Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

9/03/2011

Hiking LA's Downtown Eco-system

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Eco-system doesn't usually spring up images of bustling city life for many of us, but last Thursday's Downtown Ecotone Trail Hike, I got to see the wilderness we call downtown Los Angeles as part of MOCA's Engagement Party with the LA Urban Rangers.

Los Angeles as typography. Nature really is all around us.
About 20 of us Angelenos hiked from the trailhead at MOCA Grand, walked under the soaring corporate banking buildings of Bunker Hill down to the Beaux Arts beauty of Historic Core and even further down to the seamy Skid Row guided by the uber-informative and helpful Los Angeles Urban Rangers, self-styled park rangers to help us navigate the city's various ecologies.

That's the first group of Ecotone hikers setting off on the first 60-minute walk around Downtown.
The hike took about an hour to complete. Along the way, we were introduced to the changing habitats of the local wildlife. Some were grazing by the outside cafes, lounging high above us in their loft dwellings (the Loftus Dwellus species, Ranger Lisa tells me), while others sadly were wrapped in sleeping bags by the side of buildings.

The scenery changed so dramatically as we walked and it was amazing to see how much the environment changes from one block to another. The verve and activity that we could see on 4th street suddenly went deathly quiet on 5th and Wall Street (aka Skid Row).

Buildings tower over its residents. This is where the top of the food chain resides--bankers, lawyers and the like.
I've never walked the whole route in one go, but the experienced helped me tie all these habitats together in one mental map. Who knew that the Historic Core just abuts Skid Row, or that the shiny Corporate paradise of bankers and lawyers gives way to brick-faced Romanesque buildings? They are only blocks away from each other, but world's away in everyday realities. As Downtown is enjoying its renaissance, Ranger Walter--who works and lives in Skid Row--says Skid Row's borders are growing smaller and smaller, squeezing out its needier inhabitats. Is there a good balance between gentrification and poverty alleviation, I wonder?

The Spring Arts Tower's beautiful Beaux Arts architecture.
In my head, I pieced together a strange correlation between economic hierarchy and typography. Once we descended from Bunker Hill, so did average yearly salaries, until we hit rock bottom in Skid Row. Strange how geography can sometimes mimic economics.

Back at the base camp, we all shared a few of our stories and together we realized the intricacies of building a great eco-system. Ranger Joe likens the exercise of urban planning to pulling a Lazy Susan, when you pull on one, usually many other unintended things get pulled along with it. Despite our wish for hard and fast answers, we can only do as Rilke advises "have patience with everything unresolved in your heart" and "love the questions themselves." If we're lucky and I would add pro-active in what our city's business, we might live our way into the answers.

Have you walked past your neighborhood borders? What did you see?

MOCA's Engagement Party with the LA Urban Rangers may have ended, but you can sign up to their newsletter and get more news about future urban hikes. In the past, the rangers have conducted tours of sites like the Malibu beach, Hollywood Boulevard and the LA County Fair.

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