters, art galleries, an arts college, TV production companies, new high schools, transit-oriented housing, lofts, cafes and bicyclists. Let’s not overlook that the landscaped Busway, integrating bikes and buses, and reaching across the San Fernando Valley, begins in North Hollywood.”

    Bottom line, Mr. Jalbert, is that it sounds like you donʻt know your topic, didnʻt do the necessary research, and are now trying to pass off your ill-informed opinion of this village as a treatise on why you have bought into the idea that cars, and the streets they ride on are BAD BAD BAD without offer of real solutions, or any examination of the confounding factors of momentum and the interconnectedness of things in urban environs.
    Your ignorance of the reality of North Hollywood as well as your shotgun blast rant at all things cars smacks of attacking “the straw man.” Categorically dismissing one of the fastest growing and most interesting parts of Los Angeles just seems foolish. As you put it,

    “Better to rip the whole place down and rebuild it in a smaller, denser space. Keep a few of those fine old buildings, but otherwise, start from scratch, because what’s left on the ground for us all at this moment is simply not worth keeping.”
    -Matt Jalbert

    Iʻm sorry we donʻt live up to your ideals Mr. Jalbert, you buffoon.

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  5. Sorry but you dont know what youre talking about.

    LA is one of the most amazing places in the world. the problem is the public transportation, not the suburbs.

    i ve move here in 2008 from abroad and i can tell you that there is nothing better than see the horizon end be outdoors when you first open your door.

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  6. I’ve lived in NoHo for 15 years and once I come home from work I don’t drive my car. We walk to the grocer, we walk to the GREAT places to eat. KC BBQ, Pitfire, Eclectic Cafe to name a few.

    We walk around NoHo park regularly and chat with our neighbors who are also walking and enjoying the green space and playing with their kids and dogs.

    If we’re feeling extra energetic we’ll walk over to the Chandler bike path that goes all the way to Victory Blvd in Burbank.

    One needs to spend more a “short time” in NoHo to appreciate its beauty. Maybe take the Metro and stop in for a dance class, or see a play or get some wings and watch the game at Big Wangs, check out one of the many galleries and experience it rather than seeing just what you want to see.

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  7. L.A. matters to me because it was my home for 9 years, because I have friends and family there, because I’ve studied it and considered it and shared in the collective discussion for over 2 decades; and because I want it to be a better place — better, meaning, less intrusion of menacing automobile traffic in the affairs of daily life, like shopping, eating, and meeting friends. (I have no opinion on Palestine, Haiti or Afghanistan that needs sharing.)

    I can appreciate how far NoHo has come towards a more humane urbanism; but I can also voice an observation that it has far to go. I don’t believe in saviors, only interested and active citizens.

    We’re getting there; but are we doing so fast enough?

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  8. It is easy to pick on the sprawl and car as the source of LA traffic woes, as Matt tells us. However the car really does liberate us in more ways than we appreciate, and the issue we’re grappling with is not going to be solved by reducing sprawl and less cars, although that would be part of the solution. We have to start doing something about lack of enforcement, bad driving habits, and bad planning of infrastructures.

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    1. And Mr. Jalbert, while correct, has not illuminated or critiqued anything about LA that has not been said a thousand times before, ad nauseum.

      There are many urban “cancers” on the world, and I would hardly say that LA is the worst one of them. As one LA based actor said recently, “All the criticisms of LA seem old and tired”.

      Those liberal friends of ours from up north, huddling around the Bay Area, always have a soft spot for every oppressed region around the world: Palestine, Haiti, Afghanistan. Yet, they hardly criticize those regions for ineffective government, violence, and angry drivers. But when it comes to LA…..

      LA uniquely seems to inspire a blanket condemnation, even though this city has remarkably remade itself over the past ten years, with a significant investment in public transportation, revitalization of older neighborhoods, and an awakening of historical and regional pride.

      Much of the development of Los Angeles was not chosen by the people who live here. It was massively funded by a combination of military and national dollars which were poured into the region during and after WWII, and resulted in the huge defense industry, housing and shopping centers, freeways and automobiles that so disfigured the predominately agricultural lifestyle of the area. Streetcars were dismantled and replaced by wide roads serving cars exclusively. Who, sitting in traffic, would not prefer that some of the other drivers were indeed riding on buses, light rail, trains or horse-drawn carriages?

      If this city is such a basket case, surely people with ideas, such as Mr. Jalbert, should immediately relocate themselves into this city and begin the onerous task to collecting all the maladies into one giant think tank, funded by all the large corporate wealth of Los Angeles, which could then be used to collectively solve all the urban problems which emanate from automobiles: illegal immigration, underfunded schools, uninsured sick people, and gang violence.

      What is even stranger about Mr. Jalbert’s rant, is that he has picked the one predominant location in the San Fernando Valley where there is an ongoing experiment in urban density, involving subway, bus, and pedestrian-oriented development. To a degree unimaginable five years ago, North Hollywood now is home to many theaters, art galleries, an arts college, TV production companies, new high schools, transit-oriented housing, lofts, cafes and bicyclists. Let’s not overlook that the landscaped Busway, integrating bikes and buses, and reaching across the San Fernando Valley, begins in North Hollywood.

      If you are going to criticize ugly sprawl, unwalkable and unaesthetic, why not pick Northridge along Reseda Blvd.?

      We have heard the critiques and complaints before and we are now waiting for the Saviour to come and set this city right.

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      1. Andy, that beautiful landscaped busway begins in Warner Center (Chatsworth station, soon) and ends in North Hollywood. 🙂

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