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Is LA still the 'City of Quartz'?




Birds fly across the sky at daybreak over the downtown Los Angeles skyline on December 14, 2011.
Birds fly across the sky at daybreak over the downtown Los Angeles skyline on December 14, 2011.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

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Twenty-five years ago, the book "City of Quartz" by Mike Davis was published.

It painted a dark, dystopian picture of Los Angeles that has since become enshrined in the popular imagination.

A suburban junkyard of dreams, L.A., in Davis' view, was a tense prison of soul-less shopping malls and gated communities, fortified to keep the ruling elites safe and segregated from the powerless masses.

It was a vision which took hold throughout the world when a couple years later, those tensions erupted in violence with the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots.

But how does Davis' account hold up today? Are we still living in that dark City of Quartz?

That question will be the subject of the next event in the Third LA Project, a series of talks put on by Occidental college and led by LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, who also coined that phrase.

"In some ways, it seems very dated, and I really wish Mike Davis himself would have written a bit more about L.A. in the last few years, because as I've been saying, the city has really changed in some dramatic ways," Hawthorne said of the book. "I think certain things about the kind of deeply privatized nature of the built environment seem dated because I think L.A., even though it's not a perfect effort, I think L.A. is really trying reanimate and repair the civic realm now."

But he feels certain parts of the book remain relevant, like the city's tendency for slow growth and opposition to development.

"It seems like that chapter could have been written last week," he said.