There's so much I'm still discovering in this town. Tonight I finally get to check out one of the hipster "urban pioneer" outposts of the still-sketchy New Downtown, a bar called the Golden Gopher (which I've seen a few times from the 37 bus as it goes east on 8th). I don't go out much at night (the plight of the carless in L.A.), so I'm always really grateful when I can coordinate an evening get-together with someone who does have access to a car.
In this case the coordination at the top level was done by the Associated Students of Planning and Development, the student-run organization that puts together extracurricular social, professional, and academic events. I've been attending some of their meetings and am starting to get involved with their "scholarship committee" -- as far as ideas, I've been thinking about how to use the (physical) city to help make first-year planning students more passionate about and invested in what they're going to be spending (at least!) the next few years doing.
I love the enthusiasm and commitment my professors (and their favorite theorists/leaders/crackpots) have, and how there's a spark there that transcends the drudgery of academia. My fellow students are quite intelligent, but it seems like a lot of them have just come out of undergrad and still have this sort of "college" context for what they're doing -- looking at all this as a bunch of cumbersome homework and Supreme Court opinions to be memorized and grades to be gotten, and you can tell who the older students are, the ones who've been out in the field or on the battleground, by the glint in their eyes and the shake in their fists when they talk about bureaucracies, interest groups, personal heroes, sworn enemies, bungled decisions, and brilliant ideas.
The madness of The City (TM) is thrilling, even on those days when I feel like strangling it with its own red tape. I get this feeling from the Ph.D.s and second-years in one of my upper-level classes, but it would be so terrific to see more of this from the younger kids, as well as more desire to just get cocky and try to conquer the sheer volume of history and information and photographic/filmic evidence and tactile, sensory stuff out there. Learn with our eyes. Learn with our feet. Our tastebuds too, maybe (when I first got here I figured out my way around town with printouts of Jonathan Gold's restaurant reviews in one hand and an MTA route map in the other).
My idea is to have groups of students and faculty do self-guided walking tours of Southern California communities by their particular planning history -- not just focusing on one pivotal event (like slum clearance or freeway construction), but a long and winding narrative that accounts for trivial changes as well as major ones, visual totems of consensus, dissent, compromise, what is versus what would have been if one small variable were different. And things that haven't changed at all, that have remained extant against all odds (not so much stuff that's been preserved by law, but places that have just... survived). It would be fun to focus on the Valley, which is just rife with secret history and the ghosts of Charles Phoenix housewives and roads to hell paved by kooky cigar-chomping land speculators. And I'm kinda thinking about touring some of the sleepier, less-trod parts of unincorporated/general-law northeast L.A. County -- like Montrose and Sierra Madre.
I hope we can pull this off (just once or twice, even). I've been a total hermit since school started and I'm dying to go exploring again.