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Category: los angeles


Blaming Ourselves for Poor Design

Do you want to change the world? It starts with stopping. You have to stop complaining. You have to stop looking for answers outside of yourself. You have to listen and pay attention to what you want and what you’re capable of. Too often we feel simultaneously helpless to enact change and act too hard on ourselves. “Most people are lazy. Most people are duped. Most people don’t understand their actions or don’t consider them. They don’t see what effect their having.”

If you have said words like these before, it’s worth turning them back on yourself. Are you lazy? Are you duped? Do you understand your actions and how they affect others? It’s easy to offhandedly say “yes” to these questions and not really take the time to consider them so let me ask you to do this. Read one sentence at a time. Give yourself a minute. A literal full minute to consider your answer. Turn off your phone. Close that tab in your browser that’s pinging you with notifications. Be in the moment. For one minute at a time.

We take naturally the everyday stresses of modern life because we choose to see bigger systems out of our control as the result of other’s selfishness.

The truth is we’re all lazy at times. Many of us are also very hard on ourselves. We expect a lot by generating a mile long to do list that even Superman with super strength, speed, and agility couldn’t accomplish. A friend asked me recently, “What if I don’t have a calling?” This person explained that if they had the time to themselves, they wouldn’t paint, they wouldn’t write, they would simply play video games. I could feel the weight the person brought down in the room on us. “So what?” I asked. “Maybe you should play video games. You’ve worked hard. You deserve a break.”

The realities of modern life is that we’re all overachievers. Society makes us feel all kinds of personal anxiety like we are letting ourselves down. Sometimes though, it’s just not paying attention to our bodies, our minds, or whatever placeholder term you have for soul/heart etc.

I was walking down a hill recently in California and I saw a sign spraypainted on the ground “Stay on Sidewalk.” It was seemingly innocuous. The street had a problem where pedestrians would step out into the roadway and interfere with car traffic. Obviously this could be dangerous if one or the other isn’t paying attention. Obviously if you’re in a vehicle which could go several hundred miles per hour, it’s frustrating when a pedestrian moving 5 miles an hour is blocking your way to get home and finally rest and see your family after a long day.

This street was highly utilized by pedestrians. Everyone will tell you no one walks in LA and if you do walk in areas, you’ll see this is just a fixed mindset speaking. There were several dozens of people wandering around that area on the Saturday I happened to be there. Though LA is very car-centric. I’ve seen pedestrians bow to the will of the car left and right and so it should be rather elementary that one would obey the command “STAY ON SIDEWALK.” But I was annoyed. Annoyed at the lack of empathy. Annoyed by the fact that pedestrians and motorists don’t understand the real problem which is this: The sidewalk was too damn narrow.

For the amount of foot traffic in that neighborhood, where a bike and walking path wind around a gorgeous panorama view of the surrounding communities, that sidewalk was designed poorly. Pedestrians walking either direction have to stop to let others by. Sometimes runners are going at a fast pace and they get stuck behind slower, middle-aged people going on an evening walk. All of this coexistence happens quite naturally, for sure, but that little bit of anxiety in the sidewalk: “STAY. ON. SIDEWALK!!” It’s just taken in course.

And so we take naturally the everyday stresses of modern life. Not because we always have to, but because we choose to see bigger systems out of our control as results of other’s selfishness. We start with blame and worst of all we blame ourselves. “That was stupid of me stepping out into the road. I should have known better. I’m at fault.”

We tolerate these moments of anxiety which bring pressure to us. Then we hold others accountable for their “selfish” actions. We complain to our friends on Social Media about how stupid people must be for believing one thing or the next without seeing the bigger picture: that the system is poorly designed.

New York City Nate Cooper

Are New Yorkers Inherently Mindful?

I like to think I resisted this a bit but I think I’m slowly coming to terms with being a digital nomad. I’m typing this while in the back of a Lyft which is taking me from Long Beach California to Santa Monica where I have set up shop for the Summer. When I was younger, growing up in California, I used to fantasize about being bi-coastal.

I thought that might mean having an apartment in San Francisco and one in NYC and travelling back and forth for work. Now I think that’s a bit limiting. This country is mighty big, it’s true, but the world is mighty small. After spending time in Mexico City, Brussels, Berlin, and London last year I figure: why limit myself? I still feel like a New Yorker though. Perhaps that’s why I’ve resisted the moniker Digital Nomad.

True nomads, I believe don’t really have a home base. I like my home base. It feels good to “go home” from time to time (as I am about to do this week to teach some classes in NYC). Perhaps one of the reasons I feel at home there, is that it takes a long time to *feel* like a New Yorker. NYC is a brutal place at times and at other times – the times tourists seem to not understand – it is one of the best places on Earth.

I’ve had friends I care about, and strangers I’ve spoken to slam my city because of the brutish pride with which New Yorker’s speak about their home. “It’s the greatest city in the world” sounds incredibly ignorant especially to those who’ve been there. I think those who speak the most ill of New York are those who have tried living there and find it wasn’t to their taste. “It’s just a city. Why do people wear living there with a badge of pride?” It’s not a terrible question to ask, rhetorical though it might be.

Shall I answer it with an equally rhetorical and cryptic response? Do you think if you have to ask, maybe you don’t get it? I constantly hear from current and former New Yorkers, that we denizens of this city can be narcissistic. Having spent the past month in Los Angeles I can’t say I don’t notice the differences. Though I’d be remiss to say I haven’t witnessed a fair amount of self-absorption here. Indeed, I’ve been very curious about interrogating the differences between narcissism and self-absorption. If you figure that one out, let me know. But is being focused on one’s self entirely bad?

Understanding Adaptive Narcissism

I can’t say I don’t see the criticism that New Yorkers are self-focused as valid at times. I do, however, also sense that there’s something missing in the critique. I went so far as to find this article by psychology today that suggest narcissism isn’t all that bad. How can being aware of one’s self be bad if balanced with understanding one’s limits and an extreme focus on empathy? Is the adaptive narcissism described by Psychology today realistic?

On both coasts and abroad I find that there’s a renewed interest in meditation. Long the realm of crunchy culture, meditation is being considered seriously by science and is making it’s way into corporate culture. Having spent a couple Sundays in Long Beach taking meditation classes, I think I’ve found another word that encapsulates this kind of adaptive narcissism: Mindfulness. Merriam Webster (sorry brits) defines mindfulness as: “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

Mark Twain said: “All generalizations are false, including this one.”

A friend commenting on the differences between Los Angeles and New York said that New Yorkers are hard on the outside but soft on the inside because they know the struggle is real. What registers as smug self-absorption by outsiders, sometimes is, in fact just the opposite. I think New York breeds its own form of mindfulness. Don’t stop walking on the sidewalk. Don’t stand at the top of the stairway leading to the subway. Don’t have a long phone conversation on the train. Look forward and at others and: walk. fast. Does this mean everyone follows these rules? Of course not. As Mark Twain said: “All generalizations are false, including this one.”

People in LA I’ve spoken to found New Yorkers to be rude. “The people at the deli counter seem set on getting you in and out. No chats or pleasantries. Others cut in front of you on line.” I think this is the quintessential New York experience. It’s not that we don’t see that as rude sometimes. It’s that we don’t give a shit. Life is too short. We have our own shit to deal with. If you think we haven’t seen some shit, you’re wrong. Dead wrong. We just refuse to let it get us down. We are hardened on the outside but knowledgable within. That’s why you can take the New Yorker out of New York but you can’t take the New York out of the New Yorker.

Good job, California! Now get to work!

The passage of Prop 1a is a great opportunity and for me somewhat surprising given this is the first time I’ve voted in a major election outside of California. (As is of course the disappointing passage of Prop 8). The California High Speed Rail Blog has published an excellent list of Next Steps concerning where to go from here to support the High Speed Rail system. In my mind the biggest thing on that list as far as forward thinking planning has to support of current infrastructure (point 6). However, supporting existing rail infrastructure alone is simply one piece of the puzzle. A drastic restructuring of zoning and city planning must simultaneously occur to not only ensure the success of the system but to restructure California to absorb the overwhelming population growth expected in the coming decades.

To be sure, California is going to grow larger and the High Speed Rail project is a landmark affirmation for focusing that growth in existing urban centers in the state. However, the cities themselves need to act resolutely to capitalize on the significant investment to enact change. While in the past several decades urban centers across the state have been financing transit infrastructure improvements — the latest and most notable being Los Angeles county’s Measure R; what has lagged in the state is significant rewriting of archaic (more…)

BLDGBLOG: The “Endless Accident Events” of Los Angeles

natecooper.net is making it appear as if all I’ve been reading is cracked.com and BLDGBLOG. Could be worse I guess. BLDGBLOG’s discussion of “extreme signage” [link] does pique my interest. I don’t know if I fully agree with the assessment of this fountain as “public signage that no one can read”. Seems to me that it may be simple enough to read if the amount of gradation is not so much on a sliding scale but on minor variations (ala red light, green light, yellow light). Furthermore I’ve often thought that Los Angeles needs more and more large scale public (art) works projects. The city is so flat and widespread that dramatically scaled structures with aesthetic value would help define the landscape better (the Watts towers not excepted).

On the topic of extreme signage I’d throw my hat in to vote for the Clock in Union Square. I’ve even have it explained to me and I still feel totally inept at my inability to read it. Luckily the Gothamist has a little primer [link] if you’d like the mystery ruined.

New ideas take flight in the City of Angels

John King, architectural critic for the SF Chronicle and the only newspaper columnist in my google reader takes a trip to L.A. and reports back about some of the new buildings and communities that have recently opened [link]

“Next to the Cheesecake Factory stands a curvy diner with a 1950s look – the one nod to Southern Californias long love affair with automobiles. Except, of course, for the 3,500-car parking garage.”

Dystopia: A Twelve-Layer Freeway Clover for Los Angeles

Los Angeles, Post-Sprawl

Hipster Vs. Scenester Showdown

Ever since my sister brought up that she had never heard anyone use the word “hipster” before (saying that she had heard of “scenesters”) I’ve been curious about the distinction between hipster and scenester and what they mean in our modern vocabulary.

My recent move to New York has reinvigorated my own internal debate abotu the whole “Hipster” versus “Scenester” thing since I have noticed further regional distinctions.

When I was in Santa Cruz an aquantence of mine mentioned that they tend to use the word “Hipster” in Nor Cal and “Scenester” in SoCal. Here are some defintions I’ve found to ground your understanding:

Hipster Definition (Urban Dictionary)
Scenester definition (Urban Dictionary)

From these general definitions I can gather two general senses of the distinctions:
1. Scenesters are about image and dress and what is “in”
2. Hipsters are intellectuals (or pretend to be) who watch independent movies and read

The regional issue that is tripping me out having recently moved to the east coast is that it seems to me that the term “Hipster”, like in Northern California, is more in-vogue in New York than the term “Scenester”. I would suspect this is simply because from what I can tell every one in New York reads.

But what seems a bit anachronistic to me is the fact that generally one is called a hipster here just for looking a certain way, the way being, to me, typically San Francisco. I don’t think that everyone in San Francisco is a hipster but I do believe that if any of my friends from San Francisco were to come out here they would immediately be labeled a “Hipster”, a distinction they would not warrant back home.

I myself prefer the more tradition definition of the term hipster (found here) which is more in-line with beat culture. It is alluded to in the definitions from the Urban Dictionary but mostly in derisive ways. Still if you were to go with that definition then most likely no one is a hipster any longer.

Spinach Got Worry

This whole spinach ban thing is getting big press in the west… the San Francisco Chronicle and the La Times have had a front page story on it every day since the weekend.

See these recent headlines:
LaTimes Story
SF Gate Article

The New York Times, which didn’t seem to have any front page stories on it all weekend. Despite the fact that this is a nation-wide issue.

See this article buried in the “Health” section:
Ny Times Article

Now granted the New York Times has a larger focus in international news and there are articles of international import but just today this story is plastered on the front page:

NY Times article on Laguna Beach

I don’t really want to criticize any one paper but for days I’ve been thinking that the spinach thing mainly affected the west. And granted, having lived in both the west coast and east coast I can say without a doubt, health issues especially concerning food is going to be defacto a bigger issue in California than in New York. But still if we aren’t supposed to be eating spinach nationwide.. I wish the New York media would let us know that.

The Chronicle and LA Times have been showing pictures of empty store shelves across California. I can’t say I’ve seen the same over here in New York City.

Still I think I’ll avoid the spinach…

New York Versus Los Angeles

“New York, rising high, eliminates its pas with a wrecking ball; Los Angeles, spreadin out, broods over its history until it rots.”

I liked this quote from David Denby’s review of The Black Dahlia. Perhaps the only sentence David Denby’s written that I’ve enjoyed.